Beyond the music, rides and summer nostalgia, fair food is one of the top reasons people of all ages love attending a county fair during the summer months. Funnel cakes, corn dogs and deep-fried everything — it all makes for a well-earned, once-a-year treat, despite some residual queasiness.
Apart from the fatty, sugar-coated fair foods of our childhoods, though, lies another, fresher (and maybe even educational) option at this year’s Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
In its second year, the Grange Fair Celebrity Chef Farm to Table series is an event quickly cementing itself into the fair’s tradition.
“We invite local chefs to come do a cooking demonstration at the fairgrounds, where they prepare some simple recipes while our fairgoers watch,” Grange Fair entertainment committee chairwoman Kris McCloskey said. “They use local products as much as they can, as we promote the Pennsylvania Preferred food program. Additionally, we hand out gift certificates at each event, one gift certificate to either a local restaurant or grocery store.”
Taking place almost every day of the fair at 10 a.m. on the Southside Stage, the series has a lineup of local chefs that has been in place since early this year, as chefs are asked to set aside a portion of their day, during what is often the busiest time for some. However, beyond the time constraint, the chefs are pretty much given free rein to do as they like during their hour slot.
“We don’t really request any specific types of dishes,” McCloskey said. “They might do an entree and one side; or an entree, one side and one dessert; some might do just a bunch of sides.”
Desserts aren’t as common, though, as there isn’t an oven on the premises, McCloskey said. So any chef creating a dish with a baking component has to pre-bake ahead of time.
Because some of the Centre County chefs may not be so familiar with working a crowd, WTAJ-TV is volunteering their hosts to commentate the series, interacting with both the chef and the audience, and acting as a go-between.
“It’s pretty relaxed and very laid back,” McCloskey said. “It’s not like everyone has to be quiet. You can kind of just ask questions as we go along.”
The first chef to appear in the series, will be Jeremiah McClenahan, of Fasta & Ravioli Co., taking the stage on Friday, the first day of the fair. Others throughout the week include Kirsch McMaster, of the Nittany Lion Inn; Daniel Stokes, of Letterman’s; Eric Snyder, of Red Horse Tavern; Paul Madrid, of My My Chicken; and Zach Lorber, of Penn State Altoona. Check the Grange Fair schedule to ensure you’re able to catch your preferred chefs.
McCloskey said every attendee will receive a copy of the day’s chef’s recipes before the segment begins, for note-taking during the session. Plus, with so many of the chefs using local ingredients produced by Pennsylvanian farmers, fairgoers should be able to easily get their hands on some of the very same ingredients they see being used onstage.
As kickoff for the second year of the series draws closer, McCloskey seems confident the event can draw upward of 100 fairgoers each day, particularly now that it has a new time, moved up an hour from last year — from 9 to 10 a.m. Though the fair sees higher crowds later in the day, she said organizers do have to take into consideration the chefs’ schedules when putting together the series, and many of them have to make it back to their restaurants for lunch service.
For anyone planning to attend the Celebrity Chef Farm to Table series, McCloskey reiterates the casual nature of the event, and that it’s all about simply having a good time, and maybe even learning a few new things in the kitchen.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Celebrity Chef Farm to Table Schedule
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 18, Southside Stage: Jeremiah McClenahan, of Fasta & Ravioli Co.
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 19, Southside Stage: Kirsch McMaster, of the Nittany Lion Inn
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 20, Southside Stage: Daniel Stokes, of Letterman’s
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 21, Southside Stage: Erin Snyder, of Red Horse Tavern
▪ Noon Aug. 22, Southside Stage: Paul Madrid, of My My Chicken
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 25, Southside Stage: Shawn Bailey, of Game On!
▪ 10 a.m. Aug. 26, Southside Stage: Zach Lorber, of Penn State Altoona