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Sunday
Jul172011

Event Review: The 2011 Fancy Food Show (Washington, D.C.)

Washington, D.C. adopted the 2011 Fancy Food Show this year from New York City, and they did a mighty fine job of holding down the fort, providing lovely space, and creating a great atmosphere for everyone in the food business. True, there may have been 5,000 fewer attendees total over previous years (when held in NYC), but those who attended were perhaps even more interested in learning  and taste-tasting, discovering new products, studying popular food trends, and discussing it all with lovely people from around the world.Cat Cora hosted the show's Sofi Awards

Because of renovations at NYC’s Jacob Javits Center, the East Coast’s Summer Fancy Food Show for 2011 took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in central D.C. The massive convention center was a lovely building (albeit poorly laid out--quite honestly, it took 5-10 minutes just to find registration and the actual food halls) filled with new products and companies large and small. Once at one of the two huge halls (located in the basement and on the upper floor), however, attendees were welcomed with thousands of food products, well-lit spaces, kind helpers, and tasty tidbits to sample from over 80 countries. From the pop-up restaurant sponsored by Korea to the overall smaller displays from the big guns, there was more space for young upstarts and booming businesses than ever before.

Two trends that kept popping up were (as the NASFT helped predict) cherry-infused/flavored products and gluten-free edibles. Cherries, sweet and tart, were in everything from rice mixes and juices to yogurts, cheeses, and meat glazes. Gluten-free items were everywhere one could imagine, all to the delight of celiac sufferers and the rage of pasta lovers. Important to remember is that “gluten-free,” much like organic Beautiful chocolates in every shape and flavor were available for tastingwas five years ago, helps a product become more acceptable in the world of “carbs, wheat, and gluten is bad” we live in these days. While the term often scares people off, it’s also important to remember that plenty of these foods are naturally gluten-free (like the term “organic” in many foreign countries where pesticides aren’t used in the first place), and not tasting of cardboard like so many of today’s wheat-free pastas and cookies.

Back on the sampling floor, things seemed better than in New York. Perhaps it was fewer crowds. Maybe it was friendlier people who don’t look at you like a crazy person for striking up a conversation with a stranger on the Metro. Or maybe it was the well-lit space with an audience of genuinely hungry patrons instead of hundreds of food bloggers eager to be the next Julia Child. Whatever it was, this show was an absolute delight, and the trip down from NYC was absolutely worth it.

Products of note included the Italian company Bottega Casanova, which made a fantastic 10-year-old truffleMugolio's unique pine syrup balsamic. A gold leaf-infused olive oil was also on display, and though the flavor remains a mystery, the bottling was gorgeous. A hidden but standout product was the wild pine syrup from Mugolio , which was one of the most unique tasting foods at the show. The texture of a thick maple syrup, it had a strong, almost biting flavor of infused pine and earthy elements that knocked your tastebuds out for several seconds. Flavor pearls give a pop of flavor and are beautiful to bootMeanwhile, France’s Algues De Bretagne brought seaweed-based flavor pearls in mango, lavender, truffle, and more. Back to the Roots, a small company started by two friendly, fast-talking UC Berkeley grads, showed off their sustainable and easy mushroom-growing kit—a project they’ve been sharing with local students.

Güllüoglu, the well-known makers of fine Turkish pastries, was at the show with several types of baklava and borek available for tasting. Having interviewed the company previously for Food The pop-up restaurant's Kogi TacoNetwork, it was exciting to finally taste all the delicious products and learn more about their Istanbul-based pastry company. And just a few aisles down from them was the terrific Korean Hansik Pop-Up Restaurant by chef Akira Back. 30 minutes, 3 courses, and an unforgettable experience was had at this tiny, 10-seat “prix free” restaurant. With dishes such as Bibim Dessert by Akira BackTuna with Strawberry, Rayu and Mini Corn, Free Range Chicken, Ginseng Air and Ssarm Jang, and Persimmon Delight with Mocha and Korean Tea Air, there wasn’t a way to sit—or even walk by—without a wide smile. Chef Akira and his lovely team crafted beautiful dishes in extremely tight quarters, and it was certainly a highlight of the entire Fancy Food Show.

This year’s Sofi Awards for distinction in gourmet food products was hosted in the top floor’s atrium. After hors d’eouvres and a cocktail hour, keynote speaker Cat Cora helped host the ceremony. All in all, the show was a huge success, and quite frankly, the friendly food folks of D.C. can host the Fancy Food Show any year they please. And guess what? In 2012, D.C. is doing it all over again while Javits finishes its face lift.

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Event Review: The NY Vegetarian Food Festival

The New York Vegetarian Food Festival was a mob scene that took place near Union Square on Sunday, April 3, 2011. As press, I was allowed in early--a good thing, because thirty minutes after opening to the public (tickets were free), it was nearly impossible to even walk down one of the aisles.

