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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A first-timer's recap of San Francisco's Fancy Food Show 2013

Attending the winter Fancy Food Show was a culinary delight filled with delicious specialty food samplings and, surprisingly, a sense of prolonged anticipation as I left the Moscone Center's North and South Halls last week.

The show was hosted by The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade

I hadn't thought through that I would sample some things I'd love, then wouldn't be able to buy them anywhere. If a company doesn't sell online or have retailers (and in some overseas cases, a U.S. distributor), there is nowhere to locally purchase their products. That's why they're at the show, to have buyers place orders to carry their products in their stores or to use them in their restaurants.

I'm including all of the links to their websites in case you own a gourmet grocery, culinary shop, or you're a restauranteur who would be interested in carrying some of the products I saw that day.

I learned about the show over the holidays from Christine at Neo Cocoa when she asked if I'd be going. The thing is, you need to work in the food industry to be able to purchase a ticket to attend the show. Since I didn't have those credentials there was only one other way to attend, by applying for a press pass. I filled out the online form, crossed my fingers, sent more information as requested, and was ultimately invited to attend as a Food Blogger. Yay!

There were 1300 exhibitors from around the Bay Area, the United States, and the world showcasing 80,000 products. I spotted many of my favorite food brands and was introduced to many more while walking the North and South Halls for 5.5 hours.

Hitting the expo floor I was more than a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd. I knew where I'd find a friendly face so I headed over to find the Toffee Talk booth. I know Toffee Talk through Twitter, and from tasting their delicious toffee both years in the International Chocolate Salon bridal competition.

From there I headed over to the Taste of California area and found two of my favorite companies set up side by side. You may recall I was introduced to the Sonoma Brinery's Spicy Bread & Butter pickles last year and LOVED them.

They're available in a multitude of Bay Area stores but here's a tip: You'll find them in a refrigerator case, not in the pickle aisle with all of the bottled pickles.

At the show I was introduced to their "Raw Sauerkraut." I wasn't sure I'd like it but I gave it a go sampling both the Traditional and Dill & Garlic flavors. Turns out I loved the Traditional recipe. It was my favorite thing I tried that day. And an added bonus: It has a decent amount of iron, which I need to eat more of.

It isn't pasteurized, like most sauerkrauts available at supermarkets are, so it has a great texture to it with a bit of crispness and a nice tangy flavor. The fact that it's "raw" is important as this is how you receive the healthy probiotics that naturally occur in the pickling process.

I plan to use it as a side dish with some meals and am looking forward to adding it to sandwiches in place of lettuce.

And right next door was Jimtown. If you ever visit Sonoma Wine Country you should make the time to visit the Jimtown Store in the Alexander Valley. Since last June I've been using Jimtown's "Spread, Sauces & Dips" in my pasta dishes.

Here's a picture of a piece of oven baked salmon and pasta with a fresh Sweet Pea  and Cherry Tomato & thyme sauce. After draining the pasta I tossed a heaping tablespoon of Jimtown's Chopped Olive tapenade into the noodles and tossed them. I then plated the noodles and added the sauce on top. My mouth is watering just looking at this picture. I can't wait until my garden gets going again this year so I can make it every week.

Jimtown's line is also located in the Specialty Foods section of Whole Foods.

I also spotted TCHO chocolates. Pronounced "Cho" (rhymes with go), they are a local chocolatier whose location I just recently spotted on San Francisco's Embarcadero. You can make a reservation online to take a free tour of the TCHO chocolate factory and purchase their chocolates direct from their website if they aren't available where you live.

I have to say the Mokaccino was fantastic. If you're one of those people who says "I love the way coffee smells but not the way it tastes" you'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. The rich coffee flavor is strong and smooth without the bitter beverage flavor.

And I didn't know TCHO makes a drinking chocolate. The next time I'm in SF I'll have to sign up for the factory tour if there's space available and buy some drinking chocolate to enjoy before the winter is over.

Arizona's Lehi Valley Trading Company had a huge bowl full of golden, butter toffee or carmel corn (I'm not sure which it was) coated puffed goodness beckoning passers by to stop and sample a bite. I said to the man at the booth: "This is the most dangerous thing I've seen today." I just knew if I ate one I'd want to eat the whole bowl. This is an item I hope a local retailer decided to carry. I'd love to be able to purchase it on a regular basis.

