California Strawberry Festival celebrates 36th anniversary

The California Strawberry Festival celebrated its 36th anniversary May 18 and 19 and drew
strawberry lovers from around southern California. The two-day event took place in Oxnard.

Each of the festival's 50 food vendors were required to serve at least one tasty strawberry-themed item.
Favorites included chocolate dipped long-stemmed strawberries, strawberry funnel cakes, strawberry
nachos, deep-fried strawberries, berry kabobs and strawberry pizza. Strawberry smoothies, beer,
margaritas and daiquiris were also a hit. For do-it-yourselfers, festivalgoers built their own strawberry
shortcakes at the Strawberry Shortcake Tent where they loaded their bowl with as much shortcake,
whipped cream and strawberries that could fit.

Many nonprofit groups are behind these tasty items. The non-profit food booths reap 100% of sales for
their cause. Over the past three decades, more than $4.5 million dollars has benefitted more than 30
southland charities. Each nonprofit organization receives a stipend or grant to participate. It adds up to
over $127,000 given out by the festival each year.

Strawberries and Ventura County are perfect for each other. Ideal weather and fertile soil mean
strawberries are Ventura County's number one crop—farmers grow over 350,000 tons annually (Source:
Ventura County Farm Bureau). More than 1.5 million strawberries were picked fresh locally from the fields
and eaten during the two-day festival.

On Saturday, Emily Falke from Santa Barbara was the winner of the annual Berry Blast Off Recipe
Contest for her sweet and spicy fried avocado soft tacos that were drenched with strawberry salsa. She
beat out Elizabeth Koseyan from North Hills who prepared strawberry marinated Yucatan pork tostadas
with fresh strawberry corn salsa and avocado crema. They both had one hour to prepare their recipe
entries before judges while a crowd rooted them on.

Sunday featured the festival's Strawberry Smackdown where two chefs went spoon-to-spoon in a Food
Network-inspired Chopped style cooking challenge. The chefs had to create a strawberry dish that
needed to use key ingredients that they only discovered once the showdown began. The winner was
executive pastry chef Julia San Bartolome owner of Sweet Arleen’s Bakery in Westlake Village. She is a
3-time winner of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. She made a roasted garlic savory waffle with a
strawberry stem pesto and a pan-seared salmon that was de-glazed with beer and topped with balsamic
glazed strawberries. 

San Bartolome also whipped up a strawberry and chocolate chip doughnut hole with a sweet sour cream sauce and fruit caramel with the fresh strawberries and a beermosa with strawberry purée, beer and a
sweet ginger brûlée rim, garnished with strawberries. Her competition came from Carson Peterson, a 14-year-old who was featured on Top Chef Junior, Season 2 and on the Today Show. He created his take on a decomposed strawberry shortcake with
balsamic vinegar and campari reduced strawberries, a strawberry whipped cream and a dehydrated
strawberry powder cake. His second dish was a strawberry beer battered fish taco with a strawberry and
Granny Smith apple salsa garnished with mandalined fresh strawberries and watermelon radish. 
The festival featured live concerts and entertainment on three outdoor stages, over 200 arts and crafts
booths, Strawberryland for Kids, cooking demonstrations and free strawberry themed contests for
festivalgoers (including strawberry pie eating contests, strawberry relays, strawberry tart tosses and a
"Berry Best Dressed Baby Contest."

Official sponsors for this year’s festival included the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau, Southern California Acura Dealers, Stella Rosa Wines, Stella Artois and KTLA.

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