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Food Fete Summer 2014

Food Fete Summer 2014

Food Fete Summer was here once again on Tuesday, June 17th, this time at the Metropolitan Pavillion.  A great thank you to Director Jeff Davis for the invite.  Key trends this time around: continued  focus on organic, non-GMO, artisan, uber-high quality, and alternative products. There was quite a stunning array of new products and even new brands hitting the market, so let’s get started on the recap.

Stop #1: Mike’s Organic Curry Love

I love curry, so this was a great place to start – I went mild to strong.  I tasted the Caribbean, Saag, Tikka Masala, Yellow, Green and Red Curries.  The first two were on the mild side though still full of flavor.  My favorite of all of them was the hottest of the bunch, Red Curry, which tasted amazing over the fresh Jasmine rice.  Locally I can find them at Westerly, but you can also use their locator or order online.  For those of you who do not always have the time (or patience) to satisfy your curry-osity from scratch, reach out and try one.

Stop #2: White Girl Salsa

Summertime is the time for (green) salsa!  There are three spice levels for the Tomatillo Salsa in addition to the sweeter Cranberry Mango and Smokey Chipotle.  The Smokey Chipotle is THE ONLY smoked green salsa on the market.  The salsa is not like the mass-produced uber-chunky style, but it is full-flavored and sure to spice up any Mexican/Tex-Mex recipe or party. Based out of Boulder, Colorado, they are currently available in 47 states.

Stop #3: Duncan Hines

Three concoctions were on display to help promote their seasonal line of cake mixes in addition to the individual flavors.  First up were the Black and White cupcakes of which the frosting was the best part, in my opinion.  The packages now come with a pastry bag, which is awesome since not everyone is as well equipped as my wife (or your local bakery for that matter).  The second was a seasonal “cake sandwich” offering made with “Autumn Velvets”, which did not fall apart on first bite – really important when you are chomping through without full plates at a table when at a party.  Finally, the Red Velvet Brownies cleaned up with a really nice texture – definitely a departure from the Red Velvet Cupcake phase that we all seem to still be in. If you are not inclined to baking from scratch, these boxes offer some fairly tasty results  (as long as you can follow  directions!)   Oprah adored their Blue Velvet offering (see previous Food Fete post for more information).

Stop #4: Stonewall Kitchen

Since my wife and I do not eat pork products, I had to skip the two Maple Bacon offerings, but I understand they were excellent.  I opted instead for their seasonal Apple Cider Jam (aka pie in a jar) – I want to reduce this a little bit and put it into Hamantaschen next Purim.  The Vanilla Chai Caramel Sauce was very good – it would be heavenly on ice cream, as recommended.  The Spicy Mexican Chocolate Sauce was my clear favorite because the heat from the cayenne was more of a delicate warmth than a searing spice note.  I mentioned to the representative that I would love to see someone use it as a base for a quick, less-involved mole sauce.  As always, Stonewall Kitchen does not disappoint in the flavor category.
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Stop #5: Way Better Snacks

This brand’s concept was one of the most intriguing at the show.  By using sprouted grains when making their tortilla and pita chips, they are able to not only increase the amount of nutrients but also decrease the amount of negative digestion reactions to different grains.  From their FAQ:

We all know that seeds, grains and beans play an important role in a healthy diet, but their  nutrients can be increased multifold
  through the process of germination. Germination releases enzymes specifically designed to start the  seed on its way to
  becoming a plant, which in turn consolidate nutrients. Sprouted foods are high in fiber, helps neutralize and remove  waste
  from the body, and some (like our Broccoli and Diakon Radish Seeds) even contain anticancer substances.

My favorite was the Sriracha tortilla chips, but the more mild flavors were also really  accessible on a taste and texture profile. The  Pit-Ahh Chips were also not too rough or course, something that I find jarring when I have some velvety hummus with them.  I thought  their station should have been next to White Girl Salsa, though I probably would have just stood there eating all night.  Their press kit comes in the cutest little version of one of the bags of chips; a small sample bag was included with this and other tangibles in a sealed plastic bag – totally new and inventive!

