Summer Fancy Food Show celebrates craft, care and joy
North America's largest celebration of specialty food — now a $109 billion business — just got bigger. What was at one time a simple trade show burst through its Javits Center walls to create the first-ever New York City-wide Specialty Food Week. Five days were filled chock-a-block with activities embracing the Specialty Food Association's brand: Craft, Care and Joy.
Colorful promotional materials wrapped city buses. Giant billboards showcased larger-than-life industry innovators. Shuttles scooted showgoers to and from other food events in town — namely, The Good Food Mercantile and the Cheesemonger Invitational. Professional guides led tours of Manhattan and Brooklyn's specialty-food shops.
Well-fed and oft-watered attendees romped through parties, dinners, truffle tastings, wine tastings, educational seminars and photo shoots.
The red-carpet Sofi awards amped up excitement with charismatic Ted Allen and Chef Alex Guarnascelli of Food Network's “Chopped,” as keynote speaker-presenter. The Sofi's (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation), called the Oscars of the food world, set producers a-panting after those gold (winner) and silver (finalist) statuettes in intense competition — 2,715 entries producing 125 finalists in 32 categories, including chocolate, cheese and savory snack.
And, of course, there was the show itself.
NFL stars stopped by, as did celebrity chefs. People gawked at models attired head to toe in chocolate. On display was a portrait of Darth Vader made of jelly beans.
Vast pavilions housed 2,500 exhibitors from around the globe, showing 180,000 products, pursued by 25,000 buyers and a multitude of media — all combing the cavernous halls, mining for trends in this fast-paced industry.
If you think you know every culinary thing, you've not been to the Fancy Food Show: Ninja Ginger Kettle-Cooked Potato Chips, with ginger, cilantro and chiles (deepriversnacks.com); Duck Fat Caramels and Chocolate Salumi (oliveandsinclair.com); Tiger Nut Flour (tigernuts.com�)
Top food trends
Gobs of gazpacho: The Splendid Spoon, (thesplendidspoon.com), Vegan Market Drinkable Soup.
Bountiful beets: Cafe Spice, (cafespice.com), amazing Beetroot Rasam Soup, a sofi finalist for best new product.
Flower power: Masala Pop, (eatmasalapop.com), Saffron Rose Popcorn
Booze-infused: Wine, beer, cider and spirits in everything from ice cream to caramels to condiments to pickles
Cornucopia of corn: A maize-daze in every form from popcorn to tortilla chips to sauces and candy
Overall, the ever-growing specialty food focus on healthful reached fever-pitch. G luten-free and vegan products rated their own section. Also hitting stride: items free from lactose, GMOs, hormones, preservatives and added sugar; organic or all-natural; consciously sourced ingredients. Some good options:
Kitchen Table Bakers (kitchentablebakers.com) hand-makes addictive all-parmesan crisps in 11 flavors. Gluten-free, these sophisticated wafers address diverse dietary requirements and are, happily, low in calories, low in carbs and crave-inducing.
Laiki Rice Crackers
(laikicrackers.com) won Gold for Outstanding Cracker, a notable achievement for a start-up in such a heavily populated category. Just three ingredients — black-red rice, sustainably sourced palm oil and sea salt — create a vibrant, nutritious snack with a unique, airy crunch.
The Splendid Spoon (thesplendidspoon.com) creates truly clean soups: distilled water, judiciously augmented with seasonal fruits and vegetables, gently cooked to preserve nutrients. The company guarantees three-plus servings of fresh vegetables per bowlful, in such tantalizing flavors as Carrot and Turmeric and Cauliflower and Coconut.
Tava Life Provisions (tavalife.com) presents lactose-free, shelf-stable grass-fed ghee (a butter alternative lacking milk fat), available in four flavors — original, Himalayan Salt, Green Chili and Vanilla Bean.
Wild Planet Foods (wildplanetfoods.com) offers sensational canned seafood: tuna, salmon, sardines, white anchovies and more. Think high-quality protein, gluten-free, additive-free and Omega3-dense.
