Food Fete returned to NYC on Monday, June 26th, 2017 at the Hudson Mercantile Exchange just a stone’s throw away from the Life On Tap Compound. A huge thanks to Jeff Davis at Food Fete for the invite, as well as the openness of the exhibitors and the camaraderie of my fellow guests.
Right off I saw a couple tables of familiar logos, Pacific being one of them. The rectangular table featured their line of Cashew Milks (arriving this fall through major retail), in Original Unsweetened and Vanilla. I tried the former, since I have not had Cashew Milk ever. To my surprise, it was clean and not as heavy as dairy milks or even some of their non-dairy alternatives. I would definitely like to try a matcha latte with this to see if the nuttiness is enhanced further.
The circular table featured their new tomato products, of which I opted to try just the sauce instead of with the bread. Shelf life on these is 18 months, and is what I like to call a “non-headshot hazard” if it is on an upper pantry shelf. The fruit had an incredible “bright” quality, with its freshness clinging to the palate, as opposed to the “tininess” one occasionally gets from a canned tomato product. Again, look for this in major retailers.
Again another familiar logo, but their table was representing their private-label organic products ranging from coffee to sauces to snacks. Their chef-in-residence prepared a tasty “Polpette” (aka Beef/Lamb Meatball with spices) with Sage Butter Pasta (zucchini). The recipe used Matzo cracker crumbs to help bind the ingredients together, and is actually pretty simple and quick to prepare: 20 minutes prep, 20 minutes cook for 2 portions.
I know you are probably thinking, “what is up with those pumpkins?” Guess what…THEY ARE ALL CHOCOLATE! The all edible creations from Owner and Chocolatier, Robyn Dochterman, not only attract and fascinate your eyes but also your tastebuds. Though the Key Lime Pie was tempting, I went with the Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly…so glad I did! The fact that Dochterman handpicks the grapes before making the jelly herself really shows in the bright fruit flavor that melds deliciously with the peanut butter.
If you have not ordered something from them, you must be living under a rock. From popcorn, to cookies, to even wine, there is literally a package or an “of the month” club for every person in your life. Since I just had chocolate, I was craving something more on the savory side so I tried some Jalapeño Cheddar popcorn. The hint of heat with some earthiness accentuated the saltiness which is nothing less than instantly addictive. In addition to perennial offerings from vendors like Harry and David, they now feature “packs” that are best suited for your young ones, like the “Classic Lunch Sack” on the right and the child-size (or diet-size for adults) cookies.
Many of the stops gave me different types of “envy”, and their new line of fridges is no different. The stainless steel elements perfectly blend with the tinted but transparent doors which allow you to see exactly what you have in your fridge. Alert: Please make sure nothing is growing, ha ha ha! I especially loved that they had a growler from Gregory’s Coffee on the bottom shelf next to the wine. The generous 24 cubic feet of space is ample enough for most, though there is a slightly larger version available. With a depth of less than 3 feet, there are even some small NYC apartments that could easily house this beauty! #ApplicanceEnvy
Cookie Monster still has it right to this day: C is for Cookie and it is good enough for me. While the Cinnamon Sugar, Chocolate Chip and Sea Salt Caramel had their own pairings (Fruit Salad, Chocolate Mousse and Cannoli Cream, respectively), my mind immediately went to beer pairings. Stay tuned, as I am smelling a taste test party! Cookie Chips have all the good points of a cookie, but in a more digestible format: thin, crisp, and closer to bite-size. Most of us could easily polish off a bag in a sitting, but at least please try to share. Other flavor varieties are also available, so be on the lookout at your local Target and elsewhere to give them a try (with or without beer).
How many times have you felt super-drained after your workout, only to never fully feel relief after your water or energy drink? News to all: cherry juice is best to help reduce inflammation to this very end (also speeds muscle recovery, helps with a good night sleep and is a powerful anti-oxidant). So where would be the best place to test this? Oh how about all the major sports outlets (NFL, MLB, NCAA, US Olympic teams) and even the Navy Seals? While some of your favorite offensive linesmen may down several 8-ounce cans of Cherrish, I am pretty sure one would do the trick. An impressive 64 Montmorency and Dark Cherries are in every can, including the flavored ones with Pomegranate or Blueberry. I love cherries and this was right up my alley…the health benefit is a nice plus. That being said I would not hesitate to use it in a cocktail.
