Free Tickets To Philadelphia Magazine’s ThinkFest: And The Winner Is…

For most of this week, we’ve been collecting big food ideas from you, the Foobooz readership, in advance of Philadelphia magazine’s ThinkFest. The promise was that we’d give away a pair of tickets to the commenter who came through with the best idea (and we will be doing that), but honestly? There were a lot of really good ideas put forth. Some pretty stupid ones as well, but a lot of very interesting ones, operating at both the low and high end of Philly’s restaurant scene.

Sean was one of the first readers to come through with a reasonable big idea.

Philly needs a big “casual” food event like other places – i.e., think the BBQ in DC, or the Garlic festival in Gilroy… Something that takes over all of Broad Street from like south to City Hall…

But really? We already have these. We have so many food events in this town (both fancy-pants and casual) that it can be difficult to keep track and smaller ones have a tendency to slip through the cracks. I get the desire for something big and city-wide, but this idea wasn’t quite there yet.

Beyond a whole lot of folks calling for more vegan food, more gluten-free food, more juice bars or more barbecue, readers like Toby were thinking big and outside the box. Way outside the box:

In a city of Neighborhoods, everyone sticks too close to their favorites and stand-bys. In the spirit of culinary adventure, Philly should offer certificates of completion for completing self-chartered yet semi-sponsored dining excursions. Once someone has tried the top three (or five if they exist!) sushi restaurants, they vote/review and then perhaps get an incentive/kickback. They are then Philly-sushi-certified. Next they get all their Starrs in a row. Next their BBQ. And so on. Fun!

And I agree. Totally fun! A bit Convention-And-Visitors-Bureau-Y, but definitely, completely, totally fun. Still not a winner though.

Folks like Janeane were looking for more educational opportunities in Philly (cooking classes, more or less) and there were several people taking shots at the PLCB for stifling the restaurant and bar industry. Someone asked for a food service union. Another suggested some kind of vigilante force of “Hospitality Protection Services” to keep the undesirables out of her favorite restaurant neighborhoods and protect the tourists in Center City (if we’d had an award for Worst Possible Idea, that one would’ve taken it in a walk). And there was a lot of talk about doing things with food trucks and markets that sounded a lot like suggestions that have been being made for the past few years (food truck pods! More night markets! Hawker centers in Center City!) and, as yet, no one has moved on–mostly because the plans are either unworkable or unsupportable or both.

The idea of a cafeteria where working chefs would gather to put forth their best dishes every night was proposed by Josh:

Philadelphia should have a “Cafeteria” to make its great restaurants and chefs more accessible. The cafeteria concept could allow a rotating cast of chefs each to design a single dish per day, and patrons could choose their dish from among the various selections. Both the chefs and the dishes could change daily, so that it would not be too big a burden on any one chef’s day job.

And that was kind of like a modern take on the idea of a hawker center with a shot of spin-the-bottle to make it interesting, which really put it in contention for the tickets (even winning out against Rory who wanted a kind of free experimental art-space for up-and-coming cooks and Bill who wanted our best chefs to engage in spirited culinary combat with chefs from all other cities in America to prove Philly’s dominance once and for all), until this idea came through from Susan:

Everywhere I look in Philly are community gardens, pocket gardens, school gardening teaching lots, etc. It would be great to encourage local restaurants to purchase produce grown by these amateur farmers — the profits of which would go into transforming more blighted lots/neighborhoods into green space. I love the way that the Philly Mural Arts Project was such a huge success: bring color and vibrancy and art to often-blighted areas and dilapidated buildings. Why not do the same with a Garden Project? Plus, a big incentive for restaurants to use Philly-grown food would be a tax break, since it would be a charitable contribution.

I like that this one covered all the angles. I like that she was looking at using produce being grown by already existing farms and gardens–rather than having to tear up parks and dig in the highway medians or whatever. I liked that their was a money incentive (the tax breaks) there at the end, and an acceptance of the fact that turning some North Philly vacant lot into a garden was going to take years and sweat and–most important–money.

Of all the ideas put forth, this was the most fully thought-out and the most potentially transformative. A true Big Idea. Thus, Susan, the pair of tickets are going to you. Congratulations.

For those of you who didn’t win, there are two choices. One, you could just go to the ThinkFest website and buy tickets for yourself ($85 or $50, depending on what events you’re looking to attend). Or you could hang tight for a couple days and be watching Foobooz next Tuesday because I think we’re going to play this game one more time–and with slightly different rules this time.

ThinkFest [Philadelphia magazine]