The inaugural Pick ‘n Pay ‘Taste of Christmas’ which took place over the weekend at the Coca Cola Dome set the tone for the festive season and bodes well for the future prospects of this event. The Taste of Christmas follows hot in the heels of the 6th annual ‘Taste of Joburg’ which took place in October and is affiliated with London’s show which has enjoyed phenomenal success since its debut in 2004.
As is the case overseas and at the Taste events held thus far in South Africa, Johannesburg’s Taste of Christmas featured a mix of artisanal food producers and suppliers, live cooking and interactive theatres, drinks lounges and a collection of mini kitchens run by some of Johannesburg’s top restaurants. ‘Crowns’ are the ‘currency’ of the events which entitle visitors to purchase products and enjoy the many delicious mini taster meals prepared by the kitchens.
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First to catch my eye as my partner and I arrived at the show was the Consol Mixology Theatre. Situated just to the left of the main entrance, the ‘theatre’ comprised a sophisticated blue themed lounge and bar at which a bespoke range of cocktails were being served. I selected the ‘Serengeti Swirl’, a delicious cider based cocktail infused with mint, honey and pineapple juice. Other drinks on offer included, amongst others, the ‘Full Moon’, ‘Peppa Juice’, ‘Soul Sapphire’ and ‘Blue Dissolve’, a Cosmopolitan shot through with, of all things, candyfloss.
Just around the corner from the Consol theatre was Frey’s chocolate stand. Frey is the number one chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland and has just launched in SA. If the samples on display are anything to go by, their products are going to be a hit.
Just opposite Frey lay tables groaning with gorgeous Christmas themed goodies created by Chlo Lo and The Shweet Company. Iced cookies, cakes, cupcakes, cake ‘pops’, rocky-road brownies, sundried tomato and goats cheese tart, glistening green and red candy canes, meringues, elf and reindeer candy and hot chocolate mixers were just some of the decadent wares being served up by the ‘elves’ manning these stalls.
Not far down the lane was the Pick ‘n Pay Art of Christmas arena where visitors could learn how to create Christmas themed canapés, desserts and baubles. The Kaya FM lounge, Blue Bird Market producers and the Blue Feather and Soweto Hotel mini kitchens were also located in this area.
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In my opinion, the producers really outdid themselves. Simply Wild’s pestos chutneys and mayonnaises were delicious (I highly recommend the roasted garlic mayonnaise); Ooh la la created some incredible organic, French themed treats (think gourmet marshmallows, pecan ‘pebbles’, French nougat and salted butter caramels) and Sweet Bouquet and Gourmet Fruit Bouquet have taken fruit and floral arrangements to a whole new level through their integration of chocolate into their creations.
Having nibbled our way from one side of the dome to the other, my partner and I decided it was time to try something more substantial. Blue Feather served up a delectable venison loin accompanied by a smoky pinotage and enoki jus, pomegranate and snap peas and the Soweto Hotel’s Jazz Maniac’s kitchen delivered a perfectly cooked, albeit overly sweet Moroccan couscous stuffed chicken breast and sweet potato stovie. On the other side of the dome, Prosopa served a well-spiced chicken and mixed salad souvlaki pita drizzled with tzatziki. Taste’s other top notch restaurants dished up festive dishes including duck and cherry pie and eggnog ice cream with fruit mince.
Refreshing green apple, cherry and hazelnut flavoured sorbets from the talented Arte Gelato cleansed our palettes as we continued browsing the Taste of Christmas’ wares and watched chefs prepare festive dishes in front of an attentive crowd at the Fresh Living Chef’s Theatre.
A massive Christmas tree took centre stage at the dome in front of which a seating area and band stand had been set up. Myriad different nodes flowed out from this point including a liquor section stocked with just about every type of alcohol imaginable, a flower market, a gift wrapping area, dedicated book and toy nooks and Pick ‘n Pay’s gourmet deli area populated by the likes of Rainbow Chicken and Parmalat.
Of course there were countless other products on display at the Taste of Christmas including furniture, candles, garden implements, speciality meats and cookware, all of which make for great Christmas gifts. Personal show favourites of mine included The Shweet Company’s gorgeous Christmas jars stuffed with cookies, La coco C’s beautiful range of instant brownie mixes and the Bread Basket’s whimsical Christmas themed gingerbread houses which could be bought ready-made or as DIY kits.
The show was well laid out, suitably bedecked with Christmas decorations and although geared towards some of the bigger producers, also gave the smaller boutique manufacturers ample visibility. Judging by the crowds and calibre of the event, I have little doubt Johannesburg’s Taste of Christmas will become a permanent fixture on the calendar from now on.