Saturday, November 13, 2010

Iowa Food & Wine Expo - Featuring Curtis Stone!

Good afternoon everyone! It's been a very cold and blustery Saturday here in the greater Des Moines metro - but at least we didn't see the heavy snowfall that areas in northern Iowa and Minnesota saw. Yikes! I know that snow is coming some time soon - it's inevitable - but I'm not quite ready to see the white stuff just yet.

On such a cold day, it was nice to find excuses to go inside - like the large, warm confines of the Iowa Events Center and Hy-Vee Hall. Yesterday and today marked the third annual Iowa Food & Wine Expo in downtown Des Moines. As we've mentioned on the blog before, Maggie and I had our first official date at the inaugural Food & Wine Expo back in November of 2008. At that time, neither of us were chefs - Maggie's cooking prowess ended at boiling water and my cooking ability extended only to pancakes and waffles - and those came from a ready to make box.

In two years, a lot has changed. Maggie and I can both claim to be amateur chefs - with our culinary exploits growing in complexity and ambition with every new recipe we take on. We've moved on from an awkward dating couple to a young married couple (slightly less awkward as well).

Alas, in two years, a lot has changed with the Food & Wine Expo as well. In it's inaugural year - Hy-Vee hall was packed with aisle after aisle of vendors and small restaurants with products ranging from cooking gadgets to taste tests of new products. I still recall TGI Friday's testing out their new 'Jack Daniel's Chicken Wings' and a local BBQ establishment pushing their pulled pork sandwiches - right across from a booth from Famous Dave's - also pushing THEIR pulled pork sandwich. It was cooking and culinary exploits at its best. Food was aplenty and cooking, gadgets, spices and wine were on display for the all to enjoy.

Flash forward to 2010 and things have certainly changed. The major restaurants were all gone - and all of the cooking and culinary adventures had disappeared.  There were still some local business (mainly cheese vendors from some reason) but a majority of the booths were selling new countertops or simply fronts for existing chain stores (that were offering nothing new or revolutionary - just 'present'). Maggie and I were forlorn - what happened to our Food & Wine Expo of old?

After 20 minutes, we had fully circled the event and seen everything there was to see and enjoy. I was disappointed to say the least. I wanted my money back. Luckily - there was still a few events on the live stage to see. The first was a demonstration from local chef - Chad Vander Ploeg, the Executive Chef at the Iowa Events Center. The first dish whipped up was some locally raised steak (go Iowa!) with an Argentinean inspired marinade called chimichurri. A second dish - pan seared duck with portobello mushrooms and seared cherry tomatoes quickly followed. The display was both informative, entertaining and exactly what we came for - cooking at its finest. Kudos to Mr. Vander Ploeg for a job well done.

By now, it was time to move on to the main event - a cooking demonstration from the headlining chef, Mr. Curtis Stone. As we've mentioned multiple times on the blog before, Maggie and I had the fortune of meeting Curtis (after meeting him twice, I feel we're on a 'first name basis' now) at the first Food & Wine Expo. Now that we were cooks in our own right, we were even more eager to meet with the cooking Aussie.

First, a little explanation if you're not grabbing the gravity of this meet and greet - Our entire blog is based on four main sources of inspiration. They are:

1 - Jaime Oliver - His show, "Jaime's Food Revolution" single handily opened my eyes to the way food was prepared and the importance of cooking fresh and healthy. His cookbooks taught me how to cook - that is no exaggeration. I went from zero experience to moderately capable using only his cookbooks to learn. Without Jaime Oliver, there is no Out Of The Culinary.

2 - Curtis Stone - His show, "Take Home Chef" first drew Maggie's attention to cooking. His friendly demeanor and accessible personality showed me that not all male chefs have to be hard assess like Gordon Ramsay (with all due respect as Mr. Ramsay is still an amazing chef who I'm sure is a delightful person when the cameras are off - I don't want to speak despairingly about anyone I haven't had the opportunity to meet). It was also Curtis' cookbooks that taught us to be adventurous and inventive. He is willing to throw out new tasks and challenges - and that taught us to take risks on our own.

3 - Giada De Laurentiis - Giada made Maggie fall in love with cooking and its preparation. The way she made cooking look fun, effortless and easy drew Maggie in, and the way her dishes tasted kept her hooked. Giada gave Maggie the cooking bug before she could cook anything beyond ramen noodles.

4. Alton Brown - Alton Brown was my first introduction to cooking. He broke things down into ways that made sense to me. If anyone has not seen Mr. Brown's show "Good Eats" on Food Network, he explains not only how to cook dishes - but also WHY you cook things certain ways. His scientific break down of cooking made the act more approachable to me. And, as any regular reader of the blog knows, I like to break down the science behind the cooking.

There you have it, we were going in to meet #2 on our 4 person list of inspirations. This was a HUGE deal for us.

And Curtis didn't disappoint. From the moment he walked on stage, his passion and enthusiasm simply radiated into the crowd. His entire hour long performance felt less like a cooking show and more like an afternoon just 'hanging out' while we cooked. Curtis has this astounding, engaging personality that is perfectly suited for shows like this. His clever audience integrations - such as the 'first date couple' in which he brings two single folks (a guy and girl) on stage to experience their 'first date' with fresh pasta and crab meat sauce (video of that process below)

or the 'long haul' couple (in this case, a couple who had been together for 48 years!) in which he teaches the husband how to make breakfast in bed - with waffles and caramelized apples - are extremely enjoyable and hilarious.

Mixing up a cocktail to get things started

Full time chef - part time matchmaker 

Apparently, waffle irons are not as common to Aussies as they are to us. It was quite humorous watching Curtis learn how to use the little device. 

Teaching Chuck (the long hauler) how to caramelize sugar - WITHOUT WATER! Who knew? 

Following the show, Curtis had an hour long meet and greet with all of his fans. Maggie and I managed to get up in the front of the line (woot!) and were able to share our thanks with him for being such an inspiration and even shared the existence of our little blog (he liked our name - "Out Of The Culinary? Ha! That's clever" that made my day!) All in all, we could not have been more impressed with Curtis' show or with him afterwards - he single handily made the entire Food & Wine Expo worth the price of admission.
And autograph! 

So there you have it, dear readers, our experience at the third annual Food & Wine Expo. The show itself has changed a lot - not really for the better in our opinion - but the celebrity chefs make the whole event worth while.  We had a lot of fun, all thanks to Curtis and Mr. Vander Ploeg.

That's all we have for you today - just a reminder that next week is 'Thanksgiving Week" on the blog. We're going to be featuring one to two traditional Thanksgiving dishes each day (including turkey) next week - so be sure to stop back on Monday and see the lineup for the coming week. Until then, enjoy the weekend (stay warm!)



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