Unlike a lot of food festivals with well-known chefs, Attack of the Killer Tomato is extremely friendly. “Everyone seems like they’re really enjoying themselves. Most of these events feel a bit too foodie,” says Chef Meherwan Irani, who owns a line of Indian street food restaurants in Georgia and North Carolina. “This one feels like a party,”
As I take a photo of Kyma’s ceviche topped with tomato sorbet, a man with sunglasses tries to photobomb but instead gets tangled in the line of people in front, politely trying to squeeze his way through. “I’m trying to photobomb you for $500,” he explains to me once I realize what he’s doing. “Funny or Die pays big money for epic photobombs.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it into my photo in time. Behind Kyma’s booth, where the ceviche topped with tomato sorbet is served, stand two Wills. “My name is Will Smith, like the actor,” jokes the executive chef. Will Howard is the other Will at Kyma, working as a line chef.
“My dad was my chef, and it’s what I like to do,” said Howard. “My parents just got through a divorce, and the only thing I’m going to have left now, instead of a family, is food. Food is my happy, it’s my sad, it’s my everything. That’s why Kyma is one of the best restaurants in Atlanta. It’s me and people just like me who want to take food to the next level.”
The tomato sorbet is slightly sweet and melts into the ceviche. Both parts also carry hints of acidity to strike out the sweetness of the tomato sorbet, which was originally adapted from a watermelon sorbet recipe on their menu. The unlikely pairing creates a cool taste with the complimentary—but different—melt-in-your-mouth textures of the shrimp and the sorbet.
“We want to make food that’s different, but that people will still understand what they’re eating,” said Howard.
Even though tomatoes aren’t native to India, Irani, who also owns Chai Pani in Ponce City Market, served a tomato tikka masala served over yogurt rice during his first year at the festival.
“I just wanted a really tomato-forward dish, and in India we do a lot of stuff with showers and we had just opened a restaurant that does skewered meats, so we came up with the idea of skewering chicken instead decided to skewer tomatoes,” said Irani. “I also figured that it was going to be really hot and yogurt rice is traditionally served when it’s hot because it cools things down.”
Some restaurateurs served dishes unfamiliar to their brands. Best known for their barbecue meats, Fox Bros BBQ, went vegetarian and took an unexpected direction with a tomato pie featuring focaccia bread and pimento cheese. “It’s good to do something different. That’s what makes these events fun for us,” said Justin Fox, co-owner of Fox Bros. BBQ.
Not all of the participants were from restaurants, though. Peach Dish, a newly formed meal kit delivery service based in Atlanta, served a sugar snap pea and barley salad from a kit curated by a Robert Lupo from Leon’s in Decatur.
“It’s really important to know where your food’s coming from. It’s good for the food system to be able to trust your farmer, know how they’re growing your food, what they’re doing to it. It also makes you feel good to let you know that you’re supporting local farmers.” Mary Alice Shreve, Marketing Coordinator and Dietitian.
Growing the perfect tomato takes a lot of work. Tomatoes can’t be over-watered (they’ll absorb fewer nutrients and might develop fungal diseases) or watered too little (they’ll die). They also need to be grown in the right soil with the proper fertilizer, amount of light and temperature, and involve many other factors that are too tedious to explain to someone who just wants to sample food at a tomato festival. Somehow, thousands of perfectly grown tomatoes were wheeled into the festival from local farms, such as Planted Rock Farm in Chattahoochee Hills and Love is Love Farm in Decatur.
Taking a break from the food, people visited booths selling Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Georgia Organics themed merchandise. Tilt, a streetwear label for chefs that supplied the festival with tomato-embroidered aprons, set up a booth with t-shirts, free yo-yos and a catalog of looks from their brand.
Music also accompanied the festival with performances from The Spazmatics, a wacky 80’s cover band that somehow reminds me of The Wiggles for people in their 40s. “I have a love-hate relationship with the Spazmatics, mainly because the main singer perpetually touches me on the head when they’re not on stage,” says R.J. Kessler, a farmer from Planted Rock Farm who has attended the festival for the past 6 years.
“He’s a very nice human being,” he adds.
Fry also made a musical appearance with his band Chef Zeppelin. Sheldon Wolfe from Superica formed the band with Fry, and the duo has been playing at the festival since 2014. This year, Yacht Rock drummer Mark Cobb, Kristian Bush guitarist Benji Shanks, Sheryl Crow guitarist Peter Stroud and Bain Mattox bass player Michael Lamond joined the band to open for The Spazmatics. Fry was previously in a now disbanded band of chefs called Five Bone Rack, which opened up for Killer Tomato Fest and other local food festivals in the past.
The festival ended with an announcement of the winners, determined by both attendees and well-known guest judges. This year, Kat Kinsman (senior editor, Extra Crispy), Jordana Rothman (co-author, Tacos: Recipes Provocations), Justin Chapple (senior test kitchen editor, Food Wine), Wendell Brock (freelance writer, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Saveur, Cooking Light, Delta Sky) and Bob Townsend (food & drinks columnist, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) judged the competition for best tomato foods and cocktails.
Food: Gunshow’s Tomato Sandwich
Cocktail: Cooks & Soldiers’ watermelon, basil, tomato, gin, lemon and agave
BOCADO BLT Bo Ssam
Watershed Tomato Meringue Pie with Toasted Pepper
Food: BeetleCat Hama Hama Oysters with Tomato Ice
Cocktail: AMER Crop Cucumber Vodka, Sungold Tomato, Smoked Tea, Watermelon, Shichimi Togarashi Salt