This expo could have been an incredible event all around, but there were few problems worth mentioning.
Great Food Expo Super cut (Video/Robin Mosley)
The Great Food Expo 2019 had its kickoff Oct. 5–6 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. The convention space was spacious and was buzzing with energy as the other expo Chicago Women’s Expo, shared the event space. This made for an eclectic group; with people across Chicago land who came through to sample food and enjoy the festivities.
Visiting the expo for the first time left me completely open. I did not have an interest in an agenda, but by the time I left the event, I was left wanting more organization, activity and representation of diverse foods. This realization does not ignore the bright spots, however, my initial vision of a try and buy expo with quick service, fast casual and fine dining foods fell flat.
The Chicago-based Soul Vegan located at 3931 S. Levitt, served up some incredible food.
I decided to buy the “Soul Vegan Special,” consisting of macaroni & cheese featuring soy cheese, BBQ Delights featuring barbecue seitan strips and collard greens & cornbread. I am not a vegan; but I do eat vegan food any chance I get, just to get a taste of how people re-imagine traditionally meat-based food.
This business did not disappoint. Unlike the traditional soul food found in many Black American homes, this meal cut down on sodium and packed a punch in distinguishable flavors. The macaroni & cheese had a firm, but creamy texture found in baked macaroni.
Although, there was no pork products in the collard greens as the dish typically calls for the greens were tender, smoky and finely chopped. The cornbread was good, but there was something about it that was not completely right with the texture. The BBQ seitan, strange texture aside, brought the right amount of sweet and smoky, and helped round out the meal successfully.
Never did I ever expect to start my time at the Kitchen Craft demonstration station. Let me preface this, the waterless cookware that was hawked by the promoter and her “plants,” worked. The vegetables passed around really did retain flavor that no cookware in your home could achieve without the painstaking baby-sitting needed to keep water from diluting its nutrients. Still, the demonstration went on for 45 minutes too long and the price never came up until the end.
Chef Sam walking the audience through the nutrients that leaves vegetables in regular cookware. (Photo/Robin Mosley)
It was clear within the first 10 minutes that the audience, myself included would not learn about the price at the end, but I stayed just to see what the hype was about. If you have ever seen “Better Call Saul,” you know of Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) tactics of using American flag imagery and quick, slick talking to pull people in and it did not work. I sat next to Bernadine, an older Black woman, and when she left, I took that as a sign to leave.
After making it through the crowd of people and stopping by food booths, I rushed over to the area were Anne Burrell would speak with the crowd. The crowd swelled as the 1 p.m. showtime was nearing and it was difficult to find a decent space near the front. But, once there was an opening, I found myself waiting in excitement for Anne to take the stage.
Nowhere on the expo’s website was there a discussion about what Anne would discuss, but it was clear once she took the stage that we would hear about her life and trajectory to the culinary field. Her content was excellent, but the delivery was not as strong. Considering she was talking about her life, one would think that she would have it a bit more polished, rather than simply going on as it became long winded.
There was much left to be desired. If you visited the Great Food Expo, you would have found delicious teas, soul food, startup companies and more, but it never quite found its voice with its with its haphazard presentation and the good could not outweigh everything else. Maybe next year.