Stop #6: California Milk Advisory Board

It is no secret that I love cheese from California (see Cypress Grove later on in the post).  In honor of the “Butter” issue from Time, five different butters were up to taste along with crackers, radishes, and other vegetables.  I sampled two European-style (aka higher milk fat content) – one salted on a cracker and one unsalted on a radish.  I would have tried  the other three (which were likely also delicious), but I needed to not fall behind on visiting the other stations.

Stop #7: Jonty Jacobs

Beef anyone?  Yes, please.  This Brooklyn-based South African-inspired company uses only grass-fed beef for their dried products and is opening a store next week on Christopher Street.  I tried the regular and lean “Biltong”, both of which bring soul and richer flavor to a category (dried meat) that is often lacking in that department.  The texture and supple mouthfeel makes it way easier to eat as opposed to literally tearing through some inferior jerky of your meat of choice.  Looking forward to trying more from them as the South African spice blend is quite unique versus the teriyaki variants.
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Stop #8:  Dave’s Killer Bread

Food Fete almost always has some bread products or companies.  Dave’s Killer Bread had a bunch of samples of their products coming soon to the East Coast.  “Hulk Smash” was one concoction they created (see picture above) in addition to a Nutella-based spread, their Sin-Dawg (a cinnamon roll in baguette form), and some slices with some butter for simplicity.  I love that they use ancient as well as  whole grains and seeds on their breads.  The texture is soft, but clearly can hold/withstand a variety of toppings via open or closed sandwiches.  Looking forward to seeing them in stores soon.

Stop #9:  Lucini Italia

I knew that I had seen this brand’s name some place – it’s actually Chef Mario Batali’s choice.  I had mentioned Otto’s olive oil gelato and was immediately handed some gelato (ask and ye shall receive).  I learned more about their Founder’s Reserve offering and the uber-high quality olives used in the limited bottling.  What shocked me the most was the price point: ONLY $39.99.  Regardless if you are in Fairway, Whole Foods, or an upscale food store, most comparable bottlings that I have seen trend even more expensive (usually above $50).  Even if you are not a fan of Batali, the more accessible value can be seen (and tasted) easily by ordering directly through their site.
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Stop #10: Solbeso

Life On Tap is obviously a craft beer and drinks-focused experience, so it is no surprise that I was extra excited to visit this stop.  My first reaction was “a cacao-based liquor?”  I was not sure what to think at first, but after first reading an information card, I jumped in with the spicier of the two cocktails offered before trying  some Solbeso neat.  This stuff is 80 Proof, but smooth as silk.  Right now there are only a handful of stores where you can pick this up, but the mixologists at stops like Alder and Añejo have been concocting with it for a while.  I had a really excellent conversation with the founder/owner and learned how this product relates to Pisco (its Peruvian cousin).  I delicately addressed the Chilean-Peruvian Pisco battle first, but I had to clearly acknowledge the ever-improving quality of Peruvian spirits since the new millennia began.  While I cannot frequent my neighborhood stop  Añejo all the time, nor do I have enough space for the full bar I desire, I will definitely be going out of my way to one of those few retail shops to pick up a bottle.  Regardless if you are enjoying the pseudo-Mezcal nose or the Pisco-like sensibility with it neat, or you are blending it with other spirits and fresh ingredients, you will enjoy Solbeso – the true “Sun Kiss”.

Stop #11: Alouette Cheese

Unless you have been under a rock, you probably have had one of Alouette’s offerings at a party of some sort.  The Brie Fondue (pictured in the center) was pretty good, but the new “sweet” offerings were the focus.  Right out of the container, one could make any number of  hors d’oeuvres or even inject the flavor of your choice into anything from puff pastry to cannolis to profiteroles.  The jury is still out on which flavor I enjoyed the best, but the MSRP on these make them very easy to go out and sample.

