As once foretold,
When you have had a taste of excellence,
You cannot return to mediocrity.
My life continues to test its palette via the plethora of food festivals that I attend annually. For a triumph of three years in a row, I attended the New York Food and Wine Festival’s flagship event, the Grand Tasting, conquered last year and the year before, with its share of celebrity stalking filling the brim of expectations. With of course, all the social media and food marketing reaching new heights and hashtags this year.
As chief sponsors, it was inevitable that the crowds would flock around the celebrity chef demonstrations. My favorite by far was the hair style guru Anne Burell making a cauliflower steak, so trending in many of my food endeavors. Her comments on not sharing her hair secrets since brands don’t pay her to brought to light and laughter the ugly world of brand endorsements and marketing.
Morimoto entranced all with a surprisingly easy to comprehend sushi making course, explaining the purpose of the glossy and matte sides of the seaweed paper with impeccable easy. If only my folding skills were on par with his!
John Besh and Aaron Sanchez were all laughs with their bromantic camaraderie, while Geoffrey Zakarian, looking stiff in a blazer was teaching about the perfection in cooking as an art form. Naturally. While fun to watch, unlike former years, the interaction with the chefs was minimal, which tossed a wet blanket on the enthusiasm. Especially when the chefs were whisked away in a hurry, as inevitable food influencers expressed visible shock.
However, food took a much more prominent pedestal this year, with everything ranging from wholesome snacks and foods to fully cooked meals in bite sized portions. The sheer quantity of edibles overtook the glory from celebrity chefs and ensured that every stomach leaving Chelsea Piers was incapable of consuming for the night!
Starting with snacks, I Heart Keenwah had a salivating variety of both their dessert clusters (which were mistaken for sesame and chocolate by yours truly, only to realize I was eating healthy with quinoa!) and savory puffs, a decadent alternative to the maligned potato chip. My favorite flavor: chili of course.
Similarly, Navitas Naturals had their take on superfood snacks, among which my favorite were the flavored coconut chips. Being a fan of this tropical food in any form, I relished the chance to see it combined with several flavors including lime and maple! Definitely another chip alternative in the reckoning.
Having lived in Holland, I slowly acquired an affinity for cheese, and especially the hoity European cheeses. On a constant quest for snack pairings, I was glad that French brand Fromager d’Affinois offered sizable chunks of protein and fat goodness on slices of pears, apples and crackers; a healthy and fresh bite, which I gobbled up too many bites of.
Comparatively, Londener Cheese with its cheddars and cube like slices fell short on pairings, but were nonetheless tasty bites in between a plethora of wine tastings. Plus, they made for familiarity with my British roots and supermarket explorations.
Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse lured my taste buds with their hard-to-detect gluten less cooking of brownies! Definitely moist and chewy, I even liked their breads paired with deli style apples and overheard many swearing by their bagels (another one for my non-wishlist, except a peculiar Dutch chain). Perhaps it was the era of accepting fads as mainstays?
One of my best bites of the day came from an unexpected meal: the loathed mac and cheese, which gives me jitters of college memories in blue boxes. However, thanks to Manhattan based eateries and caterers Between the Bread, I tasted truffle mac and cheese in phyllo cups with a black truffle garnish. Perhaps the truffle did it, but the gooey textures and sumptuous layers of rich flavor made me wish this was a pie instead of a tart! The eggplant and pepper puree was also a nice and spicy kick, made richer with an inventive pesto paste dumped right into the soup like consistency and topped off with a salty Parmesan shaving. Definitely a dish worth replicating at home and for illustrious parties.
Enjoying every bit of Indian food courtesy of heritage, I was pleased to see petite warm samosas by Brick Lane Curry House, a tricoastal chain with the right levels of spice for the East Coast market. Their inventive rabdi tarts were a cute take on a Punjabi milk solids dessert, adding the needed crunch to offset the inherent sweetness.
Of desserts, Chef Andrea Lever Upchurch of Magnolias Restaurant created the longest of dessert descriptions for a rather simple dessert, which nonetheless was a full bowl helping that I literally swallowed out of sheer delight. It was a Southern Sundae with a dark chocolate buttermilk cake (torn into morsels, again), pecan pie ice cream, bittersweet fudge sauce, salted caramel sauce, bourbon brown sugar chantilly cream and pecan brittle. Reminding me of former favorite San Francisco sundae and while definitely delicious, I didn’t quite pick up on all the flavors mentioned, but did get impressed enough to try the dessert in her restaurant, uninterrupted by crowds and in even larger proportions!
Making me miss my days in the Chocolate Show when I tasted rivers of cacao goodness was Royce Chocolate with their melt-in-your-mouth textures. Based out of Japan, it was no surprise that they had caught on the food trend of Matcha Chocolate, which was actually quite a correctly bitter bite that offset the sweetness of the chocolate quite well. And in prettily boxed cubes, they were made for sharing and gifting. So, this is #HowJapanDoesChocolate.
Ghirardelli, facing competition from boutique chocolatiers all over, showcased tremendous promise with a Rocky Road fudge that was texturally unmatched with crispy pretzel and almond bits on dark chocolate with sea salt. Much like their dense, spicy and pepper filled dark chocolate bars, too. Well, they are based in the culinary city of San Francisco after all!
Of others, besides bumping into Fashion Week comrades, it was an afternoon filled with pop up photos and a plethora of food marketing. And what was Buick doing handing out sumptuous and golf ball sized pumpkin doughnut holes? Definitely a match with a seasonal favorite.
Satisfied by a rekindled love for supermarket inner aisles, I found this to be one of the better food tastings of recent years. As aforementioned, there is truly no sincerer love than the love for food.