Whether In NYC or Washington DC, The Summer Fancy Food Show Never Disappoints

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on June 28, 2012

In my daily routine, I keep a very hectic pace so planning activities and events way in advance can be challenging. The same was true for me this year trying to juggle a changing schedule and the demands of a new company. The Summer Fancy Food Show is usually held at the Jacob Javitz Center in NYC, but for the past 2 years, the venue was moved to the new convention center in Washington DC because of ongoing renovations. The newly remodeled center is scheduled to be completed soon, so the show will be back in NYC for 2013. Thankfully, I found the opportunity to attend on a very last minute basis and was happy that the trip did not include the extra expenses of getting to New York.

If you don’t know about this show, let me just tell you that The Fancy Food Show is the Mac Daddy of all food shows and helps to showcase any and all specialty gourmet food products from around the world.

Just imagine if you can, a show that covers three whole days in a huge venue filling two floors for a total of 340,000 square feet and includes 2400 vendors from 80 different countries who come together to sample an impressive roster of 180,000 items…whew, I got tired just writing that!

It definitely is not an event for the faint of heart…if you ever make it to one, make sure to dress comfortably because it really is a lot of work getting through all of the vendors, but I will say that the tasting and sampling part is the most fun part of all. Many food shows can be stingy with samples, but not here…vendors come with plenty of full size samples for everyone to try. There are also many giveaways, especially if you attend the show on the last day. Manufacturers lugged all of their products there and they definitely don’t want to take it all back with them, so make sure to bring lots of empty bags.

This year’s show celebrated 58 years of bringing global brands to powerful retail decision makers from every major food channel searching for new products to sell in the food markets, gourmet stores, delis, cafes, coffee shops, caterers or restaurants. The very first show had only 40 vendors and 90% of them were from Europe. Nowadays, 60% of the vendors are from the USA. The show is not open to the public and only geared to business owners who come to seek out new items and quickly go from one table to the next to make their purchases and make it through the entire show. Some of the better known brands that were launched at the Fancy Food Show in the past were products that include Ben & Jerry’s, Mrs. Field’s Cookies, Perrier, Carr’s Water Biscuits, Dove Bars and Terra Chips.

Being an exhibitor doesn’t come cheap, and the smaller companies have a hard time absorbing such a large marketing expense, but many simply grin and bear it because of the potential windfall of business that can come from an event like this. First of all, companies have to join the Manhattan based nonprofit organization called National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) since they are the ones who organize and produce these massive events twice a year. The Winter show is held in San Francisco and Summer show is usually in NYC. The association dues for NASFT run from $200-$600 per year, and that does not include the $3400 booth cost for a 10 by 10 foot space or the $500 required to be placed on the exhibitor map, or the $750 required for an electrical outlet. All told…exhibitor’s should plan to spend over $5,000 and that cost still does not reflect the cost for employees to man the booths for 3 days or the cost of the samples and literature that will also be given out.

The show hosts an award ceremony called the Sofi Awards (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation) which was created in 1972 to recognize notable products that were premiering at the show. In the beginning, only two awards were given out: one for Outstanding Domestic Product and the other for Outstanding Imported Product. Today, the show recognizes stand out food products in 33 different categories and the winners are selected by a national panel of specialty food retailers, foodservice professionals and journalists. This year’s Gold Award winners were:

  • Dave’s Bacon from Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse
  • Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Mix from Stonewall Kitchen
  • Bonne Bouche Ash ripened Cheese from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery
  • Lime Moderne Chocolate Bar from Chocolate Moderne
  • Villa Manodori Artigianale Balsamic Vinegar fro De Medici Imports, Ltd
  • Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic from brands of Britain
  • Tishbi Onion Cabernet spread form Fruit of the Land Products
  • Farmstead Goat Milk Caramels from Big Picture Farms
  • Whole Grain Lady Bird Cookies from Lark Fine Foods
  • Sea Salt Caramel Crisp Crepes from Natural Nectar
  • KIMKIM Korean Hot Sauce from Ashman manufacturing Company
  • Scourtins (traditional French sweet and savory olive wafers) from lark Fine Foods
  •  Sweet Potato & Black Pepper Crackers from Polka Dot Bake Shop
  • Lemon Frozen Yogurt from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
  • Lemon Burst Cookies (Wheat & Gluten Free) from WOW Baking Company
  • Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden from Back to the Roots
  • Chicken Samosas & Chutney from Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods (I tasted these)
  • HERNAN Mexican Hot Chocolate
  • Kenyan Loose Black Tea from Ajiri Tea Company
  • Pistachio Cream from Sabatino North America
  • Fermin Iberico Smoked Panceta Slices from Fermin USA
  • Ginger Pear Sorbet from Cable Car Delights
  • Culinary parchment Lotus Cups from Paper Chef Inc
  • Fernando Pensanto Extra Virgin Olive Oil from The Sandy Butler Group
  • Casina Rosa Puttanesca Pasta Sauce from Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods
  • Whole Wheat Couscous from The Rogers Colelction
  • Applewood Smoked Boneless Chicken Breast from Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats
  • Cultured Butter Minis with Sea Salt Crystals from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery
  • Cucumber & Shallot Artisan Vinaigrette by Lucini Italia
  • Champagne Mimosa Vinegar from Chaparral Gardens
  • Daniel Roasted Coconut Chips from New England Herbal Foods
  • Cooksimple Tamale Pie from The Healthy Pantry
  • Flora Nelle Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery
  • O Fig Balsamic Vinegar by O Olive Oil

