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Photo Courtesy Elizabeth Dry

It’s like a who’s who of local chefs and today they are doing one thing; cooking okra.  Not to be forgotten is the fact that it is also September 11 so with that in mind each of the chefs involved in the Okrapalooza competition will have a first responder on their team in memory of 9/11 and the city’s own community heroes.

Going into its seventh year, Okrapalooza has become a foodie tradition in East Dallas. With a variety of chefs going head to head to create the best okra dish for the title of Okrapalooza champion of the world, an interested okra eating crowd gets to converge and taste the results.

This year’s Okrapalooza is being held at The Lot on Grand Avenue, already known for its locally-influenced flavors and neighborhood beer garden atmosphere.

“Folks experience okra in new and exquisite ways at Okrapalooza,” said Elizabeth Dry the originator of Okrapalooza and the Founding Director of Promise of Peace Garden.  “Most have never tasted the fresh and nutritious vegetable like they will taste it at Okrapalooza.”

Several of last year’s chefs will be returning like Graham Dodds, Uno Immanivong, Thomas Archer and Daniel Pittman, as well as some 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 actually 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 with last year’s number coming in at 300 okra lovers coming 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 adds beer, wine and live music to help wet the taste buds and then, of course there is the chance to learn how to make a few new dishes at home too.

Whole Foods is sponsoring the community table, Lakewood Brewing Company will be serving the beer again and Texas Discovery Gardens will sponsor the children’s area.

With five local judges making the winning decisions, Dry added that the entire event will continue its tradition of a silent auction of local love and the theme is “Jimi Hendrix.”

“You really need to experience Okrapalooza,” concluded Dry. “It’s genuine, authentic brotherhood.”

Admission is $45 and includes okra dish tastings, beer and live music and the proceeds benefit the Promise of Peace Community Garden while also contributing to the “seed to plate” movement and programming for at risk youth.

For more details visit http://okrapalooza.com/.

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