When people spend their time at a culinary event talking about the weather instead of the food, you know it’s a bust. I spent Saturday at the New York Culinary Festival, and was shocked at the lack of organization and selection of food vendors. Despite a few bright spots, the event was one that left more people disappointed than full.
Andrew and I got there as the show opened to see a demonstration from Sam Mason of ~wd50, scheduled to begin at 12:30pm. We were there at 12:30pm, but very few others, including Sam Mason, were. I wasn’t sure where to go since there were no schedules handed out at the door, no signs for where to go, and no staff member knew what was going on (if you could even find one to ask). Around 1:00pm I saw a confused Sam Mason standing next to a stage wondering if someone had a whisk. Apparently he had been looking for where the demonstration was supposed to be held as long as I had, and once he found the stage no equipment was available to do the demonstration with. A few convention staff members ran around looking for a whisk, and Sam sat in the audience with the rest of us waiting.
Finally he got tired of waiting, and went up to the stage to begin a demo of Cocoa Caviar, sans equipment. He warmed up a mixture of chocolate, agar and locust bean gum in a pan (he would have preferred a pot, but it was not available), and while he was cooking Will Goldfarb from Room 4 Dessert ran over with a whisk covered in what looked like whipped cream. The show must go on, so Will wiped it off and Sam used it to whisk the chocolate mixture.
While the demonstration as a whole was a disaster, Sam Mason’s positive attitude and humor throughout the situation kept things positive and he demonstrated a very interesting technique I had never seen before. After warming the chocolate mixture he brought it back down to room temperature, and using a squeeze bottle, dripped it into a bucket full of cool oil (45F). As the chocolate hits the oil it firms up, creating pellet-sized bits of chocolate, similar in appearance to caviar. He served the cocoa caviar over tangerine beet ravioli, made by mixing tangerine juice with gelatin, whipping until foamy, and wrapping it in thin slices of beet. The ravioli was difficult to eat since the slices of beet could not be cut easily with a fork and felt too crunchy compared to the rest of the dish, but the cocoa caviar was excellent. It was like eating chocolate tapioca pudding, and I was pleasantly surprised that I couldn’t taste the oil that was used to make it.
After the demo we explored the rest of the venue, which looked as grey and drab as a storage warehouse. This was not the festival atmosphere I was expecting. Approximately 20 vendors were showcasing their food, tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages, which were all sold in small portions for too high of a price. A mini-hamburger (think White Castle) was $6. I realize I’m at a food festival and prices are not usually cheap at such events, but it forced me to be selective in what I bought and I tried fewer things than I would have liked, defeating the purpose of the event for me.
The highlights of the food hall both involved chocolate. A new company named Heavenly Soufflé makes frozen chocolate soufflés in ramekins that can go straight from the oven to your table, making it easy to serve a fancy dessert to your guests.
I also really enjoyed the Chocolate Salami from the restaurant, Tintol. The “salami” is actually a soft Maria cookie made with bits of crispy wafer and coated in chocolate. It does look like meat at first glance, but trust me, it tastes nothing like it. If they sold this in stores I would be a regular customer.
I finished off the afternoon watching a demonstration of peanut butter cookies by Pichet Ong.
I was suprised to see such a simple dessert presented, but he prepared it in a somewhat unusual way by browning the butter and throwing in whole vanilla bean pods to infuse the cookie with flavor. The presentation went well, but in the end it tasted like a standard peanut butter cookie to me. The most interesting thing I learned from his presentation is that he will have a new Asian dessert cookbook coming out in November, and his upcoming restaurant named P*ONG, will be opening on 10th Street and 6th Avenue later in the year.
Being able to see two top chefs and try a few new products salvaged this event for me, but if it was held again next year it is doubtful I would attend. An entire new crew and management staff would need to be imported — maybe they should attend the Fancy Food Show in July for a few tips.
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