Food and wine expo a huge draw

GourmetFoodToronto

Toronto hosts hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of hungry patrons this weekend during the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo. (Photo Courtesy Gourmet Food & Wine Expo)

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — I’m enjoying a delicious Hawaiian pork belly treat at the crowded Come and Get It booth, one of many delights that are available at the 20th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo taking place this weekend in Toronto. 

“All good?” bellows owner Jon Polubiec, who must yell in order for me to hear him above the noise from the crowd, now almost three-rows deep around his booth. Formally trained as a chef, Polubiec has worked with chef Massimo Capra at Mistura, as well as Moveable Feast, Prego and Windsor Arms before starting his own pop-up turned restaurant in 2012.

“All good,” I reply as I allow the tasty pork belly and pineapple bite to melt in my mouth. Admittedly, the crowds make for a rather squished and slow-moving experience, and some of the lines for sample tickets are really long. It requires patience to navigate this expo, but the variety and talent of the food experts at the show make it worthwhile.

Polubiec isn’t finished yet. I also try the Mango Jerk Chicken Slider, which has a hidden thin, crispy plantain slice inside, and I sample the Mini Chorizo Tacos. I wash it down with a Futo Momo drink, made with 100 per cent agave tequila, the french peach liqueur Briottet, locally made ginger beer from Thomas Lavers and fresh squeezed lime juice.

There are three things I love about this event, which wraps up Sunday evening. One is the variety of items that are available. At this year’s expo there are more than 1,500 wines, beers, spirits and gourmet foods on offer to ticket holders. Last year’s event drew more than 45,000 guests. The expo also provides an opportunity to learn from the pros and meet the makers of some of the worlds best venues, brewers, vintners and distillers.

Second, while some of the city’s most successful and popular restaurants are present — Rodney’s Oyster House and Brassaii Restaurant and Lounge, to name a couple — there are also other new restaurants and wineries that may not be as well known but are making outstanding contributions to Toronto’s food scene. Come and Get It is an example of an up-and-comer making a big splash.

The third thing I love? For two decades, one point that this event has made over and over again is that you don’t have to be in an overpriced restaurant with expensive wine and candles to enjoy gourmet food. Not that there’s anything wrong with candles, of course.

“We have small candles on the tables and nice dishes,” says Polubiec with a smile. “We have a very raw decor of concrete, perforated metal, lamp shades — our restaurant has a rugged, street-style look to it to reflect our street food. I don’t believe you have to have pretentiousness with properly cooked food.”

The expo is a great way for people to meet food experts and restaurateurs, but Polubiec says it’s also a great way for him to meet a wider audience.

Jon Polubiec

Jon Polubiec (right) of Come And Get It restaurant working the crowd at the 20th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo in Toronto. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

“It’s so competitive out there, but for us to be involved in an event this large helps us to branch out and talk to real foodies who want to know what’s out there and what’s new and what’s different,” says Polubiec. “Small businesses like ours don’t have marketing teams, so this event was a big thing for us.”

Another booth that’s making an impact at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo is Spearhead Brewing Company, which includes four beers that are available at the LCBO — Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, Moroccan Brown AleBelgian Style Stout and the Sam Roberts Band Session Ale, which was voted best collaboration beer at Session Craft Beer Festival. President and founder Dimitri van Kampen says the expo has been a great way for him to get the word out about his brand.

“There are so many people from different places a this event, beer producers, wine experts and restaurants,” said van Kampen, who is pleased about the positive comments people are giving his beer. “It’s just a great way for people to see who we are, what we do and connect with us. I really love that ability for cross-pollination at major events like these. And the feedback has been outstanding. One reason for that is we are always working hard to come out with new and unique products that will get people trying our beer, like the inSpearator beer infusor that we’re using to infuse our India White Ale with different ingredients. This weekend we’re infusing with cilantro, lime and jalapeño peppers.”

This year, there are several highlights at the expo, including:

  • The Tutored Tastings Program offers the opportunity to taste some of the world’s best wines while learning from top industry experts.
  • The Food Network Chef Stage features complimentary cooking demonstrations all weekend hosted by celebrity guests and incredibly talented locals, including David Rocco, chef and author Matt Dean Pettit, Brett Turnbull, and Rich Francis.
  • The Sommelier Tasting Bar. Guests can try wines with top industry sommeliers in the new VIP Pavilion.
  • The Central Entertainment Area, featuring entertainers throughout the event.

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MORE ABOUT  2014TORONTO GOURMET FOOD & WINE EXPO

Address: Metro Toronto Convention Centre – 255 Front Street West

Admission for Remaining Dates:

  • Saturday admission before 5 pm $35 (One time admission only, no re-entry)
  • Saturday admission after 5 pm $45 (One time admission only, no re-entry)
  • Saturday admission onsite $45* (One time admission only, no re-entry)
  • Sunday admission $20 advance (Complimentary re-entry all day)
  • Sunday admission $20 onsite (Complimentary re-entry all day)

Hours for Remaining Dates:

  • Saturday, November 22, noon-10pm
  • Sunday, November 23, noon-6pm

MORE ABOUT SPEARHEAD BREWING COMPANY

Website: www.spearheadbeer.com
Contact: Click here. Spearhead is planning to open their own brewery soon. You can find out all about their beer by clicking here.

MORE ABOUT COME AND GET IT

Website: www.comeandgetit.ca
Address: 676 Queen Street West
Phone: 647-344-3416 (no reservations)
Menu: Lunch / Dinner / Brunch / Cocktails

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Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.