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Monday, December 27, 2010

Tradeshows - Florax Loaves and Munchkins

I remember back when trade shows were a staple in the hospitality industry. Until recently we used to have the UpShow each February at the Convention Center in Minneapolis, but for reasons to numerous to report this Shindig finally shut down.
Back in the day it used to be a spectacle event, the UMBA (Upper Midwest Baking Association) would even ride its coat tails.

Back then the bakers had reputations of drinking like thirsty pirates. I'll never forget the afternoon when the boys from Custom Bakery were break dancing in the foyer of the Hyatt when the crew from Baldingers strolled past. A huge fight broke out, there was mayhem everywhere, but within a hour you could find both sides nursing their wounds together while exchanging stories and formulas in one of their ingredient purveyors V.I.P. booths.

As years passed, things have tamed down a bit, the main event each year was the contest for the top cake. When you entered the special "Cake Room" it was kinda an Alice in Wonderland experience. There were tremendous looking entries that were nothing short engineering marvels.

Next to each one of these pieces stood foxy models that were rumored to be prostitutes. Of coarse this was never proved, but urban legend declared that if you picked the cake....you got the chick standing next to it. I don't know why, but we all wanted to believe this was true.

Sometime around 2000 or 2002 I did a lecture entitled Sourdoughs from Around the World. At the conclusion of my dealio I picked up a couple left over loaves, they were Italian Florax sourdough batards which where chalk full of bell peppers.

Florax is the Italians Oven God and each year they have a special day where the peeps pay tribute to this baking deity. In the center of the country is a region called Umbria, and it's residents are known for their "Burn Cafe's" where every loaf that comes out of the oven has a charred cinder crumbwall. This produces a buffer against the heat and allows the peppers juices to develop. The loaves taste wicked good.

Remember in the movie Moonstruck where Cher and her dad are sitting at the table scraping ash off the breakfast bread? I'm guessing it was an Umbria Burn loaf, anyways as I'm walking down aisle at the trade show, I passed by many of the exhibits that I had seen in years past, but then all of a sudden I looked up and there stood this little guy with Wizard of Oz posters around him, at closer look it was Micky Carrol.

Micky was the Munchkin that coined the phrase "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." He also was the munchkin you see playing the violin.

His booth was pimping nostalgic posters and for a mere 20 bucks you could recapture your youth by purchasing an autographed version.

When I approached the table Micky was engaged in a conversation with some woman, he was explaining that he was already wealthy, but he liked to raise money for cops and kids in the St Louis area, but as Micky's pitch turned more into a ramble...there was some whip cracking lout who told my favorite munchkin to tone it down and get back to work. The 2 guys would exchange wicked stares and Micky would eventually go back to being Mickey.

After sharing a story where Cardinal baseball legends Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire stopped by his house to donate dozens of bats to one of the upcoming cop fund raisers Micky noticed me and the loaves that were in my hand.

Like a midway pitchman, he started to reel me in and taunt me with jabs about my uniform, loaves and general demeanor. You can't help but feel honored when a munchkin politely roasts you.

After further investigation of my sourdough loaves Micky asked if they were Italian, when I replied "Yes.", he told me that in the "Olden Days" he used to emcee nightclub shows for Al Capone's night clubs, and in that era you never knew who would show up on the stage that night.

He mentioned that his favorite person to work with was Mae West (when mentioning this he raised his eyebrows in an amorous way that made the crowd watching him roar) because she realized big things come in small packages.

Then I asked Micky if it would be alright to ask a personal question, when I got his permission I tossed it at him "In a world of Political Correctness, is it safe to make references to Munchkins, or should we use the term Little People?"

Micky smiled and responded "Let me tell ya kid, you are what you are. There is no changing that, and I am a Munchkin."

When it was time for me to move on I handed Micky the Florax loaves and he genuinely seemed touched. In fact, he grabbed a black & white 8x10 of a younger him on the Yellow Brick road and wrote "To Klecko, who makes the best bread in the world...your friend Micky Carrol"

He smiled really big as he handed it to me, but then his whip cracking partner demanded "that will be 20 bucks!" and the 2 of them went back to fighting.

You almost had to think this Good Cop-Bad Cop routine was part of the show. Either way, I pulled a 20 out of my wallet, tossed it on his table and told Micky to give it to the cops.

13 comments:

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  2. When it was time for me to move on I handed Micky the Florax loaves and he genuinely seemed touched.

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