Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tastes of Slow Food, Part 2

Today I'm wrapping up the second part of my report on Slow Food Nation's Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason in San Francisco's Marina district. I spent most of the day Saturday exploring the different pavilions, trying to use up my $20 "slow dough" voucher. If you didn't read part 1 of my report, be sure to check it out here.

The various food pavilions at Slow Food Nation took up the entire Festival Pavilion building at Fort Mason. But it also poured outside to the front area, with a pavilion for Indian food, Native American food, baked goods, bread and beer. But the most popular pavilion was probably the pizza pavilion. The wait in line was more than 30 minutes. Above, a worker tends to the brick, wood-fire oven set up just for the event.

They had a whole assembly line creating thin-crust pizzas. There were two options: a traditional margaretta and a rapini and sausage pizza.

I went for the rapini and sausage pizza. It was really interesting with the rapini, which is like thin broccoli. The pizza also had partly cooked red onions. It was extremely greasy because of the sausage, but the crust was perfect and the combo of the ingredients worked well. (Note: Slow Food Nation was really good about rationing the paper goods and compostible eating utensils, so that meant there were no napkins at any stations when eating! Argh, I apologize to everyone who walked by watching me eat this pizza and wiping my hands and mouth with butcher paper.)

Why do people like to bake bread into animal figures? I find it kind of odd. Here's a turtle bread above. (Most of the bread served at Slow Food Nation was from Acme Bread, of course.)

It wasn't all eating at the Taste Pavilion. At the Green Kitchen, there were demonstrations going on all day. I didn't stay for all because, well, I rather do the tastings. But I had to check out two of the major chef celebrities that showed up on Saturday. The first was Charlie Trotter, the legendary Chicago chef. A little trivia, in the opening scene of "My Best Friend's Wedding," Julia Roberts plays a food critic and the restaurant she's at was supposedly a fictional one run by Trotter.

Chef Trotter demonstrated recipes using seasonal ingredients so that meant heirloom tomatoes. Here he's making a cold tomato soup using yellow tomatoes that he's squeezing through that hand crank. It looks fancy but I can tell you it looks like your arm will fall off after using it.

The Green Kitchen set up wasn't ideal for a food demo. The burners weren't that hot and they didn't have an overhead mirror so you couldn't see the food from above. So that meant I couldn't really take a picture of Trotter's tomato soup. He passed it around but it was too dark to photograph. It did look beautiful after he added cucumber and olive oil and seasoned with citrus. He sold it to an audience member (along with dinner for two at his Chicago restaurant) for $250 to benefit the Edible Schoolyard Program (which is Alice Waters' youth gardening program). He's such a good guy.

The other chef who could tear me away from all the tastings was Chef David Chang, the toast of the town in New York City. Chang is the owner of Momofuku Noodle and Ssam Bars and his new Momofuku Ko, a 12-seat intimate restaurant. He's garnered a lot of praise for his inventive Korean-style dishes. I was surprised how young Chef Chang looks, and he seemed a bit nervous speaking in front of everyone because I could see his hand shaking as he worked his food. He was also cooking with tomatoes.

Here he's cutting some cherry tomatoes. He's going to make a tomato tofu dish with very minimal cooking, using mostly the tomato juice and a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil and a whole bunch of other spices that he didn't explain but just pinched and dashed into a bowl. I guess he wants to keep his recipes secret.

One of his secret ingredient is shiso leaves, which is a Japanese herb similar to mint but very distinctive. He chiffonade the leaves and tossed it with the tomatoes.

Here's his final dish. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry but everyone was crowding around me as I tried to photograph the dish because they were trying to pick at the food before it was gone. Hel-LO people, this is tomatoes and tofu. I guess when it's touched by Chef David Chang, it goes beyond just tomatoes and tofu. ;-)

Back to the tastings. I went over to the wine pavilion, which was huge in the back of everything. All the wines were from wineries that are sustainable and uses organic ingredients. There were individual glasses for tastings around the back and tables for flights. It was a bit overwhelming, and this will be my only negative note about the Taste Pavilions. Many of the food stations were manned by volunteers who didn't necessarily work at the farms or producers. So that meant they couldn't really answer questions about how things were made, etc. I felt they missed out on the educational component of the Taste Pavilions. Sometimes you lucked out and actually got the farmer or owner behind the counter, but most times not.

Here's a glass of a 2006 Pinot Noir I tried from Bouchaine Vineyards in Napa. It was young with a bit of tannins, but had a lot of legs (which means it was quite alcoholic). It tasted much better after I let it breathed for awhile.

After wine, I visited the tea pavilion. It was funny how tea is supposed to make you relax, but I was stressing because the line to get to the tastings was long and I was pushed up against the start time to see David Chang at the Green Kitchen. Slow Food was especially slow at this very moment.

When I finally got a seat, I was at the oolong table. I love oolong but turns out the person giving the tasting was from Teance, which I've visited before. I love Teance, but I was hoping to learn something new. Oh well, it was a very nice cup of pheonix honey oolong from China.

I kind of like how they served the tea in these little glass cups. So cool. But don't let your kids play with them.

Here are people relaxing and enjoying themselves outside the beer pavilion in a haystack area set up by the Slow Food people.

Slow Food Nation's Taste Pavilion turned out to be a really fun event and not necessarily as chaotic as I thought it might be. Everyone was in a good mood and I loved meeting people and chatting with them about what they tried and what they liked. I wished I could have visited all of the pavilions (I missed the pickled pavilion which got a lot of rave reviews), and I only used up $10 of my $20 voucher, mostly because you lose time waiting in lines. Still, I think I tried enough things to feel like I got a lot out of the experience and reminded me again of why I love living in the Bay Area. Slow food rocks!


Anonymous said...

Great pix Chef Ben! It is fun to see it from your perspective, especially after I worked 2 volunteer shifts, went to one taste workshop and only had a little time to get over to the taste pavilions... I saw different kitchen demos and different exhibitions too cuz I didn't have the patience to wait in the really long lines for pizza, wine and tea. I agree that it was very slow...

Single Guy Ben said...

I saw in your post that you watched Rick Bayless in the Green Kitchen, and we must have just missed each other because I went in afterwards to watched David Chang, who was scheduled right after Bayless. Funny, huh? The pizza line was long but it was kind of worth it, if I had a napkin to dab the sausage grease, it would have been perfect!