And Italy's Arancino Organic Blood Orange Soda is literally the best Blood Orange Soda I've ever had. It's not too sweet and the cold pressed blend of Sanguinello and Moro oranges is elegant enough to bring to a dinner party in place of wine. I'm hoping it also becomes available locally. If you own a gourmet grocery this would be a fine addition to your libation department. *Hint, hint*

The fruit vinegars by Mangé le Gastronome were as flavorful as they were colorful. Suggested uses were the obvious, like salad dressings and marinades, but I couldn't help but think they would be fantastic mixed with perrier like the balsamic vinegar sodas I learned how to make while taking the Santa Cruz Food Tour.

The Haribo candy booth was one of my favorites. They're the people who made gummy bears famous.

Their booth made me felt like a kid in a candy shop. The entire counter was lined with colorful bins you could sample from. It took a lot of restraint not to sample one of everything.

There were sweets everywhere! Le Chef Bakery had the most awesome food display. If I were judging, their platform of perfectly lined desserts was award worthy. The desserts are made to order, then shipped frozen.

In the second row the first two images are of Beer Candy taffies and caramels. Like coffee, I've tried beer and have ever tasted any I liked. But I did like the Stout Chocolate Covered Caramels. The caramel had a rich sweetness to it while the chocolate had a sharp bitter flavor from the stout that blended together nicely in a sophisticated way.

The Brownie Brittle in the lower left corner could best be described as a brownie crust cookie dappled with tiny chocolate chips. They're light, crunchy, and yummy. I sampled the Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Mint cookies. Both were great.

The lower right picture and the one above it are from the Ginger People booth. At the show I sampled the Gin-Gins, which are ginger flavored gumdrops. I've purchased their Original and Apple Ginger Chews for years. First I ate them as candies, later (because of dental work) I would drop them into a cup of hot water to make a warm ginger drink. They're yummy both ways.

This little beauty is a close up of a Le Chef Bakery dessert. This is a wholesale company so they offer their product line to hotels, food services, convention centers, high-end grocery stores, gourmet restaurants, and culinary distributors.

Who loves sorbet? I do, I do! I tried Cable Car Delights' Ginger Pear Sorbet and was indeed delighted. Located in Berkeley, CA they are known for their gelatos that are served in many fine restaurants on the West Coast. Select flavors are also available in several retail locations here in the Bay Area. Their Ginger Pear Sorbet won a Gold Award for being an Outstanding New Product at the show.

Gelateria Naia is another local company, I first learned about them last year when I joined their Facebook page. But I still hadn't had the opportunity to try their signature gelato bars, which, as it turns out, are available all over the Bay Area! At the Fancy Food Show I did try their Salted Caramel gelato. Twice. Once to see if I liked it and again when I liked the first sample and needed a new one to photograph. LOL. Their product line includes traditional Italian gelato, sorbet, and soy gelato all made with a focus on fresh, high quality, and (often) locally sourced ingredients.

Here's the thing about me and soda and juices, most of them are way too sweet for my taste. So it was neat to try several that day that were less sweet and in offbeat flavors that were really, really good.

Vignette Wine Country Soda is a line of non alcoholic grape sodas with names like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rosé. They are light and bright and were the least sweet of all of the sodas I tried that day. They are a refined beverage that would pair well with a gourmet style meal prepared by your favorite home chef.

The Wild Poppy Juice Company offered juice flavors that took me by surprise like Grapefruit Ginger and Blood Orange Chili. Both were very good. The Blood Orange Chili has a bit of burn to it and would be fantastic with Mexican food on a hot day.

And one of my classic soda favorites is Lorina's French Lemonade.  Sweet with a bit of tartness and no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives it's a brand I've trusted and have been purchasing for years. So many I can't recall for how long but I'd guess at least 15. Along with their French Lemonade the other thing I love about Lorina is their packaging. Their Prestige line uses hermetically resealable bottles you can save and reuse.

So cute right? These little The Modern Cocktail party packs by Modern Gourmet would make a cute house warming or hostess gift.

Some of the booths were modest spaces while others were large and set up almost as mini storefronts. Imagine two huge buildings filled with so many rows of booths it takes hours to see all of them and everyone wants you to sample their food. That's what the show is like.

Ozery Bakery Inc. is another brand I recently discovered on my own. Their thin buns are my new substitute for traditional burger buns that are loaded with simple carbs. I was thrilled to find the Ozery Whole Wheat One Buns are made with organic flax seeds, sunflower seeds, barley, millet, triticale, cracked wheat, and rye.

At the show I was offered a sample of their Morning Rounds and accepted a package of the Museli flavor. I used it to make this thin, breakfast sandwich with a single, pasture raised, over medium fried egg, some Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese, and fig jam. I'll do a featurette post about the Morning Rounds in the near future.

