21 March 2012

Red-carpet day

I did something completely out of the ordinary and completely fun today. I took the train to Brussels and headed out to the Expo in order to attend the Bocuse d'Or European championships and browse a massive food and hospitality trade show. The Mister met me for his lunch break, and we sampled our way through an astonishing array of booths offering every manner of foods and drinks, from the finest cheeses to the most humble of fast foods (Belgian frites!) and supermarket brands.

With hundreds and hundreds of vendors handing out samples, I practically rolled out of the place after eating until my already round belly was about to burst. There were trays of sushi, bowls of soup, fresh preparations of fish, avalanches of pistachios, mountains of cookies and pastries and chocolates, and a truly surprising number of ice cream and coffee stands (maybe these were the easiest "sample" that companies not directly producing either could still wheel out). There were bars where free drinks flowed (I stuck to water, obviously, but could have ordered anything) and huge sections dedicated to wine and beer and liquor tastings.

Fortunately, I could intersperse the food-sampling and expo-wandering (to give my full belly and sore feet a break) with stretches of viewing the Bocuse d'Or, a live cooking championship in which the best chefs from each country present elegant, elaborate fish and meat trays to a panel of judges after hours of preparation in front of the audience and the media. It was a bit chaotic and hard to follow at first (just a jumble of white chef hats seen from a distance), but got exciting when the teams started sending out their food, arrayed on heavy mirrored trays, slowly paraded before the judges and then nervously portioned out by teams of white-gloved students. The audience members looked and sounded like they belonged at sporting events, waving flags and wearing wigs and face paints, screaming for their teams. Noisemakers, air horns, and vuvuzelas added to the general excitement, as did dramatic musical fanfare used to announce the presentation of a given team's dishes, and trilingual descriptions of the food, the kitchen preparations, and so forth. Think Iron Chef meets Eurovision meets the Olympics.

This is a not-great picture that I took with my iPad, but at least it shows the distant kitchens (in real life I could sort of kind of just make out what they were doing), the huge array of chefs cooking, coaching, and judging, and some of the cheering fans on the big screen. This image shows only half of the ten competing country's kitchens.

I have no idea why I was sent an invitation to these events--I must be on some mailing list somewhere. I thought it might be because of the Mister's work, but he didn't get an invitation (mine got us both in), so that's not it unless it was "spouses of...". But I'm definitely thankful for the super fun day and all the yummy food I got to taste! I had to tear myself away from the competition at 4 in order to get back to Leuven in time to pick Gabriel up from daycare, so I didn't find out who won. But it was a fantastic excursion on a sunny day--and here's the red-carpet view that greeted me on my way out of the hall.

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