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Cleveland's Fabulous Food at the Fabulous Food Show

WearingMascara and I at the Fabulous Food Show

This weekend the Fabulous Food Show traveled to Cleveland. In addition to some food sampling, excellent people-watching opportunities and culinary stars like Bobby Flay and Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine gracing the stage, Cleveland’s talent was also showcased.

Having attended the Food Show a couple years ago and because I’m on an alcohol-diet in November (so no beer or wine samplings), we set about exploring the local chefs that were there.

Saturday, we started out with Michael Ruhlman’s presentation.  I’ve been on a Ruhlman kick lately. Although I’ve followed his writing for a while at Ruhlman.com, he’s recently been in the news promoting his newest book (check out his post on his appearance at the Martha Stewart Show).

Michael Ruhlman

Ruhlman’s Twenty covers the twenty ideas anyone needs to know to cook pretty much anything. And with his wife Donna’s beautiful photography to illustrate the 100 recipes (sometimes even step by step), it makes it easy to put the concepts into practice.  

His session at the Culinary Celebration stage demoed a few of the processes in his book, including: how to make bacon at home, how to cure salmon and how to make a simple grouper cerviche.

Based on tv appearances, I wasn’t surprised by how well-spoken, at ease, and low-key he was. Although I’ve heard about the importance of cooking at home, this is one of the few times where I sat there and thought “I could do this.” The thing that stuck with me the most is how the key ingredient to any recipe is commonsense – “thinking” is the first concept in Twenty.

If this had been our only highlight of the weekend, the Food Show would have been a success for us.  However, we had more to look forward to.

Brian Doyle from SOW Food

After Ruhlman’s presentation, Scott and I decided to avoid the crowds surrounding the Main Kitchen Theatre. We met up with some friends like WhyCLE and Wearing Mascara and explored the Taste of the Neighborhood and Sweet Street stages.

Presented by the Plain Dealer, the Taste of the Neighborhood Stage featured demos from local chefs.  Each chef presented a dish suitable for holiday entertaining that wasn’t your typical turkey and stuffing.

Chef Brian Doyle from SOW Food made Swiss Chard cakes and eggs. It was a recipe his family created so during the demo we discussed family traditions and the importance of keeping these dishes alive. 

Team HodgePodge: Chris Hodgson, Catie Hodgson and Jacquelyn Romanin

Later on, we caught Chris Hodgson from Dim and Den Sum and Hodge Podge. Hodgson’s dish definitely made me excited for Thanksgiving — well, the day after.

Hodgson showed the audience how to make Thanksgiving Left-over Turkey Enchiladas with a butternut squash enchilada sauce. I need to track down a recipe for this because it looked much more appetizing than your standard turkey sandwich.

Our first day fittingly ended with dessert from Anne Thornton at the Sweet Street Stage. Thornton is a Bay Village native and hosts Dessert First on Food Network. She demoed a tasty tasty smores brownie. After the presentation, Scott saw me salivating for sweets and being the wonderful husband he is went up and got me one. My favorite part was how the small marshmallows just popped in your mouth.

Dessert from Anne Thornton

On Sunday, we changed gears. Since things were a little less chaotic than Saturday, we focused on the Main Kitchen Theatre and explored the exhibitors.

Although there were a number of exhibitors from around the country like Hak’s BBQ Sauce and Red Cedar Coffee, I was happy to check out locals like Chef Kimberly McCune.

At her Hungry Bee stand, we picked up honey and sweets. Her Rehive AIe is coming out soon and from what I heard after her Emerging Chefs event, it is not to miss.  The Farmers Market section and Growhio booths were also big draws for me.

Michael Symon and his Braised Pork Shank with Shaved Brussel Sprouts Salad

Sunday’s Main Kitchen Theatre schedule was highlighted by Cleveland son Michael Symon. For his first presentation, we joined a packed hall to watch him prepare a Braised Pork Shank.

During the presentation, he shared his love of brussel sprouts (what he considers an underdog – the Cleveland Browns of the vegetable world), talked about how the tastes in Cleveland have changed from when he had to call his ‘Beef Cheek Pierogies’ ‘Pot Roast Pierogies’ to get people to order them, and had audience members periodically check the score of the Browns game.

