Friday, October 29, 2010

New York City Wine & Food Festival Part 2: The Grand Tasting(s)! (aka the Rest of the Best Weekend Ever!)

After the demo my mom and I sauntered into the West Village for some truly delicious Manhattan brunch at Tartine. She had an omlette full of veggies and ham and cheese and I enjoyed eggs benedict (I can hardly resist-- i'm hooked on poached eggs!). If you have never been to Tartine and live in the city-- go ASAP! It is a teeny tiny restaurant with a short menu but everything you have will be delicious-- and you can bring your own wine! What could be better? Also their desserts/pastries are irresistible. 

During brunch my mom had a celeb chef sighting-- she saw Ming Tsai getting out of a car in front of the resto. Not sure where he was headed but he had a culinary demo about an hour before Alton's! (How cool is he? his website is

With happily full bellies we ventured into the Saturday afternoon madness of Chelsea Market-- always a little crazy on the weekends it was extra crazy due to the Festival. On the way we passed by the Cooking Channel ice cream truck which has been different places over the summer to promote the new programs and give out ice cream.

We headed into Chelsea Market and it was as insane as expected. Difficult to get through the door, people with wine glasses around their necks (from the Grand Tasting), tons of orange swag bags, and generally flocks of foodies going in all directions! As we entered, just past the newsstand at the front entrance I had my first dumbfounded brush with culinary celebrity.... 

I saw a large man with the clear coiled ear piece and I knew without thinking that he must be someone's bodyguard so I look just past him and see Rachel Ray wearing big sunglasses, flanked at the back by yet another security guard. I gawked at her while squeezing my mother's forearm and trying to whisper to her out of the side of my mouth... "Mooom..... Rachel Ray!!!" all the while my heart is racing and I feel utterly foolish. 

I completely realize that this makes me a little bit of a tool-- ESPECIALLY when you consider the fact that Rachel literally grew up about an hour away from where I did (She in Lake George, me in Albany). Maybe that just makes her more of an inspiration to me-- I never plan to have fame, let alone Rachel's, but success even half the size of hers would be nice. This had me feeling jittery, excited, and blushing in a little bit of culinary shame because I felt so starstruck by anyone throughout much of the afternoon. Moving on...
My mom LOVES Chelsea Market. It is her kind of place and I had been wanting to bring her there ever since my first visit sometime last year. It was just right being only she and I because we could nibble treats and bites and shop for cooking supplies and cookbooks all day and neither of us would tire. We made many stops throughout the day but spent the most time looking at everything in Bowery Kitchen Supply (the first time I went there I knew it was a dangerous place to me & one which I would need to control my visits to). There we got a variety of things for me, my mom, my sister and we had another semi-celebrity run in with Chef Miriam Garron who was buying some fun paper cupcake liners. Thankfully Bobby Flay's Throwdown sous-chef didn't give me the Rachel Ray jitters so no second instance of foolishness! 

We tried different flavors different places. Tried some oils and sugars at The Filling Station which is every bit as fabulous an idea as you can imagine. The containers for filling up vary from the small to large and there are so many great choices! There is a Chipotle Olive Oil which I can still taste when I imagine-- a smooth olive oil with a smoldering spiciness that kicks in as an after taste. This oil will probably enter my kitchen after my next visit to Chelsea Market. Rather than add weight to our adventure day I thought it best to hold off on getting it right then. 

We tasted a variety of those beautiful truffles Mr. Chocolate likes to tempt passer-bys with. My mom's favorite was the Key Lime and my favorite was a Mexican chocolate (I guess I was feeling hot & spicy on this day!). We also tried some very good, very dry cheddar from the cheesestand in the same area as Jacques Torres. Everything was delicious! 

By this time my mom and I were getting a little hungry for a fuller meal and had made our way from 9th avenue to 10th. We had discussed trying to go to Guy Fieri's book signing to get his book & signature to give to my sister for Christmas (sorry Sheil- didn't happen!) so we wandered over to the Welcome Center because it was getting close to his signing time. Diagonally across from Chelsea Market's 10th Avenue doors was where the Welcome Center was located in a little green space called the 14th Street Park. We mosyed in to check it out with our tickets out and were given wristbands which we figured you needed to be in the Welcome Center since people who didn't have any NYCWFF tickets might try to enter otherwise. We were told to go around and to keep out our tickets to get our swag bags. Happy at the thought of swag in a bright orange reusable shopping bag we walked around to the booths leading up to the bag table and collected mini Toblerones, tiny Tommy Bahama mojitos (in a teeny plastic martini glass my mom of course kept), and signed up for the chance to win exotic foodie vacations. 