The smoked salmon samples I tried that day at the Wild Yukon River Salmon booth were really, really delicious. By creating jobs the company helps support six villages in Alaska allowing the Yupik people to both earn a living and preserve the traditional lifestyle their ancestors have practiced for thousands of years.

Definitely the most unusual company name I saw that day was Canada's Holy Crap breakfast cereal made with chia seeds. At first I assumed it had something to do with helping to keep you "regular" but the name is based on people's reaction uttering the words "Holy Crap" (that's good) after sampling the breakfast cereal for the first time. BTW it's gluten-free, vegan, certified organic, can be eaten hot or room temperature, or can be tossed into smoothies and blended for the nutritional benefits. It looked kind of strange but I did prefer the texture and flavor to oatmeal.

Just Cook spices are created as meat rubs but they can also be used to season other things. I was told the Ancho Chicken rub is particularly good on popcorn.

There were two soups I wanted to feature for two different reasons. The first, the Zucchini Soup by Real Simple Delicious because it was delicious. The second by Hot Can offers both soups and beverages in soda sized cans that include a built-in, eco-friendly, self heating system.

For vegans, Victoria introduced a new vegan pasta sauce line at the show. I tried the Arugula Pesto Vegan Alfredo Sauce on some fettucini noodles for lunch. It was tasty and I have to admit I was surprised I liked it because in the past I've never cared for cream sauces from jars.

I really enjoyed the Olive Pesto Dip from Prestigio Foods. I could eat it on bread, crackers, or even pasta. If you're a retailer you can carry the dip in store for your customers. Consumers can visit Fiore Restaurant or Bravo Bistro in Concord, CA where the dip is served in house.

I'd been on the floor for five hours and had avoided sampling any cheese because I wanted to cut back on my cheese consumption in general. And then I walked past the Elegant Brie booth. When it comes to cheese, brie is my achilles heel. And warm brie is simply irresistible. One bite of the baked brie in puff pastry atop a french baguette round and I was sold. Currently they're available at a handful of Bay Area farmers' markets. Hopefully, they'll soon be in a store seven days a week.

When it came to Asian food I tried seaweed snacks, Banten green tea, and brought home a sample of gluten free Little Soya soy sauce. The Gimme honey dijon flavored nori seaweed snacks were different, but good. And the tea was light and refreshing after a day of sampling so many different kinds of food.

Speaking of tea. . . I did see this, matcha tea powder by Nanzan-en for cooking and baking. So that's how they do it!

Two more products I'd recently discovered on my own were 34º Crisps and cheese from Cypruss Grove Chevre.

The crackers are incredibly light and perfect when you have a topping whose flavors you want to feature because the Natural flavored crisps won't compete.

On display by Cypress Grove Chevre were rounds of Humboldt Fog, their ripened cheese that contains a thin line of edible vegetable ash in its center.

And for the more traditional or adventurous there were too many varieties of cheese to count such as this small area of an expansive cheese display in the Fresca Italia booth from Italy in the lower righthand corner.

Without a doubt my best press kit and booth personality kudos would have to go to the team at BOSKA Holland. I hate to say this but in so many booths the staff seemed more interested in texting on their phones than interacting with the show attendees. Not so at BOSKA. Their team was fun, engaging, and knowledgable.

They were showing their very modern and beautiful cheese accessories such as knives, graters, slicers, cheese boards, fondue pots, and raclette warmers. I'm now particularly taken with their cheese curlers. Before visiting the BOSK booth and website I had no idea they even existed but now I'm certain I need one. LOL

And another must have is a pair of nitespecs by Chefspecs. They're glasses with tiny LED lights embedded on each side of the frame so when you turn them on you're combining a book light and reading glasses into a single unit. It's an idea I love for my tiny teardrop trailer where compactness will be key since it's only going to be 4x6 feet in diameter.

The chefspecs come adorned with tiny spoons in a magnetic tin you can attach to your fridge for easy access!

I also spotted some eco-friendly products like the biodegradable containers from Your Green 2 Go. And I'd recently purchased some fennel seeds from Spicely Orgaic Spices which I liked for two reasons: Their biodegradable cardboard packaging and their small portions which means I'm not going to end up throwing away a large portion a year later when I haven't used it more than a couple of times.

And that's it! Just a few of the vendors whose booths I stopped at that day.

If you made it this far thanks for sticking with me :)

Hopefully I'll be able to attend next year too! For starters I think I'd stay for two days and split the event into two blog posts, one savory, the other sweet. And if you work in the food industry and have never attended, maybe this post will inspire you to go and I'll see you there.


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