Stop #12:  Nature’s Path Organic Foods

My apologies as I could have sworn I had a photo for this stop.  Chia and many other “super foods” have been all the rage lately – why not start off your day with some right?  Even if you don’t have it with breakfast (complete with Chia, Buckwheat, and Hemp), this cereal can also be used with a flurry of other recipes.  The two featured were a dessert (a less-sweet chocolate mousse) and a sesame dressing  with fresh cut crudités.  The latter was one of my favorites of the show – full of fresh ginger and lemon juice acidity to round out the umami and full flavor.  The only bad news is that I stained my shirt trying to spoon every last bit out of my glass.  I am sure that many more people will find some creative (and uber-healthy) ways to leverage this super food cereal.

Stop #13: GO Veggie!

As someone who loves his cheese, I do not always go out of my way for vegan-friendly products.  That being said, I was intrigued by the samples on display at the GO Veggie table – the garlic-based recipe  (my favorite) could probably fool quite a few people with its cheese-like features.  If you do live a dairy or lactose-free lifestyle but want to roll like your equal opportunity-tasting foodie friends, test drive one of their offerings.

Stop #14: Stoneridge Orchards (Royal Ridge Fruits)

When Sheryl and I were in in Seattle and Portland a few years ago, we went on a bit of a cherry rampage when we had the opportunity on one of our food tours.  Naturally, I went a little overboard when I got to the Stoneridge table.  I first tried the basil with goat cheese and dried Montmorency cherries – a great little amuse-bouche to open up a party.  After, I devoured a ton of the same type of cherries, but dipped in 70% dark chocolate; WARNING – these are mega-addictive.  Stoneridge offers a bunch of other fruit-based products, but one of the collateral pieces caught my eye: Chili Lime Cherries using the #1 Mexican seasoning Tajin.  No matter how you like your fruit, Stoneridge’s fruit-focused approach enhances the natural flavor and aroma while leaving out the preservatives and unwanted additives.

Stop #15: Navitas Naturals

Continuing on the fruit and superfood trend, Navitas Naturals brought a good chunk of their offerings.  While the dried fruit offerings like Dragonfruit were great, it was the Mulberries that were my personal favorite.  Their most unique product was the dehydrated coconut water – literally just add water and you have 15 servings per bag!  All of these bags are likely awesome for travel, hiking, or just to snack on.  While chatting with their representative, Chris Messina, I was able to pass back some advice on craft beer – something I always love to do!

Stop #16: Gearhearts Fine Chocolates

Readers, friends, and family will know that I cannot say no to chocolate.  Hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia (shot out to my #DMB Dave Matthews Band fellow fans), three offerings were presented.  First, Peanut Butter Pups (which reminded me of dog friend Indu) which contributes 5% of sales to Companions For Heroes: an awesome blend of peanut butter, almonds, milk and dark chocolate.  When I am not drinking craft beer (or spirits), I often enjoy some different wine varietals than the mainstream.  Cue Pod & Vine, made with Barboursville Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc, plum preserves, and Gearharts’ signature dark chocolate blend – sure to pair great with a bottle of the same.  To close out, their Miso Caramels made from fresh cream, butter, Japanese Miso, and toasted sesame seeds.  Decadent, varied palate, and can ship  to you in 24 hours…definitely a great option especially if you do not have an affordable local chocolatier.

Stop #17: Maple Hill Creamery

You have heard of many industry terms like non-GMO and USDA Organic, but how about 100% GrassFed?  Pennsylvania Certified Organic is looking to make this a the next dairy certification to elevate shoppers’ awareness.  Maple Hill Creamery is just one of the players who have already been providing/meeting this future dairy feature.  Their Stuyvesant, New York facility focuses on skipping homogenization, skimming, and whey elimination, ultimately accentuating better and more complex flavor (and nutrients) before adding authentic extracts or fruit puree.  A 12-hour slow culturing process results in a full-fat, European-style, and tart/sweet yogurt with a truly unbeatable mouthfeel and taste.  I sampled the lemon, orange brulee, and maple – all were excellent and really approachable for non-yogurt lovers.

