Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great American Food Chaos

There always seems to be kinks to iron out when you do something grand for the first time. Such was the case with today's Great American Food and Music Fest held at Shoreline in Mountain View.

The festival was the idea of Ed Levine, writer of Smart Eats and a few books. The idea was to get some of the best foods from across the country and couple that with music for an all day foodie event. For $40 ($35 in advance) you got admission to the event and your first plate of food from one of the vendors for free.


I'll get to the food and events in a bit, but the biggest faux pas was a food bracelet system that failed. After you entered the venue you were given a wristband that could be 'loaded' with money for making purchases at the vendors without having to have cash at each location. Each band had one meal credit on it already. I arrived when the event opened at noon and used my credit pretty quickly. I chose the best dollar value, the Texas BBQ ($12), before the lines started. Good thing I did. An hour later the whole system had broken down. Management announced that they were going to have to switch to a cash system and everyone would have to go to the wristband booth to have their bands converted to vouchers. What a mess! Lines were huge! My estimate is that it would have taken over an hour to reach the front of the line. People were mad. I wonder if a riot broke out after I left.


The day's schedule included cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings, and bands playing music. Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell, and other food personalities were there. Flay and Fieri were featured late in the day, so I just stuck around to see Burrell's demo of Grilled scallops with pickled watermelon and two different grilled pizettas.


Gene Burns from KGO AM radio interviewed some of the vendors for his Dining Around show. They were broadcasting live. I never heard him before, but I sure was unimpressed when he starting calling his guests Sunnyside BBQ when their name was actually Southside BBQ. Usually a good idea to get the name right.


There were quite a few bands also featured. Above is Jeremy Buck and the Bang. There was also Little Feat, Marshall Crenshaw, and others. I could see enjoying a day of good food and music. One drag was that the place got so crowded you could barely move. It was incredible. Being there early, it had been a slow start. Then I sat down for one band and one demo, stood up, and voila! The place was jammed! I was shocked!


One area that I saw really underutilized was their 'market' section. It was an opportunity for kitchen and food specialty vendors to set up booths and show/sell their products. With so much out there in the world of food, this could have been a huge area filled with booths. Instead, there were about four vendors.


This is Leah Aguayo, a school teacher turned salsa entrepreneur. She had samples of her medium and hot salsas. Here's a local, small business woman who was promoting her salsa at a big food event. Why weren't there more like her? By the way, her salsa was good. Great texture and flavor with lots of cilantro and no raw onion.


I had two wristbands because I had gotten them as media passes. My intent was to use the second free meal plate from the other wristband, but with the meltdown of the system, I decided to forgo the freebie and just pay for my dessert. I wasn't interested in standing in those lines! I went to see about the famous Junior's cheesecake from New York ($5). Unimpressed. It tasted like it was a sour cream cheesecake and it was good, but it wasn't the best cheesecake I ever had. Next to it is a chocolate bouchon from Bouchon's Bakery in Yountville. This tiny morsel was $2! And a sample of a 'best' product? It was essentially a fancy shaped brownie bite.

The Texas BBQ brisket and beef sausage up above was from Southside BBQ from Elgin, Texas. I really liked the sausage and the brisket was well cooked. Where they failed was in their sauces. Boring and thin. But then, Texas BBQ is always more about smoking then about the sauces. And I do tend to favor Memphis or Carolina BBQ over Texan.

So....

This could be a great event. My overall thoughts:

- Work on the whole wristband vs. cash vs. ticket system for paying for your food and drink.
- Bigger venue. If this was the first year and the place was that jammed, you need someplace bigger.
- More and better food specialties from around the country. There were 15 featured places this time around and there's certainly opportunity for another dozen or more.
- Improve the marketplace and try to feature more local, just starting entrepreneurs. What a great opportunity to get their product known!
- Go green! Use paper based products for serving the food, not the plastic.

I'm sure there will be more thoughts I'll come up with later. Will they do it again? I think they saw today that people wanted such an event. It just needs to be bigger, better, and run smoothly.
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