When you enter the main hall of the show, it can be a little overwhelming because you just don’t know where to start…but like everyone else, I just picked one end and began to work my way through. One of the first companies I came across was a company called Barbara’s Handmade Cookie Pies

What the heck is a ‘cookie pie?’ I asked myself…but  when I saw the lovely wedge cut samples and took a taste, I was hooked. These pies were 7” discs of a buttery and very tender shortbread crust that was then filled with an assortment of different fillings that included Almond Raspberry, Cinnamon Crumble, Honey Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, Apple Caramel, Raspberry Chocolate, Peanut Butter Cup, Toffee Almond and Peppermint Patty. I tasted a sample the Almond Raspberry and it was so delicious I wanted to go back for more! The pies are beautifully packaged and would make great gifts for any occasion. The company also sells a ready to bake version of the plain cookie discs and also empty par baked crusts that are perfect to add your own filling to. They also sell the same dough in frozen chubs  that you can roll out and use for just about any application.

I then ran into Mark Cohen from a company called Gabila’s Potato Knishes.

This company not offers regular size Coney Island square knishes in a plain potato filling, or others with added kasha or spinach but they also offer a mini variety that is great for any party or catered event. He was kind enough to give me a pack of the regular sized potato filled ones that I cooked up as a side dish for dinner that evening, and they were really delicious. They were perfectly crispy on the outside with a pillowy soft potato filling inside. They not only make a great side dish and an equally great snack! They also sell some dessert knishes filled with cheese and other added fillings like blueberry, cherry and chocolate, and of course their offerings would not be complete if I didn’t mention the jumbo cheese blintzes, potato cakes, kugels, puddings, matzo balls, veggie cutlets, the old time classic called kasha varnishka. You don’t have to wait to visit NYC to try these, you can order directly from their website.

A company called Cocomels was next.

The owner is JJ Rademaeker who makes caramel with coconut milk instead of regular cream. I sampled a few of the flavors and although the coconut flavor is subtle, you can still taste it and it was just as creamy, smooth and delicious as others I have tried that use heavy cream. His assortment of flavors comes in original flavor, vanilla, java and sea salt and some are even chocolate dipped. Make sure to check out his site for great gift ideas.

The next item I came across was a product from a Korean company called CJ Bibigo that made whole grain fully cooked wontons with a variety of different fillings like chicken & cilantro, pork & vegetable, chicken & vegetable and BBQ chicken and surprisingly enough, no MSG.

These were so delicious that I had to eat several of them right there and then. They have an online store but they don’t sell the wontons there, only a few sauces and some seasoned pastes. If you ever come across this item at a gourmet shop definitely pick up and assortment of flavors, you will love them all!

My next stop found me at a company called Bar Gelato by Naia.

This San Francisco based company knows what they are doing. Their first successful company called Gelateria Naia has been making a traditional, artisanal gelato for almost 10 years. They wanted to take their product to the next level and put it in a bar form on a stick…thus entered Bar Gelato. This was so creamy and delicious I could have easily tried a few more flavors. Some of their selections included pistachio, kiwi sorbetto, chocolate (which I loved), Madagascar vanilla, recchiuti burnt caramel, dark chocolate sorbetto, strawberry banana sorbetto, blue bottle coffee and tangelo sorbetto. When you see them, make sure to pick one up…or two or three…

I then came across a company called Sweet Loren’s.