Vegetarian sushi...very nutty. Not bad, but not necessary.
I'm a huge fan of eating vegetarian, but not necessarily vegetarian-made foods. See, foods that are vegetarian are made by normal people, but as soon as you step into a vegetarian-only or vegan-only restaurant, I tend to get a bit scared. Things change, everyone goes healthy on you, etc. Don't get me wrong; I believe vegetarians and locavores usually do a lot less damage to the world, but organic, vegan-crazed stoners have been known to scare me. That said, the organizers did a very nice job inviting a variety of sponsors and representatives to the show.

Teese (a vegan cheese alternative) and other such cutesy products were actually not bad, while some (Mary's Crackers, need I see you again?) had me wondering how vegans survive.

Those in attendence were a mix of normals, meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, stoners, and eco-organic-good-for-the-Earth ambassadors. Besides free samples, there were several activities for kids, animal rights groups, talks, and other mini-events going on.

Overall, I'm just not sure of my feelings for the event. Yes, it was well done, but I believe there are such better vegetarian foods out there. Vegetarian and vegan dishes can be amazing, but a lot of the companies seemed to promote the very stereotype I should think they'd be wanting to stay away from: chalky tastes, textures that leave something to be desired, and unsastisfying end products. Even Honest Tea's new cocoa drink (CocoaNova) was just so bland. Then again, I think that of all their products. Watered-down cocoa, yes sir.

Will I go next year? Who knows? At the very least, they'll need a bigger venue (the lines were blocks/avenues long). Really, I'd just love to see vegetarian and vegan food companies that weren't trying so hard.

Bao's raw slaw were fresh all right. I think my insides were burning and didn't know how to digest the stuff. Just a warning.

Tuesday
Mar082011

Event Review: The 2011 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York

Smaller Selection, Surprising Taste Favorites

 

This year's International Restaurant & Foodservice Show was the usual, if not a bit smaller (don't think those back curtains hid the fact that there were fewer booths, management!). There was about as much different food as could last a guest about 1 ½ days, and after that, one would probably grow sick of most of the offerings. You see, after enough years in the food business, you grow to know the industry.Baldor's fruit and vegetable selection--some rare, some not, but all colorful and delicious You know who has mediocre bread, dry pastries, and ravioli that just approaches being inedible. You also know who is good after all this time, and they start to recognize you if you make too many stops at their booth. Let's be honest, right? But even Baldor surprised us this year with some wonderful samplings of unique fruits and vegetables, including the New Zealand Kiwiberry, odd green plums, mini root clusters, and more.

 

In fact, the bulk of the interesting new foods were presented in the Japanese food pavilion. I saw several add-ins and treats that were pretty exciting, and that's why I go to the show year after year—to discover.

 

The Japanese food pavilion offered much in the way of sake, salted herring, miso, and beer. More unique offerings included sprinkle-on umami in flavors such as basil and curry, and “Japanese pizza,” a concoction that couldn't have been further from pizza but nevertheless tasted good with a drizzle of brown sauce [liquid MSG]. Scoops of cabbage, carrot, tofu, and other unidentifiable pale ingredients with white sauce were grilled into hunks and served, steaming hot, filling, and deliciously salty and spicy. Pizza, no, but terrific, yes.

 

Stevia, who needs you? This is the sweetest leaf of them all: Dulce Leaves from Koppert Cress USAIn non-Japanese food news, Carousel Cakes delivered what many of us thought to be some of the most moist, delicious, and sweet red velvet cake we'd ever had. Their mini cupcakes, in fact, were even more moist and delicious than the cake itself—an impressive feat, given the fact that cupcakes are rarely more moist than their cake counterparts.

 

Deer Park Ravioli made me feel a rare, wrongful tingling: An urge to stop eating pasta. This company tried hard, and perhaps it was the tight cooking quarters, but this stuffed pasta came out grainy, salty, and extremely chewy. Was it really a one-time thing to have bad pasta? Unfortunately, I'd gamble to say that there was no way these pasta pockets could turn out well in any situation.

 

Fossil Farms scored big with unique meats and creative pairings, such as their Venison Sausage with Blueberries & Merlot Wine.

 

Dr. Smoothie had some pretty inedible flavor combinations, but I won't blame it on the actual combinations. Their product was just not good, with a sour, bitter, and chemical-laden aftertaste that left me with no desire to taste their smoothies again.

 

Bella Lula had not just a charming salesman who quit a lucrative career to market this unique drink, but a lightly intoxicating potion to sell as well. Their orangeade and lemonade drinks stood out from the rest with their fruit and mint hints for the sophisticated palate.

