I had to take some time out from my walk to attend the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in mid-town Manhattan and walking the show for three days was not enough. It was three days of talking with vendors, sampling products and seeing what new developments were happening in the industry. As a college professor in a hotel school, there are three shows I have to attend for work every year, the New York Hotel/Motel Show, the New York Restaurant Show and the New York Fancy Food Show and of the three of them, this is my favorite. You get to sample food products from all over the world and get to see what new and innovative food items are being created. It is also nice to be able to support small cottage businesses starting out. Some of the best items from the show come from them.
I broke the show down in three parts, walking the show upstairs in the domestic and foreign pavilions and then downstairs where the new products area is located along with the wines and spirits and some of the foreign vendors who they did not have space for upstairs. There are a lot of exciting products that will be coming on the market soon at your local gourmet or supermarket. These are some of the samplings of the vendors to look out for. I have to say too many people are chasing after the gourmet soda, candy bar and popcorn businesses and too many are getting lost with so-so products, bad packaging and snotty owners who will push you out of the way so that they can talk only to Whole Foods and Fresh Direct buyers. I know that they hold a lot of clout in the industry, you have to look at everyone who comes to your booth as a potential customer who can recommend your product. These were my favorite picks from the food show.
In the frozen dessert category, there are independent ice cream makers out there making small batch ice cream that would put any national brand to shame. Most of these vendors use fresh cream, sugar and fresh ingredients such as fresh fruit, tea, homemade cake mixes and chocolate. One ice cream maker that really impressed me was Tea-rrific Ice Cream who uses a an infused tea in all their flavors. The flavor that impressed me the most was their Lavender’s Blueberry, which had a richly sweet flavor of fresh cream and fresh blueberry. Made with fresh cream, organic cane sugar, a black tea infusion and a blueberry puree, this makes a delightful dessert that convert any Ben & Jerry’s lover.
Another vendor who creates unusual flavors is Phin & Phebes, whose vision towards ice cream making is to make exciting flavors that are true to taste and made with real ingredients that make the best ice cream. Their flavors with names like Coconut Key Lime and Ginger Cookie Snap were impressive. My favorite was the Vanilla Cinnamon, which combined the creaminess of the vanilla infused flavor with the richness of the fresh cinnamon. The flavor combination is like eating a frozen cinnamon bun.
My hands done choice as the best ice cream at the show was Grateter’s Ice Cream, which was my personal favorite last year. Made in small batches by a gentleman who has been working for the family for years. Graeter’s still uses the French Pot concept of slowly spinning the cream into ice cream without adding air which results in a dense creamy ice cream. Their ice cream is used with only the freshest ingredients and the taste can transform your mood it is that good. I think their peach ice cream is the best which they told me is only made certain times of the year when the peaches are at the peak of the season. There is a distinct difference in the flavor of fresh peach and a flavoring. This has an intense sweetness to it. I also give an honorable mention to Mereer’s Wine Ice Cream for a good concept for adults but any kid would love a sneak a scoop from their parents.
Of the novelty frozen desserts, three really stood out to me. Enlightened Ice Cream bars were rich and dense and I had to fight with other patrons for a taste. I was able to get one of their new flavors, the Sea Salt Caramel, which was delicious. This seems to be the ‘In’ flavor right now in ice cream making. One novelty I really enjoyed and went back for seconds was JC’s Pie Pops. These delightful treats were a cross between a cake and an ice cream pop. Different from most ice cream coatings these have a crunch to them when you bit into them and their taste is the best. I had the Caramel Apple Crumble and it tasted like a frozen apple crisp a la mode on a stick. Their distinct flavors such as S’mores, Banana Cream and Caramel Turtle are a real improvement to the standard Chocolate Éclair and Strawberry Shortcake offered by the commercial companies.
The most unique product that is my hands down choice as best in the show the Smooze Fruit Ice in an unusual push up packaging. These delightful treats are packed in the companies farm on the Equator in East Sumatra, Indonesia. I found these in the Indonesia Pavilion while walking around. These are the perfect dessert for children who don’t like their fresh fruit. I was able to try all the combinations, the coconut and pineapple, the coconut and pink guava and the coconut and mango. It tasted like an intense frozen fruit puree and the packaging is whimsical and childlike that would attract the child in any adult. The best was the coconut and pink guava with the sweetness of the guava really standing out. The rep was nice enough to give me a sample of each and I was sample all of them later. One nice thing about them is that they do travel well.
The snack food market continues to grow in leaps and bounds at the food show and in the industry in general. The problem is that too many vendors are doing the same thing. There is only so many ways to make cheese popcorn. Yet there were many standouts at the show that were packed with flavor and crunch.
