The Gourmet Experience 2011

>> Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Gourmet Experience is an annual event put on in San Diego showcasing pretty much anything food related. The event includes free samples of various local products, kitchen gadgets, appliances, demos, local food products, and alcohol. There are also three separate stages where Chefs demonstrate their skills in a culinary showcase. The Gourmet Expo is held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the O'Brien Hall. 
I was asked to cover this event by Duo Public Relations, who seems to represent one or more of the products  showcased at the show. Included as part of this were some complimentary passes to the event.
Covering this event calls for a new format of coverage, so I will showcase some products and follow the coverage with the Chefs I met during the show.

Product Showcase:
The Gourmet Expo is held in a typical trade show format where exhibitors get a booth to operate and give samples of their products to the attendees. Additionally, most of the products are available for purchase at the show at a discounted price.
In addition to the booths, there was a culinary challenge area that resembled some sort of Iron Chef or Chopped competition.
There was also a cake decorating contest, where the theme seemed to be creating a Halloween-themed cake.
As I attended the show on the final day, it seemed like the show wasn't as crowded, which worked to my advantage in being able to navigate the show floor.
Praline Patisserie is run by Chef Cruz Caudillo, who was the former pastry chef at Blanca when it was headed by Wade Hageman. Chef Caudillo now specialized in a caramel spread. The caramel was sweet, yet had a large body and depth of flavor that was backed up by one of the four flavors the caramel comes in. My personal favorite of the four spreads was the vanilla flavored spread as the vanilla added a nice body to the caramel and complimented the sweetness. The smoked applewood caramel was definitely unique, but I'm not too sure of its applications.
Chef Caudillo mentioned that he can be found at farmer's markets including Little Italy, La Jolla, Mission Hills, and Pacific Beach. His goal is to build a large enough nest egg to open his own patisserie full time.
By far the most popular show items were olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Many booths could be found featuring olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I probably sampled at least thirty different oils and fifteen different balsamics over the course of the day (and that's with skipping at least half of each).
The M5 booth was very interesting as it featured almost an entirely European market style selection of products. Pastas, oils, canned finish, and other preserved European products were available for purchase. 
Johanne's Brats had a long and steady line of attendees lining up for the chance to sample the sausages.
All the brats included a nice European mustard topping as well
The brats included in the sampler (from front to back) were the cheese brat, the jalapeno brat, and the regular beef and pork brat.
I happened to wander by this booth just as Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room visited. Chef Guillas' booth was promoting his pollen seasonings.
The Muddy Waters Coffee Co was also present, showcasing the gourmet coffee. Their Crossroads coffee was a mix of El Salvador, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Sumatran, and Colombian. It didn't really have a large nose, which I typically expect from designer coffee, but it was very full bodied and had a smooth finish. I spoke to the representative and he said that he does a blend of Indonesia coffees including Bali, Papa New Guinea, and Timor, but was unable to have that available due to the simultaneous availability of coffee from that region.
While I was sampling the vodka at Pucker, I was informed that I lost my man card, as I was the only male drinking out of about ten other attendees. However, I did manage to get a great photo of one of the representative modeling the product. I was also later informed that I did indeed win my man card back and was given a free tshirt so I think I came out ahead.
A flight of St Helena Road Winery's current releases was available for sampling at the show. I felt the meritages were a little light in body, but I did enjoy the 2006 cabernet. The representative informed me that she was trying to get into some local wine stores.
Carlsbad Aqua Farms was also on had at the show, serving up shucked oysters as $5 per 3. While not quite a kunomoto, the Luna oysters are pretty close and have much more meat in them. Carlsbad Aqua Farms oysters can be found at Whole Foods Encinitas on weekdays.