Stop #18: Choice Organic Teas

While Sheryl and I almost usually  keep a stock of both loose and bag tea, Choice green teas always  have a place amongst them.  After snagging a much-needed palate cleanser in the form of iced green tea with Moroccan mint, I was excited to see 7 new products on display from their Wellness Tea line.  Those of you who have seen me during seasonal changes will know I am prone to sinus infections and/or intense head colds.  I had mentioned this and received a really good tip – just as I often change my beer drinking seasonally, it is equally as important to “ramp up” by starting to incorporate, for example, fall foods (and tea) prior to September.  I would say that, coupled with some Throat Cozy or Breathing Space, will likely get me through the next seasonal shift.  I love  when  a product is  able to offer related content to better educate the consumer.

Stop #19: Crofter’s Organic

I always love to hear from a long-standing, family-based business.  A crofter is “one who rents and tends a small farm”, which definitely speaks to the approach this brand has for its commitment to quality organic spreads.  I tasted the Morello Cherry Premium Spread – which was delightful.  I normally go for strawberry or raspberry, but I would switch in a heartbeat to this. Like Maple Hill, Crofter’s also adds something else to their stance other than organic and non-GMO – biodynamic.  The fact that their spreads have 1/3 less sugar?  Even better.  You can pick up a number of their products all over and around the city. So be sure to do so!
Stop #20: The Veri Soda Company
Many out there following Bloomberg’s push to drop soda went ahead and followed while others embraced the Sodastream or other crazes.  However, an organic, non-GMO, and low-calorie soda sounds better right?  Speaking with one of the founders, I was told that the recipes used are based on very old recipes pre-dating the modern megalith soda companies of today.  What struck me after I tasted both the Ginger Ale and Orange sodas was the carbonation – light, subtle, dry AND refreshing.  Back in the day, @tbonesullivan and I would devour Dr. Pepper like it was going out of style – until the carbonation hit us like a ton of bricks.  As an adult, I do not crave the over-carbonated nature that many an American soft drink features.  By using juice concentrates, cane sugar, and organic stevia, Veri is able to deliver on flavor without adding in all the less-desirable extras as well.  They are great by themselves, but you can easily add them to your sangria, punch, and mixed drinks to add a little spike.

Stop #21: Divino

I probably could have used another palate cleanser earlier in the night, but Divino came at a happy moment.  Their gelato come inside the fruits of their flavor.  On an imagery standpoint, you cannot get much more “fresh” than that.  Did I also mention that they’re all-natural, gluten-free, and preservative free as well?!  Some are even vegan/vegetarian or fat-free/low-fat.  I tasted the Roman Kiwi since I wanted to try something a little more exotic – refreshing, cleansing, and not overbearingly sweet.  When you need a cold snack on a warm summer’s day, gelato is just the thing (when I am not having a beer, of course).  Divino also sells a “Celebrazione” pack that comes with a varied selection – this can prove to be a big hit at your next summer dinner party or barbecue.

Stop #22: Challenge Dairy

Since last time I checked New York is well east of the Rockies, we do not normally see Challenge on our shelves (Land o’Lakes more often).  At the table there was a side-by-side taste test of a “leading cream cheese” and Challenge’s offering.  I was very surprised that the texture, mouthfeel, and aftertaste of the latter blew the other one away.  Even just  looking at the color, Challenge’s appeared  more pure and less-processed.  Methinks that Sheryl will have to try a test for me with different cream cheeses for her mini-cheesecakes at some point…  I also tried their butter, which was rather  good as well.  I have not really shook up my choices in what I would call “grocery stock” offerings, but perhaps I should.

