A sold out event for breast cancer awareness and the love of all Atlanta foodies, the Atlanta Chef Expo hit the high note in it’s very first year. Located at the Foundry at Puritan Mill, the exhibit hall was bustling with restaurant chefs, caterers and bakers. The sweet and smoky smells attracted visitors from all over the city even on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Along with chef’s tables and exhibition booths, there was also a full service bar, cooking demonstration stage and music. Being mardi gras weekend, Carnival theme seemed to be floating throughout the expo. Not surprisingly, many Louisiana dishes were represented. Some of the highlights were:

Restaurant RowAqua Blue presented a bite size sushi grade ahi tuna on a crispy wanton which was simple and delicious. Aqua Blue continues to enjoy its presence as one of the best seafood restaurants in Atlanta. Marlow’s Tavern hit a home run with two must try dishes at the entire expo. The first was a shrimp and crab nacho with cheese…yummy! The second was fried chicken sushi with spicy chipotle sauce, a different take on the shrimp tempura sushi roll. One bite would convert non sushi lovers into one.

Catering Alley – My award goes to the Lamb BBQ Sliders prepared by Executive Chef Nicholas Walker at Cobb Galleria Centre catering. The lamb was an excellent substitute for pork and the sauce was not overbearing how it usually is in most BBQ sliders. Chef Walker always comes up with his own unique twist on classic favorites. Wolfgang Puck Catering (that operate at the Georgia Aquarium) served delicious homemade French style macrons, along with other sweet treats. It’s hard to find macrons so fresh and delicate in the south, so it was quite impressive what WPC did. JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead also surprised me with peppery homemade potato chips served with a creamy vidalia onion dressing. The salty crunchy treat made a delicious snack that I would definitely order at a restaurant.

The Chef’s Table – There were many innovative chefs in this area, who were serving handmade pasta (yes, made live at the expo itself), chicken samosas and chilled gazpacho. The one that caught my attention was a creation by Chef Rian McDonald. It was a jumbo shrimp stuffed with candied bacon, pineapples and herbed cheese, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Highly complex!

Gluten Free/ Vegan – In my mind, the most unique award should go to Chef Barry Garber of Creative Vegan Ensembles. He was born and brought up in Georgia, but served Calcutta-Jewish-Vegan recipes that I didn’t knew even existed. There was Indian spiced ladyfingers with tomato sauce and sauteed tofu with raisins and almonds.

The Sugar Shack – Never thought I would be crazy about Creole Pretzels and Creole Crunch Popcorn, but ChayJ’s New Orleans Candies did an excellent job delivering the right balance of flavor, crunch and freshness to their products. I may need a box of those to go please!

Amusing Treats had a tree bearing customized cookies, which I thought was an interesting idea. Something to keep in mind for special occasions and party favors. I found the perfect sweet endings at Honeysuckle Gelato with caramel, fig and lavender flavors. Currently only at food trucks and some restaurants, Honeysuckle Gelato will be at grocery stores soon.