This October we attended our third New York Wine & Food Festival weekend. We took part in three events – two hands-on cooking events on Saturday (more on that in another post) and the Sunday Grand Tasting at cavernous Pier 94.
At the Grand Tasting, as we did last year, we split the day between sampling the many excellent vendors and watching culinary demonstrations given by Food Network stars. I was thrilled to find that there was lots I could eat, dairy free, delicious and enrapturing. For convenience, let me break these samplings down into three categories: dairy free samplings, special samplings (made dairy free just for me) and dairy free vendors. I could define each of those categories, but I think that as I begin to describe the food and the vendors, you will understand what I mean.
Dairy Free Samplings
What do you do when you someone carving up an entire roast pig? Well, if you’re me, your jaw drops and you stand there waiting for a chance to have a taste of it. Kuma Inn actually had two such pigs on display(!!!) – one they were carving for eating, and the other one was a back up for when the first one got used up. Each sampling offered a chunk of pork, a strip of crispy skin, and some pickled vegetables. Wow!
My local supermarket features Bell & Evans chicken, and so when I saw that the Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality was offering Bell & Evans chicken legs as their sampling, I was very excited. Their chicken legs were marinated in coconut milk and were mildly sweet and tender. When I bit into that leg, it instantly became my favorite thing I had tasted all day.
Ever since I heard Chef Aaron Sanchez pronounce Pulpo on Chopped, I have been intrigued by octopus. So when I saw that Chico Julio Bodega de Mar was offering pulpo en escabeche, I had to try it. What they didn’t tell you, was that this sucker was spicy! Wow! I chewed on a few gnarly nubs of pulpo and came away with the sensation that my lips were burning!
Taste of Korea offered a sampling centered on Bossam (Korean pork belly) – with a cream made from tofu. I marvel that to this day, people equate “tofu” with “tasteless.” This cream was luscious and smoky flavored and contrasted nicely with the pork belly.
Another contender for my favorite bite of the day was Mira Sushi & Isakaya’s Kurobuta hot dog. I will confess that the roll it came in, a brioche, may have had a little dairy in it. That little tube of delightful pork with a slaw of mango and jicama over it didn’t need the bun – it was a dynamite bite all on its own.
Last in this category is the grilled chicken wrap Luvo is making for Delta Airlines flights. Therese and I fly Delta frequently, and while on our most recent flights, there were signs of improvements, generally Delta’s dairy free on-board options are few and uninspired (read: they don’t taste good). Luvo’s wraps will be available as part of a for-purchase snack box. I’m not sure how widespread their availability will be, but rest assured, the next time we fly Delta, I am going to request them and do whatever we can to get them!
OK, so my first category was of samplings that were dairy free just as they were being offered. This second category is of samplings that were not dairy free as being offered; however, the dairy element was something sprinkled onto the dish. So for these we were able to put in a request to have the vendors make a special one without the dairy for me – and in each case, they were very happy to do this!
When we entered the Grand Tasting, Volare’s flank steak was pretty much the first thing I saw. The chef had laid out the plates of steak and salad and was proudly grating parmesan cheese over them all. We spoke up – um, could you not do that for one? And thus, our day of tasting got off to a grand start, with a high quality taste of complexity and depth – in addition to the stated ingredients, there was roasted red pepper and dried cranberries, a wonderful dance of savory and sweet.
Many of the vendors are locals, and it is always wonderful to learn of great restaurants right in our town at the Grand Tasting (for example, Mira Sushi and Chico Julio Bodega de Mar are here, and we look forward to visiting them for dinner soon). It is also great learning about restaurants we would like to visit when we travel. In this case, Cunningham’s of Maryland was at the Tasting, and we will definitely look them up when next we travel to the Baltimore area to see Therese’s family. Cunningham’s made an extraordinary meatball – once again, we asked and they plated one for me without cheese sprinkled over it. There was no cheese inside, but there were pine nuts – wow, what a lovely surprise!
In a section of the hall over near the stages where the demonstrations took place were some food stations that had some of the best food in the whole tasting. For example, Mira Sushi was there. Right next to Mira Sushi was Prime Meats, offering a nice hunk of weisswurst over sauerkraut with sweet mustard on the side. Unfortunately, they also sprinkled bread crumbs over the whole thing, and the guess was that the bread crumbs were made with butter. We put in the request, and it took a couple of minutes, but they did plate one with no crumbs. Surprise, the sausage had no skin. How excellent a bite of sausage and ‘kraut dipped into mustard was, was no surprise.
Dairy Free Vendors
I have reserved the highest honor for those vendors at Grand Tasting who advertised their offerings as being dairy free. Last year, I only remember coming across one such vendor. This year, there were four. Progress? I’d like to think so.
I have seen Steve’s Ice Cream sold in pints in our local Whole Foods, and enjoyed one of his dairy free varieties. About half of the varieties the company makes are dairy free. For the Tasting, they offered a cinnamon coffee sundae. Therese came practically running over to me with this sundae in her hand. I tasted it, and immediately understood her excitement. It was excellent.
I did not remember ever having encountered Garden Lites products before. I tasted their chocolate and blueberry oat muffins, and they were incredibly light and moist. I will definitely be tracking down some of their products (especially since they were giving out coupons at the Tasting!) and will give a fuller report after I have done more eating!
It was with great pleasure that I found our friends from Gourmet Sorbet, the “Sorbabes,” at the Grand Tasting. It was a year ago that I met Nicole Cardone and her partner and I am excited to see that their company is going places. They have new flavors like Raspberry Dark Chocolate, and Nicole told me that there are more new flavors on the way. Nicole and I are going to connect again shortly – I want to interview her for the blog – I’m sure you will be thrilled to read the Sorbabes story.
I have been eating So Delicious products for probably nearly 20 years. So finding them at the Grand Tasting was like re-connecting with an old friend. Their latest thing is packaged coffee drinks called Cococcinos, made with coconut milk. While not that much of a coffee drinker, I do love the taste, and am thrilled to experience this new product. But as I told the folks at the So Delicious booth, I have had some trouble finding the Cococcino. Well, they said, “here, take one.” My friends, that was quite a gift. I carried that heavy quart carton around for the rest of the day with pride, and am now enjoying it at home. This is another product I will be writing about at greater length soon.
What a day! What. a. day. And after sampling all this wonderful food, we finished off the day by relaxing at the north stage, watching some culinary demos by the likes of Food Network stars G. Garvin, Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and iconic Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. I will leave you with snapshots of what they were up to that day.