For this week’s edition of Spotlight Radio Prague’s Coilin O’Connor attended this year’s food festival and brought back this report. Thousands of people congregated on the picturesque embankment beside Charles Bridge at the weekend to sample the fare on offer at the annual Prague Food Festival. Now in its third year, this event aims to celebrate the good quality food that is on offer in the Czech capital.
This year’s festival allowed visitors to taste specialities prepared by some of the country’s best restaurants for just a fraction of the cost.
As only the finest eateries in Prague and the Czech Republic can take part in the event, a lot of time and effort is put into choosing the restaurants to showcase the food now available in the Czech Republic.
Pavel MaurerOne person whose job it is to select restaurants for the festival is the event’s founder and well known Czech gourmet Pavel Maurer:
“We have two criteria for selecting restaurants for the festival. The first criterion is that they are selected from the best and most interesting eateries in Prague and the Czech Republic. The other consideration is that we would like to combine restaurants that are from different gastronomic traditions, so that you can not only choose Czech gastronomy, but Italian, Thai and French food as well. We even have a kosher restaurant this year. We want to showcase the variety of cuisine that you can now find in Prague and other cities in the Czech Republic.”
Radek Hasman, the head chef of leading Italian restaurant Aromi, was one of the cooks chosen to present the type of food that is now on offer in Prague. He says the city’s food festival helps showcase the improving standards of cuisine in the Czech capital, which has come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade or so.
“The food is now improving a lot here. Restaurants are now putting more thought into things than they did before. They follow trends around the world, such as in French and Italian cuisine. They are taking inspiration from Michelin star restaurants around Europe. The standard is going up in Prague. The food is beginning to be a lot better than it was previously.”
Radek says the festival also gives Prague chefs a chance to keep an eye on what other cooks are doing in the city’s culinary industry.
“There is friendly competition, because I am practically friends with all the chefs from other restaurants. We see each other in our restaurants all the time. We talk about the food as well as new products and trends in cuisine.”
In addition to encouraging Prague chefs to raise their game, the festival is helping put the city on the culinary map. In a city which now boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants, the event is intended to highlight that fine dining is now one of the many delights of visiting the Czech capital, something which was not always the case in the past.
Pavel Maurer sees the festival as another reason for people to come to Prague as it offers something that you cannot find in any other cities in the surrounding region:
“As far as I know we are unique in eastern Europe. I don’t know of any similar festivals in this region. Of course there are a number of food festivals in places like England, the United States and Italy, which are sometimes very big events. But to the best of my knowledge, we are the only special food festival to be found in eastern Europe.”
Besides presenting food on various stands beside the river, the Prague Food Festival also offered a number of accompanying events, including live music, spectacular cooking shows presented by top chefs, and a special beer tasting event, which gave visitors an opportunity to enjoy the Czech national drink in all its guises.
First and foremost, however, the festival focuses on food and an incredible amount of victuals were prepared and consumed over the weekend.
I asked Pavel Maurer how much food would actually be eaten over the course of the three-day event:
“I have absolutely no idea, but as an example I know that we have a “fresh bar” this year, which is serving only fresh fruit and vegetable juices, and they are coming to the festival with something like six tonnes of fruit and vegetables just to make these fresh juices for people!”
This year’s festival took place against the backdrop of a major economic crisis, which has been keenly felt in the local catering sector.
Pavel Maurer says that these straitened times are definitely having an impact on Prague’s restaurants, but that establishments like the ones chosen for the food festival should be able to weather the storm:
“Some restaurants have already closed down this year, so we can’t say that the situation is very optimistic. In particular, the turnovers of restaurants that were geared towards tourists are down between 30 and 40 percent. On the other hand, you can see a lot of restaurants who focus on local clients, and these restaurants are operating as if nothing has happened. They are full of people and they are doing well.”
Radek Hasman agrees that the economic crisis is not such a big threat to Prague’s catering industry, but instead gives the city’s best restaurants an opportunity to consolidate their position:
“This is a very important signal for all restaurants in Prague. The restaurants that will survive are the ones that are very friendly to their customers. The service has to be perfect. The customers have to feel that they have contact with the waiters and the chefs in the kitchen. We are like this in our restaurant. This is the first thing you have to do to survive. People will always have to eat somewhere. The question is where. We offer people very good food, prices and service. And that’s why they keep coming back.”