CANNON BEACH — The big wave has hit. You have evacuated. All you have is a cast-iron skillet, a Swiss army knife and a random collection of not-so-appetizing, freeze-dried food stored in the blue barrel you have stashed at the cache site.
Now, make a five-star meal over an open flame while the whole community watches.
This is the premise of the cornerstone event at the first-ever Coastal Community Festival, an all-day bash on May 12 in Cannon Beach centered around emergency preparedness and community spirit.
The cook-off will be paired with safety-related booths, a farmer’s market, food vendors and an evening concert. While most of the event is focused on preparing for large-scale disaster, other general safety activities will be offered as well, including a “Bike Rodeo” that teaches kids bicycle safety laws with an obstacle course, said Emergency Management Consultant Stacy Burr.
“When we began planning the event, we wanted to create a family fun day that promotes emergency preparedness in subtle ways versus focusing on just preparedness,” Burr said. “The event will have the normal festival activities such as the farmer’s market and art vendors but with additional preparedness-focused events.”
The idea for the post-emergency style cook-off came from a need to promote the blue barrel program, which allows people to store personal resources like food in cache sites around the city, Burr said.
“This is a way that we can promote the blue barrels and have fun with Meals Ready to Eat (MREs),” Burr said in an email, referring to the prepackaged foods most commonly used in the military. “They are not very enticing, so this will be a fun way to see how they can be prepared differently.”
Bob Neroni, the chef at the Cannon Beach restaurant and cooking school EVOO, has taken the lead on designing the competition, which will feature three contestants and a panel of judges. Each barrel will feature a “mystery ingredient,” as well as some ingredients that one could forage for, like fish or venison.
So far, John Sowa, current Iron Chef title holder and owner of Sweet Basil’s Cafe, will compete against Mayor Sam Steidel, whose experience cooking with cast-iron skillets over open flame for several Civil War re-enactments will prove to be an asset, Neroni said. The third contestant is still in the works.
“My friends and I, we joked often that, God forbid we’d ever have to eat out of those blue barrels for weeks,” Neroni said. “And then, we thought, let’s make it fun.”
The nature of the event is geared toward turning “lemons into lemonade,” which is much of what disaster preparedness is about, Neroni said.
“Chefs are used to working with the best products available. Now I’m telling them to cook with food out of pouches. That in itself is taking people out of their comfort zone,” Neroni said. “They have to maintain their fire as well as they make their meals, which is just one more obstacle. We really want to emulate what things are going to be like in an emergency setting.”