04 August 2014

Festival Gastronômico

Voltaire, in the toque & beard, voted Best Chef Sensation
In about our second, or maybe third, year in Búzios, the powers that be decided to resurrect a once popular, but then-defunct, event called Degusta Búzios (Taste Búzios), a gastronomic festival designed, among other things, to spur tourism in the low season. Participating restaurants would prepare small portions of either an appetizer, main course or dessert, and offer them at promotional prices for people to get a little taste of what the chef could do, and maybe like it enough to return to the restaurant for a real meal. (To give you an idea, appetizers and desserts cost a mere R$5, about $1.50 at the time, and main courses R$10, about $2.90. At those prices, a person could really go to town!) Event organizers even held competitions, you know the type, Best Chef, Best New Chef Sensation, Best Appetizer, Best Main Course, Best Dessert, Best Presentation, and there was probably even a Miss Congeniality in there somewhere.

Well, I remember going to that first (for us) tasting treat. Now called simply the Festival Gastronômico, the event was, and still is, held in July, when there’s enough of a nip in the air for me to wear my still chic (I hope) men’s tuxedo jacket over jeans, with my gorgeous YSL scarf thrown around my shoulders in that studied-yet-casual way that I learned from watching Catherine Deneuve movies. (You can take the girl out of the city, etc.) The event took place in a fairly contained area in the center of town, so it was really easy to stroll from restaurant to restaurant, tasting, enjoying, talking to the chefs, meeting old friends; in those years the festival was not very well publicized and it really was just a great big private party for Búzios residents.

A glimpse of the 2014 version
But then, as inevitably happens, the festival got taken over by an outside event consultant, and the town’s business community saw a great opportunity to make money. Hotel restaurants got into the act, as did people who merely have informal catering businesses. The number of participants increased three-fold, better publicity brought in thousands of tourists and visitors from neighboring cities, and the festival spread to four distinct areas of town; strolling was out, need for transportation was in. Promotional pricing? Out the window. Instead of the R$5 and R$10 of previous festivals, we were now confronting R$10 (now $4.50) and R$15 ($6.80). For those of us who in the past enjoyed tasting many dishes, this actually made a difference. Say you tasted four appetizers, five main courses and two desserts at the earlier festivals. That would set you back a mere R$80, or $24. The tightwads among us now had to decide whether spending R$135 ($62) — mind you, this is still not dinner, it's just a bunch of little tastes — was worth it.

I admit that Mark and I boycotted the Festival Gastronômico for several years running. We were grumpy about the new prices, and we never found any dish so irresistibly creative as to drag us out of the house. But this year we decided to give the festival a whirl. It took careful, strategic planning. We selected the few dishes we thought we’d like to taste days ahead of time. We decided which night we’d go to which part of town. And you know, we had a great time! Here’s the dish that we thought was the single most creative and delicious of this year’s festival, from Zuza Restaurante — cocoa-flavored agnolotti with duck filling, with a sauce of saffron, cointreau, orange zest and cupuaçu (a chocolate-like fruit from the Amazon) — complex, textured, and scrumptious!

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