He also talked about the need for complicated flavors and textures – so he topped the shank with a shaved brussel sprout salad and homemade vinaigrette . I may not cook, but I’m a huge fan of avoiding bottled dressings whenever possible so I’m going to have to make this at home.

Robert Irvine and Jonathon Sawyer

After that we stuck around for Robert Irvine’s demo. He decided to mix it up for his last session of the weekend, inviting one of my favorite chefs, Jonathan Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern and NoodleCat, to an Iron Chef “Irvine Style” competition.

While Irvine took questions, Sawyer and a chef from Irvine’s team faced off with members of the audience acting as sous chefs. While it’s always a treat to see Sawyer prepare something, Irvine (whom I’ve not watched a lot of) was also really engaging and entertaining — very high-energy and running into the crowds (even the back section) to answer questions.  He seemed to really like meeting his fans.

After this, our Fabulous Food Show experience ended as it had begun – with Michael Ruhlman.  Ruhlman – along with Crop Bistro’s Steve Schimoler and the Plain Dealer’s Joe Crea – were brought together for the Michael Symon-hosted “Cleveland Culinary Scene.”

Michael Symon demoing how to make your own sausage at home

Like a pairing of good food and beverage, each guest’s expertise and experience complemented the other. After Symon demoed how to grind your own sausage at home, Schimoler cooked up a dish while the group discussed different local food trends.

From the East and West Coasts’ growing recognition of Cleveland’s food scene to tips for aspiring chefs and restauranteurs, it was an incredible opportunity to engage with some of Cleveland’s greatest food voices.

One of my favorite topics was discussed: the importance of buying locally farmed meat and produce. It’s something I’m trying to do more of with small steps here and there, but as was discussed during the demo, we can only break our habits and make a statement about wanting local food by where we choose to spend our money.  

If you’re like me and never know where to start, here are a few lists of area farmers markets and CSAs. And when you’re in your grocery store, ask questions of the butchers or store managers. If they’re not sure where the product came from or how it was taken care of, there are plenty of other places in Cleveland who do.

Roundtable discussion: Robert Irvine, Joe Crea, Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and Steve Schimoler

Out of all of the events, I wish this one had been better attended. While a smaller crowd in the Main Kitchen Theatre meant for a more intimate, personal experience for audience members, I think there were a lot of people at the Food Show who could have benefited from hearing this.

I know I did, because as much as I enjoy eating food, I’ve always disliked cooking.  I get nervous in the kitchen – wanting it to turn out perfectly. And from listening to Ruhlman talk about the simplicity of cooking and Symon and the other local chefs talk about the need to preserve family food traditions, they won me over to the other side.

In fact, after the show on Saturday, we picked up a few ingredients from the grocery store and tried to cure some salmon.  Creating the salt and sugar mix and zesting a grapefruit and lime took no time at all.  And after allowing the salmon to cure for 24 hours, we ended up with this:

Cured Salmon with grapefruit and lime zest

Scott called it candy salmon because of the slight citrus flavoring to it.  I topped a few bagel chips with the salmon, cream cheese and chives – it was an ideal snack and we were amazed at how easy it was to throw together.

Prior to this weekend, you’d only see me in a kitchen if I was dragged there by my husband.  Now, after the Cleveland talent at the Fabulous Food Show, this formerly self-professed “non-cook” is already eyeing up a mac and cheese with sourbise dish for Thanksgiving.

If you missed the Fabulous Food Show, you don’t have to wait until next year to check it out. This April 28 and 29, the I-X Center will open up its doors to the Spring Fabulous Food Show.

Featuring Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Steven Raichlen demonstrating their summer grilling techniques, the spring show will focus on Outdoor Entertaining for the summer months. Our plan is to construct a stone firepit this year, so I’m hoping to pick up a few recipes we can try out on it.

Fabulous Food Show 411:

Disclosure: I was offered two media passes in exchange for the giveaway I hosted a couple of weeks ago. As always, the events I choose to cover and my opinions of them are 100% my own.