CT Food and Wine Festival

Amy writes: Last Saturday afternoon, Chris took the train into NYC for a bachelor party, and since I had no other plans, I decided to head out to the CT Wine and Food Festival at The Hartford Club. The event promised food, wine, and celebrity chefs and the proceeds went to the Arthritis Foundation, so it seemed like a good time in the name of a good cause.  I attended the afternoon Grand Tasting, which ran from noon to 4. My friend Jolie graciously agreed to drop me off, and her husband would pick me up after the UCONN game got out, so I could taste as many wines as I could without worrying about driving home.

Upon entering, I was handed a program and a wine glass. Good start. There were two levels, and I decided to browse downstairs first. The newly released Beaujolais Nouveau by Georges Duboeuf was the first thing I tried. Not a great year for that one, I'm afraid to say. I regret buying a bottle on Thursday night without tasting it first. Oh well, moving on. Next, a shot of moonshine made by Onyx Spirits right in my town Manchester! Smooth and tasty, like a good vodka. That would be yummy with some apple cider! Another couple of tastings (Barefoot Pinot Noir - not bad for the price, and couple of reds made by Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards from the Finger Lakes - a little sweet for my taste), and then a visit to the Caseus (from New Haven, CT) cheese table. Wine and cheese. Yummmm... Also downstairs were some vendors of wine-themed gifts, lots of beer offerings from such brewers as Harpoon and Otter Creek, and a corner of cigar sellers.

Vowing to take another browse through that area before I left, I headed upstairs. Upstairs was a sea of wine bottles, and the "island" in the middle of this sea was the celebrity chef demonstration area. I would be spending a few hours here, so I settled in. The wines up here were definitely more my taste; in fact, I had tasted many of them before. Still, three of the most noteworthy wines I tried that day include: Palegetto Syrah "Una di Quattro" 2004 - a rich, jammy Italian syrah poured by Angellini Wines; Museum Real Reserva 2005 - an intense, spicy, velvety Spanish tempranillo; and best of all, the Fulcrum Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2010, poured by the vintner himself, and friendly and enthusiastic wine lover who is definitely doing something right (more about that particular wine when Chris and I open the bottle I purchased).


I got the perfect spot from which to view several cooking demonstrations, which was the best part of the day for me. First, Chef Aaron McCargo, Jr., season four winner of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star and star of Big Daddy's House, taught us how to make a seared tilapia with a sauce that included herbs, lemon juice and anchovies (plate pictured above). Chef was funny and engaging, and offered several of us ladies a taste of the delicious dish. I loved it so much that I had to get a signed copy of his book!

Next, I tried a dish made by Executive Chef Christopher Kube of the Hartford Club, the swanky spot where the event was held. That dish was pumpkin soup with a crostini of goat cheese and cranberries. It was perfect timing, really - as I was sipping the soup "shot" the chef took the stage to demo how to make it. So fun!


Chef Joe "JJ" Johnson was up next. This guy has wit, personality and the innate ability to teach while cooking, so he was a joy to watch. He made a beautiful calamari dish that unfortunately I did not try, but it sure looked gorgeous!


Finally, Mike Elder, three-time winner of TLC's Ultimate Cake Off showed off his finishing touches on the wine-barrel cake he made for the event. Such artistic talent! And he seems like a cool guy who really loves doing what he does.


All in all it was a great day. I met some fun people, hob-nobbed with celebrity chefs, and tasted some great wines. But I do have two pretty major criticisms. First, there was barely any food and frankly, when you have all that wine, beer and liquor to taste, you need something to nosh on. Second, several of the celebrities featured on the website were no-shows including Chefs Kevin Cottle (of Hell's Kitchen fame), Noel Jones (ON20), and Hunter Morton (of Max Downtown). When you pay a good deal of money for an event, you expect it to live up to what was advertised and sadly, that was not entirely the case. Since it's the first time for this event, I can only hope next year's planners will consider adding some food and ensuring all the chefs show up. Anyway, check out some more pictures of the festival from the pros at the Hartford Courant here; that's my hand digging into the plate in picture #27!

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