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Mandarin festivalgoers make the best of it

Despite dreary weather, event still strong
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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While wet, cold weather kept some people away, Mountain Mandarin Festival officials say the popular annual event was still a success. “The crowds definitely were down because of cold and rainy weather but we still had thousands of people who showed up,” said Karen Spencer, marketing director for the festival’s sponsor, the Newcastle Area Business Association. “We were very pleased with the number of people who braved the cold and came.” Spencer did not have attendance figures Monday. She said after chatting with some of the regular event attendees, including some of the 200 mandarin vendors who manned their stations all three days, they could only recall one other time when they experienced similar bad conditions. “In talking to the people who’ve been with the festival since day one, this is only the second time in 17 years we’ve had weather like this during the festival,” Spencer said. “It was unusual.” However, there were highlights of the festival, including the return of the AGROart competition. The recipe contest was also a high point. And speaking of food, Spencer said the mandarin gelato, which has become a staple at the festival, continued to popular as well as Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ barbecue pulled pork and barbecue mandarin ribs. Newcastle resident Nancy Muir took home the best in show prize for her “surprising” recipe of mandarin orange dumplings in a nest of noodles. Muir said she found out about the contest about a week before and entered. Muir, who owns Chef Muir catering, said she’s made dumplings before but it took a couple of tries to nail the perfect spice combination. “I had a couple of tries and had some people taste it and said it needs a little more zing,” Muir said. “I was afraid to get it too hot but I saw that one of the judges said he liked that zing.” Spencer agreed that the hot taste stood out. “It was very spicy, “ Spencer said. “It was kind of surprising, which is why I think it won. We look for what is unique and it has to have a distinctly mandarin flavor to it.” Meadow Vista resident Lia Carotta took home $500 for playing with her food. The bronze sculpture artist won the grand prize in the AGROart competition for her “beautiful” pair of roosters, according to Angela Tahti, executive director of PlacerArts. As per contest guidelines, Carotta used fruits and vegetables, including mandarins, peppers, green squash, mandarin leaves and rosemary to construct the 12-inch poultry duo. Tahti said Carotta “worked up to the minute” in the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. time allotted on site for artists to make their creation. Tahti said judges enjoyed all of the entries and hope to continue the competition next year. “It was again fun and colorful,” Tahti said. “People amaze you with what they can pull off.” Spencer said overall, this year’s event went well despite a chilly setting thanks to dedication from vendors and the estimated 75-person group of festival staff and volunteers. “I want to really give so much credit to the vendors that stayed out in the cold weather and rain for the three days,” Spencer said. “And to the staff, who didn’t give up for a minute.” Reach Jenifer Gee at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.