The 30th annual Creole Tomato Festival returns to the lower French Quarter this weekend with fresh new features — such as a bloody mary market, a splashy cookbook, outdoor yoga set to live music and a 5K race. But the most noticeable change is the festival’s expanded footprint, which now includes Crescent Park.
“It’s kind of like the festival has four festivals within it,” said Amy Kirk Duvoisin, the marketing director of The French Market Corp.
For the first time, the festival kicks off with the Ripe & Ready 5K Run at 8:30 a.m., which begins and ends at Crescent Park. This is where the festival’s main music stage will be located, featuring acts from Raw Oyster Cult and Little Freddie King. Crescent Park also is the site of an arts and crafts bazaar, and five food trucks: Diva Dawg, Food Drunk, Mr. Choo, Petite Rouge and Frencheeze.
This year, the kid’s section that was once set up in Dutch Alley will be stationed in the grassy area at the Old U.S. Mint, adjacent to Esplanade Avenue. The family fun includes hula hooping and bubble making, alongside interactive craft booths.
Face painters and magicians will add to the tomato-inspired merriment.
The children’s entertainment stage will showcase performances by Swamp Romp with Johnette Downing and Scott Billington, among others. A yoga class takes place on the Mint’s lawn at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by an invigorating “Bounce Your Brass” session with singer Robin Barnes, and the Ripe & Ready Rally second-line that winds across the festival grounds and concludes with the “first bite of the season”.
In honor of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary year, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park will host a Centennial Stage at the Old U.S. Mint and present park ranger musicians in concert, including the NPS Centennial Band.
In Dutch Alley, near an arts forum and the performance pavilion, a new bloody mary market will offer thirsty festivalgoers traditional and innovative bloody mary options, in both regular and sample-size cups.
The Green Goddess and Bar Tonique are among the 10 participating vendors.
The farmers market will host the Louisiana Cookin’ Culinary Stage, featuring “Tomato Talks” at 10 a.m. with Dianne Honore, a local historian and weekly French Market District tour guide. Chef demonstrations occur every hour between 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and include lessons from Chris Montero, of Napoleon House, and Michael Gulotta, of MoPho.
This year, there are more food options than ever, with 18 vendors serving dishes for $7 or less. Award-winning Crepes a la Carte will offer a tomato crepe. Miss Linda the Yakamein Lady will serve Creole crawfish and tomatoes baked macaroni and cheese, and Bistreaux at the Bank’s deep-fried BLT. Loretta’s Pralines will serve crabmeat tomato beignets. Superior Seafood is dishing up a Creole tomato shrimp ceviche. There are many others.
But for those folks who can’t get enough of the Creole tomato, there’s the 30th anniversary Creole Tomato Festival cookbook.
This tome, which will be sold for $10 at festival souvenir stands, contains more than 30 recipes, vintage photos of past festivals, Creole tomato facts, and a history of the festival.
The key ingredient of this cookbook will be available in copious amounts throughout the festival. Ben & Ben Becnel’s Farms will sell Creole tomatoes from the farmers market, while George’s Produce sells them near the food booths, along Barracks Street in front of the Mint.
Timmy Perilloux, a farmer from Montz who sells Creole tomatoes in the French Market, explained that a rainy growing season has reduced the quantity of tomatoes, but not the quality.
Customers should look for crates of tomatoes that come in various sizes, with slight flaws, such as cracks on the bottom.
“Those imperfections make them Creole tomatoes,” he said. But to eliminate any uncertainty, simply cut one open and taste it. “You will notice the difference. They taste better. They have that sweet and salty combination.”