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Food show visitor—this year I went with a plan

By Staff | Jul 8, 2016

This year, I went to the Fancy Food Show with a plan.

Held at its summer venue, the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, the show is enormous. No, actually, it’s even bigger than that.

This year’s show, organized by the Specialty Food Association, was the biggest since the show was initiated in 1954. More than 47,000 food professionals encountered nearly 3,000 vendors in a space equivalent to six football fields.

Entire avenues of booths were dedicated to vendors from Greece, France and Italy. Vendors offered samples of foods as mundane as popcorn and as elevated as caviar. There was enough cheese to reconstruct the Swiss Alps, enough chocolate to reconstruct them again.

I had been to the food show before, when for a short time during the renovation of the Javits Center, it was relocated to Washington, D.C. As a newbie, I began noshing the moment I entered the exhibit space. I filled up on gourmet cashews, candy and chips before I even got to the good stuff. It was a lesson.

The second time I went to the show, I did better. Still, I hadn’t acquired the marathon strategy that allowed a full day’s tasting. I was too full, too soon.

This year was the best yet. Selective sampling allowed me to remain at the show nearly from its opening till its closing on its first of three days. Not that I wasn’t waddling by the end of the day. How my stomach accommodated all of the goodies is a testament to its durability.

The best thing I ate were probably the caramels from a Virginia maker, that are enhanced with malt from a local brewery. The worst? Protein bar after protein bar after protein bar that promised to taste of chocolate or peanut butter, but really just tasted like packing peanuts.

The silliest? Spray scents in aromas including chocolate and gin, that are meant to be spritzed onto food to offer the ersatz sensation of consuming products that aren’t there. And I mustn’t forget the hemp-seed mix that was meant to be eaten, but maybe might have been better smoked.

(I know, I know. Most cultivated hemp doesn’t have any THC. More’s the pity.)

My endurance at the show also may be tied to the fact that my sister accompanied me. As the proprietor of a natural products business, she was there to examine foods that might be good product-line extensions. But really, she was my partner in excess, as we stuffed our faces all day long.

There was one other thing that helped move the day along. At a booth offering tastes of premium ginger beer, a vendor offered each of us a bottle, then directed us to another part of the display, where a bartender waited with vodka and rum. We were invited to turn our bottles of ginger beer into either a Moscow Mule or a Dark and Stormy. How could we refuse?

A slight buzz ensued, and the show became ever-more entertaining.

According to those who predict and follow food trends, this year’s products show that:

1. “Everything bagel” is not just for bagels anymore, but can be found in yogurt, nut mix, mustard and hummus.

2. New flavor ideas include savory yogurt, spicy granola, chocolate chip hummus and pepper-infused honey.

3. Pickled products are plentiful. Some of the best things we tasted were tiny, pickled red peppers that would be useful in preparations from pasta to salads.

Although exhibitors were eager to stuff our tote bags with samples to carry away, the food show ends up with leftovers — lots of them. This year, 100,000 pounds of specialty food — enough to fill six tractor-trailers — were donated to City Harvest, an organization in New York that distributes food to the hungry.