Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Fancy Food Show: Walking Around

For eight years, I had a booth in the Javits at the International Fancy Food Show pitching the Denzer’s line of exotic canned soups and chowders. The show is surely a biggie, but for me it always had to be less about food than about sales, money, and distribution. This time was different.

Instead, it was about slowly pacing both sides of every aisle throughout the Javits checking out each of the more than 2300 booths where exhibitors showcased over 160,000 specialty food products. Many could be tasted as well as seen. Feeling more in my element than ever before, I literally ate my way around the show.

As in the past, booths from some states and countries were occasionally clustered together. A sign heralding West Virginia confronted me at the beginning of my trek. It featured some impressive little companies with attractive products, but damn it, none of them featured pawpaws. It reminded me of how in the 1990’s, the Maryland Department of Agriculture reserved space for Maryland exhibitors to purchase. This year, Vann’s Spices was the only company from Maryland that I noticed. As always, some of the better represented states were Vermont, Texas, New York, California, North Carolina, and Washington.

As for nationalities, Tahitians were plugging vanilla beans; Argentineans were sampling chimichurri sauce that tasted fresh though packed in jars; there were plenty of Australians/Tasmanians ( I loved the emu, kangaroo and crocodile jerkies from Mariani Foods); an Ivory Coast contingent was eager to export cashews; Jamaicans hawked delicious jerk pork packaged and preserved in plastic; a significant Chilean presence (Chilean carica fruit has real potential in my opinion); South African companies (I think and hope that Nando’s Peri Peri sauce is now available in Baltimore); El Salvadorians promoting edible loroco flowers; and dozens of Chinese producers seeking crossover from America’s ethnic to high-end mainstream marketplace. Of course, European suppliers and exporters were everywhere, particularly from Spain and Italy. For the latter, the show was more like for two days than three with as the World Cup finals played through most of Sunday on a myriad TV screens throughout the Convention Center.

To eat one’s way around a show like this, if not overwhelming, can prove somewhat numbing---even without all the hot sauces. For popularity, no booth drew a bigger crowd than Stirrings, a purveyor of cocktail mixers, additives, and essences from Massachussetts. It didn’t hurt that they were handing out mojitos and watermelon martinis. We hinted of such a company in our previous post.

Actually, quite by chance, on the evening I returned home from the show, Mrs. Yi succumbed to an impulse purchase of some Stirrings Watermelon Martini mix at Spirits of Mount Vernon. Combine this mix 2 to1 with vodka, shake with ice and Presto! Were these quick martinis as good as the cocktails made with fresh watermelon in our last post? Margaritas and martinis are too different to judge. Were they good? Enough so that I had no interest in trying to one-up the good folks at Stirrings in Jake’s Bar and Grill. Stirrings mixers are completely free of artificial ingredients and feature both true watermelon juice and pure cane sugar. You can really taste the difference. Mixed 50-50 with soda water, Stirrings watermelon martini mix---and any of their other fruit-based mixes as well, I’d bet---easily blow away any fruit flavored soft drink on the market.