The 7th annual New Jersey Food and Wine festival took place at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg this past weekend. I had the pleasure of being able to attend a small portion of this three day gastronomic centered celebration. I had the intention of staying for the entirety of Saturday for a handful of seminars and the Grand Tasting which would feature over 30 renowned New Jersey restaurants and chefs. This is not to mention all the wine vendors that would be in tow. Unfortunately, after getting through two of the seminars my winter cold got the best of me and I made the decision to head home and get to bed (I didn’t think everyone would appreciate me spreading my germs!).
While my time was cut short, I was able to get a taste for what a production this festival weekend really is. Food and wine lovers alike flooded the resort for day trips and weekend getaways. I even caught up with a few people who came in from out of state just to experience what our finely dined state had to offer. It was a day filled with smiles and food chatter (my favorite kind!).
The event landed on the first full day of Spring and as we all know it happened to snow the night before. If I were anywhere else in the state I would have mourned the sight of more winter precipitation. However; when I pulled into the rustic resort’s long driveway with the snow capped mountain backdrop, it made the one last snowfall worth it. The snow also made it that much more welcoming when I walked into a lobby that was warmed by fireplaces with a lingering scent of truffles dancing in the air from the culinary events taking place within the hotel’s walls.
I found the source of the truffles when I was escorted into my first event, The Market Lunch. Sysco Foods hosted a station style meal that highlighted various international cuisines along with local, organic, and just downright delicious food fare. I made stops at the gourmet cheese station, a table that paid homage to Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisine, the mushroom man (as people were referring to him as) where risotto and polenta were topped with various breeds of mushrooms, and my favorite stop of the day…the Mac & Cheese bar. I had them top mine with duck confit, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, and a drizzle of truffle oil (the source!). How could you not fall in love with that combination? While I was not feeling up to liquor with my head cold; other patrons were treated to wine tastings at the bar. There was also an espresso station set up for post-meal tastings. I closed out my meal with a plate of berries, homemade brown butter whipped cream that was drizzled with a very special maple syrup (I was told it was bottled less than 24 hours from being tapped out of the tree). I have to tip my hat to Sysco for pulling off their appetizing displays and tasty dishes.
After my lunch I headed to my first (and only) seminar of the day. I would be witnessing The Garden State Throwdown. This included three distinguished chef’s from around the state competing for the title of “Best New Jersey Chef”. The contestants included John Greeley, Executive Chef of Crystal Springs Resort, Francesco Palmieri of the Orange Squirrel, and Bryan Gregg of Escape.
The three dishes that were served up to the judges (the attendees of this seminar) were a beef pave over a rice porridge from Escape, a beef brisket over risotto from Crystal Springs, and a mini burger with a variety of toppings including bone marrow mayo (they lost my tasting ability after this ingredient…sorry!) and a homemade cheese wiz paired with a slaw. It looked like it was a close race with no table having the overwhelming majority of tasters in front of it at any given time. However; there had to be a winner and so by popular vote, Crystal Spring’s own chef was crowned the fan favorite with his beef brisket (He got my vote as well!).
I wish that I had been able to make it to all my events. This festival was such a celebration of the talent and innovation our state’s chefs bring to the table. Also, for anyone who has not been to Crystal Spring’s Resort in the past it’s entirely worth the visit. I would love to make this festival a weekend getaway in the future. I know your calendars’ are starting to get packed with all the events I keep telling you to mark for next year but, here I am saying it again!
…all for the love of the dish