Saturday, July 31, 2010

AC Food & Wine Festival: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Hey! I got my Gomer Pyle on last night here at the AC Food & Wine Festival and surprised a packed house of over 700 VIPs at Harrah's for dinner! I couldn't tell you about the planning stages here because it was supposed to be a secret, but early yesterday when I went to the venue to check on my recipe and ingredients, people started to ask me why I was there and I had to just answer very vaguely. It was funny and I really just wanted to burst and say "Oki'mhereplanningasurprise!", all in one breath. It was in a huge ballroom and as soon as I stepped inside, I realized just how big the crowd was going to be ... That's not even a good picture to represent the span of the room, but the room was long and every table was already set and ready to go at around 2PM. There was a set menu for the VIP diners, but my part was to interrupt between courses and prepare a recipe for them. When we were planing the surprise, my first question was ... "Do, they get to eat it?" and to my surprise, the planners said "That's up to you". I quickly said that of course I want them to try what I'm making, that would be crazy to cook something in front of you with no tv screen between us and when I'm done I just pack up and go ... taking my food with me lol. So, I also made sure my recipe was easy to prep for 700+ food people and small so they could easily pass them to the tables. I decided on my Cod Fish Puppies ... They mass produced them catering-style and planned to do a quick run in some heat before they served them with a Mango Habanero Sauce recipe I provided. I usually serve the puppies with an avocado mash, but this was for a large group and 1. no one wants to break down all those avocados, I try to take it easy on the kitchen at events like this because they are already stretched thin. And, 2. Avocado just doesn't hold up well in catering conditions. Can you imagine dolloping 700 trays with avocado mash only to look at the first one and realize the time it took to finish allowed for the oxidation and color change to start? Only so much lime I'm willing to squirt on my avocado to keep it pretty, before it ruins the flavor profile. I am so proud of putting my catering hat on for all events now. I had no idea years ago when I began catering that it was training me for moments like these. Here are the chefs that brought it all together ... That's Chef Robert and Chef David, both were so nice and actually had little tasting plates ready for me when I arrived to check the flavor and texture of my puppies. They were perfect and I was very happy they didn't dial back the heat on the habaneros. For 700+ servings they used 25 habaneros! That may not seem like much, but imagine just putting a whole, un-chopped habanero in a pot of soup will spice up the whole thing ... to chop them down and add to a sauce, the heat is crazy! Crazy good, I hoped. :-) Happy the chefs liked it and so did the committee with me that was escorting me around. All I had to do was wait for the attendees of the VIP dinner!

On the way out of the dining room is when I got stopped with all the curious questions and it's partly my fault for almost blowing my cover for the VIP event that night, but there were some neat back drops set up in the hallway and I wanted to take a few pictures in front of them ...The scale was large, but the mix of colors and the proper depth in some of the backdrops made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, after her first sip of "poison". :-) Crazy right? I don't know if it's me, but it looks like I'm actually in the kitchen! The artist didn't sign a name and none of the planners with me knew who did them, but I just think they are so neat. Here's another one ...It was up pretty high, so I played along with it and tip-toed to act like I was trying to see over the stove. These are in the event registration hallway at Harrah's if you are here and feel the urge to take some kooky photos. I didn't see one person using them, but I just loved them! After taking the pictures and almost blowing my cover, I headed back to my room to get ready for the rest of the day and ran into this sign, take a look! It says "Saturday, July 31 The pool and gym will be closing for a private event." Wooohoooo! That's my Sold out Soiree! Sunset, Sliders and Spirits on the rooftop pool at Caesar's! Can't wait to see you there tonight if you have plans to attend! Here are a couple of pics from the VIP event last night ...It was packed! Sorry it's a bit blurry. I had a great time and thanks to everyone that came up and said hi! Also a big thanks to Sandra Lee, she had a surprise visit to a VIP dinner right before mine and left plenty of her cocktail ingredients, so I begged the kitchen to shake up a pitcher for us and we all enjoyed a sip back stage ... I don't know what it's called, but it had me at Goldschlager and Grand Marnier :-). Thanks Sandy!

