Event Review: Devour Rochester Wine and Culinary Classic at the Memorial Art Gallery (Rochester, NY)


Devour Logo(M)

Event Name:  Devour Rochester Wine and Culinary Classic
Purpose:        Celebrate creative forces behind the culinary renaissance in Rochester
Location:       Memorial Art Gallery
When:           Saturday, May 30, 2015 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost:             $25 to attend ($15 via Living Social), free parking

Event Overview

Unfortunately, this event was not at all what I expected. Had I paid the full admission price of $25, rather than only $15 via Living Social, I would have been really displeased.

The employees of the Memorial Art Gallery events office were quite helpful in answering my questions about the event, in the weeks earlier.  However, I don’t think that they accurately represented the theme of the event. The event marketing invited guests to, “come and experience food artisans, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and epicurean purveyors.”

I had an inkling that this was not going to be a good time, when I saw guests leaving the event as my friends and I entered, less than 45 minutes after it began.  We spent 35 minutes being jostled from table to table, angling for a spot to get a single sip of wine or mere morsel of food in the overheated event room. There were six scheduled lectures, but we simply did not see or hear any of them.  Finally, we gave up – it just wasn’t worth it. We found a cool spot near a room air conditioner in an adjacent hallway and then decided to call it quits.

This was the second annual occurrence of this event. Had it been their inaugural outing, I could have forgiven some of the logistical and thematic issues. However, I couldn’t help but wonder – if this was the second year, when I would have expected improvement, how much worse was the first year?

Venue

Memorial Art Gallery, South Side, Courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Art_Gallery
Memorial Art Gallery, South Side, Courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Art_Gallery

The Memorial Art Gallery is certainly a beautifully ornate and wonderfully elegant venue. Too bad it was so poorly utilized by this event.  The event was held entirely upstairs in the ballroom and the adjacent ante-room. Unfortunately, the historic building just could not handle the air conditioning requirements of so many people in a confined area. Guests and vendors alike were overheated, sweating and therefore, cranky.

The acoustics weren’t much better. Music was provided by the Bill Tiberio Quartet, but the acoustics were so bad that we could hardly hear them. Every now and then, a raffle ticket number was called and we all looked at each other inquisitively…”did you hear that?”…”what number was that?” Muffled and weak, the speaker system was more frustrating than helpful.

Food and Wine

Where exactly was the food at this event?  Touted as a Devour Rochester, my friend described it better as Nibble Rochester. The organizers advised that there were 15 beverage vendors and 7 food vendors. The few food tasting tables which I observed were overrun with impossibly long lines of hungry guests.  Each guest was given five drink tickets and five food tickets to redeem during the afternoon. I couldn’t find five food tables. Even so, the vendors weren’t even collecting the tickets among the mayhem and disorganization.

I tasted only two food items…one was tabouleuh from Hart’s Local Grocers and the other was a sample from Eat Me Ice Cream. Interestingly, I had tasted both of those food items at an Open House event at Hart’s Local Grocers a month or so before…for free.  The gentleman at the Hart’s Local Grocers table was friendly and polite. In contrast, the woman at the Eat Me Ice Cream table was just plain miserable. She didn’t speak, smile or even acknowledge the guests. In fact, she was actually scowling, as if she was angry about being there. I had the same impression of her at the Hart’s open house.  I know it was hot in there and very crowded, but that is no excuse to be rude. My advice to her is to force a polite smile and actually be friendly to her future customers. Otherwise, like me, they won’t be your future customers. Otherwise, why participate in the event as a vendor?

I heard rumors of a few other food vendors, including one offering cocktail meatballs (which ran out only an hour into the event) and another offering cheese and crackers. I had to laugh when I saw one food vendor table offering crumbs of cheese – literally crumbs – for which we were given a toothpick to pick up a cheese crumb from the table. A sad reward for enduring a long line and getting bumped and elbowed along the way.

Let’s talk about the wine tasting. Squeezed into a group of guests standing in front of a table, holding out my glass for a splash of wine is not my idea of a wine tasting. It’s wine herding  – uncomfortable and not exactly sure why I am following the people in front of me.  It was too crowded, too hot and poorly set up.  There was no thought to traffic flow or guest comfort.  As for the wine itself, I admittedly am not a wine connoisseur. I tried a few tastings and found them ok. However, my two friends, who are much more knowledgeable about wine, reported that the wine which they were able to taste was not that great. Shocking.

Food Trucks

I didn’t expect to have to buy my lunch after paying admission to the Devour Rochester food and wine tasting event. But, that’s what my friends and I did, because we were hungry! There were only four food trucks from which to choose – Brick n Mortar, Macarollin’, Le Petit Poutine,  and The Meatball Truck. They were all banished to the back parking lot, with no signage or promotion from the event workers. We had to search out the food trucks ourselves.

Food container from Le Petit Poutine Food Truck, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Food container from Le Petit Poutine Food Truck, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

So, we ventured outside to get some food, which we then brought inside and devoured at a table on the main floor of the art gallery.

The highlight of the day was the hot and hearty Poutine ($7) from Le Petit Poutine food truck. This was my first introduction to poutine and I really enjoyed. All three of us enjoyed these French fries with cheese curd, covered in gravy. It was satisfying, filling and really delicious. The best part was the gravy, which I tried to drink as I finished the meal! The servers at this food truck were friendly and personable. I would definitely seek out this food truck in the future.

Poutine from Le Petit Food Truck, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Poutine from Le Petit Food Truck, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Winners

Shown below are the 2015 Devour Rochester winners:

Best in Show Red: Heron Hill Cabernet Franc
Best in Show White: Black Willow Classic Diamond
Best in Show Distilled Spirit or Brew: Iron Smoke Apple Wood Smoked Whiskey
People’s Choice Award Beverage: Merritt Estate Winery
People’s Choice Award: West Edge Restaurant & Lounge

The Best in Show awards were determined by four judges, while guests voted for the People’s Choice winners.

Overall Experience

You already know that I did not enjoy this event, other than the poutine and the company of good friends. The only other semi-redeeming aspect was a quick walk through the gallery gift shop and the art gallery exhibitions, which was included in the event admission price.  The event “gift” bag (made of a flimsy fabric) contained only a complimentary wine glass and the food and wine tickets. One of my friends mentioned that she might use the bag as a lunch sack.

Recommendations

I would not recommend attending this event next year, unless the organizers implement some major changes.  Here are some suggestions for next year’s event, which is already on the calendar for Saturday, May 28, 2016:

  • Spread out the vendor tables throughout the upstairs and downstairs of the beautiful gallery, to allow more room for guests to mingle and discover each offering.
  • Balance the number of food vendors with the number of wine and other beverage vendors.
  • Improve the acoustic system so that guests can hear the music and announcements, such as raffle ticket numbers and demonstration announcements.
  • Either enforce the food and drink ticket system or drop it all together. It only caused guests to clumsily fumble to find the tickets.
  • Provide each guest with a listing of each vendor, shown on a map of the area as well as a schedule of the time and place of each demonstration.
  • Ensure proper ventilation and air conditioning, or consider an outdoor event during cooler weather.
  • Post all raffle ticket winning numbers on an overhead screen or other central area, where guests can check their tickets.

While I understand what the Devour Rochester event organizers were trying to do, I think that they failed in providing the experience which they advertised.  Better luck next year.

 ***

 

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