Monday, November 14, 2011

Robert Irvine told me I had a great smile, and other stories from the Fabulous Food Show

So, the Sunday before last (the 13th), my dad and I spent the day in Cleveland, OH at the Fabulous Food Show, and, well, we had a fabulous time! The event is held at the I-X Center, a huge exposition center with, I bet, enough room to fit several airplanes, so there was plenty of room to move around and space for a lot of stands, stages, and displays. We were pleasantly surprised by the By Hand artisan expo set up at the front of the center, a sort of bonus show on top of the main event. This annual expo features a slew of artisans selling their handmade works—glasswork, photography, clothing, jewelry, woodwork, pottery—and just about everything we saw was beautiful and unique (except all of the hippie clothes...tie-dye tee shirts are nothing special or original, people!). My dad got this really unique wine barrel tray (the artisan takes wine crates, cuts the logo side out and fashions it into a serving tray) and these beautiful woodcraft Christmas tree ornaments. I found some beautiful earrings made with handmade polymer clay beads (they are so intricate and beautiful) and we found some gifts for my mother. Perhaps my favorite purchases were some beautiful cherry wood kitchen tools and accessories from Jonathan's Wild Cherry Spoons—the craftsman had these absolutely perfect wooden spoons/spatulas that I was so happy to find. Unlike traditional wooden spoons/spatulas, which are typically straight and a little hard to work with, these have the perfect weight and feel and they are slightly curved, which makes them so much easier to work with. We have one at home that my mom bought a few years ago, but we haven't seen anything like it since then, so I was incredibly excited when I saw these in the craftman's booth (I bought 3!). Seeing all of these artists showing off and selling their works and seeing how much they loved what they did was great to see, and, obviously, I'm very happy with our purchases (all of which are being "forgotten" about and saved for Christmas ;D ).

Now, the food show area featured various small stage areas, where shows were going on throughout the day—everything from lectures about food to cooking demos to kitchen tool demos—and a majority of the rest of the space was filled with rows of stands, some selling food, others selling knives or kitchen cabinetry, and still others selling farm goods and bath products made with all-natural ingredients. There was a wine-tasting area and wine store, a restaurant, a cookbook store, and a decorated cake display, and all of this was off to the side of a huge curtained area, containing the main stage, where five celebrity chefs (Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Duff Goldman, Robert Irvine, and Michael Symon) held shows throughout the weekend (this is an annual 3-day event in the fall, and there's another show in the spring). My dad offered me two (yes two—I am a lucky, lucky girl!) VIP tickets for whichever celebrity chef shows I wanted to see (I have a post about this here), and, because of other commitments going on this weekend, we chose to go to the shows on Sunday, which was just fine by me, because I got to see and meet Robert Irvine (Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America Season 2, Restaurant: Impossible) and Michael Symon (ABC's The Chew, Iron Chef America, and far too many more to name) and it was absolutely amazing.

The main stage

Robert Irvine's show was up first and he was so much fun to watch and even better to meet! He's always so intense—yelling, ordering people around, smashing things—on his shows (I'm mostly thinking about Restaurant: Impossible, which I watch all the time), but on stage here, he was sarcastic, witty, passionate, and so fun to watch. His show was very casual, but still informative—he had an audience member help him on stage (she was pretty funny and did a good job) and he did a Q&A at the end (which included a girl asking for a hug and another girl asking to feel his muscles, haha). He made a mixed drink featured in this month's Thanksgiving Food Network magazine and this delicious-smelling ruben burger and he was more than happy to talk about the restaurants he helps on his show and give some thoughts on his recent loss on The Next Iron Chef (he was definitely bummed out, but still joking, especially since Michael Symon was right there backstage—the two of them are good friends and had some fun during Symon's show joking about The Next Iron Chef). After the show, we were taken backstage to a little room set up with dining tables and a light lunch and Robert Irvine showed up a few minutes later. We had plenty of time to talk to him, get autographs, and take pictures. I had him sign his cookbook (the VIP package included a free cookbook) and my apron—I joked with him about whether or not my chef instructor would let me into class with autographs all over my nice white apron, so he wrote a little note in my cookbook telling chef that he was to allow me to where it to class. :D Very funny. We chatted about how my boyfriend, John, and I watch Restaurant: Impossible each week as a sort of "date night" and he thought that was pretty cool. All in all, he was a great guy!—Very funny, sarcastic, and down to earth. So happy to have met him (oh, and as the title of the post says, he told me I have a great smile :D )!

"How much Crown Royal should we add? Oh, the whole bottle? Yeah, let's do that."
Me and Robert Irvine :D

Michael Symon's show was up next and it was a completely different, but still very cool, experience. His show was more structured and ran more like a cooking show or class. He answered questions throughout the show and had some culinary students up on stage with him to observe his cooking. He made a braised pork shank with brussel sprouts and gave some great advice about when and how to brine meats and how to make a vinaigrette, all while lamenting that fact that the Cleveland Browns were losing their game, which was going on during his show. At one point during the show, a plate was sent out with something like "What about the peanuts?" written on it with some sort of sauce—it was from Robert Irvine, a joke about his peanut dish that ended up getting him sent home from The Next Iron Chef. He came out on stage to joke around with Michael Symon and the two of them started talking about muscles and how, even though Robert Irvine has a built upper body, his calves are skinny, so they stood side by side and compared legs—so funny! After the show, we went back to the same room with dining tables and more food and Michael Symon came in and spent a little time with each table of people. When he made his way over to us, we talked a little bit about my culinary classes and favorite sports teams, got a picture and some autographs, and then we were done. He was really calm, cool, and collected—you can tell he's spent a lot of time in the public eye, doing interviews and working with fans. He's a really nice guy and he's so passionate about what he does!

He loves meat. A lot. He said so.

Me, Michael Symon, and my dad

After Michael Symon's show, we were free to roam around and our first stop was the wine tasting section. We had some great whites and reds, from various parts of the world, but I think my favorite was a French white wine called Lillet—it's very sweet, kind of like Canadian ice wine, but it has a beautiful flavor. It's highly recommended as an addition to a mixed drink—something as simple as seltzer water with a splash of lime—and I'd love to play around with it in drinks. After the tasting, we headed over to a gourmet chocolate stand and sampled everything from chocolate-covered bacon to key lime chocolate truffles. My favorite?—Chocolate-covered cheese doodles (or cheesy poofs, as I like to call them). It's weird, because I really don't like cheesy poofs that much, but they reminded me of chocolate-covered pretzels, with that mix of salt and sweet, and they were so good! After that, we just strolled up and down the aisles, tasting an assortment of dips, soups, sweets, and cheeses and ooo-ing and aww-ing over various kitchen knife displays and a cake show.
Honest Abe

After we finished up at the show, we drove over to the town of Hinckley, where we lived for 2 years when I was in elementary school, to see our old neighborhood and downtown. We stopped for dinner at the Winking Lizard, a restaurant with amazing wings and a great beer selection, that we used to go to all the time when we lived there. After three different plates of wings (Caribbean, Spicy BBQ, and Spicy Asian Sesame—so good!), loaded cheese fries, beer, and the Oreo Oblivion dessert, we were stuffed and ready to head home. It was an amazing day and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to meet two amazing chefs and spend a day surrounded by all things food.

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