Just when you think there is nothing new under the August sun at the Erie County Fair, along comes the Erie County Fair Cooks! Kitchen & Shoppe culinary center which will feature at least 60 cooking demonstrations, a retail area and more activities for food lovers throughout the Fair, Aug. 9-20.
The culinary arts center will be located inside the lower level of the Fair’s security building on the Avenue of Flags, in the retail area formally known as The Mall. Just look for a new 15-foot steel fork and knife sculpture near the building’s entrance.
The mission of the culinary center is to highlight regionally sourced and grown products, to promote cook-at-home options and to show off the area's dynamic culinary scene including area culinary schools and chefs. Visitors also can shop at several vendors who will be selling cooking-related items, with everything from Tupperware to spices, olive oils and specialty vinegars.
"Food is the number one reason people come to the Fair, but education is also a huge component of what we do, so a culinary arts center seemed like the next logical step," said marketing and communications manager Marty Biniasz. "We are an agricultural society, so the farm-to-table movement is important to us."
From fruits and vegetables and livestock to farm products like honey, Biniasz said the Fair recognizes the importance of agriculture to our daily lives. "Food producers are a huge component to life in Western New York," he said. "By extension, food is part of the local culinary schools and restaurants in our community."
Starting around 12:30 p.m. daily, local chefs, cooking schools, Fair concessionaires, local businesses and special guests will present live cooking demonstrations. Each demo will last about 30 to 45 minutes.
A highlight includes celebrity chef Shaun O’Neale from Las Vegas, the winner of the 2016 "Master Chef Competition," who will give presentations at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 and 13. O'Neale will present his take on modern American cuisine and discuss his best-selling cookbook, “My Modern American Table: Recipes for Inspired Home Cooks.”
Familiar local names include Krista Van Wagner, who will represent Prima Oliva (2 p.m. Aug. 19), and her own Caribbean Kitchen products (2 p.m. Aug. 20), Brad Rowell, chef-owner of Hamburg's The Grange Community Kitchen (Aug. 14, throughout the day) and chef Andrew Murtha of Hamburg's Carte Blanche and Juicy Burger Bar restaurants in the village.
Culinary executives from Delaware North - Brian Sterner, Brian Waters, Dan Thorington and Matthew Nelson - will appear throughout the Fair as well.
"I am so excited," said Van Wagner. "For Prima Oliva, I am going to be demonstrating an avocado toast with roasted red pepper and walnut hummus, micro greens and a balsamic vinegar. Then I am going to show people how to use oils and vinegars as your cooking palette. I am going to set up eight oils and vinegars and rotate them to show how many combinations will work together to make a simple vinaigrette. And people will get to test their math skills."
For her own products, Van Wagner will demonstrate how to make a chicken stir fry Montego (as in Montego Bay, Jamaica) with a coconut rice and beans. "It's going to feature all local produce because everything is just exploding now," Van Wagner said. The dish will also utilize her jerk sauce and hot sauce products.
Van Wagner also plans to get a little racy. "I'm going to demonstrate how to massage kale. Yes, right on stage in front of everybody," she laughed. "I love cooking in front of people."
For those who aspire to be a chef, faculty members from the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute of Niagara Falls, NY, will host a demo at 3:30 p.m. daily.
The Independent Health Foundation’s Carrie Meyer and Shelby Braun will host a Healthy Options Series with topics like, “Learn To Cook With Kale,” “Simple Swaps, Healthy Ingredient Alternatives” and “Making The Most of Your Roast Chicken.”
Fair concessionaires get in on the action too. Sal Butera of Salvatore’s Pizza Trailer (Aug. 11 and 17, throughout the day) and Linda Lund of Babcia’s Pierogi (Aug. 18, throughout the day) will share Fair midway recipes that folks can prepare at home.
Local television personalities will don chefs aprons as well. Look for Pete Gallivan of WGRZ and chef Steven Binks, who will share their favorite recipes at 5 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9; WIVB reporter Katie Alexander, who will host “What I'm Doing Wrong in the Kitchen” at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10.
Howard Rosenthal of Mr. Food Test Kitchen will give demonstrations and sign autographs at 12:30, 2, 5 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 as part of WKBW Day at the Fair.
The Erie County Fair
Fair hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Aug. 20 at the Hamburg Fairgrounds, 5600 McKinley Ave., Hamburg. Admission is $10 adults, $7 for ages 60 and older, free admission for ages 12 and younger. Visit ecfair.org for a full list of activities.