Wow was this table FLOODED with people…and rightfully so with the full spread of incredible Natural Heritage Pork products on display for tasting. You are probably inherently familiar with the quality and care that already go into their products. Now you can take it on the go with Charcuterie Line snack packs of Hot Soppressata, Pepperoni, Genoa Salami and more, with a flurry of accoutrements (Taralli Bread, Provolone, Dark Chocolate Almonds, Olives and more). Look out for them wherever you pick up your other Niman Ranch products.
I always love to hear unique origin stories from Food Fete vendors, and theirs was extra unique. Their time in the Peace Corps brought them to the “Vanilla Country” in Madagascar, which eventually led to the company’s inception. While the chocolate (and the adorable stuffed lemur of course) were focused on the table, I was immediately drawn to the vanilla which I had not seen at a previous Food Fete. A couple of other guests and I were treated to a mini-tasting of commercially-available shelf chocolate, followed by chocolate made from “heirloom cocoa”. While the former kind of all tastes the same if you were to blind taste it, the heirloom variety had a distinct cherry note that interspersed with the other earthy and chocolate elements that even persisted into the aftertaste minutes later. Madécasse is pushing all of you chocolate lovers out there to taste the difference, and to help push for more transparency in the chocolate industry (not unlike Compass Box, et al, are trying to do for whiskey). After the tasting, Tim McCollum and I discussed at length about palate preferences as it relates to beer and wine. He loves English brown ales amongst some of my favorite varietals and appellations of wines…now I just have to pair the chocolate with them.
Their “Bakers Gonna Bake” apparel had me choking down laughter as I approached owner Sarah Jones, who describes the products as the “organic Betty Crocker”. Of course I tried one of each of the offerings: Confetti Pop, Chocolate Chip and Brownie. Her line is as easy to use as the mass market counterparts, and delivers a deeper level of flavor and more inventive combinations and offerings. Clearly this is “a better way to bake”, with ingredients that are not only organic, but vegan-friendly, with no GMOs, no dairy, no trans fats, no soy (yay Rachel) and no hydrogenated oils. Miss Jones is based out of San Francisco, but be on the lookout and/or request her products through your local retailer.
While I was gearing up to hit the alcohol stations later, I felt like I needed a bit of a palate refresh and Polar Seltzer hit the spot. Their flavors are inventive yet familiar: Blueberry, Raspberry Pink and Watermelon Lemonades, as well as Tart Cherry and Mango Limeades. I tried the Mango, since I just had the Cherrish earlier, and WOW. A delicate balance of tart, fruit, crispness and a gentle carbonation that had scrubbed your taste buds as you swallow. I do not really have carbonated beverages other than beer or the occasionally bubbly, but I would totally stock cases. I definitely want to try the other flavors, since I can more readily drink this at work or during the mornings when beer is not generally an option. Cans are also the way to go, so they are beach, pool and event-friendly. Look out for them at your major retailer.
#KnifeEnvy returns! Last year I also was borderline drooling over the wares. Two items here caught my eye: The Epicure Collection and the 4-Piece Burger Knife Set. The former uses wood composite for the knife base, resulting in a chic, “farm to table” essence in a lighter blade package (which Sheryl prefers). I may want to pick a chef’s knife to start to satiate the envy. The burger knives are genius; serrated to cut through the largest burgers (including the monster I had in Montreal), with ends more like butter knives to spread your favorite blend of sauces and spreads. These and the BBQ and Skewer Sets are all excellent choices to aid your summer hosting and entertaining.
From #KnifeEnvy to #PanEnvy in one stop. Lots of good looking pots and pans, from coated to cast iron! The Paula Deen set of bowls were pretty darn cute, I have to admit, but the small 2-piece set was a close second. The latter caught my eye, as we tend to burn through (pun intended) our smaller pans quicker than the larger ones. After discussing summertime hosting for a few, it definitely fed the #PanEnvy urge a little more.
I needed to get back to some food, and my nose lead me to Orca Bay. The Seattle-based frozen seafood company is available at Costco and similar mega-retailers, but you can order direct as well. I tried the Korean Seafood Noodles and you could not tell that they were frozen just minutes ago. Full pieces of seafood are enveloped in JJAMPPONG (not a typo), a Korean sauce of chili paste, fish, broth and more bringing mild levels of heat, spices and umami goodness. Believe it or not, the sodium content is half of what most prepared seafood dishes are! The albondigas were also mighty tasty and versatile for preparation. There are other products offered through their distribution channels, but I really liked seeing the friendly-looking orcas at the table.