We reach the bag table and give them our tickets and they say:
"Oh these were for the demo, do you have tickets for the Grand Tasting?"
Us: "No, the guy at the door told us to get our bags with our tickets."

Them: "The bags are only for the Grand Tasting."
Us: "All right"

Then we look down at our wristbands and realized the say "Grand Tasting Guest - Saturday PM." We go over and ask about this situation to one of the people with a very official round plastic badge who asks another even more important person... the verdict of this inquiry (thank you to my momma for asking!) is that we don't get swag bags buuuuutttt..... WE CAN GO TO THE GRAND TASTING! 
Destiny was definitely calling me on this day! 

We cross the street and head down to Pier 54 and go into the Tasting! 

The tasting begins with getting your Waterford Crystal wine glass to be worn around the neck. Now one thing you notice quickly when attending the Grand Tasting is why "Wine" comes first in the event title-- there is wine & liquor EVERYWHERE! Never bring a friend who gets drunk quickly or who has limited self control to this event-- they will not do well!!! 

We begin by tasting some champagne and then begin trying some food. These festivals are regionally based when it comes to the food and showcase the best chefs, restaurants and companies in the area. We began with a tasty scallop that was perfectly cooked on a bed of a "thousand potatoes" which featured crispy gratin potatoes and creamy pureed potato topped with the just browned scallop from Armani Ristorante 5th Avenue (yes, that Armani). A succulent first bite to begin with. 

My favorite savory dish was from someone many of you will recognize... Chef Angelo Sosa of Top Chef DC, upcoming Top Chef All Stars and the Sosa Consulting Group! He was serving a complex tender braised pork belly with a great warmth and sweetness that he paired with some acidic flavoring from pickled vegetables (i am sorry that I didn't take tasting notes!). It was the best thing I had all day! Chef Angelo was very nice and mellow; he was who I expected to meet after watching him on Top Chef. He is confident because he is talented and assured, not because he is cocky. I wished him luck for the Top Chef All Stars outcome even though he already knows who won-- we will have to watch to find out! 

Everyone my mother and I encountered throughout the day was so kind and seemed to be having a great time working their station and serving people their products. No one we met seemed to express that feeling of working the Tasting to be 'work' which was a real pleasure to be a part of. As we made our way to the heart of the tasting, naturally the Shop Rite section, I came upon yet another Top Chef celebrity chef-- Chef Fabio Viviani who was working at the Bertolli Olive Oil booth for whom he is the spokesperson. Chef Fabio was nice as well, I wished him luck for the All Stars outcome (even though I want Angelo to reign supreme to make a killer comeback for being sick in his finale!). (The Shop Rite section was serving some shrimp risotto I wasn't able to stop eating during my shift working Sunday's tasting!)

As we entered the second half of Tasting we were feeling a little buzzed and a little full... which produces funny pictures.... Prince Edward Island had some sizable oysters which my mother partook in but I couldn't imagine where to put an oyster of the size they were serving! She said it was one of the best she had ever had. PEI was also serving some fabulous lobster on a little mound of pureed potato. (Which she is enjoying in this photo! Note the PAMA liqueur bracelets she is so proud of.) I guess I wouldn't have thought to put lobster with pureed potato but their silkinesses compliment one another very nicely. 

We moved along, drank more wine, and tasted whatever else would fit! At the very back of the tent Cooking Channel had their large booth set-up where they were featuring dishes by their Show Hosts and luckily for me I was able to meet one of my favorite contestants from last year's Next Food Network Star-- Jeffrey Saad (with less hair than last year!)! He was so nice and enthusiastic. He has a new show starting Tuesday November 16th on Cooking Channel called United Tastes of America. I asked Jeffrey what the show would be about-- he said he is travelling the country looking for chefs who are cooking American dishes their way and that he will be cooking with them, too! I'm looking forward to watching his show and having his warmth and personality shine through the small screen into my home. (Forgive the goofy look on my face in the photo!)
After this lovely meeting we still had the second half of tent to go! It is like being at the Met or the Louvre-- impossible to get through in just three hours! In a moment of separation my mom got to know the manager of NIOS Restaurant and Wine Bar and head Chef Massimo de Francesca who were very kind. Chef Massimo was serving up a delicious taste of Pumpkin (yes! pumpkin for the pumpkin obsessed girl!), Butterscotch and Mascarpone Mousse topped with chopped Cocoa Nibs and Cranberry Drizzle. These little treats were being served up on spoons because they had run out of the mini waffle cones they were being served in to start the day. The mousse was creamy, flavorful and just the right amount of sweet. Peter gave us cards to come into the restaurant for a wine flight-- they serve you 3 oz. each of 3 different wines to give you a chance to try a variety of wines under a given theme. Upon further inspection of NIOS it looks like I will have to go use my complimentary flight for something that pairs well with one of Chef Massimo's creative interpretations of poutine (another favorite food!). 

