In a city filled to the brim with food events taking place just about every other day, it's difficult to decide which ones you would be willing to spend your hard-earned money on. Having attended food and beverage events in Toronto for quite a number of years now, I have a much better understanding of what to look for ahead of time to gage whether or not the event is worth my time and money. Years ago I vowed that I was no longer willing to shell out what little money I had for tickets to the many food and beverage expos that take place in Toronto. I was irritated by having to pay generally a minimum of $20 just to enter a building jam-packed with a hungry crowd, only to pay more money for anything I was interested in sampling. Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for sampling a variety of products, allowing me to experience new flavours and brands, but at the same time, I am a woman with a lot of pride and I won't be very pleased unless I have been given my money's worth, which I had found to be a rarity. Despite my dislike for expos, I am still one hell of a food lover and couldn't imagine turning down tickets to the VIP night of the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo kindly offered to me by Mott's Clamato, one of the exhibitors and show features at the expo. So off I went on Thursday night, with my mom in tow, to experience what the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo had to offer.
Immediately I was taken aback by the crowds, which were still pouring in as I arrived 2 hours into the event. I quickly remembered why I always like to bring a small purse and take advantage of coat check as I tried to maneuver my big bowling ball of a purse and Fall coat through the chaos, all the while being aware not to knock any glasses over! With stomach's growling, we quickly made our way over to the food section of the event to sample some gourmet food offerings. Sample tickets are purchased upon entry, which act as the show's currency. You may only buy sheets of at least 20 sample tickets at a time, with each ticket representing $1. The booths offer samples that can cost anywhere from 1 to 7 tickets (on average from what I observed). We promptly scanned the selection and decided which dishes we felt were the biggest bang for the buck. I'm sorry to say that I was quite disappointed by the selection. I was hoping to be impressed by the assortment of gourmet food the expo would offer, but was saddened to see just how little "gourmet" food there truly was, as well as realizing how fast we were going to blow through our sample tickets, as most samples cost around 4 tickets. My general rule of thumb at these types of events is to observe where the line ups are which will tell you what samples people are enjoying the most. Despite the crowds, lines were short and fast moving, so we decided to line up for the longest one at Milagro, serving up tacos, margaritas, and tequila shots. We each got a pulled pork taco at only 3 sample tickets each and devoured it in next to no time. I'm taco spoiled thanks to my amazing experience at La Carnita at Food Truck Eats, but Milagro's tacos were nothing to turn my nose up at. Tender, juicy, with great acidity and toppings I thoroughly enjoyed Milagro's taco and could have gone back for more! We then went to Highway 61's booth, a barbeque restaurant both my mom and I were familiar with. We have enjoyed their barbeque platters in the the past along with their onion rings, baked beans, and fries, but have never ordered their crab cakes, one of my food weaknesses. For another 3 sample tickets each we both got a bite sized crab cake that didn't exactly leave me weak at the knees due to its fishy flavour. Of course I had to check out the Mott's Clamato booth and get my hands on a spicy caesar, which I knew could do no wrong.
Never one to disappoint, Mott's not only impressed me with their caesar, which was right on point, but also with their Caesar School, which unfortunately was all full by the time we went over. The Mott's Clamato booth is a wonderful example of the benefits of attending an expo like this. It's learning experiences like this that allow attendees to truly take advantage of what the expo has to offer, and leave with new knowledge on the product, brand, and how they can replicate what they have tasted at home. For no additional charge or sample tickets, you could sign up to sit in on Mott's Clamato's Caesar School where their charming drink master teaches you how to make and perfect different types of unique caesars. Although I was unable to sit in on this, it appeared to be very similar to the types of mixing that took place at the Coast to Coast Caesar Toast in the summer, which I learned so much from.
I couldn't believe how fast the time flew by the time we had finished our caesars. At 8:45 anxiety kicked in as I realized I had only 15 minutes to head over to the Food Network stage and find a prime spot to plant myself, to get the best view of their celebrity chef Chuck Hugh's from one of my favourite Food Network show's Chuck's Day Off. Off to the side, but with a perfect view of the stage, my mom and I waited for the man of the hour to walk out. A laid back Chuck came out with that same charm, charisma, and black T-shirt we all know and love from his show, happily answering questions from the audience and telling us all about what Chuck's Day Off has in store for the future, a new special he worked on Chuck's Week Off in Mexico, and his incredible experience with The Next Iron Chef. I was lucky enough to get to ask Chuck a question myself, while keeping my nerves in check as he stood less than a foot away from me and stared into my bewildered eyes. With much of the audience frustrating me asking non-food related questions such as "do you have a girlfriend?" and "what do you think of the occupy movement?", I asked Chuck if he were stranded on a deserted island, what five ingredients would he want with him? He gladly answered 1) Water 2) Butter 3) Hot Sauce 4) Bacon 5)....honestly, I couldn't catch what he said here but I believe it was Wu Tang? Can anyone confirm this? I know it was a music artist, but I can't remember who. Help a sister out if you were in attendance and remember! The highlight of my night, I walked away with a big stupid grin on my face and a new hunger for another food sample!
We finished off the expo by grabbing the pulled pork sliders from Lou Dawgs at 5 sample tickets for 2 sliders. The sliders were tasty with the tender pork and sweet and smokey Lou Dawgs barbeque sauce that our server recommended. No better way to end the evening than barbeque sauce dripping down your chin right? We left with extremely lame GFWE gift bags on our arms and that same stupid "omg I just talked to Chuck Hugh's" grin on my face. It's clear to see that my feelings on food and beverage expos has not changed much but I do have some positive things to note. No I would not recommend anyone to attend the expo if you are just looking to try some interesting food. But if you are looking to get the opportunity to sample all different types of wine from all around the world, learn some new tips and tricks on mixing cocktails, and meet your favourite celebrity chef, then yes, by all means brave the cold and head down to the convention centre, but not before scouring the web for a promotional code to get you cheaper entry fee. I suppose one of the biggest reasons why I was so disappointed in the expo was that I have been very lucky to have attended so many other incredible food and beverage events in Toronto in the past that I not only enjoyed more, but felt I got more value for the time and money I had spent. Consider sip & Savour Ontario with an entry fee of $65. Sure this sounds like a lot of money to spend on one evening, but that entry fee is your only cost for the night as you are able to sample as much wine as you like once inside, as well as sample gourmet food from some of the province's top restaurants and chefs. At the expo you are paying $18 entry fee plus service charges, around $40 on average on sampling tickets to get a full experience of the event, plus $20 parking, and this doesn't get you even near the quality of food that sip & Savour offered. You can make the same comparison with the expo and Food Truck Eats, an event that I was extremely impressed with. I found the food from Food Truck Eats to be of a higher quality and far more unique than the food served at the expo, and with each dish costing no more than $5, you can't compare the value. I don't like writing negative reviews on my blog, but in this instance I felt the need to express my constructive criticism. Before you purchase tickets to any food and beverage event in Toronto make sure to do your research. Look up promotional codes to cut the cost of entry, read up on what features the show has to offer and which brands and products the show will be exhibiting, find people who have attended the event in previous years and ask them questions about the value and quality, and remember that just because an event is highly advertised doesn't mean it will be a great event. I by no means wrote this to offend anyone taking part in the GFWE, I just want my blog to reflect my honest opinion and perhaps allow my readers to walk away having learnt something new. Please continue to show your support for Toronto's incredible food and beverage scene!
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