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Knott's Berry Farm pays tribute to flavors from its past in fun new ways with its annual Boysenberry Festival

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Knott's Berry Farm pays tribute to flavors from its past in fun new ways with its annual Boysenberry Festival

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Visit any retailer this week and you'll discover the remnants of Easter. Half-priced Peeps and the like.

But holidays that are already in the rear mirror don't interest Russ Knibbs. As the Vice President of Food & Beverage at Knott's Berry Farm, he's always more concerned with occasions that are still months away. Take - for example - how America's first theme park plans on celebrating Christmas in 2017.

"We're already talking about Knott's Merry Farm, which runs at our park in November, December and part of January," Knibbs admitted during a recent phone interview. "My culinary team and I are already discussing some fun new seasonal food items that we may offer at this year's event. Likewise Haunt. We always like to be able to spring a new Treat on all those guests who come out for our annual Halloween event."

Russ Knibbs, VP of Food & Beverage at Knott's Berry Farm, poses with Bobby
Obezo, that theme park's Executive Chef. Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks.

Which isn't to say that - even though Russ & his crew are right in the middle of planning menu items for events that are still months away - these folks also can't still live in the moment. Which - given that this is the final weekend of Knott's Boysenberry Festival - is a pretty tasty time to visit this theme park.

"This is our fourth year," Knibbs enthused. "And people just love coming out to this event because - as you know - the boysenberry is what first put Knott's on the map back in the late 1920 & early 1930s. People would come to buy those berries that Walter had for sale here. And once his wife Cordelia began selling her fried chicken dinners ... Well, that good food, those strong flavors are why people kept coming back to Buena Park. And with Knott's Boysenberry Festival, we're always looking for new ways to showcase all that good food & strong favors."

And given that Mrs. Knott was celebrated not only for her fried chicken but also for her fresh boysenberry pies, one has to assumed that she'd have been okay with the boysenberry chicken wings which are offered at this event. But that said, what would Cordelia have made of the break-thru item at the 2017 Boysenberry Festival? Which is - if you can believe it - boysenberry pizza.

Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

"Which - I know - when you first hear that name, you think 'What the heck?', " Knibbs laughed. "But it's got layers & layers of great ingrediants. We start with boysenberry cream cheese and then top that with some ham & some sauteed onions. Then a nice mild boysenberry sauce that goes on top on that. And then - once this pizza comes out of the oven - we drizzle it with arugula & olive oil. And then we top it with some tossed almonds and goat cheese."

"And that - if you can believe it - is one of the real favorites at this year's event. People who come to Knott's for this festival just can't get enough of our boysenberry pizza," Russ continued. "They also love our boysenberry ravioli. Which isn't actually sweet. Because these raviolis are made with boysenberry ricotta cheese, they've got more of a savoury taste to them. We have this white wine cream sauce that we put the raviolis on top of and then we sprinkle them with parmesan cheese & diced tomatoes. They're incredible and you can only get them here during our Boysenberry festival."

Which isn't to say that - were you to visit Knott's Berry Farm over this coming weekend - you'd only be able to find Boysenberry-flavored foods. Russ insists that - no matter what time of year you visit this theme park - your old favorites are still being served. More importantly, are just as you remember them.

Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

"I always tell people that - when it comes to the food that we serve at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant - that I'm just the caretaker of that menu. It's my job to make sure that we stick to the recipes that have made this place famous since 1934. Those farm-fresh tastes," Knibbs stated. "Which is why - every day - we go through cases & cases of Yukon Gold potatoes at the restaurant. We grow our own fresh cabbage. We bring in real rhubarb to make our cherry rhubarb. With our classics - the chicken pot pie right through to the dumplings - we've always used Mrs. Knott's recipes."

Which isn't to say that - were you to drop by Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant - that you wouldn't notice a few changes. Like - for example - the lack of line outside its entrance.

"On a typical day, there used to be 200 or 300 people standing in line outside, waiting to get in. But on the heels of our recent renovation of the restaurant, we began using OpenTable. And what that means is you can now call in or make a reservation online," Russ said. "Or - if you prefer - you can just come in to the host stand and we'll then take your cell number down. After that, you're free to go off and explore the 15 shops we've got here in the California MarketPlace. And we'll then text you as soon as your table is ready."

Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

Mind you, once you return to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Restaurant, while there will be a number of things that will look familiar (EX: the family chinaware that Cordelia served her first meals on is still on display out in the pantry), there are some brand-new features. Take - for example - the full-service bar that replaced this eatery's Garden Dining Room.

"This is where we've been able to showcase some of our new boysenberry-flavored adult beverages. We have a boysenberry mojito, a boysenberry lemon drop. Not to mention boysenberry wine and boysenberry beer. Which is the No. 1 beer that we sell in-park and out of the park," Knibbs said. "And to accompany those adult beverages, you can order up some appetizers like Mrs. Knott's famous chicken sliders. And in a few weeks, we'll be introducing handmade farm-fresh chicken meatballs that will be served with a marinara sauce. I'm looking forward to those."

Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

But now that Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant has successfully come through its rehab, Russ and his culinary team has turned their attention to other eateries around property that really needed a refresh. Chief among these being Boardwalk Barbeque at Knott's Soak City Water Park.

"We actually torn that restaurant down. We took it all the way down to the cement slab and then rebuilt it," Knibbs recalled. "When Boardwalk Barbeque re-opens later this Spring / early this Summer, it'll basically be a brand-new facility. But the food that we serve there will be just as great as it ever was. Pulled pork, tri-tips, ribs, rotisserie chicken. It's all going to be amazing."

The window from the Knotts homestead that was recovered during the renovation of
the Chicken Dinner Restaurant can be seen in the upper right hand of this 
photograph. Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

What's kind of intriguing about these sorts of tear-down projects is ... Well, you never know what you're going to find. Take - for example - what Russ and his team discovered during last year's renovation of Mrs. Knott's Chick Dinner Restaurant.

"As we were knocking down the walls, we actually found one of the original windows from Walter's homestead. Which we now have hanging out in the pantry," Knibbs recalled.

So what with this year's Boysenberry festival coming to a close on Sunday, does Russ (who obviously a guy who loves to plan ahead) already have something in the works for 2018 ? Something that might prove to be as popular as boysenberry pizza? Or - for that matter - the Fun Bun (which was introduced at Knott's 2015 Boysenberry Festival and consisted of a cinnamon bun that was first dipped in funnel cake batter, deep-fried and then slathered with boysenberry cream cheese) or the Fun Stick (which debuted in 2016. This high caloric beauty was made up of a slab of boysenberry cheesecake which - after being dipped in funnel cake batter & deep-fried - was then dusted with powered sugar)?

Copyright 2017 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

"I don't want to give away anything in advance," Knibbs said. "But what we will tell you is that we're back in the kitchen all year developing these menu items. Not only for the Boysenberry Festival, but also for Haunt and Knott's Merry Farm."

"Which reminds me: We've got a churro factory here onsite at Knott's. No one else makes home-made churros. They buy the frozen ones," Russ concluded. "But all of ours are always hand-made."

And as Knibbs obviously put his mind to how he & his culinary team could make those churros Merry (or at least suitable for serving during this year's run of Knott's Merry Farm), our food-filled phone call came to a close.

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, April 21, 2017

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