In today’s world of Internet shopping, you can pretty much shop for and buy anything on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or some other website. You can also buy things from any number of catalogues you get in the mail. Some even have scratch-and-sniff cards, so you can get an idea of exactly what something smells like. But if you want to hold it, squeeze it or especially taste it, there’s no website, virtual-reality simulation or hologram that can come close to the real thing. And that’s being there.
“There” was this year’s National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, held June 29th to July 1st at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Known as the Fancy Food Show, it’s home to thousands of vendors of specialty foods and retail goods that gather each year to entice folks just like myself and Fred Rayle, Nino’s Director of Operations, to embrace their products and then put them right up at eye level on our shelves for you to see and (hopefully, for their sake) buy.
Now, you might think that’s a pretty neat assignment for a chef–seeing, smelling and tasting food all day in the Big Apple. Well, yes…and no. Sometimes (mostly), it’s more like a prospector panning for gold.
First of all, make no mistake, there’s lots of other prospectors out there looking for treasures, so walking the endless, narrow aisles is a lot like panning for gold in a crowded stream. A very crowded stream… Second, as it turns out, all that glitters is NOT gold. Attractive models, colorful booths and bright lights don’t necessarily translate into something worth tasting. Take my word on this one.
All this as you still manage to crane your neck before you swallow, just enough to see what might be even more worth your while down the aisle. I now understand more than ever why the old mining towns were full of bars. Prospecting is hard work.
So, what did we find this year? Did we find some gold? Well, you might remember from my reports of previous years that there always seems to be an unofficial theme. Some product category that the exhibitors, unbeknownst to each another, decided was the new hot food you, the consumer, couldn’t live without.
In the past, it’s been products like vintage chocolates, lifestyle waters (hello, vitamin water, BLK water and coconut water), skinny this, skinny that and tea-flavored everything. Last year, it was kale and seaweed. This year? Well, it was a combination of a lot of things, such as popcorn, including sriracha popcorn–common now (you KNEW it was coming, didn’t you?), and gluten-free and GMO-free snacks. Of course, making their usual appearance were lots of new condiments to put on everything from sandwiches to, well, anything.
Fred also found some new items to add to our ever-popular gift baskets. We also scored a great find from our good friends at Hammond’s Candy. If you like old-fashioned cotton candy, you’re in luck. Look for it in the fall. You’re gonna love this stuff. If you’d like to get a peek at what the Fancy Food Show is all about, I snapped a few photos and took some video selfies with my iPhone for your amusement.
Okay, I know you really wanted an I ♥ NY t-shirt, but buying gifts for all of you would have been really expensive. Besides, we found so many great nuggets that the celebrating part took up a lot more time than I had anticipated.