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Best Eats (and beats) at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show? +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Audi AG's German chef, David Kosmal, oversees and prepares food at major international auto shows such as Detroit, Frankfurt, Beijing-Shanghai and Tokyo.

By Lillie Guyer
Detroit Auto Journalist
Special to The Auto Channel

DETROIT - January 21, 2013: It was a glamour and glitz week at the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit as 500 new models and 50 concepts bowed at one of the world’s largest auto shows.

This year’s Detroit show featured press days Jan. 14-15, followed by supplier days Jan. 16-17. A charity preview night, raising millions for charities opened on Jan. 18, followed by the public show, Jan.19-27.

After new car and truck reveals, food is the star at national auto shows. Best foods at the shows? So far Audi and Mercedes-Benz get the nod as attendee favorites, at least during press-supplier preview week.

The care and feeding of journalists – an audience of about 7,000 international media in Detroit’s Cobo Center – is big promo business for automakers such as Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW-Mini, Nissan, GM, Ford and others. The renovated 2.4 million square-foot Cobo facility is in the heart of downtown Detroit, a few blocks from the Marriott Hotel, where out-of-town visitors tend to stay. It’s also a quick Detroit People Mover ride to Greektown and its fabled ethnic restaurants and Greektown Casino.

An informal survey of media and suppliers at NAIAS (fondly called the Detroit Auto Show in Motor City circles) gave the nod for best eats to Audi. Followed by Mercedes-Benz and its euro-style café on the main floor. M-B keeps the wine, beer, espressos, cappuccino and freshly squeezed orange juice flowing, along with foods like beef tips in wine sauce, salads and a scrumptious array of desserts, including chocolate torte. Audi and BMW feature German beers, red and white wines, thick biergarten pretzels and an array of other delicacies in their cafes. Of course, other automakers also trot out the goodies.

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Ingolstadt, Germany-headquartered Audi AG puts on a memorable food presentation. Showgoers are greeted with a touch of class in the upstairs café in Detroit with a silver hard-cover menu; the four Audi rings are subtly embossed on its front. This year’s menu (in German and English) featured breakfast (fruhstuck), an upscale lunch and ample afternoon snacks, including cheeses, pretzels, beer, wine.

Example, the lunch menu entrée: Beef filet with thyme jus, truffled turnip and potato gratin; along with appetizer, chocolate coffee tarts and full beverage service; all served by real waitpersons.

No tip required.

Audi’s claim to fame is enhanced by the fact that its German chef selects, supervises and helps prepare the menu which is customized for each show. Amazingly, there are long lines waiting to get into the Detroit Audi “restaurant,” with its beckoning neon red and black exterior facade. Sometimes it’s more than a 45-minute wait. Why wait? Tere’s plenty of competition a few feet away, a reporter reminds them. “It’s so good,” one patron says, as others nod agreement.

Andreas Lahr, Audi AG events manager-national and international shows from Germany, says his seven-person team handles about seven category A (major) international shows annually. Shows in the US include events in New York (a first time appearance this year in late March) and Los Angeles. Category B (smaller) auto shows are handled by other Audi events teams.

“The biggest international show is Frankfurt (Germany), followed by Detroit, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Paris and Geneva,” Lahr says. “New York, Los Angeles and Moscow are smaller than the (major) international shows. We also did shows in Doha/Gatar and India which are even smaller then LA und NYC.” Detroit is the largest US show, he adds.

The difference in Audi’s meal presentation at the larger shows is that its German chef, David Kosmal, and butchers accompany them to major shows. They supervise and prepare meals in conjunction with Stamford, Connecticut-based Centerplate, a hospitality firm which holds contracts for most US auto shows. Aramark Corp. in Philadelphia handles the LA show, beginning in late November, along with other corporate and civic hospitality venues.

The word about Audi has gotten around to show-goers such as Albert Weber, CEO of Weber Automotive, a global supply company of engine gear boxes. Weber is headquartered in Markdorf, Germany, and has domestic supplier contracts with major automakers in its Auburn Hills, Mich., location.

