Interactive festival OZY Fest is back in New York this weekend (July 20 & 21) for the fourth consecutive year, descending on Central Park’s Great Lawn and bringing together musicians, thought-leaders, business icons, and some of the most influential names in food and cooking. This year founder Carlos Watson welcomes back 5-time James Beard award winner Marcus Samuelsson along with Rachael Ray, Padma Lakshmi, and Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen, as keynote speakers and presenters from the food world.
Billed as the “South by Southwest (SXSW) of the northeast,” few festivals have given food personalities this sort of mainstream platform. Samuelsson, an Ethiopian and Swedish chef/restaurateur who splashed onto the New York City scene some two decades ago as the head chef of Aquavit and later with his own acclaimed Red Rooster (Harlem), spoke with us about his upcoming OZY program on Saturday, and why he keeps coming back to the festival.
“I love OZY because it’s not just about one single thing but rather connecting ideas and narratives about food, business, politics, [and] community with people from all different backgrounds. I’m excited to be back with my own fresh thinking and ideas to share and also absorb those from others.” Last year Samuelsson discussed food, cooking, and their impacts on the environment, including emerging alternative and non-animal proteins and food waste.
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The chef, who recently opened a second Red Rooster in London, often has food waste and sustainability top of mind and revealed it’s something he tries to be conscious of both in his life and in his restaurants. This year’s focus is again on waste but more specifically ugly produce, which refers to fruits and vegetables not conventionally attractive enough to make the retailer floor but that are still 100 percent fresh, edible, and tasty. “How can we [chefs and home cooks] use that one tomato that might be a little beaten up but is still packed with flavor or avocado that’s just a little bit darker than the rest but not spoiled?”
Samuelsson hopes folks find his presentation informative and enlightening but also practical, noting how we throw away roughly 35 percent of the food that’s fit to eat (in one way or another); he’d love to help get that number down closer to zero by sharing ways to fight food waste in everyday cooking and life.
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Other food presentations include a cooking demo from the queen of 30-minute meals and daytime talk show host Rachael Ray, while model turned food guru turned host of Bravo’s “Top Chef” Padma Lakshmi will also flash some Teflon for the crowds on Sunday during a cooking demo of her own.
The two-day interactive festival of art and ideas will be hosted by Watson and Alex Rodriguez with other marquee guests including singer-songwriter John Legend, author Malcolm Gladwell, breakout soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and comedian Trevor Noah.
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And don’t worry, if you’re headed to OZY and interested in eating some food in addition to hearing about it, you’re also in luck. This year’s lineup includes “food from over 40 countries” like Korean Baos via The Bao Shoppe, Mexican fare from Gordo’s Cantina, Eggloo ice cream served in freshly baked waffle cones, and much more.
Tickets are still available at https://www.ozy.com/ozyfest/tickets.
Update: OZY Fest 2019 has been canceled due to expected extreme heat.
Header image by Marcus Samuelsson