One week ago today, the Metro Cooking and Entertaining Show concluded its two-day visit to the Washington D.C. area. Taking place on Saturday November 3rd and Sunday November 4th to the delight of food lovers from all over the country, the event featured hundreds of vendors offering up sample tastings and demonstrations of their food and cooking/kitchen-related products, as well as a number of food celebrity appearances. Having spent the entirety of my Saturday there, I was fortunate enough to attend two of the day’s main “Celebrity Theater” events, beginning with an 11 am presentation by Giada De Laurentiis (Row 8 Seat 12) and followed by a cooking demonstration at 1:30 pm by Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio (Row 1 Seat 5) . I came away with not only a signed copy of Gail’s book “Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater,” but also with a number of products from the floor that are destined to become new staples in the Flavorful World kitchen.
Although I’ve attended my share of food festivals, seeing this show in D.C. where it was founded by Denise Medved in 2006 was a special treat. Since its inception, the event has blossomed into a national happening with much-anticipated exhibitions in Dallas and Houston as well as D.C. That being impressive enough, it’s difficult to overstate the show’s significance when factoring an initiative like Operation Home Cooking, characterized by recognition of military spouses for their personal sacrifices at home while their service members serve our country far from home, into the weekend’s scheduled events. One affecting example of the profound happiness and sense of community this event inspires was seeing military wives whose husbands are currently engaged in operations overseas invited onstage to cook with Giada (a grilled lamb and tomato-shrimp bruschetta on ciabatta combination that wove aromatic fables of expertly-blended spice and memorable tastings into the air.)
By the end of Giada’s demonstration, during which she answered audience questions and waxed philosophical on the merits of the mezzaluna, I was ready to eat my weight in tastings and samples, or at least drink it over in the Beer, Wine, and Spirits Pavilion to which my tickets also granted me access in the form of a nifty yellow wristband. I retired to the showcase floor and its aisles lined with tables upon which bites of Swiss roll cake and chocolate-laden serving platters awaited, where slices of Spanish chorizo and Jamón ibérico were being doled out like carvings from the last specimens of their ilk to have survived an apocalypse, and were therefore subject to delicate rationing. I swirled tiny cubes of bread in pill swallowing cups of olive oils infused with champagne and with Meyer lemons. I tasted ice creams flavored with chicken wing sauces and licked clean the spoons. Before I knew it, it was time to attend the second feature for which I carried a ticket.
Gail and Tom also fielded audience member queries during their time onstage. Their presentation provided the most insight into the hearts and minds of two food professionals I’d likely never otherwise get to know beyond their respective culinary projects. Each presenting a course utilizing fresh basil and pistachio nuts, they were a well-oiled machine lubricated as much by the cocktail of strained basil-infused simple syrup and gin that she presented to Tom (to keep her “on his good side,” she said) as by the creativity of these two seasoned pros.
Tom prepared a rabbit ragout of pistachios, basil, wild mushrooms, and figs. To this he also added diced carrots, eliciting laughs when he explained, “Well, I figured, if you’re going to make rabbit…” (Yes, we see what you did there, Mister C. Well played.) Gail, in addition to her cocktail (a delicious-sounding refreshment that despite my historically lukewarm feelings toward gin, I am excited to try) prepared an ice cream pie dessert with a crust of ground pistachios, that was brought to life by the bit of unstrained basil simple syrup she folded into softened vanilla ice cream (the unstrained leaf bits providing not only texture, but far more flavor than syrup alone could have accomplished.)
During their prep, the audience was treated to the answers to questions on such topics as Gail’s favorite dessert (because people familiar with the Top Chef television programs expect her to be inordinately critical of any dish set before her, she rarely gets invited over for a meal, and as such, is usually so happy to be invited that she will eat and relish almost any dessert a person is willing to make for her), and how Tom and Gail feel culinary professionals of their stature can continue challenging themselves to improve their skill set and knowledge (they do it by traveling to places they’ve never been, always being willing to taste new things, and making a point of visiting the grocery store whenever they go someplace they’ve never been, but also by never succumbing to the belief that they know everything there is to know about food, as one tends to stop growing when one believes this to be true.) One of the final questions, “Who gets to taste what you’re making?” was delivered by surprise attendee Giada, who joined them onstage along with the audience member whose question she’d pre-empted. And taste they did, in the process no doubt inheriting the good-natured envy of the room (or maybe that was just me. Anyway…)
For my part, I also tasted some wonderful wines and spirits to be mentioned in detail in a future post. I sampled and brought home some great-tasting and useful foods and kitchen products soon to establishment permanent presence in my cupboard. Among these items also to be detailed in a forthcoming post, are a Passion Fruit White Balsamic Vinegar, a condiment made of Liberian Fried Hot Pepper, and a hand-painted French garlic grater. All in all, it was an enjoyable affair that I continue to feel lucky for having experienced (not to mention educational, as it taught me that my current camera’s zoom feature is hilariously inadequate to the kinds of tasks I demanded of it last weekend.) I can hardly wait until next year’s show.