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Wine And Food Festival Luvs Ground Meat

09-wine-food-festival-1Now that the dust, er… grease, from the New York Wine & Food Festival has settled, it has given me a moment to think about the food shenanigans that went on.  Was the festival as good as it could be?  I can’t help but wonder if it could have been a little better thought out.  And maybe help to raise the collective culinary bar.  Instead of lower it. 

My first thought is that the Wine & Food Festival was dangerously close to easily being renamed the Wine & Ground Meat Festival.  If only because two of the festival’s most popular events were fanatically focused on the pedestrian ingredient.  The Rachael Ray Burger Bash and Giada De Laurentiis’ Meatball Madness parties must have had barnyards full of animals for miles around quaking in their hooves.  I wonder if Hamburger Helper was a sponsor?  The USDAHeinz ketchup?  Whatever.  The other unfortunate thing is that the difference between the two events got a little blurry.  maybe it was the grease… But seriously, both contests featured well-known chefs tweaking peasant / street food and pushing the product to a higher level.  But in doing so they pushed them closer together.  Some of the meatball entries were even served in little buns.  Like a burger.  You get the idea.

Not to mention the overall idea of taking something ‘low’ and making it ‘high’.  Think ‘foie gras stuffed burgers’.  And let’s face it – that is easy.  If I take a slice of pizza and shave truffles on it, evidently that would make me a genius.  Well, close to it anyway.  My point is that none of this serves to really showcase great cooking or to raise the common bar of food appreciation.  Why not, instead of starting ‘low’, begin ‘high’ (or at least ‘higher’) and build contests that showcase real skill and technique?  How about a contest for the best lobster bisque?  The best house-made charcuterie?  The highest souffle?  That could be fun.  Or better yet – the most outrageously creative dish a chef can come up with?  A tent full of gastronomic experimentation a la Ferran Adria and El Bulli would be awesome.  And really get people excited about adventurous food.  Not to mention that mounds of burgers and meatballs is a little too… ‘American’ to draw much international interest.  There could be crazy sushi contests.  Or a competition for the best Thai curry.  Very few people do sushi really well.  And doing a good curry, I mean really sublime stuff, is very hard.

I think that the Food Network has a great opportunity with it’s growing Wine & Food Festivals.   But this is also a big responsibility.  The Food Network has a huge national audience and a lot of power in the American culinary landscape.  Careful programming and direction could go to great lengths in showcasing the breadth and depth of some really great food being done in the United States.  And raise the national food consciousness at the same time.  Or it could play to the lowest common denominator and inadvertently assist in dumbing down America’s food repertoire.  I could go on but I will stop there.  Here’s hoping that future Wine & Food Festivals will seek to raise the level of skill, technique and ambition in the events that it produces to showcase America’s great culinary talent.