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Folklife Has Food Focus

34th Annual Festival Brings ‘Summer of Food’ to the Mall

In what has been deemed the “Summer of Food,” the 39th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival will place the spotlight on D.C.’s talented chefs with an array of food-focused events at Food Culture USA, a multiday, multichef exploration of area culinary talent.

“We’re doing our first program that is devoted entirely to food. We’ve had it as pieces of programs but we’ve never had a whole program,” said Diana Parker, director of this year’s festival.

With the growing number of ethnic restaurants appearing in recent years, Food Culture USA will examine the contemporary state of a 30-year cultural food revolution. The program will also examine the role of immigrant farmers in introducing new products and recipes into the repertoire of chefs and home cooks.

“We wanted to look at food as part of our culture. I think that food has become exceedingly popular in the last 10 or 15 years,” Parker said. “I don’t think that people think very often about the role of traditional culture in the way our tastes have changed over the last 30 years or so.”

Through the intersections of diverse backgrounds, global roots, food and economy, food connoisseurs are creating new tastes of the world. During the festival’s 10 days, more than 100 cooking experts will give cooking demonstrations, share methods for growing traditional crops and pass on their expertise to all in attendance.

Visitors to the festival will have the opportunity to see area chefs and restaurateurs displaying their talents. Participants so far include Frank Ruta from Palena, Morou Ouattara from Signatures, Cliff Wharton from Ten Penh and Greggory Hill from David Greggory, along with many others.

Acclaimed chefs who are scheduled to attend include Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Alice Waters. Waters will re-create her famed “Edible Schoolyard,” where students are taught everyday skills and life values by learning how to grow and cook fresh food in a communal garden. The schoolyard has served as a model for schools across the country.

Highlights at Food Culture USA will include “Chocolate to Cheese,” which celebrates the recent growth of the artisan food trend in the United States. It will showcase the revitalization of the craft methods in producing items such as cheese, olives, bread and chocolate. The “Tradition and Adaptation” section will highlight growers engaged in finding new markets for traditional crops. The “Slow Roast” area will highlight food-related community celebrations, such as barbecues and roasts.

Along with Food Culture USA, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will also highlight several other ethnic and cultural traditions.

The country of Oman, located at the crossroads between South Asia and the Middle East, will be featured in a program called “Oman: Desert, Oases and Sea.” The program will focus on the complex culture of Oman’s Arabian roots as well as its long-standing contracts with India, East Africa and the Middle East. More than 100 musicians, dancers, craftspeople and cooks, representing cultural traditions from the various ecologies of Oman, will be featured in this series.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the USDA Forest Service, the festival will feature a special program dedicated to showcasing the range of skills, experiences and traditions of the Forest Service’s 37,000 workers and the communities they serve. Approximately 100 participants from various fields associated with forestry will share their skills, experiences and traditions with members of the public.

“The occupations include everyone from biologists to smoke jumpers, and everything in between,” Parker said.

“Nuestra Musica: Music in Latino Culture” will explore and celebrate the rich and diverse Latino culture in the United States and abroad. This program will feature national and international recording artists, including groups that have recently recorded their music for the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ “Tradiciones/Traditions” series. They will perform five evening concerts highlighting regional music, while exploring the relationship between music and social change, and probing African and American Indian-based traditions in Latino music.

The festival attracts close to a million people annually and will be held this year from June 23-27 and June 30-July 4 on the National Mall. All of the featured events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Below are additional events taking place around the city throughout the summer.

Saturday Star Party Evening Stargazing: The National Air and Space Museum will host an evening that begins with a short night sky orientation, followed by guided viewing of various astronomical objects through a telescope. With the help of staff astronomer Sean O’Brien and other local astronomers, participants will be able to observe various astronomical objects under dark, star-filled skies, away from the city lights. There is a $4 per vehicle parking fee. Star parties are scheduled for May 7, June 25, July 9, Aug.13 and monthly through November. Call (540) 592-3556 for directions.

