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Tasting on the Run – Taste T&T 2008

DSC_4475 Taste T&T 2008Last weekend was the main event of Taste T&T 2008, a 4 year old culinary event in Trinidad and Tobago, showcasing the best of our chefs, and the greatness of our local foods. Throw in a world class designer and plenty entertainment, and you’ve got the stage for a crowd-pleasing festival. With no parking this year and a smaller area of the Jean Pierre Complex, you also got crowded streets and just plain crowds!

Lilandra and I went to the Taste on Sunday, the second night of the 2-night main event. She’s already posted her photos and blogged in great detail. I dubbed this Taste on the Run since we spent barely an hour and a half at the Taste, and still had to get through 2 Gourmet tickets (8 restaurants!!). This is also likely to be Review on the Run! (pictures and descriptions of food follow the link!

The rushed element was really mostly us – I only realised this was possible on the Wednesday before, and didn’t actually arrive in Trinidad until Saturday morning. We tried on Saturday to get tickets – the list we’d seen online only had Botticelli‘s a Grand Bazaar as a location nearish to us and they were refusing to answer the phone…or they weren’t there! Later on we realised there was another list that included Marhaba, which was much closer to us…sigh…

Getting There

We didn’t get there until after 7 pm, with lots of phone calls between TriniGourmet and ourselves (yay! she had a cellphone this year!) to confirm that yes, we were on our way. She was there from 5 pm. FIVE PM, when the gates weren’t supposed to open until SIX. But she was the wise one. For when we arrived, expecting there’d be parking somewhere (for which we were willing to pay) we realised we had to hunt through the surrounding crammed streets. Now, we didn’t just imagine this idea of parking – they had it setup last year, and this year the information online gave FOUR different places where parking would be available. But it was not to be. We eventually drove all the way down to Ariapita and managed to park in the carpark of the Princess Elizabeth Centre, due to the kindness of the security guard. And then we walked (fast) ALL the way back to the complex. In a rush.

I can understand that there may be various reasons that parking was not provided eventually – but if it was included in the information publicly available, then it’s a bit of a setup not to advise otherwise. Also, how can you purport to run a tourism-oriented event, claiming you want to attract visitors to the country without something in place to ensure they can get there? If you don’t know the somewhat confusing streets in the area, where would you park? Is it only for tourists who take taxis? Or who are staying in walking distance? As for local visitors – not everyone lives in or knows Port of Spain well enough to know what to do or where to go. Next year, if TDC can’t arrange parking, please organise a shuttle service or something. Something! Because there are so many people coming to this thing and I am not a shoulder parker!

Rant over.

When we finally made it to the entrance, we decided to go ahead and get Gourmet Tickets for Groups A and B (one each). The Gourmet tickets allow you to get a plate from 4 different chefs, plus complimentary wine and this year dessert! Last year, we were still hungry after our 4 plates, so we decided we’d still take one each, as there were supposed to be much more local foods available – winners of the Iron PotSpoon Throwdown and all. However, this year most of the offerings were much more substantial. A real meal. So much so that we ended up collecting half of the plates just to take home. Good thing Lilandra walked with those little disposable plastic containers (Ziploc or Glad? depends on who pays me to drop a brandname…) and foil was readily available at most places. This way, however, the parents (too tired and too cheap to pay go for Gourmet themselves) got to share in the joy and sample the Taste, when we got home.

We met up with TriniGourmet inside, who’d already eaten and imbibed :-D starting with the dessert to get her dairy out of the way. TriniFood was also there, all the way from London and we bounced into her while she was busy tasting and tracking down chefs to interview. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to sit and talk since we had to leave early. It was great to have this little foodblogging reunion, but next time, we need to meet up where we can hear each other talk. And where we don’t have to physically chase down the food :-D

And now to the food!

We chose Groups A and B, as did TG and some other friends we bumped into, because they had the most offerings that were friendly to those with dietary restrictions. And as it turned out, some of them even offered up non-advertised veggie alternatives (which as I recall was only really offered by Itahki last year). Fortunately for us, all of the chicken was halaal, and even some of the other meats, but for anyone strictly vegetarian there would have been somewhat lighter plates.

GROUP A

Chef Bernard Long of Bernard’s Gourmet Caterers – “A Triwee Barbeque” – A New Zealand BBQ with a Trini Fusion (A combination of Shrimp, Chicken and Tenderloin of Beef served with Grilled Corn, Garlic Bread and a Fresh Caribbean Garden Salad)

Last year we weren’t too impressed by Chef Bernard – we could only eat the shrimp and so the offering looked a bit paltry with some shrimp, a itsy tortilla and some sour cream. This year we could have sampled it all, but as we were rushing I skipped the slicing of the tenderloin. Lilandra has a photo, but I was busy packing it into a container to take home. And yes, I snagged the garlic bread as I did that. I think we (the four of us who ate it at home) basically liked this but it was nothing particularly special. But an improvement from last year.

