On Saturday, I ate my way around the world. I was lucky enough to win tickets through a twitter contest to Taste Trekkers’ Foodie Day, so I headed down to Providence, RI to check it out.
The food expo was held on the 17th and 18th floors of the gorgeous Providence Biltmore Hotel, which was a lovely backdrop for the event. We were warned to eat breakfast before arriving, and I’m so glad I listened since the morning was filled with (really good) speakers and sessions and a limited amount of samples.
The 10 minute talks that kicked off the event covered a range of places and topics. Sam Poley started out with what was essentially a love letter to the community and food culture in Durham, NC. He said the farmer’s market there on Saturdays typically has anywhere from 6-10,000 people, which mind blowing to me (that’s more than the population of my entire town!). There are so many up and coming chefs, restaurants, and food trucks there that I must admit after his talk, Durham is on my list of places to visit.
Next, Lisa Gustavson spoke about the importance of the A.O.C label in France. I knew they had strict labeling laws, but it was interesting to learn more about the process. To gain the label, it must be a unique agricultural product, unique to a certain place, produced using traditional methods that are coded in law and then enforced. She mentioned both Champagne and Franche Comte cheese as examples.
The next speaker, Christopher Bakkan, really struck a chord with me. He talked about how to find good food in Greece. Two different couples I know just recently went to Greece, and when I asked them if the food was amazing, they said that they didn’t think so, and that a lot of it was fried. This obviously surprised me, since many Greeks still adhere roughly to the Mediterranean diet. Listening to Christopher talk though, I realized where they probably went wrong. He said to walk away from the popular places, because most of the real Greek restaurants are a little off the beaten path, to look for restaurants with no menu or one only in Greek (more likely to be fresh if the dishes change daily and if the menu is in 12 languages, the food is meant for tourists’ palates), and to start with the elements (as in, what is fresh, in season, and native to the area). Not speaking any Greek, I’m pretty sure the people I know stuck to the popular squares with menus that were translated into English. If I ever visit, I’m determined to go off the beaten path!
Jose Duarte, who is a chef in Boston, talked about Peruvian cuisine and leading foodie trips to Peru. He actually took a group of families with small children recently, and talked about the importance of training their young palates and introducing them to new flavors and textures. His trips sound like so much fun- there is an emphasis on traditional foods and methods of cooking but also a look at some of the hottest chefs in Peru.
Then, it was time for the sessions. There were a variety of them running at the same time, so it was a little tough to choose, but I picked three ones that really interested me.
First up was a talk about local Rhode Island company, Daniele, that makes its own prosciutto. Apparently, at any given time in their factory, they have about 1/4 million prosciuttos air drying. It takes about 3-4 years for the salt cured ham to be ready and hangs in a facility while fresh Rhode Island air circulates. It’s a family company, and they seem quite interested in helping the local community, even though the meat is sold nationwide. They have a local line using local pigs, with a logo designed by local RISD students. Plus, it’s incredibly tasty. Davide Dukcevich, the third generation, said that good prosciutto should be sweet, not overly salty. Boy, did the leg he brought deliver. I wouldn’t have minded taking it home with me….
Next, I chose Peruvian cuisine with a local chef, Cesin Curi. I will definitely visit his restaurant, Los Andes, when I’m next in town. He was so passionate about introducing people to the new flavors of Andean cooking. He had some funny stories as well- his mother once served beef tongue to his basketball team (he just told them it was beef and they thought it was delicious). He made an amazing cold potato dish, with an avocado creme, and chicken, topped off with two amazing sauces. Potatoes are really important in Peru- of the 5,000ish varieties, just over 3,000 are from Latin America. Plus, they can grow at high altitudes. Thus, potatoes and starches in general are really important parts of the Andean diet. He said that as his restaurant he always serves 2 startches!
My last session was with Mario Mariani of Pain d’Avignon, a bakery and cafe on Cape Cod. I had never heard of them before, but they are huge in New England. Every day, their bakers start at 4.30am, making the 24 doughs. By the end of the day, they will have produced 18,000 handmade loaves of bread, and their delivery people will have driven 350 miles. I got to sample some of their breads. They were all very tasty, but I liked the multigrain loaf and the cranberry rolls the best. They apparently make croissants as well, so I’m adding them to my list of places to eat the next time I’m on the Cape.
While the morning was informative and there was some sampling, the afternoon was when I got a chance to taste everything. But that is a story for another day.