Chefs:
Chef Sharone Hakman:
As I mentioned previously, there were also a variety of chef demonstrations at the show.
My personal favorite chef was Chef Sharone Hakman as he was the most approachable of all the chefs at the show. Chef Hakman was probably last seen as a semifinalist on Season 1 of Masterchef. Admittedly, I was somewhat skeptical on just how well some of the Masterchef contestants are able to cook after the show, but many of them appear to be having a lot of success.
Chef Hakman is currently promoting his personal line of BBQ sauce called Hak's BBQ, a chipotle bourbon bbq sauce that he used during the Masterchef competition to much success. When he was eliminated, Chef Gordon Ramsay recommended that Sharone bottle his sauce and sell it. Taking Chef Ramsay's advice, one year later Chef Hakman has his own line of BBQ sauce. Chef Hakman's BBQ sauce contains a rich mixture of many elements, and what makes it unique is that the consistency of the sauce is the result of the natural reduction and not the result of additives used to thicken the sauce. When you taste Hak's BBQ, you can definitely taste the additional depth in flavor of the sauce.
As I mentioned, Chef Hakman was much more approachable than some of the other chefs. When he did his cooking demonstration, he brought he food out for people to sample
grilled peach and fig salad with basil, feta, balsamic
peach, cucumber, tomato gazpacho with microgreens
slider
Chef Hakman made me a slider featuring his BBQ sauce. The beef was grass fed free pasture beef from Lindy and Grundy mixed in a 70-30 meat to fat ratio.
Chef Hakman was able to get perfect medium rare temperature on the burger. While it would be unfair to review a sample slider against some of the other burgers I've sampled, the beef patty used by Chef Hakman would have been enough for him to beat some of the burgers I've sampled. Additionally, the slightly sweet Hawaiian bun and the inclusion of the Hak's BBQ sauce added more depth of flavor and made the slider an enjoyable treat.

Chef Daniel Barron:
Chef Daniel Barron is the head chef at Blue Point Coastal Cuisine. Prior to working at Blue Point, Chef Barron was the head chef at Anqi when it was named one of the top ten molecular gastronomy menus by Gayot (#2). Chef Barron did a demo on fun cocktails using modern technique
Some of the highlights of Chef Barron's presentation included using liquid nitrogen:
He also dropped dried ice in a cocktail containing pieces of vacuum-dried watermelon that caused the watermelon to dance around inside the glass (sorry no photo).
Chef Barron's sample cocktail was a take on a cadillac margarita and included a kaffir lime foam, which featured xantham gum.

Chef Dave Martin:
Chef Dave Martin was a San Diego resident when he made it to the final four of Season 1 on Top Chef.
Chef Martin's presentation featured roasted brussel sprouts and brasied short rib. He was the funniest presenter because he seemed flustered while on stage worrying about time, and was drinking one of Chef Barron's cocktails to calm himself down. In short, it was everything we learned to know and love about Chef Martin when he was on Top Chef.
Unfortunately, I was unable to sample any of Chef Martin's food.

Flair Bartender Hayden "Woody" Wood:
Hayden Wood (or Woody as everyone calls him) was on hand during the show to demonstrate his flair bartending skills and autograph his book, Woody's Liquid Kitchen for those who purchased it. Woody was the opening act for Guy Fieri's roadshow.
While waiting for my sample cocktail, there was unfortunately a little accident so I didn't get a chance to sample the cocktail from Woody directly. Instead, I had to settle for a cocktail from his assistant
Since the cocktail I sampled wasn't from Woody's hands, I don't think it would be fair for me to review the cocktail I received. However, I was impressed by some of Woody's flair

Conclusion:
All in all, it was an enjoyable day at the Gourmet Expo. I was able to meet a lot of Chefs and sample a lot of the products on hand.
The best local product at the show was the Luna Oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farm.
The best product overall was Hak's BBQ sauce for its complex full bodied flavors.
The best alcoholic product was the 2006 Maier Cabernet from St Helena Road Winery.

4 comments:

Rodzilla October 10, 2011 at 5:27 AM  

Glad you had a good time, James. I have a bottle of Chef Hakman's sauce that I still need to try.

Was the cocktail from Woody's assistant bad? Otherwise, I don't think anyone is going to be such a stickler about who's hand it came from..this isn't Michelin. :D

James October 10, 2011 at 8:13 AM  

@Rodzilla - I noticed... several inconsistencies in the cocktail the assistant mixed. I'm sure Woody would not have approved

Rodzilla October 11, 2011 at 4:52 AM  

ah that's too bad. Some of the cocktails on his site sounded pretty appealing.

Kirbie October 11, 2011 at 10:50 AM  

Nice coverage! I was there on Sunday too. I enjoyed Hak's sauce, though I was only there for part of the demo and wasn't sitting close enough to try his food. It looks good from your pictures.

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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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