Return to Middle Earth: LOTR Hobbit Feast serves up quintessential Drafthouseexperience
When Executive Chef John Bullington first interviewed with the Alamo Drafthouse in 2004, his most passionate project idea was a Lord of the Rings marathon and feast. For this Hobbit Feast, he envisioned that all three extended films play back to back in one day and served with seven food-and-drink pairings inspired by the movie.
Unsurprisingly, Bullington's idea turned into a stroke of inspired—and more importantly, sustainable—programming genius for the Drafthouse. Since making his directorial debut in the kitchen, each of the 12 Hobbit Feasts Bullington has overseen at the Drafthouse have sold out immediately.
For Sunday's Hobbit Feast, held in the larger theatre of the Alamo's downtown Ritz location, one-third of the assembled Hobbit-ophiles had attended previous Feasts. And this time around, the tickets (set at a whopping $129 for the full film, food and drink option) sold out in under five minutes.
Clearly, Bullington was on to something great. Or the favor of the great kings is upon him.
"Any time you include food with a movie, something about eating what they’re talking about on the screen, it really does change the movie experience for you," explains a surprisingly calm Bullington one day prior to the Feast. "I've tried to incorporate all the foods the hobbits eat in the movie as well as what they would eat. It allows you to appreciate the movie more."
To demonstrate, Bullington designed the menu to include very earthy foods: cabbage, mushrooms, rabbit and fruits. The day begins with fresh hens' eggs and bacon, fresh strawberries and cream, sausages and cheese. Into the second film, lamb chops and potatoes ("Mash 'em, boil 'em, stick 'em in a stew!") are followed by afternoon tea and shortbread. The final tale in the trilogy ends with rabbit stew, tomato and spinach soup and fresh apple pie.
In effect, we get to eat like the hobbits do—at all seven meals they would normally sit down to dine. Naturally, that means: first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, complete with Bullington's interpretation of Elvish lembas bread (herby, cheesy scones) for a snack in between.
If this sounds like a lot of food, it is. Especially when you add in the drink pairings which include Oberhoff mead, Dogfish Head brown ale, Guiness stout and Woodchuck cider. But remembering that these meals are spaced out over eleven hours of film, the platings keep you pleasantly full, never uncomfortable. And even if you are full, it's all way too good to pass up.
"If it's your first time, I recommend having a good size meal the night before and then coming to the Feast on an empty stomach," says Bullington, who began working with his team of chefs a couple of days prior, making the Feast's sauces and breads.
The timing of this year's Feast could not be any better. With its all day excesses, this is what Thanksgiving should be. And like that familiar holiday fare, due to its popularity, the Feasts's menu stays pretty consistent from year to year. Says Bullington, "We've tweaked a few ingredients here and there over the years, but we've definitely found our favorite dishes and solidified the menu."
The busy Bullington has not actually been able to enjoy the full fruits of his labor as he's always been busy in the kitchen with his staff. It takes a full Alamo kitchen staff to prepare this much gourmet food for 300+ hungry Ring watchers. "I'm waiting for my son to get old enough to watch it together with him," says Bullington. "That's going to be a very special occasion for me."
With his assistant chef Elijah now in his fourth year of working the Feast, Bullington does find more opportunities to sneak out of the kitchen to catch his favorite scenes from the films. The avid Tolkein fan claims The Two Towers as his favorite of the three books, but quickly adds, "You really can't beat that terrific fight scene in the third movie."
While the menu and the movies remain consistent, every Feast provides a few surprises. Last year, Frodo himself (y'know, that other Elijah) showed up after the first film to do a little Q&A with Bullington and the audience. This year, a few costumed fans arrived to stand in line at 8 a.m. in their Elfish best, ready to claim the best seats in the house.
Next year, Bullington predicts the Feast will include the prequel film, The Hobbit, which tells the tale of Frodo's uncle Bilbo acquiring the Ring of Power that propels the current trilogy. The film will likely add another two and a half hours to the already eleven hour marathon, an announcement that prompted cheers from the entire crowd.
As it means Bullington will likely be adding another two courses to the already exceptional Feast, fans and Hobbits alike indeed have cause to celebrate.