Monday, October 24, 2011

The Voltaggio Brothers and More from the KY Incredible Food Show

Thanks for bearing with my circuitous series of Lexington trip reports. The impetus for my weekend getaway, as you may recall, was the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show. It led me to dinner at Jonathan’s at Gratz Park and brunch at Jean Farris Winery and Bistro, but the food show itself was such a full day of inspiration that I’m doubling back to share more. I wrote about a few of the 100+ vendors and their products here, but there were so many activities and demos going on concurrently I sometimes had trouble choosing.

This is just the schedule for the “Culinary Seminars,” in the smaller break-out room.

The Kids Craft CafĂ© offered youngsters the opportunity to create their own artwork with painted toast, eggshell mosaics, pumpkin painting, and other activities. “Exhibit Space H” featured cooking demos by Chef Tom Mackinnon of BlueFire Grill at the Lexington Regency Hyatt.

Barnes + Noble turned a section of the show into a cookbook store, with food titles by lots of Kentucky authors and this huge display of advance copies of Volt ink., set for wide release tomorrow, by headliners Michael and Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame, performing at 11:00 and 3:00 in adjacent Rupp Arena.

B+N held book signings by local authors throughout the day, as well as one by the Volt Bros. Yes, I walked away with an autographed copy.

And then there was the jam-packed schedule for the demonstration stage sponsored by Sullivan University’s Lexington culinary program, where I spent a good chunk of my day getting my food geek on.

I decided to skip the potential mayhem of the Voltaggios’ morning show in favor of the Heritage Meats Master Class. “I’m glad you’re here instead of watching those foodie chefs,” said the Sullivan University chef-instructor leading the demo, nodding toward Rupp Arena. “You can see them anytime on TV, but what we’re going to show you here you can see only once a year.” Not quite accurate, but it drew an appreciate chuckle from the crowd.

As three students broke down a Katahdin lamb raised in Lincoln County, KY, before us, I learned that Katahdin, also called hair sheep, is a heritage breed developed in Maine in the 1950s. Rather than being covered in wool, which requires shearing, these sheep develop a heavy coat of hair during the winter, then shed it in spring. Absent the lanolin in wool, which can impart a gamey taste, this breed produces a fine-grained, well-marbled meat that is mild in flavor.

The instructor discussed the different cuts of meat, their best uses, and how to make sausage and stock to utilize every part of the animal. Thanks to the large-screen monitors, we also got to see knife techniques demonstrated, like Frenching the bones of a lamb loin.

A later highlight on the Sullivan University Stage would be a live-taping of a TV program called “Secrets of the Bluegrass Chefs.” While the crew was setting up for that, three Sullivan graduates did a Q+A session spotlighting their different paths in the culinary profession.
Natalie Blake (left), who appeared on “Hell’s Kitchen,” is presently sous-chef at the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and dreams of eventually having a food truck she can take throughout the state of Kentucky. Allison Davis (center) is the owner of Wild Thyme in Lexington, which does catering and offers cooking classes. The fellow on the right, whose first name is Ryan (alas, I didn’t catch hear his last name well enough to be able to figure out how to spell it), is the director of a school food program. He said the tack he takes is to look at the typical food choices made by kids, throw them out, then figure out how to replicate them more healthfully, like offering panko-breaded chicken tenderloin in place of chicken fingers. He also talked about getting kids involved in the edible garden on the school grounds, which has gotten his students to be more willing to try different foods and is helping them learn to think more seasonally about food. And he touted the advantages of having a culinary position that follows an academic schedule, compared to the hours worked by most restaurant chefs.

Next up was the actual taping of “Secrets of the Bluegrass Chefs.” Host Tim Laird travels throughout the state spotlighting fine-dining as well as casual restaurants. The first segment showed Sullivan chef-instructor John Foster preparing gnocchi (from local Lexington Pasta Company, who’d done a demo earlier showing how to make gnocchi from scratch) with a fresh tomato sauce.

The second featured Chef Jeremy Ashby of Lexington’s Azur Restaurant and Patio preparing braised short rib wrapped in caul fat around goat cheese from nearby Capriole Farm, with maitake mushrooms (found by one of his foragers, he said), mashed potatoes with porcini powder, and corn pudding garnished with pea shoots and “onion glass.”
I was intrigued by Chef Ashby's commitment to local ingredients and his inventive preparations. He joked that “Azur” stands for come “as you are,” saying that while his restaurant offers dishes that may be upscale, it’s a casual environment. Azur is definitely on my list to visit next time I’m in Lexington.

“Secrets of the Bluegrass Chefs” airs on two Lexington channels and, I’m guessing, stations elsewhere in Kentucky too. Videos of prior shows can be found on the Kentucky Proud website here, and here are Part 1 and Part 2 of a 2009 episode that will give you a favor of the show, Azur, and Ashby’s culinary style. What can I say? I was intrigued enough to go google this stuff.

As if all of this wasn’t tantalizing enough, I still had the Voltaggios’ afternoon demo to look forward to. Check out my post on All Top Chef for that report.

All in all, I found the Incredible Food Show to be an impressively well organized event that was fun, informative, and well worth the admission price. It’s great to meet the people who produce your food, and the vendors were very outgoing. The Sullivan University staff and students shouldered a huge role in the day’s events and did the school proud. The organizers also did a great job of enlisting sponsors and making this a very professionally produced event. I came away inspired, and with a long list of Kentucky food producers to keep an eye out for – on restaurant menus, on the web, or to visit in person when I travel through the state. Regardless of who the headliners are next year, I plan to be back.


Buzz Kill said...

I wish they had food shows here in my area (other than lima bean or Kosher festivals in the pine barrens of South Jersey). If they do, they're not well advertised.

Cool that you got the Volt brother's signed book. Did you actually meet them or was it pre-signed? I was watching Iron Chef Halloween last night and saw TC alumnist Lee Anne Wong beat Marc Forgione in battle Halloween Candy. And can you believe Spike Mendleson is a competitor in the Next Iron Chef? I don't think he lasts too long.

chickory said...

wow eggy how do you get in all these high falutin' cheffery gigs? Ive been to the atlanta food and wine showcase - thats not the same as this but there was a ton of new weird food they were giving out. You feel like you can break down a moose for stew now? grherhahaha my builder went to Kentuckeh to shoot at some game with a black powder musket. he couldnt even find a place to stay because there was a "ham festival" and the hotels were filled. whaaa what?