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The Rocking Food

The Rocking Food

I’m still winding down from the delicious, busy, and exciting long weekend that is the yearly South Beach Wine & Food Festival down in Miami. This was my fourth year heading down with the Connect Group and Chef Marc Forgione and over the years I’ve been to many events that range in theme and offerings. But the overall format of these events is generally the same: walk-around tastings with 30-40 different chefs/restaurants or a sit down dinner with multiple courses.

This year The Connect Group had the pleasure of activating King’s Hawaiian sponsorship events during SOBEWFF which included The Art of Tiki on Friday night and Bacardi on the Beach with Beats by Rev Run & DJ Ruckus. Now, I’m not knocking the standard food festival events, they do a great job of marketing the chefs/restaurants and promoting their sponsors. And obviously people love attending them! But as with most things, the more different and unique an event is, the more it stands out.

At first, Bacardi on the Beach seemed like it would be like one of the standard walk-around food festival events. After an hour or so though, it became apparent that this was more of a standout event. It wasn’t just that the crowd was younger and more diverse than the other tentpole events. What made this event truly stand out was that the star wasn’t the food. The music was.

Bacardi on the Beach was a music event that happened to have food. And that doesn’t mean the food wasn’t important. If anything, I would say that the focus on the music enhanced the food even more. I find that at a lot of the tasting events, eating can seem like less of an enjoyable experience and more of a sport as some people are determined to run around and try as many dishes as possible. Sometimes it can even get ugly. I was once elbowed in the face by an older woman for a dumpling, no joke. At Bacardi on the Beach, people were dancing and singing and having a great time. I know it might be a stretch to say this but I truly think the dancing and working up a sweat and overall fun/light mood made people really enjoy what they were eating.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to a non-food festival with a heavy emphasis on food. Now in it’s seventh year, Governor’s Ball is a 3-day music festival that takes place on Randall’s Island. The food definitely isn’t an afterthought at Gov Ball. It gets it’s own “lineup” and the vendors are all curated by popular food website The Infatuation. A couple of years ago I also had the chance to go to Life is Beautiful, a 3-day art and music festival in Downtown Las Vegas. Life is Beautiful takes a different approach to food and actually makes the chefs part of their programming with a dedicated cooking demo stage and chef-hosted elevated food stations in the VIP areas.

Though food at music festivals isn’t a new thing, I’m always looking at new and exciting ways to combine food with lifestyle events or re-invent the typical food festival experience. Sometimes I think we forget that it doesn’t always have to be JUST about the food as there are lots of ways to inject a memorable food experience into other fun activities.

- Cassie

What's on the Menu That's Gluten-Free, Organic, non-GMO, No Dairy, No Sugar?

What's on the Menu That's Gluten-Free, Organic, non-GMO, No Dairy, No Sugar?

During our holiday break, my family hosted two giant Christmas dinners and I went to San Francisco for 4 days so I did some seriously indulgent eating and drinking. This is why my friends were able to convince me, a self proclaimed cheese and soy sauce-a-holic, to commit to a 2-week no sugar, no gluten, no dairy (aka “no fun”) diet.  My first thought when I committed to this ridiculous-sounding diet was “what the heck am I going to eat???” Turns out, the answer is a lot.

Over the last couple years, the food industry has seen a huge boom in healthy, organic, and all-natural products. Many brands are focusing on either developing or acquiring health-centric foods, largely due to the fact that there has been a 30% growth of consumers in the US with food allergies. General Mills was one of the big brands to release gluten-free products, seeing a predicted growth in sales of $10.6 billion for the category, and has released several gluten-free versions of their products, including Cheerios.

And even though our society has long been obsessed with the newest diet or health trend (remember “South Beach Diet” or Olestra?), it seems as though this will be less of a trend and more of a cultural shift. Consumers are even willing to pay more money for products that promise to be healthier and/or aid in weight loss. According to Forbes, 88% of those polled are willing to pay more for healthier foods and this includes all age demographics.

This shift towards being more health-conscious isn’t only with consumer products. According to the National Restaurant Association site, more than seven out of 10 adults try to eat healthier when they go out to a restaurant than they did two years ago.  And the government is even trying to help us on the path towards more healthful eating, creating a law in 2010 that requires U.S. Restaurants with more than 20 locations to display calorie counts. It may not have been the main factor to help significantly lower sales at McDonalds but it certainly makes people question their order when they see the “563 calories” under a Big Mac.

What does this all mean for brands and restaurants? I don’t think it’s necessarily time to get rid of the deep fryers and baked goods. But I do think restaurants and chefs, who historically have had a “no substitutions” attitude when it comes to their dishes and menu, should pay close attention to this shift towards healthy and allergen-free eating and adapt their menus accordingly. It also means that if I continue with my “no fun” diet for another two weeks, I’ll have lots of choices when I go to the grocery store.

- Cassandre Pallas