I had heard of this company before, but could not remember where or when. The story behind their start is heartwarming and really says a lot about what they stand for. Loren the owner of the company is a cancer survivor who wanted to change her nutrition and lifestyle as a result of beating the disease. She began experimenting with recipes that satisfied her newly revamped diet that now included more highly nutritious food which had to be flavorful and filling enough to satisfy her insatiable sweet tooth. In the process, she removed all of the refined sugars and other processed ingredients and realized that the final result tasted richer, had a deeper flavor and was more satisfying. She currently offers four types of frozen dough, heavenly chocolate chunk (which I tasted and was truly delicious), oatmeal cranberry, peanut butter oatmeal and espresso chocolate chunk. The company also sells a ready to bake double fudge brownie batter. You can find her products in some natural foods markets, but you can also order online.

Next stop was a beautiful table with many delicious imported Italian foods from a company appropriately called Italian Products that are based out of New Jersey.

An assortment of uniquely flavored pastas made from wheat germ and combined with a variety of other flavors like truffles, squid ink, peperoncino and even one with cocoa powder. Some of their items included Arborio and other types of rice, olive oils, different sea salts, many different truffles from every season and for different applications, balsamic vinegars from Modena which were some of the best that I have ever had, sweet and mild but very flavorful. The one item that caught my eye was their panforte that offered a display of the different flavors stacked neatly in a display at the head of the table along with samples to try. If you have never had panforte before, it is a delicacy that you should not pass up. It is a dense, sweet cake that dates back to the crusades Soldiers were gone for long periods of times and relying on these nutritious cakes that are packed with nuts and honey for their sustenance. To this day, they incorporate many of the same ingredients such as almonds, dried figs and cherries, honey, spices and some newer varieties also include cocoa powder for a deeply satisfying chocolate flavor. My favorite of the ones that were offered was their new one which premiered this year with dried cherries and peperoncino, it was very moist and fruity with a subtle kick at the end from the dried peppers. You can serve panforte by itself for dessert with a nice dessert wine, or you can serve it on a cheese platter. Many chefs are also incorporating it in their main meat, pork and poultry dishes. A truly delicious treat that everyone should try. They distribute their products to markets across the country, so keep an eye out for them.

When you see a table sampling artisanal chocolate, it is hard to walk by without stopping. Salazon Chocolate Company is a 100% organic salted product that is handcrafted in small batches with flavors that include just salted chocolate, salt and pepper, salt and organic coffee grounds, and a sweet and salty version that uses turbinado sugar.

I tried several of them and my favorites were definitely the coffee and the sweet and salty version. You can buy their products online in addition to finding them in natural markets across the country. I love to support companies who favor corporate social responsibility as part of their business strategy…and these guys really do.

As I moved onto the next table, a cute and quirky lobster sign caught my eye from the Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company.

Well, I love lobster, and you definitely don’t have to twist this girls arm to get her to sample anything with lobster in it. This family run operation was offering a lobster mac and cheese that just had me drooling. It was moist, cheesy and delicious with lovely pieces of lobster throughout, and I could have definitely had a plateful of this without any problems at all. This company has won numerous Sofi Awards over the years, and their offerings are simply to die for. They offer lobster flatbread, sumptuous seafood soups, an assortment of various scallop products, lobster cakes, crab cakes, crab dips, lobster salad, lobster wellington, lobster tails and even just the lobster meat for you to add into your own recipe. You can find their products in specialty markets across the USA and you can order directly from their website, so make sure to check it out.

One of the prettiest and most colorful displays at the show was for a company called FoodMatch whose variety of branded products under the names Divina, LaMedina, Barnier, Dalmatia and Cannone were simply delicious and perfect in every way.

These people only source the best from small family growers in specific regions who closely monitor consistency, quality and flavor. Their hands-on care is evident in each of their products. These brands are found across the US, so if you come across them, make sure to include their many different products on your menu. They sell items like olives in a variety of colors and sizes, antipasti specialties like artichokes, assorted hot peppers, marinated mushrooms, giant white beans, roasted tomatoes and red pepper, cippoline onions in balsamic vinegar, lupine beans, rice filled grape leaves and many, many more items….just perfect for any occasion!

By this time, I was getting a little thirsty so I was glad to come across a company called Bruce Cost Gingerale.

I’m a huge fan of quality gingerale products, so whenever I come across a new one I get a little excited…and this one did not disappoint. This was one of the best unfiltered gingerales I have ever had. There was only one other product that came close in flavor made by a company called Blenheim based out of South Carolina, but it’s hard to find in stores because they keep it fairly local. Nowadays you can order it online, but it’s filtered and a little different from the one at the show. This unique company offered four different flavors: Original, Jasmine Tea, Pomegranate and Passion Fruit. My favorite was the Original…honestly, I could have put a few of these bottles away. They are currently being sold locally in the Caribou coffeehouses in the MD/DC/VA area, so make sure to check their site to see where they can be found in your area…and if they’re not, make sure to request it…it is that good.

