By Paul Giorgio
The Third Annual Food & Wine Festival at Foxwoods Resort & Casino in Ledyard, CT held recently was a foody’s paradise. It was a weekend of tastings, samplings, lectures and a chance to rub elbows with some of the top celebrity chefs in America. It was also a chance to put on about ten pounds.
The weekend began on a Friday night with a wine dinner, but Saturday was the real highlight of the weekend. The Grand Tasting featured food from about 50 restaurants, a great many of them located in New York City, Boston and the surrounding areas. In addition, there were samplings of wines from about a hundred vintners. There were also stronger spirits to try including rum, scotch and beer.
After taking in the Grand Tasting, I figured it was time for a little education, so I went to one of the wine seminars ~ “The making of a Super Tuscan.” The seminar was led by Bill Whiting, Director of Wine Education at Castello Banfi. Whiting took us through the creation of a really great Super Tuscan wine. Super Tuscans are at the top of the wine chain in Italy and include Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco. According to most wine experts, Brunello’s Montalcino is one of the best wines in the world. After listening to a lecture about the Italian wine industry for about a half an hour, we got to do what we all came to do-taste the wine. We were offered about eight wines ranging from a barrel sample of Sangiovese up to an $81 Bottle of Banfi ExcelsuS Montalcino. We were even given the opportunity to blend our own wine. The ExcelsuS, by the way, was velvety smooth with hints of cedar, spice and cinnamon.
After all that food and wine, I couldn’t resist watching a cooking demonstration. We walked over to an adjoining room to watch Food Network star Guy Feiri cook up a storm. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Fieri is quickly becoming the next Emeril Lagasse. He has several shows on the Food Network including “Guy’s Big Bites” and “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.” Fieri is both an entertainer and a great chef. He kept the audience’s attention with a combination of interesting cooking techniques and his personal style throughout the 45 minute presentation.
In addition to Fieri, over thirty premier chefs took part in the weekend demonstrations, including PBS Star Jacques Pepin, “Top Chef” host Tom Colicchio, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Schlow, and “Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelson.
Later that evening we were lucky enough to score a table at Alta Strada, Michael Schlow’s new eatery in the MGM Grand Hotel, which is chock-a-block full of top notch restaurants. Schlow, who owns Via Matta and Radius in Boston, has another hit on his hands. The food is great and the prices reasonable. I would go again just to sample more appetizers, especially the marinated warm olives, which were flavored with orange peel, cumin and rosemary.
Following dinner was the Boogie Bash, a dessert and dance party. They had a great ten piece 70s cover band. However, even I can only consume so many chocolate dipped strawberries, slices of Tiramisu and French pastries and glasses of champagne.
Sunday, which we began with a fancy jazz brunch, was a repeat of Saturday with more book signings, another Grand Tasting and more demonstrations. This time we took in Masaharu Morimoto. Morimoto gave a presentation on the numerous ways you can cook Wagyu Beef. For the uninitiated, this beef which comes from the Wagyu Cow (think Kobe) and costs about $100 a pound.
No trip to Foxwoods would be complete without a trip to the casino; while I gambled, a friend of mine watched the Celebrity Poker Tournament, which was held right off the casino floor.
The MGM Grand Hotel is an exciting addition to the Foxwoods Casino complex. It is truly a first class hotel with wonderfully appointed rooms, several great restaurants and numerous entertainment venues. In fact, the weekend we were there, Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, was performing, so the complex was overrun by tweens.
All and al, if you are ever seeking a mini vacation close by, head down to Connecticut for great food, great entertainment, a relaxing weekend and ~ if you’re feeling lucky ~ a little gambling .