Ancient grains, seeds, nuts and superfoods
Navitas Naturals (navitasnaturals.com), the supreme maker-dispenser of organic superfoods from around the world, pursues ancient power snacks to fuel an active modern lifestyle: goji berries, acai, maca, hemp, chia seeds, coconut chips. The newest mix combines superfoods with nuts.
R.W. Garcia (rwgarcia.com), a better-for-you-snack company, unveils 3 Seed Gluten-Free Crackers in five inviting flavors: Sweet Potato, Kale, Harvest (pumpkin & blue corn), Rosemary & Garlic and Onion & Chive.
SuperSeedz Gourmet Pumpkin Seeds (superseedz.com) spice up salads, soups, oatmeal, yogurt, trail mix or the snack bowl. The seeds come in nine flavors — from Really Naked and Curious Curry to Maple Sugar-Sea Salt and Cinnamon & Sugar.
I Heart Keenwah (iheartkeenwah.com) quinoa puffs kick cheese puffs off the snack table. An ancient South American grain, quinoa provides a complete protein, high in vitamins and minerals. Real flavorings stir in deliciousness. Try Aged Cheddar, Sea Salt Truffle, Sweet Chili or Herbs de Provence.
Freekehlicious (freekehlicious.com) imports an ancient Middle Eastern grain from its main producer in Australia. Freekeh, a nutty fire-roasted green (as in unripe) wheat, suits both savory and sweet preparations.
Pistachios rank high in popularity as ingredient and flavor. Try: Setton Farms (SettonFarms.com) heart-healthy nuts or Premium Dark Chocolate Pistachios; and the glorious Marco Colzani Sicilian Pistachio Spread (gustiamo.com).
Chickpeas, inventively flavored, starred in many snacks, both savory and sweet: Biena chickpeas (bienafoods.com), packed with fiber and protein, are flying off the shelves; Saffron Road (saffronroadfood.com), celebrating world cuisines from Korea to Mexico, includes chickpeas in its extensive, all-natural line of products.
Seaweed becomes mainstream, with many kinds and formulations. Try SeaSnax (seasnax.com) roasted seaweed sheets and chips — in flavors ranging from Wasabi to Jalapeno and Lime.
Caramels are popular — both confection and sauce, especially from goat milk. Big Picture Farm (bigpicturefarm.com) regularly takes top awards for its creamy goat-milk caramels. This year, the Chai took gold for outstanding confection, while Raspberry Rhubarb won outstanding new product. Fat Toad Farm (fattoadfarm.com), making superlative jarred caramel sauces (cajeta) from its own adorable goat herd, earned a well-deserved Sofi for outstanding product line. Cocomels (jjsweets.com), made from coconut milk, come Naked, Chocolate-Covered and Chocolate-Covered Sea Salt-Sprinkled.
Meat snacks, in the portable form of jerky, are having its moment:Fusion Jerky (fusionjerky.com), adored by the fitness crowd, combines tender Asian texture and American flavors.
American Spoon (spoon.com) handcrafts luscious fruit preserves and condiments. The captivating flavors derive from the Northern Michigan terroir as well as from the dedication of artisanal producers. Chili Jam, Whole Seed Mustard, Red Haven Peach Preserves, Sour Cherry Preserves — all are pure culinary magic.
The Gracious Gourmet's (thegraciousgourmet.com) exceptional chutneys, pestos, spreads and tapenades elevate ordinary dishes into a special-occasion realm. Serve Roasted Poblano Peach Spread as a cheese-plate accompaniment, or spoon it over ice cream.
Stonewall Kitchen (stonewallkitchen.com) maintains intensely high standards. Innovative condiments include inspirations such as Curry Ketchup and Sriacha Mayo.
Not in a jar but in a pouch, Stoneridge Orchards (stoneridgeorchards.com) fits the focus on farm-fresh fruit made brilliantly accessible for snacking. Dried, home-grown Montmorency Tart Cherries come pure, perked up by zesty Chili Lime or dipped in either Premium Dark Chocolate or Creamy Greek Yogurt.
Laurie and Sons (laurieandsons.com), delivering brilliant “not-too-sweet candy with a touch of surprise,” won outstanding chocolate for its Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee. Focusing on chocolate, toffee and baked brittles, this newcomer company swept its field of more than 110 entries.