The Shakespeare Theatre Free-for-All: An annual treat for Washingtonians and visitors alike, this event features a free performance of a Shakespeare classic in the open air. This season the theatre revisits its 2003 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will run May 27-June 5. For more information, visit

Rolling Thunder XVIII: This massive gathering of veterans and veterans’ rights activists begins at the Pentagon then travels across the Memorial Bridge to the Capitol. Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists and spectators are expected to attend the event May 29. For more information, visit

National Memorial Day Concert: The National Symphony Orchestra, U.S. military bands and several national performing artists will pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces. The free, televised concert takes place on the West Lawn of the Capitol on May 30.

Washington National Cathedral Flower Mart: Representatives from gardening and home boutiques will sell gift items and plants of all kinds at this event May 6-7. There will also be antique carousel rides, entertainment, garden tours and access to remarkable views of the city through the annual Cathedral Tower Climb. Visit for more information.

D.C. Fete de la Musique: The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities organizes this internationally recognized music festival to mark the first days of summer. Free concerts are given by professional and amateur musicians and take place throughout the city, beginning June 14. For more information, visit

Barbecue Battle: The Barbecue Battle, held June 25-26, features serious competition between top barbecue competitors and barbecue restaurants from the region and throughout the country. There are also cooking demonstrations, free food samples, interactive cooking displays and children’s activities. For more information, visit

Hillwood Museum and Gardens’ Summer Nights Festival: This festival takes advantage of Washington’s late sunsets and Hillwood’s beautiful setting to feature art performances in outdoor and indoor venues. Performances by the National Symphony Orchestra’s string quartet and Opera Vivente are highlights of the festival, which is being held June 18-19. For more information, visit

Carnival Extravaganza: This annual Caribbean carnival brings out Washington’s Caribbean enthusiasts in costumes and headdresses for a day of celebration in Emery Park during the first week in June. For more information, call (202) 726-2204.

Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Day: On the first weekend in June, the neighborhood’s art district provides house tours, craft demonstrations and concerts at various locations throughout Dupont Circle. For more information, call (202) 667-0441.

Fourth of July Celebration: D.C. will celebrate the nation’s birthday with a parade including more than 100 marching units stepping out at noon along Constitution Avenue. Afterward, popular music groups will entertain from mid-afternoon until the fireworks at dark. The National Symphony Orchestra, with guest stars and soloists, will perform at 8 p.m. The fireworks show will begin around 9:20 p.m. over the Washington Monument grounds.

Legg Mason Tennis Classic: William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park will host this tournament of professional players July 30-Aug 7. For more information, visit

Annual Water Lily Festival: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens’ exotic blooms reach their peak in mid- to late summer, and this annual celebration gives plant lovers a perfect excuse to see one of the city’s treasures. Enjoy blooming lilies and lotuses, pond and greenhouse tours, and gardening workshops on July 16. For more information, visit

Arlington County Fair:
In late August, Arlington County’s four-day fair includes crafts, exhibitors and food at the Thomas Jefferson Center. Call (703) 228-6400 for more information.

U.S. Army Band “1812 Overture”: On the last weekend in August, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” will be performed by the U.S. Army band with backing from the Salute Gun Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry on the White House Ellipse Visitor Pavilion. Call (202) 208-1631 for more information.

Screen on the Green: Watch classic films for free on a gigantic movie screen on the National Mall. The films are shown Monday nights and begin at dusk, but be sure to get there early to get a good seat. For more information, call (877) 262-5866.

Kennedy Center Prelude Festival: From the National Symphony Orchestra to the K.C. Jazz Club, the shows featured during the festival are guaranteed to be the best in fine arts entertainment. The event runs for two weeks beginning Sept. 1 and showcases various arts entertainers from across the nation and the world. Ticket prices vary from show to show.

The Black Family Reunion Celebration: Held on the weekend of Sept. 10-11 this year, the Black Family Reunion Celebration is a two-day cultural event that is recognized as the largest, most significant family event in the nation. It attracts more than 500,000 people annually, celebrating the strengths and values of the traditional black family. The weekend is filled with live music, ethnic foods and an International Arts and Crafts Marketplace, located on the National Mall. For more information visit

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