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A Foodie’s Guide to Surviving Food Events

1 Night 12 KitchensIt’s that time of year– a lot of food-oriented events start happening in the spring through the fall. It starts each year with 1 Night, 12 Kitchens, and continues with the Taste of Cincinnati, 7 Days for SIDS (the brunch, in particular), Taste of the NFL, and ends with Oktoberfest.  There are a few events in there that I’ve missed, but you get the idea.  What do they have in common?

  • copious amounts of food
  • walking

By the end of the night, if you don’t play your cards right, you could end up with indigestion and aching feet.  The post is also inspired by Michelle, who posts a Wine Festival Survival Guide.  So, with some apologies to her, let’s get started.

  1. Plan for walking. Ladies, most of the time I wear heels.  I’m short.  I understand.  This is not one of those times to wear cute shoes (Ed. note: Specifically, high heels. I myself wore very cute red flats, thank you.).  Wear comfortable flats as at these sorts of events, space is at a premium, and it will be difficult for you to find a place to stand and eat, much less sit.  At one point during 1 Night, 12 Kitchens, two other couples, plus Terry and I were sharing the top of a garbage can– a premium spot. Other times, I leaned against a wall.  That’s what happens when you have 600 people in a room– don’t complain, prepare!
  2. Dress in layers. These events can get really, really warm.  Or be really, really cold.  Cardigans and jackets are your friend, with lighter layers beneath.
  3. Travel lightly. Because I go to these events with a camera, I tend to bring a larger purse, but if I weren’t going as a member of the press, I’d bring a very small bag.  You want to be able to have your hands free to hold your glass of wine or beer and your food without juggling.
  4. Eat lightly in the hours before you go. Even if you are trying to be health conscious, or splitting bites of food with your friend or partner, you will find that there are always things you want to try that you can’t get to because you’re full.
  5. Do a spin around the venue before you try anything. That way, you won’t be an hour in, completely full, and see that one dessert or dish you’ve wanted to try all night, but simply have no room.  Not that I’ve done that.
  6. Try something new. It’s only a bite! If you’ve never had duck liver pate, try it!  Oysters? Foie gras? What about pheasant?  Try them too.  Don’t stick with restaurants or dishes you know– branch out!  Or, if you do stick with restaurants you do know, see what they have– often, they’ll do things for these events that they couldn’t sell in the restaurant.  It allows them to flex some creative muscle, and you to expand your palate.
  7. Go with a friend. This allows you to split the very generous portions at these events.  Sometimes you just want to try a bite, and not feel guilty about throwing the rest away.  Going with a friend helps.
  8. Don’t be afraid to throw out food. This is akin to it being okay to spit or dump wine out at wine tastings.  It is really, really okay to just take a bite or two and throw the rest away, even if you like it.  The chefs understand that you have 25 other dishes to try.  They won’t be offended.  I know, I too was taught that there are starving children in China and you should scrape your plate, but if I did that, I’d get two dishes in and be full. Not a good idea.  It’s okay to throw it out.
  9. Don’t worry about pairing your wine and food. That will just lead to brain damage.  Try wines, figure out what you like, and if there’s one you particularly like, it’s okay to drink that all night.  For example, as I was standing in line for some wine, a fellow attendee (who I’m positive was David Lazarus, who writes for Michelle) suggested I try a rose– as it was “perfect for the temperature in this place”.  I stuck with it all night, as he was right– it was perfect. Thanks, David.
  10. Ask the chefs. Do you have a question about the food?  Allergies? Ask them, they’ll be happy to discuss the food with you.  I had a fantastic time talking with Todd Kelly about his process for curing pork belly pastrami-style, and how much foie gras fat he had to save to top the fries.  That’s not an opportunity most people have, so take advantage of it.  They really enjoy it!
  11. Be nice. I can’t believe I’m writing this one, but really, manners get you everywhere.  Pushing in line, rudeness, and too much wine don’t make for a pleasant experience.
  12. Have fun! If you miss a dish, it’s okay.  Have fun and enjoy the experience– after all, it’s for a good cause.

As far as 1 Night 12 Kitchens is concerned, it’s easily the largest of these sorts of events in town.  You have top chefs from the city, top guest chefs from the region, and all of it supports future chefs in their endeavors.  It’s a great time, and tickets sell out quickly– I can’t wait to go again next year (thank you to Cincinnati Magazine for the ticket!).

There were so many great dishes, it was hard to pick a favorite (or three), but here goes:
via vite: parm, fava, bread, oilParmigiano reggiano, fava beans, olive oil from Via Vite: Light and unexpected, and so indicative of summer.  Freshly shelled favas are simply topped with some of their exquisite olive oil (which you can buy at the restaurant), paired with bruschetta.  Considering how many heavy dishes there were at this event, this was a delightful treat.

1 Night 12 KitchensNectar’s fiddlehead ferns and feta cream Yes!  Super-seasonal, with fiddleheads and super-sweet radishes, creamy, a burst of spring on a plate.  This is why I love Julie Francis: how seasonal!

Palace: Avocado, Yuzu, CrabThe Palace’s avocado/yuzu/crab and manchego/salted caramel/blackberry Yes, Jose Salazar and Summer Genetti are two of my favorite chefs in town because they never disappoint.  Jose’s avocado mousse, layered with yuzu gelee and crab was light, refreshing, and a little bit different.

Palace, Manchego cheesecake, salted caramel, blackberrySummer’s cheesecake was outstanding– I had read she was doing this and was just slightly skeptical, but I shouldn’t have been.  Manchego lent a salty richness to a very soft, light-textured cheesecake, and worked very well with the blackberry sorbet and salted caramel.

1 Night 12 KitchensTodd Kelly from Orchids:Pork Belly Reuben, Fries. The reuben was great, and his methodology– curing the pork belly, smoking and steaming it like pastrami– was fascinating. What came with it– fries, fried in duck fat, topped with some thyme and salt, then drizzled at plating with foie gras fat– was out of this world.

1 Night 12 KitchensRomy Jung’s soup, made of pheasant, was interesting– he explained his process: reserving the pheasant breast, while making stock of the rest of the bird (which was silky; I’m wondering if there is more collagen in pheasants than your standard, say, chicken?), and using those breasts to make these light dumplings. There was chestnut in it as well, but mostly what I tasted was the pheasant. This is a dish I’ve heard mixed opinions on — some really liked it, others thought the texture was odd– but I liked the fluffy dumplings.

If you’d like to see more shots of the food, I’ll link to a clickable slideshow. If you can, get tickets next year– this is one of the premiere food events in the city, and something not to miss.

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