Ok, the TriniGourmet is now probably the last Trini on the planet to share her experience of this year’s Taste T&T festival, but you know what they say ‘save the best for last’
It’s taken me longer than I had expected to get to this because of 1) the server issue I had last month 2) putting the PaperBag Gourmet Club series into effect 3) working on another ‘mystery project’ that will be revealed hopefully by month’s end
Because Chennette did such an excellent job of recapping the events I thought I would use her article as a jumping-off point for my own memories and recap
After some last minute scheduling with Chennette and Lilandra I decided to arrive at the Taste shortly after it opened. This way I could scope the scene ‘incognito’, take my pictures and what not without holding anyone back.
As I made my way towards the Jean-Pierre Complex (where the taste was being held), I could see the fanfare and decorations and my excitement grew. Especially as I saw the long line of cars ahead of me! (And I thought Trini don’t like to show early? Oh yes, it’s food! )
My excitement quickly grew to frustration though as car after car was turned back by police because of a lack of parking.
Unlike Chennette I did not have a good or easy time finding parking and I think this is definitely something that the Tourism Development Company needs to address next time around. Not only were parking alternatives not clearly marked, they clearly were not part of the official organizational plan as I asked no less than 3 policemen about parking alternatives and the best anyone could tell me was to ‘park on the highway’, which is what I ended up doing.
As I made the rather long walk from the highway to the Complex, I talked to a young woman who was also making the rather unglamorous trek, like me, in heels. We both hoped and wondered if the lighting/security would be adequate when we made our way back (a very real concern these days!)
My frustrations were compounded when a chef’s assistant (clearly decked out with garb and ID) in the loose group of people walking alongside us was yelled at by the guards at yet another gate who said that no one was going to be allowed through as they had not been given that authority. Even though the guards at the gate on the highway, and the guards at one of the barricades along the way had all sent us to that gate. ACK! Seriously people, get your shiznit together!
After a few minutes the gate was cracked open (I suspect the whole yelling scene was part of the little power trip that some security people like to put on) and we inched our way through one by one. (have i mentioned that we’re STILL not yet at the Complex… )
Fortunately from this point on it was only another 5 minutes of walking before I was -finally- at the entrance, at which point all my prior frustrations and grumblings immediately dissipated.
Never let it be said that our Tourism Minister, Howard Chin Lee, does not know how to throw a party, he is after all also a well known nightclub owner! At the entrance gates a steelband/tassa group played loudly and a plush red carpet flanked by flames and waterfalls cascading over steel brushed blocks greeted the visitor. As I took a moment to take it all in I noticed that the beat of the music had changed. As I turned behind I saw young girls dressed in fiery colours weilding sticks forming a barrier across the entrance. Puzzled I tried to take a picture of this as other press photographers suddenly rushed alongside me. That’s when I realized that right in front the girls was the President of Trinidad & Tobago, George Maxwell Richards. LOLZ! Being a typical Trini this fact only impressed me for about .001 of a second before I continued walking down the carpet and entered the Taste itself.
The tents to the entrance were relatively sparse, and although the appearance was gorgeous (due to the stylings of award-winning Carnival designer Brian McFarlane), I thought that they could have strategically placed some ‘hub’ tents in this initial entry area to keep the atmosphere and expectations up.
From the beginning I was glad to see that a variety of cuisines were being represented. Creole hot sauces, Chinese dishes, local Indian and several establishments from Tobago were all there.
I had never seen these pows before!
Many of the stalls kept the lids on their dishes, which although strategic in terms of retaining heat, only repelled me from inquiring about what they had to offer. If I can’t see it or smell it, it simply doesn’t exist. Many of these same stalls also didn’t have clear or attractive menus or price listings posted so I wasn’t even sure what they were offering. 99.99% also lacked any form of leave-behinds, thus ensuring that even if I wanted to visit them at a later date I would not know their name, location or telephone number! WHEE! If they don’t already, the TDC should probably prepare a brochure for participating vendors on how to optimize their stalls for maximum returns the next time around!
It wasn’t until I turned a bend and crossed a ‘faux’ bridge that I really began to feel the vitality of the event.
The Fruta stall… I filled up on cold drinks here quite a bit. Can’t remember the flavours, just your typical juice stuff
The KRAFT stall had a crazy line, for what? Cheese on crackers? C’mon Trinis really, don’t be so hard up! I kept walking on … by the time I had made the rounds the stall was emptied out and closed up. The only stall that did so for the night as far as I can tell. MADNESS!