The next table sent me floating down memory lane. This adorable little company called A Sprinkle And A Dash was offering a soufflé cake prepared in a cup and in the microwave in just minutes.

It was appropriately called My Cup of Cake, and was chocolatey, gooey and fudgy in all the right places. It reminded me so much of the pudding cakes we would buy in a can when I was a kid growing up in Australia, and once heated you simply poured it into a dish. The cake and accompanying pudding that baked together with it made us all swoon. Well this is exactly the same thing. It was a true indulgence, and an adorable little product that will satisfy your craving for something sinful at any time. You can check out their website for store locations on where to buy this clever little gift, and you can order as many as you like online. They come in many different flavors like classic Belgian chocolate, salted caramel, raspberry grand marnier and a spicy chocolate chipotle. They even have a gluten free option, so make sure to check out their site and order up a bunch of your favorites to keep at home and some to share.

Moving on I checked out a product that had one a Sofi Award the night before. Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods was sharing her samosas and chutney and boy, were they good.

They were a perfect size of several bites, crispy on the outside and creamy and flavorful inside. This company has won more Sofi Awards from NASFT than any other Indian food company in the US, so that’s got to tell you something. Sukhi has many different type of products, and you can go to her website and find them in your area using the store locator. She also sells a few things through her online store, so make sure to check it out…especially her many different flavors of Naanwiches which are out of this world good and sold on her website.

My next stop included some chocolate dipped fruit products that were simply incredible. The items were created and produced by a company called Tropical Valley Foods and the actual name of the product itself was called Next Organics.

The team members included Eric Bertheau, who was the President of the company and Brand manager Justin Herzog. I happened to stop and chat with them about one of the items on their table that caught my eye as I walked by. It happened to be a cluster of chocolate covered quinoa!  You might think that this might be a little strange tasting, but it was really delicious. It tasted just like chocolate covered puffed rice. As we chatted about a few of their other items which included chocolate covered bananas that were equally incredible, they were kind enough to give me sample packs of their chocolate covered cherries and apricots too. I happened to enjoy these for dessert that evening and was totally surprised at how delicious they really were…so delicious in fact that it was hard to share them. Eric mentioned that these can be found at Whole Foods, so the next time you are there make sure to pick up a case!  They also sell chocolate dipped coconut, goji berries a variety of nuts, ginger and even pretzels.

In my last stop before heading out, I met up with superstar Pastry Chefs Marina Sousa and James Rosselle who were at the show representing a company called Fondarific. Both Chefs have won numerous wedding and specialty cake competitions on the Food Network, and are both well known for their cake masterpieces that range from elegant to whimsical depending on the theme of the event. James was kind enough to give me a sample of his new gum paste that is being sold through the company along with a sample of the fondant…and I can’t wait to try them!

Both Chefs are well known for their cake artistry using both fondant and gum paste to make figures, ribbons and bows…but James is well known for his gum paste flowers, so this is going to be lots of fun for me. For those of you who have never heard of fondant, it is a soft candy like coating that you knead like dough, roll out into a thin layer and then drape over cakes to give them a smooth, sleek look. Once the fondant is on the cake, you can use crimpers to create intricate designs or simply pipe out delicate scroll work in royal icing or buttercream. Mostly all of the competitions on the Food Network have the Chefs working with the fondant. I have personally used it to create many specialty cakes, and it is very easy to use. The ones I have used in the past were products called Masa Ticino which I used to buy from Albert Uster Imports or other ones called Pettinice that I could find easily at cake supply stores. What makes Fondarific interesting is that their fondant coatings come flavored, which is one less thing you need to do and it definitely adds a little extra something to the overall flavor of your cake, so if you are a cake baker, this is a must for you to try.

This year’s show was another great adventure as it always is. I have always had such a great time at each of the events that I have attended in the past, met wonderful people and discovered many new and interesting products. Make sure to register online ahead of time for a much more reasonable cost of about $35, if you register at the door it’s twice as expensive. So, if you ever have an opportunity to attend a Fancy Food Show, don’t ever pass it up…

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar scott egan June 28, 2012 at 10:34 p

Great window into the Fancy Food Show! Excellent piece, Cat, and I agree with a lot of your picks for great foods! Thanks!

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