The NASFT Fancy Food Show is an annual wintertime event in San Francisco that is also held in New York during the early summer. We recently attended, and have the sore feet and distended waistlines to prove it.
It’s a food fest like no other, food sample nirvana where vendors pay thousands for the privilege of giving product away in the forlorn hope they’ll be picked up by supermarket chains, ethnic restaurants or gift stores. It’s a showcase for innovations in flavor, packaging, and even new style marketing. No food event is a better predictor of where the American palate is heading.
But there are drawbacks to attending as a non-vendor. One is the limit one can place on one’s body while tasting. Walking giant halls for up to six hours a day and tasting literally hundreds of cheeses, meats, candy and cookies, not to mention pasta sauces, salad dressings, and ethnic specialties takes courage, stamina and dedication.
On top of that, there are always new and exciting restaurants in San Francisco that bear checking out. I’ll say more on that, presently.
This year’s show, however, did not offer much in the way of new and exciting. It’s true that if one attends in repeat years, there is repetition and a feeling of déjà vu. But there are always dozens, maybe hundreds, of new products, and not all of them deliver.
Take Umami No. 5, packaged in a shiny silver paint tube and trying to capitalize on America’s sudden discovery of the “fifth taste.” Umami is undeniably hot. Food writer Alan Richman named L.A.’s Umami Burger his “Burger of the Year” in GQ Magazine, and the concept is spreading, sort of the way blackened fish did in the eighties.
But this stuff just tastes like anchovy paste mixed with the double concentrated tomato paste you can get at an Italian grocery. I’m all for innovation and new product. Taking advantage of trends is despicable.
Find out more about the product, though, at www.laurasanttini.com, if you wish.
Speaking of blackened fish, a bizarre thing happened when we walked by Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning display. Just at the moment my friends asked me what happened to the famous New Orleans chef, the Great Man came careening around the corner in his wheel chair. At his N’Awlins resto, K-Paul’s, he invented blackened fish, only to see it be a menu favorite at such temples of gastronomy as Denny’s. Oh well.
The show did have its moments, and we certainly did not starve.
I was quite impressed by a variety of products. One company, which is called Blissful Brownies, made a German chocolate brownie I can only dream about-it was more like fudge than a brownie, and probably had a minimum of 900 calories. They are made in Hood River, OR, and can be reached at 800-414-2075. www.blissfulbrownies.com.
Oregon is also home to Snake River Farms, whose beef is sold and prepared in many of our top Vegas restaurants, as American Kobe. The farm produces all-natural, sustainable beef, and it’s completely great. I love their hot dogs even more than their steaks, though.
These are the dogs called “splitters”, because they split naturally when grilled. They are old fashioned hardwood smoked, and the smoky flavor permeates every bite. The company also makes a killer corned beef brisket. For what it’s worth, they do hams, too.
The best artisan cured ham I tasted in the show came from La Quercia of Norwalk, IA. www.laquercia.us. The name is Italian for oak, and the meats are dry cured and antibiotic free. Their American speck, coppa Americana and heirloom prosciutto, crafted from Berkshire pork, are a triumph, shot through with flavor in every bite.
Fortun Foods of Kirkland, WA had an impressive sauce line as well. Their sauces are gluten-free, contain no preservatives, zero fat, zero cholesterol, and sea salt. There is nothing like it on the market, and a little goes a long way. An almond-rich Spanish Romesco, and an Indian mulligatawny curry sauce, were two I’d like to try at home.
Finally, my old friend Bruce Cost, America’s foremost Chinese chef of the Caucasian persuasion, is marketing a swell new Ginger Ale that he is doing in small batches at a Brooklyn, NY warehouse. I’ll be posting a longer story about that, and an interview with him, at a later date.
What’s really relevant, though, is that the luxury market seems to be waning, and the show has geared itself more toward convenience food and the younger market. I saw, for instance, a surfeit of artisan candy and popcorn, and only low quality smoked fish products, which used to comprise a big part of this show.
The Fancy Food Show, in a phrase, just ain’t that fancy these days. I’m not sure I’m going to hurry back next year.
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