Thursday, November 10, 2011

Foodbuzz Festival Day 2 – Food, Food, Food and Drink!

Day Two of the Foodbuzz Festival brought a food frenzy that challenged me and my stomach nearly to ruin. I ate a lot. I drank a lot. But I also walked around a lot and did what I could do to deal with it. It goes with the territory I guess.

After the content sessions were at an end busses moved us on to the Metreon for the Tasting Pavilion and a sizable assemblage of vendors looking to share their products with the Foodbuzz Community.

I arrived early and started to wander up the block and ran into Jen from Tiny Urban Kitchen. Jen and I are local to each other back in New England, but had yet to meet. I stopped and introduced myself. With nowhere else to go we set off for a walk around the block to share stories and kill time. Within a few minutes I could see why Jen is so successful. She is knowledgeable, has a quick wit and is very personable. I’m so glad I stopped to say hi. Thanks Jen!

While I was standing in line waiting to get into the Tasting Pavilion I joked that I was all set because I was going to head for the drinks first and since everyone else was going to swarm the food tables I wouldn’t have to wait in line. That was not a joke and it turned out to be as true as my gut told me it would be when I said it.

My first stop was to the Dry Creek Wines table. I was heading up to the Sonoma on Monday, and would be visiting Michel Schlumberger located in Dry Creek, but anytime I can try new wines I am up for the challenge. With nobody else at the table I slowly worked through the wines available.

I tasted several Sauvignon Blancs and Zinfandels from 3 or 4 different producers. Both the un-oaked and lightly oak Sauv Blancs were bright and refreshing, with one in particular channeling a good deal of green pepper. The Zins presented a range from juicy and fruit forward to more austere and Old World in style. I realized that I threw the marketing materials from the event in with my swag that got sent home via UPS so I don’t have the names of the producers on hand.

I mixed up the food and drinks from there on. Here is a photo journal of the highlights.

Halibut and Caramelized Onion Croquettes with Fig Dijonaise. This was one of the most flavorful items I had all afternoon. Can't go wrong with breaded seafood. I didn't realize until I read it in her recap post that Kelly from The Pink Apron crafted this recipe and had been handing them out at the table. Click for her recipe.

OXO and kitchen gadgets galore! When I first walked up just as they were asking a trivia 
question to give away a prize. I hadn't heard the question but had to pick true or false. 
I picked true and won an egg beater. I never found out what the question was!

Mike Kohne of Mercy Wines. I tasted his Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
The wines come from Monterey County which is clearly emerging as another
quality West Coast wine growing region.Thanks Mike!

Ashley (The Beer Wench) of Bison Organic Beer was a real hoot! And the Chocolate Stout was well made with solid & rich, but not overpowering chocolate flavor. Another example to tuck away for home brewing projects!

The folks at Drink of the Week had punch and gin & tonics on hand. Both were made with the Bloom Gin. The punch was a riff on the Drink of the Week drink the Bee's Knees that contains lemon, honey and gin. It was a very refreshing drink with the right balance of booze, sour and sweet. Nicely played!

Fentimans's Sodas. I have used their Ginger Beer for Dark 'n Stormy's many times, but had
never seen their other products around. Their non-alcoholic Shandy soda really did taste like
lemonade and beer, just without the kick. I'll be looking for their other products now!

And of course 21st Amendment Brewing. I enjoyed their brews three times over the weekend, and had something different each time. The Allies Win The War is a collaboration brew with Ninkasi Brewing in Oregon. Fashioned from Strong Ale recipes from each brewery, fresh dates and Northwestern hops, this beer is serious business. It is malty & full bodied beer with considerable sweetness and a long, rich finish.

Vanessa Moses doing her thing for Alexia Foods

Tyler Florence meeting, greeting and signing books and photos. I didn't wait in line to meet him. 
I left that to the professionals... 

