Ann Gentry's cooking demo
Los Angeles had its first ever Wine and Food Festival from August 25-27. Friday night's festivities kicked off at the Marriott Downtown for $125 a head. On Saturday or Sunday at the LA Convention Center's Kentia Hall, tickets were $65 per person or $120 per couple.
The festival's main attraction was the 100+ wineries that poured. There were an array of chocolates, cheeses, and more from dozens of gourmet food companies. Several celebrity chefs participated in the festival by giving cooking demonstrations.
What I didn't realize until later was that the festival was actually a wine and food festival, not a food and wine festival, meaning that the emphasis was on the wine. But first, let's talk about the food.
These live cooking demonstrations were the most notable food events at the festival (which had more to do with wine than food, hence the name). I went to see Ann Gentry of Real Food Daily. She is experienced in cooking demos, since she has been a guest on various television shows and teaches cooking classes nationwide.
Lentil walnut pate with tofu sour cream
I like Real Food Daily a lot, but their food is hit and miss with me. For the cooking demo, Ms. Gentry prepared a lentil walnut pate with tofu sour cream. The tofu sour cream was the most interesting part to me, because it bore no resemblance to tofu. Ann used a powerful (and expensive) blender called the Vitamix to create it--I would be quite surprised if I could accomplish the same thing with my $15 blender at home! According to her anecdotes, the lentil walnut pate is a huge hit and reminds some people of duck liver pate (which I haven't eaten, so I can't compare). I didn't care for this particular dish, but I like her concept: fusing gourmet eating with healthy, vegan food. For those who want to make Real Food Daily style food at home, she has a cookbook, which she was selling and autographing after the demo.
A couple of booths at the festival featured cheese. At igourmet's display, we particularly liked the grana padano, which was sort of like a softer version of parmasean; the tartufino speziato, a soft, smooth cheese flavored with black truffles, and the Cabot Habanero Cheddar. While I don't really care for spicy cheese, I was so impressed by how spicy this cheese was that I couldn't help but be pleased. I don't know what I'd do with it though, and it's probably too spicy to eat much of it plain. All of the cheeses were excellent, though.
Igourmet sells their cheeses online. Normally I would be skeptical about ordering cheese online since I can't taste it first, but now that i have tasted ten of their cheeses and liked them all, I am looking forward to placing an order.
If you want to try them out, use the code GRE7 on orders over $35 placed before 9/30/06 and you'll get a free European cookie assortment. Yum. You can also get frequent flyer miles when you shop with them (check out Dealmine to find out where). If you hadn't already guessed, in addition to being a foodie, I'm a serious bargain hunter and deal-getter.
Basiltops gave out free samples of their pesto on bits of bread or freshly cooked pasta. Several of their pestos are dairy-free, and all of them are packed in squeeze top bags that are supposed to keep the pesto fresh for 6 months. I especially liked the chipotle pesto, though it wasn't as spicy as I wanted it to be.
Sambazon Acai is a new acai drink that you may have seen with the other bottled juices in stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats. It's a deep purple drink that has a strong berry flavor on its own, but comes in flavors like supergreen and mango. It also comes as a protein shake, a powder, and as a sorbet. While I liked it, I'm not one to believe in the magical properties of certain fruits, vegetables, or supplements, so I probably won't be buying it due to its somewhat high price relative to similar products.
Other food booths included Everybody's Nuts, which was giving away free boxes of pistachios with dollar off coupons. Even though I don't really care for nuts, I ate several boxes of the roasted flavor. Metromint gave out samples of peppermint and spearamint flavored water. Drinking the water reminded me of getting my mouth rinsed out at the dentist, or of drinking water while chewing Dentyne Ice.
What I was most impressed by at the festival was the quality of the wine exhibitors. When I go wine tasting, I usually only like about 5 wines out of the 30 I might try in an afternoon. At the festival, though, I liked almost every single wine I tried.
In addition to your usual reds and whites, there was a booth with almond champagne by Wilson Creek, which I believe they sell at Trader Joe's; a rum booth; and a chai liqueur booth. I really loved the chai liqueur, which was smooth like Baileys. It has a rum base, but with all the cream and spices, it doesn't taste rummy. They have a wealth of recipes on their website, since you're probably not sure what to do with this new drink aside from drinking it straight.
While no convention center can ever truly disguise its concrete floors, terrible acoustics and and industrial flourescent lighting, the festival atmosphere was much more elegant than I expected thanks to red carpets and black tableskirts.
One of the more amusing wine labels
Even the wines with silly names, like Lodi Vineyards' 7 Deadly Zins, tasted good. One of the best things about the festival was that almost nothing was being sold there, including the wine, so there was no pressure to buy. On the minus side, if you really liked a particular wine, you'd have to find out where it was sold and plan to buy it later. I think this fact, along with generous samplings from other vendors, made most of the vendors extra friendly because they weren't as worried about making a sale. I often get the brushoff at wine tastings because I am not a wealthy fifty year old, so it's always a nice change of pace to be taken seriously.
One of the few items that was for sale was chocolate, and one of our favorite stops was the chocolate disk booth. They had six different chocolates with varying cacao content designed to match port and various reds. Normally, 70% chocolate makes my mouth feel painfully raw almost instantly. There must be something to be said about the quality or formulation of this chocolate, because I had no problems whatsoever. Still, I bought the 54% chocolate, since I love port. (Unfortunately, there were very few dessert wines being poured at the festival.)
Cigar rolling booth
Those who like cigars could see how they're rolled and ask an expert questions.
SeokRyuJu - Korean pomegranate wine
Woorisol, a Korean alcoholic beverage company, had a huge display of at least ten different drinks, all of which they were pouring. Their products are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes, including small bottles that are great for one person, which you can buy in Koreatown.
Yipsejoo - More Korean wine
The Korean alcohol that people are most likely to be familiar with is soju, a rice-based alcoholic beverage whose alcohol content ranges from 20-45%, for which it is sometimes referred to as Korean vodka. (The Japanese make a version of this drink, too, which is called shochu.) I also tried a Korean rice wine, cheongju, which had little in common with Japanese sake. I have to say that I greatly prefer the Japanese rice wine I've had over the Korean rice wine I tried at the festival, which I found overly sweet and a bit mediciney.
When the party's over, public transit is the way to go
In my opinion, the main obstacle that the festival needs to overcome is the cost of entry. I was under the impression that the festival was geared towards both the general public and the food service industry, but for $65 a ticket, the festival is probably too pricey to appeal to most people. I think $25-30 a ticket would be a more attractive price. After all, for $65, I could drive to Santa Barbara, taste 20 wines, and come home with a bottle. For a couple, that $120 would buy you a nice dinner on the way home, too.
Overall, I very much enjoyed myself. How could I not, with so much alcohol in my bloodstream? But seriously, the festival was a great way to try a ton of wines, cheeses, and other products that I probably never would have otherwise tasted.