Richie Farina propels culinary creativity on Carnival Kings


Richie Farina is taking his unique science influenced culinary creations to the Cooking Channel’s Carnival Kings. Where does he see carnival food going?

On Carnival Kings, Richie Farina brings his distinctive culinary point of view to the Cooking Channel show. The Michelin-starred chef is known for blending science (sometimes molecular gastronomy) into its imaginative and scrumptious dishes. In this particular cooking show, the midway carnival foods go head to head with Chef Farina’s creations. Who can win the prices for the most imaginative dish?

Foodies and cooking show fans might know Chef Farina from his various television appearances. He was a contestant on Top Chef. Also, he appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Iron Chef America, and Bizarre Foods, just to name a few.

In my case, I know Chef Farina from his successful tenure at the Michelin Star Chicago restaurant Moto. As the restaurant’s executive chef, Farina pushed the boundaries of how people thought about food. From creative presentations to rediscovering how people taste food, the dining experience at Moto was truly a memorable one.

During the summer carnival and state fair season is in full swing, I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Farina about carnival foods, his show Carnival Kings and where the food trends might be going. Below is our conversation.

Cristine Struble (CS): As the Exec chef at Moto, some of the menu items played with molecular gastronomy, how do those techniques come to play in Carnival Kings?

Richie Farina (RF) Yes I used a lot of molecular techniques at Moto, the techniques come into use on Carnival Kings as an over the top fun presentation of my food. I also use some of the techniques mixed into my dishes as a different way to approach a familiar food or idea. My hope is that this will give me an upper hand during the competition part of the show and also show a different way of approaching a food idea.

CS: Often carnival foods are calorie heavy or super greasy, crazy creations, how can a chef balance that flavor the fans crave with better ingredients?

RF: I think when it comes to balancing the flavors of the carnival food fans want it’s about balancing size and calories. I don’t think it’s necessarily about using higher end ingredients or anything, I think it’s about being creative with what you have. I have actually noticed a trend that if it’s a smaller item it can be considered calorie heavy or “greasy” if it’s a larger item its actually mainly meat and vegetables like a kabob or big beef rib. By having a super calorie heavy small item you are actually able to finish it as opposed to having a very large and super calorie heavy item that you could not finish.

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  • CS: Do you think that people are eating these over the top carnival foods because they enjoy the flavors or because they want to say that they tried that “special” dish?

    RF: I think that it actually a combination of both wanting to try it and liking the flavors. Every year a carnival will have “the” new item to try, it might be an over the top food that doesn’t seem like it would make sense but it somehow does. There is a reason a lot of these items win best new dish of their respected carnival, they taste great, so they get people to try the dish from the buzz around it and then liking it because of the flavors.

    CS: A lot of carnival food is served on a stick. What makes a successful food on a stick? Can anything be served on a stick?

    RF: I think what makes a successfully food on a stick is actually stability. If it taste great but falls off the stick when you eat it there is no point to having it on a stick. The whole reason to put an item on a stick it to make it more mobile or walking around food and less messy, I think that almost anything can be put on a stick, except a soup I don’t think that would work.

    CS: Do you think that flavor tripping could ever be popular at a carnival?

    RF: I think that the idea of flavor tripping is too hard of a concept to explain in a carnival setting. Not saying that people wouldn’t get it but that fact that you need to explain to each person what they need to do it’s time consuming. Plus it would affect the flavors of the other food at the carnival. Although it is an amazing idea and really fun, there are too many variables that would make it not successful in that setting. Carnival food needs to be fast and delicious and flavor tripping only meets one of those criteria.

    (Side note- flavor tripping is where you eat a particular berry, aka miracle fruit. The fruit coats your tongue and causes you to taste food differently. For example, lemon will taste sweet or sour cream will taste more like sweet cream. It usually lasts for about 30 minutes.)

    CS: Do you think that there are any trends in carnival foods? Could foodies start to see these foods in fine dining restaurants?

    RF: Some of the trends that I have seen at a few of the carnivals that I have visited are Flaming hot cheese puffs on EVERYTHING. I have seen them on sliders, pizza, ice cream, popcorn, you name it, it has had spice and crunch added to it. I see why I works, most people like spice and having a crunchy element as well is a great combination. I have also actually scene a few stands that have liquid nitrogen popcorn and puffs at them. So incorporating a fun element of liquid nitrogen into some easy items sets them apart from the other popcorn stands. As far as being brought into a fine dining atmosphere I can see things like cotton candy, popcorn, and a few other snacks possibly working their way onto pastry area. I know that Tickets in Barcelona have a really fun aspect to their food that sometimes incorporates carnival style items. SO, I can see a carnival food adapted to a fine dining atmosphere.

    CS: Are there any carnival foods that you refuse to eat?

    RF: There are no carnival food items that I would refuse to eat, I’ll try anything once.

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    A huge thank you to Richie Farina of Carnival Kings for taking the time to chat with me. His perspective on food and cooking is inspiration to an aspiring cook, like myself. Playing with your food can be a good thing. While I might never truly be able to peel a blueberry well, I am determined to have more fun with my cooking and food. More importantly, I am even more willing to try any food that comes my way.

    Carnival Kings airs on the Cooking Channel. Check your local listings for times.