DSC_4451 Benihana at TasteChef Joseph Hau of Benihana RestaurantTrincity Roll (Crab and Salmon Tempura served with a Wasabi and Lemon-Mayo sauce); Pierre’s Balls (Crab & Salmon Sashimi and Cream Cheese Tempura served with Mango-Passion Fruit sauce); California Roll (Crab and Cucumber roll); Vegetable Roll (Cucumber, Tomato, Purple Cabbage and Carrot); Edamame and Wakame salad

I love sushi. So it was a given that I would like this. But I think even non-sushi lovers would have been able to try this and liked it – not really an emphasis on the raw fish, but a nice combination of flavours throughout. And a really healthy serving, perfect for sharing between two…or more. And the wasabi…whew…I could do with some now! It went straight to my sinuses with great power, but no lasting heat. mmmm…

Chili Pepper Restaurant at TasteChef Mario Hernandez of Chilli Pepper Restaurant – Mexican Blackened Breast of Chicken served with a Yellow Rice Pilaf scented with Cumin Black Beans and a Fire-roasted Chunky Tomato Relish

This was one of the plates eaten at home. The chicken was good, the black bean rice was great (Mom loved it especially) and the taste of chadon beni was resplendent throughout so I had no real complaints. Plus people got to see the Chef grilling chilli peppers live :-)

DSC_4478 Aloha at TasteChef Johnny Chow of Aloha Caterers – Polynesian Fried Rice; Grilled Tuna Fillet with a Pineapple and Guava Glaze; Coconut Infused Vegetables

We didn’t get a whole fillet because of timing, but the bits and pieces that we got made up more than a regular portion, and was easy to share up at home. The rice was ok, as were the vegetables, but since they were topped by crispy rice noodles, yum (I like crispy noodles!). The tuna and the glaze were a good combination, but the glaze got on eveything and overpowered the other items (may have had to do with the long drive home). I wouldn’t mind trying out some other polynesian dishes, but other than the tuna and noodles, the rest of this didn’t stand out.

GROUP B

Chef Moses Ruben of Mélange – Chicken Bhagi Roulade complemented with a Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato; Smoked Tomato and Bell Pepper Bouchées; Garlic-scented Vegetable Kebab

DSC_4467 melange at TasteThis was the prettiest plate, most colourful and so delicious. The Chicken Roulade was dry, which was odd considering the bhagi (spinach) filling was moist and lovely. We wondered what on earth had they done to dry out the chicken and retain the moisture of the inside? But the sweet potato..mmmm… And the blue cheese dressing on the veggie kebabs was a nice touch. I think the bouchée was ok, I can’t really remember. Such is tasting on the run! You have to be excellent to stand out.

DSC_4465 Boomerang at Taste Chefs Jimmy and Mona Hadeed of Boomerang caterers – Fillet of Fish with Tahini Sauce; Arabic style Chicken Breast; Channa and Rice; Fried Kibbe; Baklava

This was one of the best plates of the night – even if the colour palette wasn’t much varied… You could choose channa rice or lamb rice; veggie kibbe or beef kibbe; and chicken or fish. We took the chicken rather than the fish, although now I wish I had been able to taste their tahini sauce. The chicken was done pretty perfectly – moist and flavourful but clearly grilled on the outside. The channa rice was nice, the meat kibbe was excellent. Really nice. And the best part – great, light and flaky, with just the right amount of honey BAKLAVA!!

Chaconia by LilandraChef Christian Grini of Chaconia – Chicken Breast filled with Spinach in a Coconut Cream Curry Reduction

Ok, again, the picture may not look like much. It’s also a borrowed picture from Lilandra as mine weren’t really very good. But never mind, this was delicious. Really. And it was a big serving, served on mashed potatoes, which was surprising, but didn’t affect the overall taste at all. This one was also enjoyed en famille.

DSC_4446 Marhaba at Taste

Chef Sharaz Mohammed, of Marhaba – Stir Fry Balti Shrimp served with Vegetable Biryani and Tamarind Chutney

This was the smallest serving of the night. But I think they were leaning towards presentation as they carefully molded the rice, placed the huge shrimp and artfully dribbled the chutney. As seen at left (somewhat desaturated photos). And a teeny wedge of lime. The shrimp was very good, and the rice was not to bad either. This is a fairly new restaurant in Charlieville, Central Trinidad, close to home and all halaal.

Well, maybe someone who tasted Group C can post somewhere. Some of that stuff looked really good. Caribbean ratatouille from Botticelli’s? Curry Crab ravioli from Battimamzelle? Anyone?

Dessert was a choice of ice cream or cheesecake – Ponche Creme, Piña Colada and Black Forest. Only the latter had alcohol (weird ent? of all the ones to be alchohol-free…), so we took a Ponche Creme and Piña Colada straight home. They were good. Creamy and nice flavours.

From our hurried forays through the parts of the complex that were open to the public, it seemed like there were many substantial food stalls – Bake and Shark, Doubles etc winners of the showdowns. There were the usual marketing stalls – Kraft, Crix etc. It was enough to spend a several hours tasting. But having spent the TT $300 on each Gourmet Ticket, we spent our precious minutes gathering up that food, thankfully not too far from each other. Or worse, like last year when the groups themselves were split across the Complex.