At this point the announcements were sounding that it was time to leave and to make our way to the exit. The tasting was an amazing welcome happy accident that I am so glad I got to experience with my mother who loved every second of it! She is the main reason I ever became interested in food and for that I will always be eternally grateful for her! I get so much exhilaration from the culinary world that I can not imagine what my life would be were I not introduced to the pleasures of food by a young mother with good taste. 

Sunday's Grand Tasting was a pure joy! This was the original reason I was able to attend the Festival and the catalyst that got me jazzed about being a part of it in any way! My good friend Marlie of Marliese's Sweet Treats (she will make you any dessert you want-- then you will dream about eating it again!) works for a company who helps represent The American Lamb Board who works to promote American-bred lamb and American-bred lamb products, recipes, etc. We worked their booth for the second session of Sunday's tasting serving up delicious Lamb charcuterie or Salambi: Merguez sausage (spicy and perfect eaten as is, with cheese or on a pizza! my favorite), Vino e Pepe Nero (with prominent black pepper and wine flavors- also delish), and Bresaola (a gamier and smoky flavor, served sliced paper thin). 

It was very interesting working the lamb table because we had guests coming up to us saying "Lamb! Let me have it!!!" and then other glancing by with fear and a point "That's all lamb?" to which I would reply "Yes! But I bet you will like it even if you don't like lamb!" Some ran away even after my suggestion but the ones who did try it found that what I said was true. The main reason people seemed to be turned off by lamb was probably due to unshakable nursery rhymes and religious indoctrination that lead them to see only a face not tasty meat! (Of all people shouldn't I have an aversion? I am named Mary after all..) 

Serving people was a great experience and such a pleasure to be on the other side of the event. It was so much fun! We were able to still taste some foods and our neighbors, the ladies at Menage √† Trois wine, kept our glasses full throughout the event. Also while working I had a brush with (non-culinary) celebrity... Dorota from Gossip Girl (Zuzanna Szadkowski) must be a foodie! She stopped by for some lamb and I just had to ask "Are you Dorota?" To which she replied "Yes;" I told her how much I love the show and what a good job she does. She was very kind and soft-spoken. 

So they don't call it a Festival for no reason... participating in two main and one shorter event was amazing. Without question the best full-on weekend I have had in my time living in Manhattan. I will try to participate in someway, shape or form every year from here on out! 

As you can see around my eyes in this photo I was thoroughly exhausted from the busy, wonderful, stimulating and satiating weekend! I couldn't have asked for anything better!! 

This post has been very long (and long awaited) but if you have made it this far thank you SOOO much for reading!!! I hope you have enjoyed feeling part of this very special weekend! 

I want to say thank you to everyone who made this amazing time possible: 
1st Marlie for getting my foot in the door! 
2nd Whole Foods for having that magical twitter giveaway that started everything on Saturday. 
3rd my mom who without we might not have had such a happy accident getting into Saturday's tasting and without whom I would not have had nearly as much fun as I did on Saturday. 
And to everyone who made the event happen in the first place! Food Network, Lee Brian Schrager, Food & Wine Magazine, Travel & Leisure Magazine.

And last but far beyond least a big shout out to the great beneficiaries of these events who are fighting everyday against hunger in NYC and across the country!!!: 



Kathleen said...

Wow! What a fun weeekend for a foodie. This blogg made me feel as though I was your shadow. Fantastic writing..and I never bored from the blog. My wish was that good food I wanted more... looking forward to your next adventure.... (How does your mother feel about showing her feeding her face!)

Hali Bey said...

GREAT post. keep em coming!

Tiffany said...

Your posts are always delicious! I wish I had been there to share in the foodie love!

Side note: when I was in Catholic elementary school they would serve us lamb shaped cake at Easter time and I love lamb now more than ever.