An atlas of Iowa’s local food

Bringing local food from downtown Iowa City to Hancher Auditorium.

What makes a good meal? Is it the friends and family or just the food? Well, both of those come together in Hancher’s Culinary Arts Festival, showing the gourmet dishes that can be made from locally grown food. This was Hancher’s second culinary arts festival and they featured the popular eateries Atlas and Basta on Tuesday, November 18th.

While Basta is an Italian themed restaurant, Atlas draws from a range of styles. What do they have in common, then? Well, both are owned by Jack Piper and James Adrian and feature locally grown and sourced food: exactly what Hancher’s festival was about: bringing together the community to celebrate the farmers and their produce.

Adrian said they were contacted about six months ago to see if they were interested in the event. And, with a few weeks of planning and meetings they were set to go.

These events are bringing the local [food] in and seeing the food on a gourmet level.”

— Forrest Kelly

“Hancher is an awesome and amazing place, so why not showcase and be part of something amazing?” Pipier said.

On the first floor there were two booths with some dishes to start with. Forrest Kelly, a local organic farmer was featured at the event. He provided the cabbages for the kim chi the chefs made.

“This is my second full time year, fifth time in general,” said Kelly. “They bought about twenty pounds of cabbage [for this event].”

In general, Kelly sells around 30 to 40 pounds of just cabbage a week just to the restaurants in town. Kelly specializes in root crops, such as beets or parsnips and has about 20 to 25 different varieties growing. For Kelly, this type of event is great to showcase his and other farmers produce.

“These events are bringing the local [food] in and seeing the food on a gourmet level,” Kelly said.

At around a half hour into the event, Chuck Swanson, the executive director of Hancher Auditorium that made this event possible, took center stage. On the steps leading up to the second floor he stood in front of a microphone and explained how that they set up the tables so that no party had a table all to themselves.

People ended up sitting next to people they had never met and by the end of the night they had become best friends. Swanson capped off his speech by asking how many would like to have the culinary festival again next year. Everybody raised their hands. And, while the plans for next year’s events are still being decided there is hope that the Culinary Arts Festival will return for a second season.

People moved from one booth to another in a ring around the dining area. And the variety of food ranged from elk to tofu and there was even a pig head tucked away for them to pick from. “When you’re trying to do a buffet, you want a profile of flavors. Basically, so not everything tastes the same.” Adrian said referring to the variety of food around.

From the people laughing and smiling would call this event a win. Besides this,  Hancher’s got even more on their menu for their season of events. There are two more culinary arts festivals lined up: the next one featuring Oasis, a local Iowa City falafel joint that serves other Middle-Eastern street foods. So, if you want to enjoy some of Iowa City’s community and eat some good food while you’re at it, then be sure to not miss Hancher’s Culinary Arts Festivals.