It’s was a who’s who of local chefs cooking okra this past weekend at the seventh annual Okrapalooza competition. A foodie tradition in East Dallas, this year the competition took place at The Lot on Grand Avenue, a venue known for its locally-influenced flavors and neighborhood beer garden atmosphere.
In its seventh year, Okrapalooza attracted chefs from around the area who went head to head to create the best okra dish for the title of Okrapalooza champion of the world as an interested okra eating crowd converged to taste the results.
The champion okra dish was prepared by Chef Peter Barlow of Stephan Pyles Flora Street Café who won the Professional Competition with his Okra three ways dish. Barlow described the dish as “Texas blue-cornmeal tempura fried okra blossom filled with smoked brisket and pachi pachi goat cheese, Pickled okra seeds with Texas honey and pickled okra powder dusted on top.”
Shane Beck of Good Food Catering and Alex Astranti tied for People’s Choice.
Okrapalooza also helps to raise money for the Promise of Peace Community Garden and the at risk youth program called “seed to plate.”
At the end of the day over $15,000 was raised at the event and there were over 300 people in attendance according to Elizabeth Dry the originator of Okrapalooza and the Founding Director of Promise of Peace Garden.
“Folks experience okra in new and exquisite ways at Okrapalooza,” Dry said “Most have never tasted the fresh and nutritious vegetable like they will taste it at Okrapalooza.”
Several of last year’s chefs also returned to cook including Graham Dodds, Uno Immanivong, Thomas Archer and Daniel Pittman and new faces like Justin Box who recently began helming The Cedar Social kitchen.
“Last year Chef Ken Aptrick won with a serious gumbo,” Dry said. “That was the first time that a gumbo has won.”
The Okra Festival began when Dry said she was standing in a “trash ridden vacant lot at 7446 East Grand Ave where she was paying $800 a month to lease the property.”
In July of that first year she needed to raise the monthly rent and funds for the garden’s free programming.
“I was standing in the Promise of Peace Garden looking around at the beautiful nature surrounding me and noticed the abundance of okra growing and just thought ‘How about an okra festival?’ Because some of Dallas' best chefs have helped us raise funds from the beginning I asked them to help with the festival and they loved the idea.”
Always held the second week of September, Dry said that is an excellent time since it is when the harvesting of the okra takes place. Every year attendance has increased as okra lovers come out to get a taste and cheer on their favorite chef.
“Although we believe that Okrapalooza is unique, we maintain humble and peaceful values for the festival,” Dry said. “We were thrilled when John McBride of The Lot agreed to let us use his venue and then Sahne Lovell of Fresh Point agreed to supply all of our chefs with the okra.”
The Okrapalooza cook-off also added beer, wine and live music to the day in order to help wet the taste buds while attendees learned how to make a few new okra dishes at home.
Whole Foods sponsored the community table, Lakewood Brewing Company served the beer again and Texas Discovery Gardens sponsored the children’s area while five local judges made the winning decision.
“You really need to experience Okrapalooza,” concluded Dry. “It’s genuine, authentic brotherhood.”