Jody’s Gourmet Popcorn was one standout in the popcorn category. I tried their caramel corn and it had the sweetest flavor as it had a proper coat of caramel on it. They do not skip on the syrup. Their Cinnamon Toast had rich flavor of French Toast and will have you grabbing a bag at breakfast. Pretzel Pete has delicious pretzel bites in Cheddar Ale and Honey Mustard that are terrific and have a great crunch to them. The Sweetery came up with a unique product with Wine Sticks as they market as ‘the biscotti for wine’. Their chocolate sticks give a distinct flavor to wine. I don’t think these will go over with purists but they can give a complexity to certain wines. 34 Sesame Crisps have a good snap and crunch to them and go good with any spreads or just on their own.
Rick’s Chips is a small company that specializes in holiday chips with creative shapes that cater to holidays like Halloween, Forth of July, Easter and Christmas. The product has a sameness in flavor to the standard chip but the shapes and packaging make it the perfect present for a host or just to open and entertain your guests at a party. G..H. Cretors has the most delicious organic popcorn. Their Simply Salted was plain and simple and perfectly popped and their Just the Cheese Corn was the cheesiest and one of the best cheese popcorns in the show. Geraldine’s came up with a unique product as their potato sticks in Cheddar and Sweet Potato. Packed with flavor and a great crunch they make a great snack. State Street Snacks had hands down the best Caramel Corn at the show. With a thick coating of caramel on each kernel, it can be considered both a candy and a snack. If you like a sweet caramel corn, then State Street is for you. Sweet Corn Tortilla Chips have a great crunch and are low in sodium and GMO free.
Two stand outs from aboard that can compete with any company in the states are Sunshine Snacks from Trinidad in the West Indies. Their Cornados (which look like Bugles) and their Crispy Mix pack some serious crunch and have great flavor. Their Chipsters are very good as well. Superior Products out of Ecuador has some cookies, such as the Deli Chook and the Krispiz that have a crunchy chocolatey taste. Their Integral Salticas have a nice flavor and go good on their own or with cheese and spreads.
The two best products that I found at the food show were The Breaking Craves Lentil chips. These had the richest flavors and the best crunch to them. The aged white cheddar had me eating the whole bag in one sitting with its deep, flavorful cheddar flavor. Their Tomato basil was excellent too. This is not your standard snack as these are made with Lentil beans but you would never know it. The other stand out product was Mr. Cheese O’s, whose cheese rings have the tangiest cheese flavor and a snap to their crunch. It is like biting into a piece of crispy cheese. Made by the Sonoma Creamery Company, this cheese manufacturer found an extension to their cheese lines. Both of these companies had the stand out snacks of the show.
Beverages at the show come in all flavors, colors and packaging. There are so many artisan sodas and teas on the market that have no flavor. It has gotten to the point where many of these small cottage manufactures, in a race to be GMO and sugar free, have forgotten that customers want taste as well. I sampled so many tasteless products during the show I could not even count them in the end and had to keep a smiling face as their makers bragged that they didn’t have this or that in them. There is a reason why Coke is number one in the market.
Some of the stand outs that I sampled were MOO, Mrs. O’Leary’s Organic Chocolate Milk, which had the rich consistency of a chocolate shake. A product of New York State, this creamy product contains cane sugar and natural cocoa and would be an asset to any lunch box. IQ Juice had some interesting flavors with Memory that features pressed apple cider and passion fruit juice and Immunity with passion fruit and organic blueberry juice. Both claim to have healthy properties to help with memory and fight infections. Sipp has a refreshing and interesting beverage made with ginger blossom that has a sweet gingery flavor and I thought would be perfect with a spicy Chinese meal. Joe Tea has some interesting tea flavors in raspberry and peach and their raspberry lemonade is terrific. La Gloria products shines with their three sodas in clementine orange, Mediterranean cola and Sicilian Lemon. These sodas are packed with flavor and the packaging in a wooden container is very clever.
The foreign pavilions offered several interesting products as well. Fresh Start concentrates from Trinidad, that have a tangy and fruity flavor that when mixed with water offers a refreshing summer drink. Two standouts from the Chinese Pavilion were Amazonia beverages in orange and grape. One of the best products I tried along with MOO and La Gloria was the Honey Sun Groups Honey Sun wild Blueberry juice. The company specializes in all things blueberry and this flavorful naturally sweet drink is a real standout. Over ice or mixed with club soda this is another great summer drink.
