FAIRMONT — For Bob Tinnell, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a meal, including stuffed calamari in red sauce.
Every year, he makes the dish as part of his family’s Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it is shared with everyone as a holiday tradition.
“We take the bodies of the calamari then stuff them with bread crumbs and cheese and little bits of every kind of other fish we are serving, then you bake it in red sauce,” Tinnell said. “It is just out of this world, for me, anyway.”
Tinnell will share his Christmas traditions with Marion County residents on Dec. 11, when he will host a cooking show on Main Street Fairmont’s Facebook page for people to make their own feasts at home. Normally, Main Street Fairmont hosts a food and vendors market on Monroe Street to celebrate the Christmas tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced the nonprofit to change its plans.
Tinnell, who grew up in Fairmont and now lives in Morgantown, wrote and directed — with his brother Jeff Tinnell acting as producer —the 2019 film, “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” which tells the story of his family’s traditions handed down through the generations. The film was shot in Rivesville, Fairmont and other locations in and around Marion County.
Tim Liebrecht, executive director of Main Street Fairmont, said the organization partnered with Tinnell, as well as many of the usual vendors who would populate the downtown market, to create this cooking show as a substitute for the regular event.
“The feast this year is going to be different ,” Liebrecht said. “Typically, the feast is a big street fair that happens every year, and we’re going to have to forgo that. We tried to boil the feast back down to its essence and say ‘What is the feast really about?’”
The food, Liebrecht said, is one of the main components of the feast, but it is also about the communal gathering created over the shared love of the different tastes.
“The two things that the Feast of the Seven Fishes has really been about since the beginning has been is bringing family together and great food,” Liebrecht said. “Bob Tinnell is helping us produce a Food Network-style cooking show... It will be a really cool way to bring the community together around the food on Dec. 11.”
Main Street is taking pre-orders on its website for the food items viewers will need in order to take part in Tinnell’s cooking show, so people can have it ready to go for cooking on Dec. 11. There will also be a pop up shop located at 222 Adams St., which will be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., as well as on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 for the date of the planned Feast of the Seven Fishes event.
“We are creating a pre-ordering page on our website where you can order all kinds of Italian delicacies that will be frozen and you will be able to take them home,” Liebrecht said. “That will allow people to purchase the stuff and they will be able to pick it up and take it home and create their own feast experience in their own home.”
Liebrecht also said it was important to Main Street to still involve many of the vendors who normally attend the Feast of the Seven Fishes, because most are local businesses or groups that rely on the revenue to fund themselves and their programs throughout the entire year.
“We have reached back out to them and a lot of them has responded and said they will provide their food,” Liebrecht said. “A lot of the same flavors a lot of the same vendors, a lot of the same food, so they are still able to raise money this way because a lot of it funds churches and nonprofits for the year and we don’t want to lose that.”
Tinnell hopes to create memories that mirror the movie’s scenario for people around the world. Liebrecht and Tinnell are also collaborating on a mural about the film that will be painted and erected on Monroe Street in downtown Fairmont.
“The show is going to celebrate the festival,” Tinnell said. “And we will touch on the movie a little bit and the mural. It kind of all has a life of its own now.”
Liebrecht said he recommends people watch and follow along with Tinnell’s cooking show, and then watch the film while eating, to fully round out the holiday spirit.
“You can watch the cooking show, then you can watch the movie while you are eating these Italian pastries,” Liebrecht said. “The movie is a big part of what we are doing and we want to continue to promote it.”
Tinnell said the meaning of the feast itself isn’t entirely about the food. The food is a link between Tinnell, his family and his Italian heritage, and it makes him feel close to those who have come before him.
“In our family, we have a handful of stuff that we do,” Tinnell said. “For me personally, it makes me feel close to grandparents and great-great-grandparents and people who are gone.”
Overall, Tinnell said he wants to help create memories for people, which they can form into traditions to take place around the holiday season. He believes everyone should get a taste of the Italian flavors he grew up with.
“It’s not all about the food, but it is a lot about the food,” Tinnell said. “When you do these things together, you are building genuine memories and genuine experiences, so I think that’s the most important thing.”
For more information on the Feast of the Seven Fishes, visit Main Street Fairmont’s website at mainstreetfairmont.org.