Posted 29/Nov/2006 01:30:00
The term "gourmet" can be a noun, referring to either a person who enjoys good food and drink, or an adjective meaning fancy, exotic or specialized meals. So when I recently attended Toronto's Gourmet Food and Wine Expo, I sort of expected there to be a bit more stuff that might fall into the fancy and exotic category.
First off, it should be noted that I know very little about wine, and the focus of the show really was on the beverages. Taking up about two-thirds of the exhibitors' area, wines from around the world were very much the stars of the event. There was food there, but not very much of it qualified as what I'd consider "gourmet". Or maybe it's just the fact that no matter how delicious and beautiful a dish is, once you put in on a steam tray or a chaffing dish, it loses some of its allure.
I really expected to see a much more upscale cross-section of Toronto's great chefs. But there was no sign of Susur Lee, Mark Thuet, Jamie Kennedy or the like. What there was were samples from a variety of decent mid-range restaurants, but, with the exception of Acqua, nothing that I would consider fancy or especially upscale. I went to the expo prepared to break my years' long vow of vegetarianism for a taste of some rare Berkshire pork, and instead was offered hard, dried-out Kobe beef burgers, dubious pad thai and overpriced samosas.
Of the non-restaurant food vendors there were a few booths featuring handmade chocolate truffles, and plenty of free samples from Poulain, a French company owned by Cadbury. Oddly, there were also a number of vendors featuring preserves and hot sauces, which is more the type of item you'd have found at the Christmas craft fair taking place in another part of the convention centre.
Wines from across the globe were represented at booths from various countries including South Africa, Chile, Spain, Italy and of course, France. We sampled a 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau and a lovely French Merlot blend that put my usual bottle of red plonk to shame.
For a Canadian event, I thought that Canadian wines were grossly under-represented, with only the nearby Niagara region running a booth. No samples from wineries in British Columbia, or Nova Scotia, and no sign at all of the variety of really impressive non-grape dessert and dinner wines created across the country. There was Ontario ice wine, but none of that fantastic ice cider from Quebec. A few micro-breweries were represented, but mostly ones based in Toronto such as Mill Street, Steamwhistle and Black Oak.
Seminars on wine tasting and cheese tasting were presented throughout the event, and for anyone who found themselves wandering around aimlessly, completely overwhelmed by the offerings, these were a very good idea. The cheese tasting was presented by the Dairy Farmers of Canada and offered nine cheeses of varying types and flavours, These were all Canadian cheeses, so there were no rare raw milk bries on hand, and all were very mainstream and accessible.
As someone who came for the food but stayed for the wine, I can't say the event was a total bust, but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting. Next year, I'll plan ahead and won't expect anything interesting or "gourmet" in terms of food, but I'll definitely take advantage of the opportunity to learn a lot more about various wines. In the meantime, I've found a few new things to try.