Weber was busy snapping shots on his iPhone of his lunch plate of beef tenderloin, beet mousse, and potatoes gratin, to send to his wife in Germany. He gave Audi his vote of approval for best food at the Detroit show. “Why’s it so good?” he muses. Well, they spend a little money on this event; it’s definitely more expensive (upscale) than others (US), or elsewhere.” Sated, he gulps down his German beer before rushing off to his next press appointment.

Lahr and chef Kosmal, agree. “They just tell me to make it nice,” Lahr says of his internal Audi clients. Audi honchos and board members comment when something doesn’t go so well.

At the Mercedes-Benz Star Bar with its euro-style ambiance, food is served to showgoers sitting at tables located offstage from the main show floor. One man is seen eating leftover beef tips and vegetables from his absent companion’s plate. Honest. Well, maybe he’s just hungry, one might think.

Jorg Friedrich, design company consultant from Frankfurt, Germany, couldn’t say enough for Audi but was enjoying lunch and a beer at the Mercedes-Benz Star Bar. “Audi is the most liked and reputable for food presentation worldwide, but M-B could be the most improved (food wise) in the United States,” Friedrich says, a veteran of international auto shows.

Even at smaller shows, automakers’ offerings are decent – or as a pop song goes, “real good for free.”

Centerplate also has catered hospitality events for about 250 sports, entertainment, political and convention venues across North America; also about 15 U.S. presidential inaugural balls in the country, according to its Web site.

Eats, Beats, Cars: Other notables

Best coffee bars: Acura, the premier Honda maker, featured a lavish coffee bar with super rich whipped cream, chocolate shavings and scrumptious Biscotti’s. Volvo, the Swedish luxury maker, featured fine coffees, teas, espressos, shaved chocolate and whipped cream. BMW Mini’s silver-wrapped chocolate bars and real fruit smoothies were delights, show goers said. Otherwise, Maserati’s Brule chocolate mousse cones and coffee were exceptional. And GM’s Cadillac did a fine job with its coffee and tea service, enhanced with fresh fruits, as was the Lexus offering.

Of course, for entertainment embedded in its new product reveal, Mercedes-Benz could hardly be topped. This year Daimler chairman and Mercedes Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche introduced pop artist Bruce Hornsby. The crooner thrilled attendees with his famed rendition of “The Way It Is.” Hornsby played on a Steinway grand piano, close to M-B’s heart since manufacturer William Steinway opened the Daimler Motor Co. on Long Island (NY) in 1888. Hornsby was backed by his band, all on the left center stage.

In Detroit’s preview week, Zetsche was all smiles as he intro’d the new M-B E-Class and 2014 CLA-Class four-door coupe. The sporty quad coupe got admiring looks from media, suppliers and dealers before bowing to the public.

Best offsite party: Hyundai’s “Detroit Rocks” media party took place Saturday night after press week at Detroit’s Majestic Garden Bowl. Besides a lavish array of eats and drinks, rock bands played into the night and Piston Dancers wowed the crowd. Not bad for the Korean company taking the US sales scene by storm with new product designs. And a nod to CEO John Krafcik who’s pulled off a feat in Motown.

Bold reveal: Ford decided to trot out the fuel-conscious Atlas Concept nearly two years before the redesigned F-150 will go on sale. Automotive News says, “It underscores how full-sized pickups remain one of the most highly contested segments in the U.S. market.

More Audi: For Audi, the big show news was that the company is expanding its RS model line: The RS 7 Sportback, debuting in Detroit this year, stands for “dynamics at their most beautiful,” Audi stated. Audi also presented two world premieres – including the Audi SQ5, in Detroit. Audi and its sister company, VW, saw their biggest US sales increases in 2012. Audi sold a record 139,310 vehicles in 2012 and posted its best ever US month in December, 2012.

Domestic bounce: Of the three rebounding domestics, Chrysler group posted a 21% sales increase in 2012, followed by Ford, up 5% and GM rose 3.7% for the year. Other import makers scoring well: Toyota: up 27%, Honda at 24% and Nissan up 10%.

Gone: The cast-iron miniature models, notebooks, pens, fancy bags and other giveaways that were free-flowing once upon a time at American car shows. As one veteran journalist put it; “those days are gone.”