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Food & Wine Festival Wrapup

Here's lookin' at you: audience members during the What We're Eating Now panel. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

There are at least three things the National Harbor's second annual festival had over last year's: blue skies, happy vendors and higher attendance overall. Organizer Lynn Schwartz says about 4,000 people came on Saturday; Sunday numbers are still being calculated.

Random highlights: Rosa Mexicano did a booming business Saturday night, as it was one of the restaurants participating in the festival Dine-Around. Maybe one reason was the spicy guacamole samples being handed out at a festival booth....carts with free chilled bottles of Icelandic water...."Top Chef" celebs Carla Hall and pal Ariane Duarte couldn't walk more than five feet without a photo op or someone shouting, "Carla! You represent DeeCee!"....speaking of samples, Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat cheese (wrapped in stinging nettle leaves), served on Rustic Bakery crackers....refreshing blackberry mojitos made by Norman "Doc" Hayes (on behalf of the Erikka A. Hayes Foundation).

Here's hoping for next year: recycling of plastics; some festivalgoers were a little dismayed by the lack of a system for separating trash....the presence of more local chefs and local cookbook authors....moving the country fair baking contest indoors, which would have been kinder on the entries (especially the ones with cream cheese frosting). About that fair....

Chef Jeff Tunks at the judges' table on Sunday. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

Country fair baking contestant Lynnette Jackson won a trip to the Cayman Islands for her thin rounds of Rosemary Shortbread. Hers was the best entry from two days of judging about 40 baked goods overall.

The 29-year-old Hyattsville resident wasn't on hand to pick up her prize but was thrilled to hear the news today by phone. Lynnette started catering on her own two years ago. The shortbread was requested by someone who wanted several hundred cookies done for a wedding. She worked with a recipe found online, added lemon zest and upped the herb amount. The judges appreciated the delicate balance of flavor and the fact that it was one of the less-sweet entries. She made a carrot-spice quick bread and peanut butter chocolate cupcakes as well.

In the same here's-hoping-for-next-year dept.: Due to the relatively small number of entries, the baked goods were not judged in separate categories (cookies, pies, etc.). That meant the presentation/appearance aspect of some cookies was overtaken by showier baked goods. It'd be better if conditions and judging rules are clearly spelled out next time 'round. Some festivalgoers didn't know anything about the country fair contest, so it'd be nice if there were as much advance notice as possible, maybe with a prominent entry form and rules on the festival Web site.

Based on the judges' comments over Saturday and Sunday, here are some tips for those who wish to enter next year:
* Think savory. Judges were overwhelmed with sweetness, especially in frostings.
* Think seasonal. Even though a sweet potato pie might be the best you've got, try making something that is summery. Judges found holiday baked goods heavy going in warm weather.
* Think outside the box. Judges were looking for more originality.
* Bake from scratch. That does not mean starting with a box mix, which has a recognizable taste the judges could detect.
* Label completely. Special consideration may be given. Contestant Lillian Hill's Double Chocolate Cupcakes were handsomely done (and she did label the box clearly, she has informed me), but not all the judges knew the cupcakes were vegan.
* Skip the cupcakes. Yes, we all love them, but the judges wished there were fewer of them.

Did you go to the festival on either day? What'd you think?
-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 8, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Bonnie Benwick  
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