Decor and Entertainment

This year like the last, the decor was by Brian MacFarlane. I really like the colour combination last year – the oranges and golds were very evening-festive. This year he did it in white. White flags, and bridges, and white pierrot grenades, drummers and dancers. I don’t have any photos of it; since Sarina was there in daylight, look out for her pictures! :-) There were also these old classic cars on display – as wedding transportation. And the musical entertainment was varied and constant on 3 different stages (hence the not being able to hear people talk). When we walked in there was an Alternative Quartet – string instruments playing a variety of genres, and very well. I liked them. They were followed by Arabian dancers, waving and glittering their way through the crowd. All quite festive.

I am glad that this year there seemed to be a lot more to enjoy for those who didn’t want the Gourmet (expensive) experience. I only wish we’d had time to sample that part of it. Good thing I am a Trini and know these foods…but next time…ooh next time. Lilandra said we should have got a room in town so we could have stayed really late and then still get to the Canadian High Commission at the crack of dawn without the extra driving…and lack of sleep… Now that would have really been a gourmet” experience. Maybe if I was doing this thing with an expense account ;-)

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18 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Or maybe if both of us had jobs and not just one…

    1. Lilandra on May 31st, 2008 at 8:14 pm
  2. oh you have my link wrong
    it has http twice i think

    done – your powerbook hard to operate sometimes

    2. Lilandra on May 31st, 2008 at 8:17 pm
  3. NO IT NOT
    u just not accustomed

    3. Lilandra on May 31st, 2008 at 10:50 pm
  4. ack i need to make my post :D i love seeing and reading your take on the night and dishes :D this is quickly becoming a tradition :D :D :D

    4. The TriniGourmet on June 1st, 2008 at 6:19 am
  5. yes, yes, your post with pictures of decor and whatnot :-) and different views of the food…it’s great we managed this tradition 2 years in a row!
    Lilandra posted first and that made me rush to do mine :-D

    5. Chennette on June 1st, 2008 at 10:38 am
  6. This blog is probably already known as one of the best, if not the best, Trini food blogs :) I hope the Tourism Development Company links to this site.

    I missed the event because of sudden commitments involving work and though I passed the Complex on both nights – I saw the crowds and lack of parking – I couldn’t stop. The truth is that on Saturday night we went to see Iron Man but by the time the movie ended it was too late to attend the Festival.

    Three hundred dollars wasn’t bad when you consider the variety and variety is what I like. The next best thing to tasting is reading and seeing so thanks for both. I am still reading the reviews and I like the detail :)

    6. aka_lol on June 2nd, 2008 at 7:10 am
  7. Aka, thanks for the compliments. If I was a blushing person…
    Given restaurant prices, $300 seemed like a reasonable deal, particularly as they included dessert and had more on the plates this year. However, there’s no way I can eat that much food in 1.5 hours, and definitely not try out any other foods in addition!

    How was Iron Man? I never pictured him as Tony Stark, but casting people always surprise me with these superhero movies…Halle Berry as Storm for example…although that may not have been casting so much as execution.

    7. Chennette on June 2nd, 2008 at 9:20 am
  8. DISASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    8. Lilandra on June 2nd, 2008 at 4:03 pm
  9. for a minute I was stumped, but you mean Halle Berry right?

    9. Chennette on June 2nd, 2008 at 11:52 pm
  10. Iron Man was … http://akalol.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/who-is-the-iron-man-and-do-you-really-care/

    Most superhero movies are over the top and the characters are more commercial than true to the comic book. The one exception is Spiderman :)

    On another note. People should start boycotting events where safe parking is not catered for.

    10. aka_lol on June 3rd, 2008 at 1:55 pm
  11. I remembered after that I did read your review :-)
    I should have started the superhero commenting on your post :-D

    11. Chennette on June 3rd, 2008 at 2:13 pm
  12. Reading your blog is like going to the supermarket on an empy stomach, its just too much…

    Delicious pictures as always.

    12. CrankyPutz on June 4th, 2008 at 4:03 pm
  13. thanks Cranky :-)

    13. Chennette on June 4th, 2008 at 9:14 pm
  14. Well between you and Lilandra, I feel as if I was there – great reviews!

    And the rant – gosh girl that can be said for so many darn events across the Caribbean.

    14. Cynthia on June 5th, 2008 at 12:16 am
  15. Cynthia, maybe next year you can plan to come?
    Or…organize Taste Guyana! and we’ll come there :-D
    Or both…

    Chennette, Yes of course i mean HER…her name shouldn’t even be on your blog
    hmph

    15. Lilandra on June 7th, 2008 at 8:09 pm
  16. my word!!! i would have loved to be there. carribbean food amalgamates the best of several world cuisines – to be enjoyed in such a beautiful setting.

    16. bee on June 11th, 2008 at 12:57 pm
  17. Cynthia, Bee – we need an international food blogging lime!

    17. Chennette on June 13th, 2008 at 2:03 am
  18. Check out Lilandra’s blog for Trini hops……delicioso……..

    18. trinimom on June 16th, 2008 at 7:19 am

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