In the prepared foods area, I tried many sauces, pastas and soups but the ones that really stood out were Stuffed Foods ravioli like the Chicken Confit filled with roasted chicken, broccoli rabe and romano cheese and their Ricotta impasata ravioli with mozzarella and pecorino cheeses. Chinese Southern Belle, a standout from last years show, offers sauces such as Wild West East, an Asian barbecue and Teriyaki sauce and You Spicy Thing, a stir-fry sauce and marinade. Blake Hill offers a line of delicious jellies in peach and ginger and raspberry and hibiscus. La Maison Gourmet Gravies were just excellent full of deep rich flavors and a great addition to any meat dish. Their Burgundy Peppercorn was the real standout.
The two entrees products that really shined were the Stratta Lorraine from Giorgio Foods Inc. with their flaky crust and dense flavorful fillings. It is a meal in itself. My top pick from the show was from the Van Cleve Seafood Company. Their Chesapeake Blue Crab Pie was the most delicious seafood product I have tasted at the show. A combination of fresh seafood, cheeses and spices in a flaky crust, the pie reminded my of our own fishing history and how it is a truly American product. The flavor of the cheeses and spices and the sweetness of the seafood make a delicious combination. These two knockouts would be perfect at any holiday gathering.
Like beverages, the show was loaded with new products in the candy and dessert area. Some items really stood out in this category as well. Hammond’s Candies featured brittle crisps and hard candy canes that were sweet without being overwhelming and their canes were fruity and colorful. Torie & Howard Chewie Fruities in blood orange & honey were really good, sweet and tangy at the same time. I really enjoyed Annie B’s caramels and her popcorn was delicious. With Love Chocolates were another standout. Their Choc-Aid was very unique. You could taste the real fruit in Pure Gummy jelly gummie products. The juicy peach was a sugary treat. Anette’s Chocolates of Napa Valley has a line of Chocolate Wine and Liqueur sauces that are very good. These can turn an ordinary ice cream dessert into a showpiece. Deep and rich in flavor, the liqueur brings out the best of the chocolate. Le Belge, also out of Napa Valley were a standout with their rich and decadent chocolates, which were beautifully packaged for the perfect gift. Butternut Mountain Farms of Vermont has a tasty maple leaf that makes a nice treat in the fall.
Two standout from abroad were Charles Chocolates of Trinidad with their layered candy bars and Fruity Poppers from Thailand which has their little fruit poppers known as a molecular food that you can see in many Asian drinks and desserts.
The top two standouts in the show were Sanders products of Michigan with their delicious and rich chocolate sauces and their chocolate bumpy cake with a cream topping is so dense and chocolaty and the creamy ‘bump’ topping really brings out the flavor of the chocolate. It tastes like a gourmet ‘devil-dog’. The best candy I tried at the show was Butterfields fruit hard candies. These candies, made with fresh fruit juices, were a knockout. One bite and you could taste the sugary, fruit flavors really burst of flavor as they claim. You can really taste the peach flavor in every crunchy bite. This is a candy you should seek out.
The last category of tasting I did at the show was the cookie and cracker area. There were many to choose from but the ones that I thought stood out for flavors and packaging varied by product. The Vienna Cookie Company offered delicious butter cookies with varied flavors but what made this product standout was their beautiful packaging. The boxed packaging is almost as beautiful as the cookies themselves. Wow Baking Company offers large chewy cookies that when wrapped individually offers a generous, sweet dessert. Their chocolate chip and Snickerdoodles were real standouts. Bella Lucia features pizzelle cookies that have a crisp, anise flavor to them and are a perfect light dessert after a large Italian meal. Aunt Butchie’s has cheesecake cones which are a cheesecake filled cone that are rich, sweet and crispy at the same time.
The Belgian Kitchen offers a Liege Waffle made with real butter and vanilla extract that make a real breakfast treat. The dough is premade and ready to ship to make these richly sweet waffles. Rustic Bakery has a line of beautifully crafted and sweetly crunch star sprinkle cookies. Dimitria Delights baked goods offer a delicious butter stollen for the holidays accented the tastes of cinnamon and raisins. The Zesty Cookie Company has a lemon zinger cookie that is chewy and takes like a sugary lemon. Dolectini tea cookies have a delicious powdery Meyer lemon cookie that you can pop into your mouth.
The two standouts in the cookie category though were MK Patisserie’s Choux pastries and mini pound cakes baked to perfection and tasted as fresh as when they were first baked. Their rich flavors and beautiful appearance make the perfect ending to a fine meal. Biovanta Cookies from Greece has the hands down winner with their chocolate pinwheel full 45 cookies. It takes like a little lava cake when you bite into it and has a dense chocolaty flavor.
After three days of sampling and snacking through the whole show, I didn’t get back to some of my favorites and barely had the chance to finish the show. These are just some of the items featured at the New York Fancy Food Show but because of their taste, unique packing and rich flavors are items to add to your household kitchen in the future. They all make entertaining so much easier. Look for them on your next shopping trip.