A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go the the 2015 New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF). The Festival offers many different events, ranging from meals cooked and hosted by famous chefs to cooking classes, wine tasting events to cocktail and spirit classes. This year, we attended an event known as the “Grand Tasting,” a food and drink extravaganza spanning a six-hour time period.
The adventure begins as you stand in line waiting to get in. Each person gets an arm band with two special tags. The first one gets you a special wine glass, used to taste a variety of wines throughout the venue. The second tag gets you a swag bag as you enter the venue. There are numerous goodies (primarily food, of course!) in the swag bag already, but you can add many more samples and coupons. I even won a cookbook by spinning a wheel at one table!
Once we entered, we realized how large the Grand Tasting actually is. The first table we came to offered special made-to-order mini martinis, made with a Swedish vodka called Absolut Elyx. Finished with a twist of lemon peel, it made for a fun start to our adventure.
Over the course of the next few hours, we had the opportunity to taste a number of delicious beers, a variety of different spirits and mixed drinks (my favorite was some delicious aged Puerto Rican Rum that reminded me of a good Scotch or Irish Whiskey), and, of course, the wine. If you wanted something other than alcohol, there were stations with bottled still or sparkling water, as well as a Coca-Cola station handing out adorable mini bottles of Coke.
There were so many delicious bites of food! From a mac and cheese station, I tasted one version with sauteed wild mushrooms (the earthiness of the mushrooms complimented the creamy pasta), and another version with luscious chunks of lobster. There were multiple types of ceviche–the swordfish ceviche from the Mexico pavilion was particularly refreshing, as was one made with shrimp from another table. Then came tacos, nicoise salad, a take on a grilled cheese with a “shot” of tomato soup, chicken legs with salsa verde, chocolate, … and much, much more.
One particular highlight, beautifully presented: Chicken liver mouse with hibiscus gelee and curried pine nut granola, presented by Orchids at Palm Court. This restaurant is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, demonstrating the geographic range of festival participants. Here’s a photograph showing their presentation:
And then, something fun (and terrifying)–a sweet and spicy treat with a secret crunchy center. Yes, I tried it: cotton candy-wrapped crickets, sprinkled with something spicy. It wasn’t as bad as I feared or as good as I hoped. (Although I felt like I had a cricket leg stuck in my teeth afterwards!)
Between the food and the wine, it really was important to pace ourselves. The event planners provided several ways to take a break, including seating areas scattered throughout the venue, and, most exciting, cooking demonstrations by numerous famous chefs. If you’re a fan of the Food Network (one of the event’s sponsors), you most likely could find your favorite chef at one of the special offerings. We watched Geoffrey Zakarian (Iron Chef America, Chopped, and the Kitchen), who demonstrated how to make a cocktail (the “Dark and Stormy”), a simple salad, and spaghetti carbonara. It all looked delicious, and he also took questions from the audience. I also saw Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Worst Cooks in America), and Carla Hall (The Chew, former contestant on Top Chef). After each cooking demonstration, the chefs stayed around and signed their cookbooks for members of the audience.
The best thing about going to the Grand Tasting? The NYC Wine and Food Festival is a charity event, with money raised going to the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry. Will we go again next year? Absolutely! The Grand Tasting is worth doing again, but we will probably spread our wings and try some of the other festival offerings next time–there are so many intriguing possibilities!