‘Kumara, in touch with his roots, seeks underground scene for smokin’ hot fun.’ When one starts to see food innuendo invade the sides of buses, newspaper ads and billboards, it can only mean one thing. That the editor of the lonely hearts pages got hungry, or that the Food Show is coming to town. I think about food more times a day than is probably normal, and if these thoughts had a caloric equivalent, I’d probably be morbidly obese. Heck, I write a column every week about ‘eating-out’. So it would strike some people, myself included, as surprising that I had, until today, yet to visit the annual Food Show. I sought however to remedy such gaps in my foodie experience and present to you an account of the good, the bad, and the ugly truth of the Food Show.
My first agenda was to find a wingman capable of keeping up with the demands of the job, and my stomach. Like Goose to Maverick, my friend Sam was a natural choice. Present at most of my eating exploits, one could not doubt Sam’s propensity for food when they set eyes on the impressive haul he brought back from the Food Show. My first mistake I made however, was not planning ahead. There’s a reason why doctors ask you to fast before major surgery. They’re just making sure you’ll be ready if the Food Show inexplicably rolls in the next day. Dithering over whether to even attend the Food Show, I made the mistake of eating a bagel for breakfast. If you want to make the most of the show, go hungry. Really hungry.
I’d boycotted visiting the Food Show for a long time because I felt that it was just a ploy to distract us with measly free samples while they took our money. My thoughts haven’t changed drastically from this first assumption; my attitude and approach however have. Tickets cost twenty-two dollars for adults, and with no promise of a goodie-bag, things early on started to appear grim. But I was a woman with a plan. I thought that by systematically combing every aisle of the exhibition, sampling everything except that which nauseated me, and entering every competition regardless of how awesome/stupid the prize was (self-filtering drink bottle anybody?) I’d be getting one-up on the fat cats running the show and my ticket would pay for itself.
In reality sticking to this plan is near impossible unless you have nerves of steel and the patience of a Buddha; one begins to fully appreciate this sentiment when you’re stuck behind someone who has decided to park themselves in front of the free samples, and this unfortunately happens frequently. It pays to be a shark in such situations, and being a little more assertive can get you far, or at the very least a helium balloon. The crowds were an inevitable buzz-kill, and if other people popping your personal-space bubble upset you, best you stay at home.
So what does one make of the food at the Food Show? Exhibitors (the ones that matter at any rate i.e. the ones with the food) can be split into big brands and artisan food makers, the latter of which are the true highlights of the show. This year there was a great number of artisan soda makers, two of which stood out. The first was by a company called Wai-kawa that has blended native New Zealand botanicals horopito and kawakawa into cola, tonic water and lemonade to make a fantastically unique and fragrant soft drink. The second was a ‘Fufu berry’ soda by Jones Soda, which was a zesty but artificially-flavoured hybrid of berries. Staying hydrated is not an issue at the Food Show, and neither is getting sloshed if you’re that way inclined; you can even buy a truly tacky necklace with a wine glass attached to taste wine with. As for food that cannot be imbibed, there was an over-representation of pestos and dips on little crackers, and a surprising lack of cheese. Short of a full meal, an extra dollar or gold coin donation could get you coffee anyway you like it, a noodle stir-fry with Regal Salmon and some Movenpick ice cream. Gourmet hot dogs ran for gourmet price-tags, leading me to believe that there truly is no such thing as a free meal.
Labels, labels, labels. Sounds odd, but they are essential. There are over fifty different competitions, and the prizes range from a case of wine, to a trip to Australia, to a three-month supply of pita bread. Simple probability dictates that the more competitions you enter, the higher your chances of winning. But rather than write your name, address, phone number and email fifty times over, the good people of the Food Show came up with an ingenious gimmick where you can purchase 33 sticky labels with your personal details on them for three dollars and enter competitions till your heart’s content. Sounds like an easy way to waste money, but I was the one having the last laugh as I slid my umpteenth entry form into the box whilst the sucker next to me struggled to put pen to paper.
In spite of having to fight the thronging masses for weeny crackers, sampling a terrible excuse for ice cream from Weightwatchers and waiting in line at the one ATM meant to serve fourteen-thousand people, the most rewarding experience was having a chat to my favourite finalist from Masterchef, Steve Juergens. The friendly giant of the competition, Steve along with fellow contestant Tracey Gunn were PR-repping the Masterchef stand hoping to lure in the next generation of Masterchef contestants. Would I be entering the competition? Heck no! Would I be purchasing an over-priced Masterchef apron? No way! I am, technically, the ‘enemy’ of professional cooks everywhere, but both happily posed for a photo all the same.
The verdict is in. And the question is, to go or not to go? Sam and I whiled away three and a half hours quite happily, and when time flies, you know you’re having fun. It’s like the Easter Show for grown-ups, only, instead of clowns, there are celebrity chefs, and instead of rides violating health and safety standards, there are indoor barbeques with no ventilation. Rather than petting farm animals, you’re eating them, and I couldn’t imagine blowing twenty-two dollars any other way.
Published in Craccum, Issue 16 2010