Afterwards I went to hang out at some of the after parties and ran into 2 of my favorite people ...Can you see them? It's the Neely's! Also if you look close (sorry about the blurs), on the left you can see Cooking Channel host Darryl Robinson of Drink Up! and on the right you can see Roger Mooking, host of Everyday Exotic on Cooking Channel. Darryl and I worked together on NFNS: After Party and he knows his drinks! Really cool guy and I just met Roger the other night at the kick off party, but he escaped before I could get a pic. Everyone else in the picture are co-workers in our PR/Marketing department. They shine up the engine and make it run! Here's me and my girl! Ms. Gina Neely. I so wished she lived closer to me or vice versa, she's a ball of fun and energy. I'm often mistaken for her and end up sending her texts like "someone just mistook me for you while I was with my boyfriend, so just in case people think you are cheating on Pat, it's really me and my guy" lol. Too funny. They have a brunch thing going on today at noon and looking at the time, I need to hurry up with this, so I can head over to that! Hope you enjoyed the sharing! If you are here and checking my blog between sips and bites, can't wait to bump into you. Please say hi!

Oh wait ... one more thing ... did you know Caesar knew how to fry ... in a pan ... with a spatula??? Totally wrong ... lol. I feel like a person watching Mad Men pointing out all the era errors ... say that fast.


Mary at Deep South Dish said...

LOL, where do I start?!! You are one crazy gal - just gotta love ya to pieces and man, what fun this must've been!! You know I used to work for Harrah's down here till Katrina moved all operations out of Mississippi. LMBO at you with the backdrops - and Caesar! I can't believe nobody put an apron on him!!!

Dolphinfanhg said...

Thanks for the play-by-play for those of us who can't make it...I always enjoy your updates! I totally love the murals...and would've posed with them too! Can't wait to see more updates..PS you look great!

Anonymous said...

Sunny, Those pictures are so funny. I love them.
I went to a few events at the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival this weekend and had a terrific time. I wish I was able to go to your Sliders event...hopefully it will be back next year. You were the one Food Network Star that I was hoping to run into but I was just not that lucky. Hope you had a great time.
-- John

Holly said...

Wow - those codfish puppies sound awesome!! I wish we had made it over to Harrah's to take pics by that artwork - the one of you reaching up to the stove is hysterical! I took that same pic of the Caesar statue, and also of the gods up around the ceiling wearing aprons and chef hats...definitely a sense of humor with the decorations!

Lindsey Christensen said...

What a great recap of what sounds like was an awesome weekend. You pulled off a big surprise!!! Your cod fish puppies had to have packed a spicy punch. Just yesterday I made a mixuture crab meat, coconut flakes, coconut milk, mango and serano pepper and stuffed it in mini phyllo cups. Really tasty but dang were they hot. Can only imagine what kind of havoc 25 habeneros would wreak! Bet they were addictive though :) Those kitchen murals are too cool. Love your Alice in Wonderland friend and I JUST watched Johnny Depp's version of that movie yesterday...pretty timely!

Denise Keller said...

Thanks for sharing your photos and comments. What a fun weekend!

Sunny Anderson said...

mary, the statue with the pan and the aprons on the other statues was the talk of the lobby. everyone was looking up like tourists in nyc. too funny

heather, thanks!! i had too much fun and i'm sure the people walking by thought i was crazy, but if they only knew how neat the pictures looked with the depth of field enhanced by the angles and color, they'd stop to take photos too! it was so neat!

john, glad you made the event, sorry we didn't meet. :-(. next time, all you have to do is comment here and say "i'm here and want to meet ya" and i'll find ya or we can set a place or event to meet at, it's that simple. hope to see you next year!!

holly, hey! sorry i am replying late! i still feel like i'm recovering from saturday night lol. glad you guys had fun!!!

lindsey, that crab meat sounds good!!! i still haven't seen the johnny depp alice, he is sooooo ... ahh i don't have a word. but i like him!

denise, of course! thanks for reading and commenting! i'm always here if you have a question or comment and hope you are enjoying cooking for real. i tape new eps soon then they are on the way!

Anthony said...

You always have lovely pictures. Sunny, I have been wanting to interview you for so long on my website. Is this possible? Please email me back You would make my day!