The Incredible Eat Kentucky 2014 Incredible Food Show Report
I had never eaten alpaca, but then I went to the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show last Saturday. From the new and exotic to rare heritage items grandma made, you could find it at the Incredible Food Show. The Incredible Food Show is Kentucky Proud’s opportunity to showcase Kentucky food, makers, and chefs. Every year they bring in an outside Celebrity Chef, and this year it was Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman. She did a couple of food demonstrations in Rupp Arena and signed a bunch of books. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, and you can read about her visit to Lexington, but I didn’t even see her other than in the distance signing some books.
But I was excited to attend my first Incredible Food Show at Lexington’s Heritage Hall at Rupp Arena for the Kentucky food. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. What I found was a teeming convention center filled with booth after booth of food and thousands of hungry people. From the moment I walked in I was faced with free food, meatballs at one booth, freshly popped popcorn at another. There was even a full breakfast all the way in the back.
But I had arrived at the Food Show early to hear a Culinary Seminar by Fiona Young-Brown, author of A Culinary History of Kentucky, on Appalachian dried apple stack cake. I have fond memories of my Aunt Laurie and my grandmother both making dried apple stack cake. Young-Brown, a native Brit, declared stack cake one of the real jewels of Kentucky cuisine. I won’t disagree. It was necessary that this claim be validated by sampling stack cake, and Fiona made us a beautiful example complete with icing (my Aunt Laurie never thought of that!). See, you should have gotten there early, too.
I suppose one could approach the booths systematically, and maybe I should have, but I preferred the “not all those who wander are lost” approach. One thing I learned to do is look for lines. This is the crowd-sourcing approach to finding good (and free) food. This worked well with Good Foods Co-op who fed all comers generously. Nearby, Glier’s Goetta handed out tasty goetta sandwiches, and it’s not surprising they won the “People’s Choice” best booth award.
It was this wandering approach that led me to River Hill Ranch of Richmond, server of alpaca samples. Now I have worn alpaca, but I had never eaten it. I suppose it didn’t occur to me that one even could, but now I’m pretty convinced that one should. What does alpaca taste like, you ask? The temptation is to give the stock (ha!) answer “chicken,” but really alpaca tastes a lot like lean beef. River Hill also had a nice alpaca chorizo (below right). I wasn’t the only one who thought the alpaca was good. River Hill Ranch won “Best In Show – Savory.”
I was grateful I came across Grateful Grahams, a northern Kentucky bakery that is a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made Contest. They make vegan graham crackers and such. I was lured in by their pumpkin pecan spice bites, and took a bag home. I was also intrigued by the Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen, which was founded by Grateful Graham’s Rachel DesRochers. The Incubator is a kitchen co-op arrangement to help other small culinary businesses like Babushka Pierogies who make fine tasting pierogies. I think it’s a great concept, which you can see in this video:
Another fun booth, one that should have won some sort of award for prettiest food, was Sylviana Herrin’s La Petite Sucre, purveyor of elegant French macarons (not to be confused with coconutty macaroons). Macarons are a food one feels guilty about biting into because you feel you’ve spoiled something beautiful. I can report one doesn’t hesitate nearly as much to take the second bite.
One of the most interesting presentations for me was from Chef Ouita Michel and her friends Jim & Jan Nance on “Hickory Nuts & Such.” Like the earlier seminar on apple stack cake, this spoke to my own culinary heritage. I remember my grandfather, an inveterate cracker of nuts, taking us onto the hills on our Clay County farm to gather hickory nuts. And I remember hickory nut pie from my childhood.
Jim Nance is himself a cracker of nuts, and a hickory nut hobbyist. We were able to taste his hickory nut syrup, which tastes like a wild version of liquid pralines. And we were able to try small samples of hickory nut pie, the first I had had in probably two decades (I can neither confirm nor deny that some people had a second sample of hickory nut pie from the leftovers). Hickory nuts, although fairly plentiful in the wild, are virtually impossible to buy commercially because cracking all those nuts is so labor and time intensive. Probably the only way to stay motivated for all that cracking is to keep thinking about what hickory nut pie tastes like.
At the end of my filling and informative day, I paid a visit to the Spotz Gelato pink polka dot trailer. My wife had encouraged me to try their Kentucky Pride gelato, and who was I to refuse? The Kentucky Pride flavor is essentially what would happen if a Derby Pie gave ice cream a big Italian kiss. I made the sensible choice to spend that extra dollar and move up from the small size to the large. But it was here that I met my Food Show Waterloo. After a day of food sampling, apple stack cake, and hickory nut pie (but still no confirmation that there might have been two samples of hickory nut pie), the rich bourbony gooey goodness of that large gelato finished me off. If you come across Spotz you should absolutely spend the extra dollar for the large, but only if you’ve not had food samples all day.
My first Incredible Food Show was over. No one could say I hadn’t given it my all, a 110% effort, left it all on the floor, taken it to the next leve…well, you get the idea. To all those booths I didn’t visit and presenters I didn’t see, my apologies. I’ll see you there next year…after a week long fast beforehand.