The Angostura posse were making alcoholic and non-alcoholic punches for everyone. It was utter chaos as people were not being served in order but the punches were amazing, and the free mixers merrily made their way into my handbag, where I’ll be sharing them with quite a few of you
For those not able to fit into the Demonstration Kitchen tent (you can see it in the background), the proceedings were broadcast on a large screen. I peeked into the tent and it seemed to seat less than the 100 that was proclaimed but my counting skills may be in error. I wonder how people were admitted? First come first served? The presentations that I looked in on were quite interesting though
Apparently one of Angostura’s latest ventures “Lemon Lime and Bitters” is quite popular in Australia? Who knew! Never one to say no to a freebie, let alone a cold one, I merrily filled up and kept chugging on
Can I just say that I was officially pissed off at the Crix booth? Seriously. Talk about missing out on the point of a food fair. Not only was the booth decorated with this signage proclaiming their latest flavours , bags of the new flavours were prominently displayed on tables behind the servers. However … ‘they were for display purposes only’… what the ??? Yup, instead those in line were presented with the regular flavours we’ve known since childhood topped with a choice of choka or cheese spread. OK those were yummy, but really, next time give out the samples of the new stuff or stay home. I still haven’t bought the new flavours out of sheer annoyance
At this point it was 7 p.m., pretty much the time that Chennette, Lilandra and I had agreed to meet. For some bizarre reason the gourmet group tents were half on one side of the complex, and half on the other. Even more bizarrely, this ‘plan’ split group C in half geographically. *sigh * For this reason it took us a while to actually meet each other. Fortunately they had sent me a picture of their parents as well. When I saw a person who looked like their dad i merrily ‘followed’ him until I also saw them and revealed my cover
While I was waiting to see them I was approached by a Tourism Representative to take part in a market research survey. I was impressed by her manner and by the obvious system that was in place (she had a pocketPC) to collect data, hopefully for the improvement of the festival.
I told her that overall I was very satisfied with the quality of the festival however my main concerns were:
1) The chaotic approach to parking
2) Not enough clearly marked waste receptacles (there were many men walking around with garbage bags keeping the place litter-free but I found this approach rather visually unappealing, would much rather have had them clearing waste bins than walking through the crowds and stalls with open bags)
3) Not enough local ‘street food’, first of all WHERE WERE THE DOUBLES??? Not only were there no doubles (and the flyers all said there would be) I didn’t see corn soup, saheena, accra, pholourhie, kachourie, many of the street foods that I have featured here on TriniGourmet.com …. I realize that although Taste T&T may be trying to feature the gourmet offerings of our local fusion culinary experts, I thought it was a glaring ommission to not also highlight the local indigenous ‘common fare’. This is after all the tastes that unite all of us, that define us. To be fair there was shark n’ bake, but there really should have been more street fare. Not only for the many foreigners who were in attendance but also for local Trinis (ok ME) who don’t often get to pass these vendors on a day to day basis. Was there even pelau? If so I didn’t see it :\
The Tourism Rep agreed with my points and said that others had mentioned them as well, so hopefully, next time around they will be addressed! For taking part I got this nifty notepad
As I was talking to the Rep a guy approached us from Lipton. He had a huge vacuum container on his pack, filled with ice cold raspberry tea that he dispensed from a nozzle. I must have had 3 or 4 cups of that tea in a row as the night was quite hot and humid.
It was around this time that my eye caught Chennette and Lilandra’s dad and my stalking began in earnest
By the time that I found them they had already eaten at two of the gourmet booths so I had some catching up to do!
THE GOURMET TICKET MEALS
As previously shown, I bought a ticket in ‘Group C’ … this is what it got me … (descriptions, and in some cases pics, lifted from Chennette’s recap … )
• C4: Amtar’s – Chef Amit and Tara Ravel
Chennette: Spinach Patra – Layers of spinach leaves (seemed like callaloo leaves or dasheen bush) rolled with sesame seeds, and what tasted like ground split peas in the layers. Somewhat similar to the rolled saheenas that are common to Trinidad, but not layered in as much batter. These were good.
My Thoughts: Tasted like saheena but milder. Neither here nor there… I prefer saheena
Chennette: Vegetable Pakora – various vegetables mixed in a batter of flour or ground split peas flour, and served with a tamarind chutney.
My Thoughts: It was alright. Could have been stronger in flavour and more distinctive in seasoning.
Chennette: Mixed Vegetable Masala Katchouri – A blend of 4 mostly green vegetables encased in a batter and deep fried. Served with a gorgeous green coconutty sauce/chutney. We tried spotting the vegetables – looked like peas, bodi (bora or yard long beans) some spinach, and a mystery 4th (onions?).
My Thoughts: I thought this was the best out of the savoury offerings. It really was lovely and the chutney was the perfect accompaniment
Chennette: Kaju Pak – nut barfi – cashew nuts, with pistachios I think. Very nice and creamy. Not overly sweet, considering the dish, or particularly spiced, so it was a nice end to the Amtar’s platter.
My Thoughts: Like Chennette said, it was barfi, nothing more, nothing less… btw, I also skipped the chicken and other meat offerings due to my intake of the dairy barfi (mixing meat and milk within an hour of each other is a kosher no-no)
• C3: Ithaki – Cascadia Hotel (Executive Chef Raymond Joseph)
Chennette: Red Wine Caramelized Braised Lamb topped with an Apple Salsa – (we skipped the Lamb, but still got the topping) The apple salsa was loaded with chadon beni (culantro) and was very much like a good apple chow.