 

The Pride of New York aisle was a pleasure to peruse, with local artisan bakers, orchards, and yogurt companies representing. Even the Healthy Department sent over some fun young guys who chatted with scared restaurateurs while handing out pamphlets that were appropriately titled, “What to Expect When You're Inspected.” Nice, guys. US Pastry Chef of the Year Marcio Cossio's creation. The detail, down to even the vein coloring in the wings, was incredible.

 

The US Pastry Competition featured a dazzling display of Cirque du Soleil-themed edible creations, and first prize fittingly went to my favorite, the now-crowned Pastry Chef of the Year Marcio Cossio of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

 

All in all, it was a successful year, and we can only hope that more companies come back in years to come. Next year's show will take place March 4-6, same place, same city. See you then!



Wednesday
Mar022011

Event Review: The 21st Annual C-CAP Benefit

 

Once again, C-CAP's lavish February benefit did not disappoint. This year's 21st annual benefit honored the always-lovely chef Michael Lomonaco. Chef Michael Lomonaco (second from right), founder Richard Grausman (far right), and the other big guns

 

Started by Richard Grausman, the non-profit C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) teaches interested youth in underprivileged areas nationwide professional cooking techniques. Professional chefs come in, competitions are held, and opportunities like this (where the high schoolers actually get to prepare and serve with famous chefs) are available for these incredible kids. The program also creates full scholarships for the most talented kids, sending them to everything from local culinary schools to the CIA.


It's a great night, albeit an expensive one for diners. Still, how many other times can patrons walk around a candle-lit Chelsea Piers and dine on food from the city's best chefs?

 

Popular dishes this year included Gotham Bar and Grill's goat cheese agnolotti with chanterelle mushrooms shooters (chef Alfred Portale), Shun Lee Palace's always-popular peking duck (chef Michael Tong), and Porter House New York's South Carolina coconut cake and creamy chocolate pudding with halva cream, which basically felt like eating gobs of chocolate-scented heavy cream.

Porter House's coconut cake and chocolate pudding 

My personal favorites? Though I would never call myself a soup person, the best dishes at these events always seem to be soup, and this year I was not disappointed. Primehouse New York (chef Brian O'Donahoe) made a butternut squash bisque with porcini mushrooms and duck prosciutto, and that pretty much made my night. I also ended up enjoying two surprises: The parmigiano sformato with porcini ragu from Osteria Morini (chef Michael White), which was a kind of cheese custard that was heavenly and rich, and a dish (though I can't recall the restaurant details) that involved beets, pine nuts, and pineapple foam that surprised the palate.

 

As usual, Sarabeth's desserts disappointed—I simply do not understand why her restaurant is popular (though her jams and spreads are good)—and there were some not-so-successful dishes, such as the turnip ceviche and the overpowering cranberry mustard beets. Yes, beets and turnips are going to be popular again in 2011, folks! Park Avenue Winter's peekytoe crab cones with avocado and raspberry (chef Kevin Lasko)

 

Despite a few dishes that weren't so good, there were five more amazing dishes for each one that I didn't quite love.

There was also a silent auction with incredible, once-in-a-lifetime prizes (Want Marcus Samuelsson to prepare a feast for you and 11 friends in your own home? No problem!) that fetched thousands of dollars, with all of the money going to scholarships and programs for the kids.

 

Another night, another great setting, and another success was had for C-CAP. Gift bags were given to all the guests upon leaving, and I was among the last to leave, along A C-CAP student and partnering chef enjoy serving towards the end of the nightwith a good part of the Grausman gang. Quite a few of us went to the after-party, where, shockingly, several volunteers actually ordered food. They had not stuffed their bellies with some of the best food in NYC, I presume. 'Tis a shame.

 

I drank water and called it a night.

 



 

For more information on C-CAP, visit their website at http://ccapinc.org/index.php.

 

 

Sunday
Feb132011

Upcoming: The New York Wine Expo - plus an ETR discount!

The New York Wine Expo will be held February 25-27, 2011, in NYC's Javits Center.

This is your opportunity to sample more than 700 wines from around the world, meet with winemakers, and discover new flavors in the world of wines. Over 175 wineries from South America and Canada to Italy and South Africa will be present to pour samples and share their knowledge. Attend seminars, meet with authors, and learn more during special tastings.

Looking for a treat? Get a discount when you attend the Expo withEatThisRevew's exclusive coupon! Enter code ETR15 for $15 off your Grand Tasting, being held from 6PM-10PM on Friday, February 25. Choose your ticket and enter the promo code at http://nywineexpo11.eventbrite.com//.

For more information, visit the New York Wine Expo website at http://www.wine-expos.com/wine/ny/

 

The New York Wine Expo

Jacob K. Javits Center, NYC

Friday, February 25th - Sunday, February 27th

http://www.wine-expos.com/wine/ny/

 

 

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