Brownie Points (browniepointsinc.com) embodies indulgence — in gourmet brownies, popcorn and chocolate. Gift boxes, gift baskets, samplers and assortments are a specialty. The idea: Get brownie points for gift-giving. Or, splurge on the Kitchen Sink — a large chocolate brownie with four kinds of chocolate, peanut butter chunks, butterscotch pieces, toffee, all sprinkled with caramel.
Askinosie Chocolates (askinosie.com) makes fantastic chocolate. Hey, Hey Hazelnut is the quintessential chocolate hazelnut spread, and his bean-to-bar chocolates are legendary. But founder Shawn Askinosie has an even bigger mission directed toward humanitarian work, education and commitment to community development — especially for his cacao farmers-partners on four continents.
Chuao Chocolatier (chuaochocolatier.com), founded by Venezuela-born Chef Michael Antonorsi, pursues the unusual and unexpected in superior chocolate. In keeping with the current focus on breakfast, Chuao introduces two new bars: Cinnamon Cereal Smooch and Strawberry Waffle Wild. Their elegant bonsbons and truffles are always on trend.
BarkThins Snacking Chocolate (barkthins.com) yields simple satisfaction in slivers of fine dark chocolate paired with almonds and toasted coconut, crunchy peppermint and salty pretzels, pumpkin seeds, fruit and whole grains.
MilkBoy Swiss Chocolates (milkboy.com) strives to elevate the stature of authentic Alpine chocolate. Exceptional bars making a splash: White Chocolate with Bourbon Vanilla and 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Essential Pine Tree Oil, a Sofi finalist.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. (pointreyescheese.com) took gold for outstanding cheese — a massive honor in very tight competition. Bay Blue, a cow's-milk blue cheese, holds the current crown, though all of this company's cheeses are celebrated.
Vermont Creamery (vermontcreamery.com), an iconic pioneer in American cheese and butter, won outstanding classic product for its European-style, creamy cultured butter with crunchy Celtic sea salt.
Coolhaus (eatcoolhaus.com) boasts a company tagline: Architecturally inspired gourmet ice cream. Though a curious concept, the innovative products — pints, ice-cream sandwiches and bars — speak happy mouthfuls. Sweet meets savory in flavors such as Balsamic Vinegar & Fig and Ginger Cookies With Chocolate Wasabi.
Hellenic Farms (hellenicfarms.com) imports excellent artisanal products from Greece. A Sofi finalist, Pasteli Bars combine sesame seeds and honey for a perfect energy snack. The company also offers superior olives, oils, spoon sweets, eggplant dip and more.
Smari Yogurt (smariorganics.com), an organic Icelandic yogurt, is higher in protein and calcium than other yogurts — and is thykk (thick).
With the consumption of sugary sodas steeply declining, a whole new beverage market welcomes more innovation and savory-skewed drink options. Expect ginger, turmeric, celery, greens and other vegetables and spices. Clean Energy drives sales. A sampler:
Agua Energy Water (aguaenerviva.com), a low-calorie energy drink, pumps up performance with electrolytes and caffeine, in vibrant flavors: Kiwi Strawberry, Pomegranate Acai, Tea & Lemonade.
Reed's (reedsinc.com), a modern soda company with historical roots, brews Kombucha, a fermented drink based on probiotic cultures, in eight flavors, including Hibiscus Ginger Grapefruit and Coconut Water Lime, as well as a range of real ginger sodas made from organic gingerroot.
Numi Organic Teas (numita.com) commands attention for its high-quality product line. A new enticement, Indulgent Teas, blends tea and chocolate in four flavors: Mint, Spice, Rooibos and Earl Grey.
Pok Pok Som (pokpoksom.com) revives the tradition of Sipping Vinegars for refreshment as well as health. Dilute the fruit-, vegetable- and aromatic-based liquid with soda water, or use it full strength in cocktails. Flavors include Chinese Celery, Thai Basil and Tamarind.
Ann Haigh is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. She is co-host, with husband, Peter, of onthemenuradio.com.