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The Spotted Pig's Carla Rzeszewski on GoogaMooga '13

The Great GoogaMooga — what happened there? In two years there have been two festivals, both marred by notable difficulties. Is it really possible that no one planning the outdoor event checked the forecast for Sunday and wondered what the consequences of a modest rain shower might be? Were there successes achieved as well as disappointments? To gain a little perspective, Eater reached out to two-year festival veteran Carla Rzeszewski, the Wine Director of The Breslin, The John Dory Oyster Bar, and The Spotted Pig. What did she think of her GoogaMooga experience?

How did you get involved with the GoogaMooga last year?
Actually it was Paul Grieco who contacted me first. Paul emailed me and he said, "Hey, there is this festival going on and Peter Eastlake and I want you to be a part of it. You can do whatever you want." I hadn't heard about it and I had no idea what it was. I was like, "What kind of festival? Who is the audience? What is the scale of this thing?" They responded back and they said, "This has never been done. It is going to be the music of Bonnaroo, but bending it more towards the foodie culture in New York." Although, I think it would be applicable to other cities, and I have heard they might be looking at doing it in Chicago, which would be dope as hell. But anyway, they said, "You can do anything you want, we just want you to be a part of it." And I said, "Awesome, I want to do sherry." And they were like, "Yeah that would be great." So Paul was kind of the person who wrangled the wine people last year, and this year it was Tanner Walle, also of Hearth and Terroir. And I had known both of them from working with them before.

How did it go in the planning stages last year?
We got to sit down in a round table discussion and just sort of break down what the plan was for the wine tent. They were gracious enough to give me a booth and say, "Hey, do what you want." So I chose six sherries, and I did all Fino and Manzanilla. And then I flipped out literally the day before GoogaMooga last year. I was like, "Carla, what have you chosen to do? What are you doing pouring dry sherry at a music festival? No one is going to come and buy this, and you are responsible." So I was like, "I know what will convince people about these wines: they need to have food alongside them." Then I very last minute contacted Peter, and I said, "Peter, I need olives and I need almonds, can we do this?" And he said, "Carla, if you think it is going to work, yes." And it did work.

So you felt the GoogaMooga staff were supportive of what you wanted to do?
For sure. Amazingly supportive. Peter was like, "I don't know if this is going to be allowed in terms of the rules, because this is the wine tent, not the food tent, but you know what, fuck it. If you think it is important, let's just do it. We'll make it happen." He was awesome from the get-go, and totally open to feedback. Him and Jonathan Mayers. I've sat down with them both and the question has been, "How can we make this fantastic? How can we make this better than before?" They are not at all stuck in an idea of how it needs to be, and they are encouraging of new ideas. Peter called me this year, and he said, "Hey, do you want to be on one of these trading cards?" And I was like, "Yeah, let's do it!" So I go in to have my photo taken, and I was blown away by the level of invention and fun imagination in their office. The way that ideas were being tossed around, there was a childlike freedom that you rarely find.

What do you think about some of the problems that have come up in the two years that the event has been held?
It is a shame what happened the first year with the cell phone towers going down and the food shortages. And this year with the rain. There have been obstacles, but there are adjustments that can be made. I think that what was faulty last year was addressed this year, and unfortunately some other stuff also came up.

Did they ever say anything to you regarding what would happen if it rained?

The event added an extra day this year compared to last year, right?
It was two days last year and three days this year. And I think that speaks to the power of a festival like this. This year we did sherry again, and I had people come up to the table and say, "Oh my god, I loved your sherry last year! I had no idea what it was, but now I drink it all the time. I was hoping you were going to be here this year!" There was a good amount of love. The general awareness of sherry has grown in the last year. Even I was surprised by how widespread the awareness has become compared to last year. There were people there asking for specific wines this year. Specific sherries. And people kept coming up and saying, "Thank you for doing this." For sherry to be a highlight of this festival I think is pretty admirable. They aren't trying to pander to a preexisting notion of what their consumers want. Instead they are letting the wine people talk about what they are excited about and trusting that that will translate to the audience. I think that is huge.

There has been some criticism leveled at GoogaMooga for offering again what is already offered every day in New York, without adding anything to that. But are you saying that what they are doing is allowing for exciting aspects of a restaurant to be showcased, where those elements might get less notice inside the normal day to day operation?
I think that GoogaMooga allowing the wine people to choose what they want to talk about and support is a brave move. They could just choose something popular for us. But instead they made partners in the wine community to help dream it up. They are allowing us into the process, and that's important. Sure, there are tables that come into our restaurants and ask for sherry, but that's not the majority. And for me to be able to stand behind a booth and walk people through it, to share that, I was grateful. Usually if you have one or two tables a night that want that, you are lucky. So for me to be able to do that for hundreds of people was a huge gift. I couldn't have been happier. And in terms of the food, there were special items offered that you don't see at the restaurants already. The Spotted Pig was doing foot long sausages that are not on the menu at any of our restaurants. There was a spin on the idea of what April does. And it wasn't the burger that it was last year. It was, "Hey, come and see what we are up to this year," and on a day that there is live music.

So walk me through what happened on Sunday. What was the timeline?
When we figured out that the festival wasn't going to happen we were bummed. I got a text saying it was shut down as I walked in. Everybody was just sort of standing around. The vibe was like, damn, we would have liked to have done this. Walking around seeing all the food that was being wasted was weird. Eerily apocalyptic. One chef told me that she had been smoking a lamb for two days, and now she had to figure out a way to use it. Talking to Tanner and Peter later on that day, they were bummed. But they had already begun getting the food to the foodbanks. I know that Salvation Taco brought food out to the Rockaways. So somebody benefited, but maybe not the vendors. The question was how to give the food back to the community so that it wasn't being wasted.

In terms of value to vendors, have you seen people come into the restaurants you work at and recognize you from the festival?
For sure. I had people coming up to the table and saying, "Oh, I have your trading card right here. This is where you work? Okay." That can only help the restaurant and me. People know where to come.

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John Dory Oyster Bar

1196 Broadway, New York, NY 10001 (212) 792-9000 Visit Website

The Spotted Pig

314 West 11th Street, Manhattan, NY 10014 (212) 620-0393 Visit Website

The Breslin

16 West 29th Street, Manhattan, NY 10001 (212) 679-1939 Visit Website

The Great GoogaMooga

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY