It was late Sunday morning, and the weekend-long bacchanal known as the Summit Wine and Food Festival was still in full throttle as attendees filled the glass-enclosed atrium room of The Grand Summit Hotel, in Summit, NJ, awaiting the okay to begin their sips and nibbles. Sitting at long tables, sampling and taking notes on their favorite beer and wine paired with artisanal cheeses (and hearth-oven baked breads), the crowd seemed surprisingly wide awake and downright eager to learn. Cheese-maker Jonathan White, owner of Bobolink Dairy, along with sommelier Neil Rodrigues, regaled the crowd with personal anecdotes and endearing tidbits as to the rather arcane world of monastic beers, highlighting the subtle variants of cheddar cheese, as well as vintage wines with foreign-sounding names like La Vielle Cave and Emina.
Though it was technically still morning on a weekend, I found myself thinking I wouldn't want to be anywhere else (at least not in New Jersey) than sitting here, sipping wine and beer and listening to these two guys inform me. And yes, of course, I was flanked by my eleven-year-old son (who throughout the day would get complimented for just being there, and for the record, I did let partake in baby sips) and my husband, who kept disappearing to the Cognac and Armagnac region of the hotel's lecture rooms.
This is the second year of the weekend festival held here in The Grand Summit Hotel, and by all accounts it's a big success, as seen from the plentiful crowds racing through the halls to reach their next seminar (scheduling could be improved as each lecture ended just as the next began -- and with all those spirits, it could get a bit heady). Seminars by celebrity chefs, book signings, and cooking demonstrations were just part of the many offerings, along with classes on Chilean wines, Latin American Malbec and Carmenere, and how to mix Caribbean cocktails such as a Mojito.
For a late lunch bite, we joined the "cooking for diabetics" demonstration of Chef Franklin Becker, owner of NYC restaurant Abe & Arthur's, who in explaining the difference between Pacific and Atlantic salmon, went into such depth that the audience actually smiled and nodded to one another. (Basically Pacific salmon have a harder time in that cold, rough water, and actually come out bruised, whereas Atlantic salmon are more coddled in their ascent and therefore more succulent.) We then feasted on a farmed fresh (so much for any ascent), moist piece of salmon, along with a salad of mind-tingling sweet tomatoes and mangos. It was pure culinary contentment.
Next we fast-paced it to Chef Aaron Sanchez of the Food Network, who did look vaguely familiar, for the cooking demonstration Tacos My Way, which was happily not about tacos, actually it was beef tenderloin, as in filet mignon, with a roasted jalapeno salsa. Just as it was all about to be tasted, or shall I say ravished, "Por Dios," he ran out of time. I was forlorn, along with my son, who was more embarrassed when he overheard me say to another disappointed attendee, " I was practically salivating!" Again, a bit of a scheduling problem in the festival?
Still, with all the competing entertainment that seems to entice us each hectic September, this one is a keeper. Even if you live in New York.