Sometimes reality doesn’t match our expectations.
I imagined the Incredible Food Show as a heaven for foodies, where I would wander the aisles sampling delicious Kentucky Proud products and perhaps treating myself to some kitchen gadgets. Maybe I would get some Christmas shopping done. Who wouldn’t want a yummy Kentucky made treat? The reality was rather different.
The show started at 9 and according to the IFS Facebook page, the line to get in was madness. I don’t doubt this since the first couple of hundred guests received a free ham breakfast. Anything free was highly desired in this crowd but we’ll get to that later. My friend Michelle bravely agreed to attend with me, and we decided that we’d try to arrive around 10am, peruse the exhibits for a bit, then settle in to the 11 am Ree Drummond show.
We were basically on schedule, arriving around 10:15. There was a huge line forming which was perplexing since our tickets had already been scanned. We asked a couple of folks standing in line and were told it was the line to see the Pioneer Woman show. This didn’t make a lot of sense since we had reserved seats but going around the line seemed to put us at risk of being strangled by the straps of our free tote bags by the overzealous crowd. So, we fell in line. Luckily, it began moving fairly quickly. About the time we crossed underneath the Welcome sign, I heard a security guard make a comment that made me think we really weren’t supposed to be in this line. I flagged him down and he told us if we had floor seats, there was no line for us and that we should follow him. So off we went, much to the stares and disdain of our fellow line holders.
Since he was a tall guy in a uniform, he could part the crowd. We weren’t, so we did our best to follow him through the exhibition hall. Right before he lead us through a door to access the stage area, I spied a woman with a glass of white wine in one hand and a sample of wine in the other. It was roughly 10:30 am by this time. I would later decide though if anything would drive one to double fist their wine, it would be the IFS.
We safely found our seats. They were excellent! We felt slightly less grumpy. We were six rows back from the stage. The stage was set up beautifully like a real kitchen complete with fall decorations. And soon, I realized why things were so crazy. There were only a couple hundred or so floor seats. Everyone else was fighting for general admission first-come first-serve seating.
We met two delightful ladies from Somerset who sat beside us. They were sisters enjoying a rare day out together. One was a dedicated Pioneer Woman fan, the other was, in her words, “along for the ride”. They had gotten there earlier (but not early enough for free ham) and had enjoyed the exhibits so far. We were hopeful for better things to come.
Ree (I’m calling her that because I’m sure she’d be down with that) started her show promptly at 11 am. She was funny and down to earth and very, very pretty. She said that she was nervous and I doubt that was an act because I would think that cooking in front of such a large crowd would be a little nerve wrecking. Later, I read that this was her second live demonstration. Ever. She prepared pork chops with apples in a bourbon sauce, cheese grits and collard greens. It smelled amazing! Large screens gave us close ups of what was happening on the stove top. Ree did Q&A with the audience while she cooked and at the end of her demo. The couple of dozen people who paid $200 for stage seats were able to enjoy eating samples of the actual meal. At the very end, Ree sang a few lines of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and let me tell you, she has an INCREDIBLE voice. I had no idea.
When the show was over, we went with the flow of the crowd and headed back to the exhibit area. We decided to try to get away from the crowd and head to the farthest point of the hall and work our way back. This was moderately successful. At the far end of the hall, Cumberland Gap Spring Water started distributing free bottles of water. People swarmed in, grabbing the water before the representative could even place it in the ice buckets.
“This water is hot!” snapped one woman. “What a disappointment!”
We tucked ours in our tote bags like desert wanderers preparing for a long draught. It became clear there was no good way to explore the hall. The flow of the crowd kept two lines moving down each aisle. The more popular exhibiters had lines as well and it was impossible to tell if you were in the line that was trying to move through the aisle or if you were in line to sample goat meat.
“Why are people shoving?” Michelle asked. It was a fair question. I had no answer.
We saw a line for Sutton’s Family Restaurant and took our place. It was popular because they were giving out samples of meatballs and bread pudding. After a few minutes, we considered giving up but I felt we should stay the course. The manager was doing his best to engage people in conversation but most grabbed their meatball and ran. The chef was explaining the process for making bread pudding but the man in front of me walked off and left him talking. The manager asked if we’d ever been to Sutton’s and we said yes and Michelle complimented the restaurant. “Have an appetizer on me,” he said and handed her a card. I noticed then that he had a huge stack of free appetizer cards. The people who grabbed their food without speaking to him had missed a shot at a really good freebie.
We attempted to finish our route down that aisle but couldn’t wade through the line forming for goetta samples. We tried to cut across to the next aisle, made it but found nothing there that was worth fighting for a spot in line. I noticed an open area and suggested we move there and regroup.
I was basically done at this point. I hate crowds. I don’t do Black Friday. I wasn’t having fun. I suggested to Michelle that she review the exhibit map and if there was something she would not want to leave without visiting, we’d go. Otherwise, I was ready to leave and grab some lunch at one of the many downtown Lexington eateries. She agreed so we started making our way out of the exhibit hall.
I wanted to buy my husband some creamsicle fudge and I had seen a candy exhibiter near the entrance. While Michelle attempted a lamb sample, I got in line for fudge. On my way there, a woman yelled “Free water over on the other side!” The candy booth was the same push and shove made more hectic by the fact that they provided samples on demand so people were asking for specific flavors. I asked a woman who was standing directly in front of the creamsicle if I could reach around her for a brick of fudge. She stared at me for a beat then said “Well, I guess.” I pulled out some cash hoping that the sight of a paying customer might speed up my service. While the guy wrapped up my purchase, a man pushed his way up to me. “Don’t they have samples?” he yelled. I shrugged. I was over it. “Don’t they have anything free?” he asked again.
I took my candy and got the heck out of there. Michelle was waiting for me at the bookstore area which was pretty desolate because, well, there was nothing free. “I lost my tote bag,” I said suddenly when I realized that only my black purse/camera bag was on my left arm. “No, you didn’t.” she replied. “It’s on your other arm.”
It was clearly time to go.
Across from the parking garage where we’d parked was a little place called Shakesphere & Co. The atmosphere was quaint and the menu had everything from crepes to biscuits and gravy to Indian flatbread and pizza. I had fish and chips. The fries were some of the best ever.
So yes, the Food Show was a disappointment. I’ve always heard you shouldn’t complain without offering a solution and I don’t know that I have one. Perhaps holding the show over a couple of days rather than trying to cram it all in one 9 to 5 day would make it less hectic. Perhaps your ticket should included X number of samples and any additional would need to be purchased at a nominal amount sort of like a carnival ride system. I don’t know.
Would I go back? For the right celebrity chef, yes I would go back to see the demonstration. But I’d try to get there in between the free ham madness and the general admission seating madness and not expect much out of anything in the hall.