My Thoughts: I skipped on this as well…
Chennette: Mexican Style Black Bean Ragout – not bad, but I like beans generally. It wasn’t particularly special though.
My Thoughts: I have to concur with Chennette on this one, it’s hard to screw up black beans, but it’s also NOT hard to make them special. They weren’t screwed up but sadly, they also weren’t special.
Chennette: Assorted Diced Provision tossed in a Roast Garlic Olive Oil with Flaked Salt Cod and Brunoise of Vegetables – good flavours, but the provision was a bit hard. I like ground provisions cooked almost or to the point of being mushable. Makes the flavours blend better and more enjoyable rather than having to spend energy chewing.
My Thoughts: I thought the provisions were quite good as they were and, unlike some of the other vendors, nicely seasoned, I’m not a big fan of ‘mush’
Chennette: Banana and Chocolate WonTons – I believe these had a 3rd ingredient, but I cannot recall. The 3rd flavour probably didn’t come through These were served with a Caramel Rum Sauce, which I passed on, but TB suggests the sauce was much too sweet. The WonTons by themselves were pretty good. Perhaps they could have just been dusted lightly with powdered sugar. Powdered sugar and cocoa. Mmm.
My Thoughts: I thought these were perfection, and I wish I could have piled them on. The sauce was also sublime. Too sweet? NO WAY!!!
• C1: Food Etcetera – Chef Dean Johnson
Chennette: Spiced Rubbed Grilled Swordfish with a Pineapple Plaintain Chutney – the swordfish was cooked just right so it was not tough, and the spice rub was not very heavy. I liked the pineapple plantain chutney, although I didn’t think the Swordfish needed it
My Thoughts: The chutney really made this dish into a knockout. Without it the swordfish was just so-so, but at least it wasn’t dry. Still I thought it (the fish) needed a bit more salt. I always think each element of a meal should be able to stand on its own merit and shouldn’t rely on the sauce or relish to pull it through…
Chennette: Crab-Stuffed Rolled Salmon Fillets with a Tomato Butter Sauce – Lilandra had this one really (pictured on the right). I tried a bite, but I preferred the swordfish. The crab seemed bit dry and I am not sure I tasted any of that lovely sounding Tomato Butter sauce
My Thoughts: had to pass on this one… not kosher
Chennette: Yam Croquettes – went well with the Pineapple Plantain Chutney as the croquettes were a smidgen dry. Officially these were served with grilled onions and a garlic sauce. Red onions I do not like, but that’s just me.
My Thoughts: I liked these!!!! Needed salt though … (I don’t have high blood pressure I swear!!)
Chennette: Wok-Seared Vegetables – Stir-Fried Vegetables. Just regular stir fried vegetables. Good, but nothing fancy. Plus had officially reached bellyfull status at this stage, so concentrated on the more unique tastes.
My Thoughts: These could have been straight out of the frozen section in the supermarket as far as I could tell. Utterly dull and needed… you guessed it… SALT! Were they cooking for a retirement community?!?
• C2: Bernard’s Gourmet Services – Chef Bernard Long
Chennette: Chef Bernard was stationed behind the counter rapidly and skillfully tossing Chicken, Shrimp, Pork and Lamb (in separate woks!) to serve up as Assorted Fajitas, while his minions heated up flour tortillas and offered you the usual condiments (salsa, sour cream, spicy). Pity we were so full already. Or maybe it was a good thing, since all we could have was the shrimp.
My Thoughts: I was unable to eat ANYTHING in this section and this made me quite sad I consoled myself by watching Chef Bernard Long (whose heat extended way past his fajitas) :cue Axe commercial:
Mmm, nothing screams ‘classy’ like a plastic hollow-stemmed wine ‘glass’ I kid I kid. This was my complementary glass of wine, thanks to the lovely folks over at Bryden’s. Their booth was very well designed and a stylish catalog presented the bottles from which gourmet patrons could make their choice. Mine? A dry Pinot Noir from Chile. I wanted to follow it with a German riesling (using one of Chennette’s or Lilandra’s chits) but my infamous lack of alcohol tolerance had clicked in and since I would have been driving home I thought it wise to stop at one
By the end of the night I was merrily stuffed and thrilled to have attended. Like Chennette I wished that more vegetarian offerings (and entrees) were available, we were not a small sized group and religious dietary restrictions as well as vegetarianism are hardly head-turning concepts to anyone in our diverse society. Still I could not complain on the size of the portions. There is no way I could get that much food from those establishments for $200 ordinarily!
Next time around we’ve decided that we each should get a ticket from a different group so that we can enjoy the whole gamut of flavours and styles It will be interesting to see what changes 2008 will bring, and to see if any of the points that mattered to me will be addressed
In closing here is a little vid of the night that I put together, enjoy!