Chautauqua Festival explores the culture of food
They say that Henry VIII had a hearty appetite, but it could be he was just enjoying the food served at court. It’s those tricky types of relationships with food that will be explored during this year’s Nevada Humanities Festival & Chautauqua in Reno.
“We’re looking at the topic of the culture of food in relationship to heritage, community, tradition and more,” said Karen Wikander, digital projects and program manager for Nevada Humanities. “While we absolutely want to celebrate the culture of food, we also want to recognize there are some issues around it, too.”
Most or all of the events scheduled in the June 1-24 lineup tie in to this culture of food, including the on-stage performances by actors portraying César Chávez, Luther Burbank Zora Neale Hurston and King Henry VIII during the main festival week, June 19 and June 21-23.
An appetite for the stage
All of the Chautauqua performances promise to be educating and enlivening. Each is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road. Free music starts at 6 p.m. and the gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for theater seating and $10 for lawn seating.
“Any seat is a good seat,” Wikander said. “Bartley offers that opportunity where you can sit on the lawn, too, and still see the stage. It’s a great venue.”
The evening of June 21 features Fred Blanco as César Chávez, who had ties to food in his effort to improve the lives of farm workers. Blanco will present Chávez’ life not just from the perspective of the activist, but also through the lenses of other people who knew or interacted with him. Blanco, from Los Angeles, performs 12 to 13 different characters tied to Chávez in what should be a riveting performance, according to Wikander.
“He really puts on these performances that give you a sense of the life of César Chávez, but put in the context of that historical moment,” she said.
Henry VIII takes the stage
Returning as King Henry VIII is Frank X. Mullen, a Reno journalist and author, who last assumed the kingly role about six years ago.
“This time, with the theme of food, I’ll still get Henry’s biography in, but will focus on the way things were in Tudor times, particularly the way they lived and ate,” Mullen said. “The stereotype of Henry — as a slob who gnawed turkey legs and then threw the bones at his dogs — couldn’t be more wrong. The Tudors were all about good manners and fine dining. Many of the culinary traditions of today, including the variety and presentation of food and the courses we follow, came from the Tudor times.”
He says that Henry VIII’s palace kitchens could serve more than 1,000 people a day if necessary and that for the 600 or so members of the court, meals had many courses and many dishes. In today’s equivalency, Henry VIII might have spent $1 million a month on food, Mullen said. And while royal suppers could last for over three hours, the leftover portions were distributed to servants or the poor and destitute.
“The presentation was always elaborate and often humorous,” he said. “Chickens might be sewn together and decorated to look like a dragon; castles and mythical creatures would be sculpted of spun sugar and marzipan.
Movie screenings, more fun
Many different food-themed activities are planned throughout June leading up to the on-stage Chautauqua performances. These range in tune from short-term book club gatherings at Reno’s Sundance Bookstore to an al fresco film screening scheduled the evening of June 12 outside the bookstore, 121 California Ave.
Film screenings also are planned at Whitney Peak Hotel and Heritage Restaurant, along with pop-up meal type offerings.
Finally, on June 21 at Bartley Ranch, there is a VIP event. The $50 VIP ticket includes entrance to an intimate catered gathering with the performers and reserved VIP seating for that evening. More details about any of the events scheduled June 1-24 can be found on the Nevada Humanities website.
“The diverse activities — from books clubs, to film screenings, to pop-up dinners, and performances — will showcase the many ways that food intersects with our lives, our culture, and our community,” Wikander said. “And the settings for the various events are fantastic — June is a great time to be in Reno.”
- A kitchen tour for children and adults, lunch and a showing of “Ratatouille” beginning at 11 a.m. June 15, Heritage Restaurant in Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia St., $20 adults, $15 youth 15 and younger
- A Tudor feast beginning at 3 p.m. June 15, Nothing to It Culinary Center, 225 Crummer Lane, $35
- A Martini Dinner with Bond, James Bond, beginning at 6 p.m. June 16, Heritage Restaurant in Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia St., $50.