[Josephine Baran / Unsplash]

The Creole Tomato Festival is Going Virtual

16:43 June 11, 2020
By: John Glover

You say tomato; I say tomato. But luckily, they're not calling the whole thing off.

Among the various idiosyncrasies that amount to New Orleans's je ne sais quoi, one would be remiss to not include its festive atmosphere. The Crescent City might be alone in boasting more celebrations than there are days in the year. No list of the city's motley holiday calendar would be complete without the annual Creole Tomato Festival.

Picture Bubba from Forrest Gump making latrines shine while monotoning, "Shrimp soup, shrimp pasta, shrimp étoufée," and so on ad nauseum. Only this time, it's with tomatoes: tomato pie, tomato flatbread, tomato sandwich, etc. The Creole Tomato Festival, needless to say, celebrates all things tomato with its own little southeastern Louisiana twist.

It feels almost quaint scrolling through the Festival's Facebook page, which recent months have given the feeling of a time capsule. In addition to the live bands on stage at the traditional French Market location, there's footage of an eating competition—a line of people bent at 90-degree angles over a card table with their hands behind their back. It's something so banal yet difficult to view without cringing at the various ways people are violating quarantine etiquette.

Alas, this year, there won't be anyone bobbing for tomatoes in a wood barrel nor anything else quite so hokey. This year, if you want to catch the bands' performances, it will have to be on Facebook or Instagram. It would be misleading, however, to call the plan for this summer "virtual" and leave it at that.

It seems that the Creole Tomato Fest people, in their wisdom, have come up with some in-person and safe alternatives for experiencing their favorite vegetable-like fruit this year. Around a dozen restaurants will be offering to-go and/or dine-in (depending on the establishment's reopening status) tomato options on the weekend of June 13-14, the festival's run time. The restaurant lineup includes Andrea's Restaurant, Gris Gris, Broussard's, Lakeview Harbor and Patois, and others.

There will also be two farmers' markets that weekend, one for Saturday and Sunday each. The one on Saturday is slated to be a "pop-up" farmers' market in the Bywater. And the other on Sunday will be a drive-thru to be found at the famous Parkway Bakery. (Who ever heard of a drive-thru farmers' market? But it's a sign of the times. We're just living in them.)

The Creole Tomato Fest is something of a pioneer in terms of going online with their celebration. As the coronavirus quarantine continues into the summer, you can bet that they won't be the last. Other festival organizations could look to Tomato Fest as a model. Their partially online, partially in-person plan promises the kind of compromise that will keep people safe while also entertaining them and honoring this city's proud traditions.

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