 There were many others tablethat I didn't get pictures at. Several additional notable products were from:
  • Rosemary & Sea Salt Walnuts from California Walnuts. Gonna be making these with the fresh dried rosemary!
  • Girl & the Fig - Sonoma country restaurant with concentrated and full fruit fig based products. Several of the spreads complimented a roast pork bite they had on the table.
  • Vignette Wine Country Soda - I had never thought about naturally fermenting wine grape juice into soda until I had this product. Something new for me to try next year. And low in sugar so they aren't as bad for you as other options.
  • Australian Lamb - Lamb isn't something I have that often so I was curious to taste some. The meat was soft and flavorful with just enough of that gameyness that meats beyond beef are known for. I asked how likely it was that I would be able to get Australian lamb at home and it turns out quite a few large grocery chains carry it. Something to look for.
After the tasting pavilion event I headed back to my hotel to relax off some of the food and drink.

During cocktail hour I caught up with Rufus McLain and Pete Spande from Federated Media. Pete and I talked wine for a little while. Jonas from Drink of the Week joined us and of course the convo about alcohol continued. We talked a about punch, the punch bowl flowed earlier in the day, and how it is a hot topic right now. Socializing over a bowl of punch is not new, but it might just save us from boring parties in the 21st century.

Tyler Florence anchored the gala dinner with a cooking demonstration. He certainly got an appetite whipped up and with nothing to eat on the table I was feeling the beer and wine more than I had wished. I hadn’t eaten during cocktail hour in favor of some good conversation over drinks. Bad choice, this time.

I actually felt bad for Tyler. A good portion of the audience was yapping away while he was demonstrating and entertaining us. But just like the modern movie-going experience it seems like a lot of people don’t act with courtesy and respect in public anymore. Their behavior and it’s reflection on them stands on its own.  

The demonstration was exciting to me primarily because I was watching a celebrity chef in person. I am not as much of a foodie as a lot of the other Foodbuzzers so this type of activity doesn’t really jazz me up the same way. The innuendo-laden tweets during the demonstration were hilarious and I had to jump in and bring dough balls back in from the morning. Despite tweets about Tyler’s meat nobody bit on my balls. I mean the tweets about my balls. No, wait, I mean, whatever!

By the time dinner was half over I was bugging out over all the usages of fantastic and amazing to describe some of the items from the tasting pavilion and dinner itself. Fantastic? Really? What are we trying to say here?

Dinner was catered by the hotel. It wasn’t gourmet and if you had it at a wedding you’d probably bitch, but it would be the same food. Furthermore I felt bad for Alexia because their fries were mangled by the kitchen. If anyone from Alexia is reading this and wants to send me some samples I promise this much, I will cook them correctly, serve them to friends that I have requested objective feedback from and will share what comes of it. Your products deserve at least that much and I am truly sorry that I couldn’t say more while I was at the festival. Shit happens!

So here’s the deal. There are several words that MUST be immediately retired from the food blogger vocabulary. They mean nothing and they are too easy for us to use in order to be part of something when we really have nothing to say. Those words are:
  • Fantastic
  • Amazing
  • Incredible
  • Awesome
What I propose instead is that food & beverage bloggers try to delve into their senses a little bit and express what they are smelling and tasting rather than generically branding something as “good”. Some people will cry foul that this is the domain of trained writers. Let me clue you in, it’s called thinking. Try it some time. Writers take thinking to the next step in something called creative expression. You can try that on anytime you want as well. I promise it won’t hurt.

Do I think I am any good at this? Not really, but I know the difference and expect more from myself. I can’t sit idly by while the community I am happy to be part of floats along so much unoriginal and unexpressive communication in play. We ALL need to up our game! I’ll take my medicine along with everyone else. That’s why I think it’s fair for me to say what I’m saying.

I tweeted the following about dinner:

“The food was ok. There is nothing outright bad to say, but that doesn't say much. Catered food is tough, but it can still be good.”

I really didn't have a problem with what I was served. I didn't have any expectations so it could have gone higher but the fact that it didn't is fine. I could have said it was amazing to be nice, but why? What I did say conveyed the reality in front of me and being nice just to be nice is so over. In the end I was distracted with conversation and meeting new people so I didn't really care much about the food.