Stop #23: DRY Soda

Another soda offering – this time in sexy slim cans (and also bottles)!  CEO and Founder Sharelle Klaus (also a mom from my understanding) started DRY  with an emphasis on simple recipes with four  ingredients (purified carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural flavor, and clean preservative) and reduced sugar (ideal for kids).  In addition to more traditional flavor offerings, some trend on exotic (Rhubarb, Lavender, Juniper Berry and Pear to name a few).  I tried the Cucumber and the Ginger and, like the Veri, had a reduced amount and voracity of carbonation in addition to the limited  sugar.  The lightweight 12 oz. cans make them ideal for the beach, pool, or elsewhere.  I am not sure if the “mixability” is better or worse than Veri’s, but it would be neat to do a mini Food Fete mixology battle.  The Cucumber one specifically made me want to run and buy a bottle of Hendrick’s and call it a night.  DRY can be found at major retailers and online.

Stop #24: BELA Sardines

Not everyone enjoys the fishy-side of things (like sushi etc.), but Sheryl and I both love them.  Be it herring, salmon or sprats, we love to taste the freshness.  Enter BELA: hand-packed and canned (MSC certified and BPA-free) at the port within 8 hours of catch by local, sustainable Portuguese fishers.  It is my understanding that the majority of the sardines on the market are usually frozen  or canned much later, which leads to the “greying” of the meat.  One of the representatives cut open a filet in front of us – the flesh glistened stark white and of course looked tasty…and it was!  Another by-product of canned fish products is the aluminum or other unsatisfying aftertaste.  BELA Sardines honestly do not taste as if they came from the can – why buy the same old regular grey sardines when you can have near-fresh fishes?  They also come in different flavors (EVOO, Lemon EVOO, Cayenne EVOO, and Tomato Sauce).  My #NYC peeps can pick these up at Fairway, but they are distributed elsewhere and can be ordered online.

Stop #25 : Cypress Grove Chevre

At my previous full-time gig, Humboldt Fog was one of the “blockbuster” cheeses that was always in demand.  Cypress Grove Chevre’s line goes way deeper than that – they were also serving up Truffle Tremor and Midnight Moon.  Lamb Chopper is another great offering from them as well.  I would have eaten the equivalent of a quarter wheel of everything had I started on that end of the floor.  I have to say it was great seeing familiar products that I eat time and time again.

Stop #26: ORTAGGI

Last but not least was a Food Fete Exclusive brand launch for ORTAGGI.  In fact, their full site is not available yet to the public, but they define their product as:

“…the original frozen organic health snack made from vegetables with hints of delicate herbs and refreshing fruit juices. All
of our creamy, delicious flavors are USDA Certified Organic, 100% natural, vegan and Kosher. ORTAGGI is preservative-free,
dairy-free – and because it’s packed with vitamins instead of calories – guilt-free!”

I sampled the cucumber, spinach, and kale combo, which was fresh and delicious.  Often I find myself just chomping on a pack of baby carrots or other veggies, but the snacks from ORTAGGI may offer a “higher level” of snacking with portion control.  I do not know where they will be available yet, but stay tuned to your local natural/organic food store.

Final Thoughts

Another fine time was had at Food Fete.  My only regret was not being able to talk more at length with a few vendors, and I wish to apologize to the vendors I did not get to see/taste from (especially the vino I missed).  I hope that my short vignettes may serve both shoppers and foodies alike – feel free to share your thoughts here or with the brands themselves or by using #foodfete on Twitter.
The health-driven trends emphasized by the vendors mentioned will definitely continue in the future.  Much like the #craftbeer community, if your company does not produce a quality (and innovative) product, you will likely be left behind by the more educated consumer.  (Thank you Internet.)  I look forward to attending the next event as well as sampling more offerings from the aforementioned brands.  Summer is for tasting…so remember: Life’s a tap…drink up ’til it’s dry.
– Daniel Fisher

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