At Outside Lands, Food and Wine are Half the Fun

Digging in at the festival's Chocolate Lands, Beer Lands, Wine Lands and Outside Lambs

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In addition to hosting over 70 bands and artists – ranging from Metallica to Sigur Rós, Neil Young to Skrillex – this year's Outside Lands featured an expanded palette of food and beverage options that made eating and drinking at the festival just as much fun as listening and dancing. Entire gluttonous areas – like Outside Lambs, Beer Lands, Wine Lands and Chocolate Lands – were dedicated to one particular ingredient and, in nearly every case, hosted by local farmers, winemakers, brewers and chefs.

Celebrity chef Michael Mina launched "pop-ups" (from his Bourbon Steak Houses and RN74) at the inaugural Outside Lambs food court, placed in a forest-like setting in the thick of Golden Gate Park. (Attendees literally had to hike through the woods over rough terrain for a few minutes just to reach it.) There, the Whole Beasts’ John Fink could be found standing watch over all his lambs.

"My schtick is that I cook whole animals," Fink tells Rolling Stone. "And I get the heritage breed animals. I source them from the smaller and medium sized farms, I really don't use too much of the commodity meat and I don't discriminate. I do the whole gambit: cows, goats, fish, fowl . . . and lambs, like we're doing today."

Photos: Live at Outside Lands 2012

Fink's company, the Whole Beast, brought in 25 lambs for Outside Lambs, sourced from nearby Dixon where they were grass-fed. "We're doing whole lamb gyros, so you're getting the belly, the shank, the shoulder, the leg, the loin and we’re just kind of slicing it and processing it all together," says Fink. "I cook them in this smoker here for about three hours. We marinade them in a whole-milk yogurt with a Moroccan spice that's like curry, but which has 22 to 28 different ingredients, depending on what region you're pulling from. Reinforce it with garlic, ginger, jalapeño, lemon zest, mint, cilantro and parsley. And marinate it for three days. I really like doing that." Fink smokes it over white oak instead of hickory because "as great as hickory is," he says, "it doesn't grow here." Oak does.

Instead of just having a simple beer tent, this year's Outside Lands had a microbrew fest inside the festival – Beer Lands, curated by Dave Mclean who runs Magnolia Pub and Brewery in the city's Haight-Ashbury district. Beer Lands featured 30 different craft beers from 15 different, local breweries. Mclean got his own start in the beer world by going to Grateful Dead concerts in the Northeast at a time when microbrews weren't sold in stores or available at bars. As he traveled to California, he stopped at many brewpubs along the way, eventually taking his home-brewing passion above ground.

"It's no longer outside – it's inside," Mclean says of his days drinking beers in the parking lot of Dead shows. "We made the call to make it all California breweries. And then within that, I really leaned heavily on having it be either San Francisco or Bay Area breweries. We have a few from further afield, like down south in Orange County, and a couple from as far north as Fort Bragg, Sierra is in Chico. But the majority of these beers are made within 30 miles of here."

Across the venue, Wine Lands – which, like Outside Lands at large, is now in its fifth year – continued to be a pre-determined destination for many festival goers. "There really aren't any large-scale wine tasting events within a larger music festival specifically," Wine Lands curator Peter Eastlake tells Rolling Stone. Among the vendors pouring a combined total of 120 different wines this year were Claypool Cellars – which is owned by Primus frontman Les Claypool – and August West, which takes its name from a Grateful Dead lyric. Most of the wineries come from the wine country just north or south of the city – internationally acclaimed winemaking regions.

Along one of the main stage's restaurant rows, Andalu – a cornerstone of San Francisco's Mission district – continued to crush it this year with their fried mac and cheese, which looks like mozzarella cheese sticks at first glance.

At Outside Lands, the fried mac and cheese sells well and it sells fast, so chef owner Calvin Schneiter explains that after adding cheddar cheese, onions and Sriracha to the mac and cheese, it's cooled down on sheet pans. "As many as 80 to 100 a day, in the preparation for this," Schneiter tells Rolling Stone. "Once it's cooled, we cut it into logs, egg wash and panko; we hold it ready cold, fry it from cold to crispy and serve it up."

Playing off their carnival inspired dishes, Straw's brick and mortar outpost in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood features a Tilt-a-Whirl amusement ride car that diners can sit in to eat. At Outside Lands, Straw was hocking sweet potato tots with blackberry sauce and waffle snowcones. "At a festival setting like this, people come here because it's a whimsical, kind of magical place," Straw's Tanya Koollar says. 

Ari Feingold, who curates the food aspect of Outside Lands (a.k.a. "The Taste of Bay Area") says that when the festival started five years ago, about half the vendors were local. That was pretty good even by current standards. "Now it's about 95 percent local, so at this point anybody that we add moving forward is going to be a local vendor," he tells Rolling Stone. "When I say local, we really even try for not just the Bay Area, not just San Francisco, but restaurants that are right around the park."

In fact, most of the restaurants that he works with, apart from the food trucks, don't usually even have mobile vending capabilities. For many of them, apart from their brick and mortar restaurants, Outside Lands is their only outing every year.

"Instead of looking at it like a venue that hosts amazing music and phenomenal food, we try to celebrate the culture here in the Bay Area, which has both a rich and diverse music culture as well as a food culture," says Feingold. "So with the band lineup you'll see every kind of music from every kind of genre – we look at the food the same way."

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