The one topic I got involved in at dinner and continued conversations about through brunch the next day was the vegetarian/vegan meal for the Saturday dinner. Just so we are clear, I am an omnivore, I’ll eat anything. I have tried some foods, not liked them and will not likely eat them again but that is a preference, not a lifestyle nor medically necessary.

Based on what I saw the catering staff and kitchen were not well prepared to serve as many “alternative” meals as was needed. That’s too bad because Foodbuzz asked about people’s preferences and in the asking there is an expectation. So what should be done?

One idea, thanks Miriam, is to serve a vegan meal to everyone. But why? There are several reasons. First off, it would be cost effective. Buying in bulk for any catered meal keeps the cost manageable and the more the better. Serving the same meal to all maximizes that idea. On top of that consider the creative challenge doing this would represent, and the uniqueness of the meal that could have been presented. It would have gotten everyone talking, even the omnivores like me. Finally it would have been logistically simpler. Cut out the confusion for service. Something for next year and I hope someone from Foodbuzz sees this and considers the idea.

Dessert came and again it was omnivore-centric. I was feeling a bit militant for my underfed peers at this point. Again, there was nothing wrong with dessert, it just didn't inspire me.

My alternative was a bottle of Kurt’s Apple Pie from Moonlight Meadery. It was the dessert in place of dessert that I needed. And my tablemates (Devaki, Greg, Kelly, Shannon and Vanessa) seemed to be agreement. In my opinion it is one of the finest adult beverages being produced in the state of New Hampshire right now and I poured it with that assertion. Vanessa Moses (The Cooking Chicks Chicago) responded to my NH references with, “I've never met anyone who throws down so much for New Hampshire”. Well, we rock. If you’ve never thrown down with anyone from New Hampshire you really haven’t lived. “Live Free or Die” is our motto and quite honestly nobody does it like us! Seriously.

A big thank you is due to Foodbuzz, the sponsors and all of my fellow participants for creating such a fun weekend. I’ve offered my critical feedback and I've also shared my stories of what I enjoyed and the fun I had meeting new people. Good and not so good all wrapped up together. See, I used a meaningless word again, good, but I think you get my point.

And I have to put the following photo in just so Greg can leave me a comment asking me why the hell I did it! Sometimes things just have to be done…

We were having fun and when the work is done that is what it is all about!




Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table said...

So many things to comment on...

#1 I'm in the soda pic - woo hoo!
#2 Loved the chocolate stout and agree that the flavors were well-balanced. I like that it was more cocoa than chocolate.
#3 Your dinner observations are spot-on. I actually told one of the Alexia guys that the app fries were over-cooked and he agreed. My vegetarian dinner was a little sad - especially disappointing for a food conference. When I don't finish a dessert... that says something!

Overall it was a great time and I very much enjoyed the tasting pavilion (and chatting with you).

Jason Phelps said...

@Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table

I was hoping you would see the pic of you!

I am hoping providing some analysis and feedback will help Foodbuzz and the sponsors for future events. I too had a fun time and can't/won't trash the event even for any of the concerns I have. Things can always be better!


Sippity Sup said...

Why the hell did you do it. (actually I love silly photos) GREG

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table said...

@Jason Phelps

Definitely agree - they worked very hard to pull off a well-run event. Hats off to the FB crew.

Trevor Sis Boom said...

I enjoyed reading your recap! It was, um, amazing. Fantastic even. I too felt bad for Tyler. Not just for the general rumbling but c'mon, that is a difficult audience to 'cook for' and he kept it going with a good pace. And that meat!

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Thanks so much for the synopsis and sharp photos. I'm on board and will do my absolute best to avoid the use of these words, so help my corkscrew.
With the caveat that specific usages be reserved:
This blogger is so smitten by that winemaker, only fantastic thinking allows them to find drinking their everyday plonk, to be an amazing experience. Would it not be awesome, if folks took this seriously?
I have been a culprit too, and will do my best to keep it real.

Good idea on the vegan for everyone...saves a lot of rubber chickens.