For those who wanted to be out and about on a blistering-hot Saturday in the Little Apple, the 5th Biennial National Festival of Breads inside the Manhattan Convention Center was the best thing since sliced… well, you know.
Artisan bakers, cooks and bread aficionados filled the convention center Saturday morning and afternoon. Along with baking demonstrations, attendees were also treated to an abundance of free samples. And for those who braved the heat, outdoor barbecue presentations were also available, along with live music entertainment.
For the those in the bread-baking contest circuit, it’s the Super Bowl.
“This is the major bread competition that there is anywhere in this country, so it’s pretty prestigious to be able to come,” said Ronna Farley, of Rockville, Maryland.
Farley, one of eight finalists in this year’s competition, said her love for baking began in home economics classes and has participated in cooking contests since 2006. This year, she brought her Seeded Corn and Onion Bubble Loaf.
“It’s a fun hobby,” she said. “I’ve always liked cooking and I started entering contests when I was first married in the 1970s, and I didn’t really take it as serious till around the early 2000s, then I started entering regularly. You have the same chance as anybody else. You start with just an idea and try to out-think, or out-do with whatever he ingredient is that particular contest.”
Farley wasn’t the only cross-country entry for the festival’s contest. There were also bread bakers from Utah, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and other states — and of course, one from Kansas.
Farley said the festival takes care of all expenses for finalists — including the plane ticket — and organizes an actual wheat harvest tour just before the festival.
Karen Hibbard, the director for the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said over 2,000 people attended the festival.
“Today has truly been an educational opportunity for people passionate about eating — whether it’s barbecue or bread-making,” Hibbard said. “Kudos to the Kansas Wheat Commission and for the partnership they have had with many, many participants to bring people and visitors to Manhattan, and what a unique festival this has been.”
Hibbard said over 800 recipes are tested in order to get down to the eight finalists featured at the festival. She added that 2013 was the first year for the festival in Manhattan. Before that, it was featured in Wichita.
The festival was popular with young families.
Neil Bekemeyer, a wheat-grower who farms in Washington, Kan., but lives in Fairbury, Neb., was with his wife and their child at the festival. He heard about the festival through the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and thought it would be a good family trip.
“We had our fill of samples,” he said. “There were a couple aromatic breads that I really liked. The taste lingered, they used different seeds that gave a different savory flavor.”
Torrey Crossman and his wife, Savannah, were at the festival with their young child. Crossman has been stationed at Fort Riley for two months and the couple is originally from Vermont. Savannah is an agronomist working for the New York Corn and Soybean Association and said some of her research has involved bettering the wheat crop in Vermont.
The couple, who are expecting another addition to the family, said they’ve been enjoying Manhattan.
“We’re enjoying it,” Torrey said. “We like Manhattan a lot.”
“It’s been great, there’s always lots of events,” Savannah added.
Savannah did have a rule for her husband going into the convention center Saturday, though.
“I told him he wasn’t allowed to eat any bread, because then he’d think mine sucked,” she joked.
“Fact,” Torrey hopefully joked.