Hosted by Main Street Fairmont, the annual Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival will bring authentic Italian flavor to historic downtown Fairmont on Dec. 9 and 10, 2016. The event has been named a Top 20 Event for December 2016 by the Southeast Tourism Society.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival, now in its 11th year, seeks to preserve and celebrate an Italian holiday tradition. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian custom involving the serving of a seafood meal on Christmas Eve for the observance of “La Vigilia”, or the vigil of the Christ child. Among the southern-Italian immigrant community, this tradition has managed to survive, especially in North Central West Virginia.
The Festival Cucina Cooking School is planned for 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9, at First Presbyterian Church, 301 Jackson St., Fairmont. Tickets are $25 per person and are available online at www.mainstreetfairmont.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are also available for purchase at the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Marion County Visitors Center, 1000 Cole Street, Suite A, Pleasant Valley. (Those purchasing tickets at the CVB office should write a check or use exact change.)
From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, there will be a street fair, live music, artisan market, a wine contest and authentic Italian cuisine downtown on the corner of Monroe and Adams streets. Indoor seating will be available in the old Firehouse building on Monroe Street.
“The festival provides a throw-back to the way we experienced the holidays when I was kid – actually doing things like eating and visiting and listening to music and enjoying one another’s company,” said Robert Tinnell, whose award-applauded graphic novel helped re-spark interest in the tradition.
Tinnell and his wife Shannon Colaianni Tinnell helped found the Festival 11 years ago, working closely with Main Street Fairmont and the community. They are proud to say the event has become Marion County’s holiday homecoming.
“We always say the Festival is the one time in Fairmont when everyone is Italian. We wanted to teach people how to preserve these traditions,” she said. “We try to have fun with it. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. I created a tradition for myself that every year I would learn how to prepare one new dish in addition to my family’s and Bob’s family’s traditional dishes. We want the audience to eat good food. That’s the most important part of it. I want you to feel like you’re at my home and have your belly full and be happy and enjoy some music.”
Each year different chefs, some Italian and some who just appreciate Italian food and tradition, are invited to present dishes. Cooking Show participants get to taste each dish and will receive a recipe for each dish.
“We try to have a really well-rounded menu with an appetizer, soup, salad, main course and a drink,” Shannon said. “I try to have a mixture of self-taught cooks and professional cooks who love what we do and love the fact that we are preserving local heritage and want to be part of it. We try to have a family element every year. There’s really a multi-generational approach.”
The chefs this year include Robert Germano, who will prepare Seafood Salad; Shannon Colaianni Tinnell, who will prepare Peasant Abruzzo Soup with Bottarga Butter Crostini; Isabella Tinnell, the daughter of Robert and Shannon Tinnell, who will prepare Classic Marinara Pasta; Vince Libonati, who will prepare Bucatini with Snow Crab Legs in Red Sauce; Joel Brown, who will prepare Grilled Shrimp with Crispy Polenta; and Kristy Tinnell Martin who will prepare Zuccotto.
The 2016 Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival is sponsored by the City of Fairmont, Main Street Fairmont, Fairmont Regional Medical Center, Fairmont State University, Pierpont Community & Technical College and the Town of White Hall.