That Korean food got me kind of thirsty, so I thought it was time to get back into my element – the adult beverage stations! First up was Birra Antoniana, an Italian brewery started in May 2013 that just landed on the East Coast and is being represented by Liquid Holdings here in New York. They have four offerings currently: Marechiaro, Altinate, Pasubio and Vienna Style. First I tried the Altinate, an India Pale Lager which is a lager that is dry hopped like an IPA. The Altinate was clean with a generous hop finish, yet was still very approachable and food-friendly. Marechiaro is a crisp Italian lager which is actually certified by the Neapolitan body that certifies pairings with Neapolitan Pizza. I think I will have to try that pairing at some point. Pasubio is their Czech Pilsner, while Vienna Style is probably what you guessed…a Vienna Style Lager. I have to say it is refreshing to see lagers making a front and center appearance!
Keeping the Italian vibe going, Purus Organic Vodka was the next stop. While it has been available since 2007, this was my first time tasting it albeit in a Spicy Bloody Mary. Purus is 80 proof, but its production is what makes it truly unique. Made in Piedmont, organic Italian grain and water from the Italian Alps are produced, distilled and run through active charcoal filtration of more than 1.7 million square meters. The result is a clean, smooth vodka excellent for blending or even better just by itself. No sticker shock here…MSRP is $19.99 for a 750ml bottle so it will not break the bank.
Stop 17: The Bar
My notes from the Birra Antoniana Altinate are above, but I wanted to jot a few notes down about the Spicy Bloody Mary as it leads into Stop 18. The Suckerpunch mix was gently stirred in with the Purus Vodka, and was imbued with all the flavors of the tomato, spices and vodka but without the extra acidity. At that point I joked with the bartender that we should all take the next day off and brunch all day on these Bloody Marys! While sipping this beauty, I made my way to the Suckerpunch station.
So my first entry was the Spicy Bloody Mary Mix, but the folks insisted I didn’t stop there; they recommended submerging their spicy pickles in the Bloody Mary to be eaten at its completion. While I was sipping my way to the bottom, I tried some of those pickles as well as the slices – perfect for burgers and sandwiches. Here in NYC we are often spoiled by a number of pickle purveyors, but these were distinctly different than many of the other offerings. I heard a funny story from the Fancy Food Show earlier about a kid that fell in love with their pickles, only to notice a certain mainstream competitor a few stands over. Sufficed to say he tried theirs, and did not care for them nearly as much as the Suckerpunch! The salsas were also delicious, but I passed on the pulled pork as I still had a few more stops to hit.
When I saw the RayZyn table, I thought I was simply continuing down the proverbial “booze lane” at Food Fete. What I did not expect was to get an unusual consult from a cardiologist and son owners. These unique raisins are made specifically from wine grape varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their drying process is most unusual in that the pits remain intact, but become crunchy and fully edible. According to the 2014 USDA Flavonoid Database, CabernayZyn packs a whopping 93.31mg of antioxidants for every 100 grams, which blows away other common food sources. More importantly the RayZyns are deliciously addictive, and all I could think about was with what cheese to pair them! I look forward to taking the “doctor’s advice” and snacking on some for a quick boost or perhaps throw them on my next curated cheese plate.
Another familiar brand since the few at the beginning! They were sampling their Chick’n Salad with fresh apple and celery, which was mighty tasty. The Chick’n pieces blended in with the crunchy texture of the apple and celery along with the smoothness of the sauce and slight bitterness of the endive. Take a look on the left for their upcoming seasonal offering: a Vegetarian Ham Style Roast! It looked so much like ham in the package I literally did a double take. Further to the left is what looks like a pack of ground beef, but it is not! You can make this into burgers, tacos or whatever you imagine. Really inventive substitutions, soon to be available wherever you can get Tofurky.
Aside from Polar Seltzer, Rule Breaker was one of the brands that I had corresponded with ahead of Food Fete. Beans in dessert? Truly unbelievable until you taste it! I normally am a huge fan of deep chocolate brownies, but the chocolate chunk blondie had superb balance with a mix of texture and flavor. My mind immediately went into pairing mode, as I started thinking about everything from blondes to stouts before informing them of the “peanut butter beer” craze currently happening across the country as featured by Draft Magazine. I definitely will have to do multiple pairing follow-ups with a number of products, with Rule Breaker adding to that list.
Though the exhibitors were beginning to pack up as the show was winding down, I could not pass up trying all four of these butters! The Cashew Butter with Cardamom & Chia Seeds was my favorite, but I know Mikey would destroy their Almond Butter. Chia is still surging pretty strong in the superfood category, and add that to the protein power of nut or seed butters and you have a delicious and satisfying combination! I am looking forward to eating this directly from the jar, and perhaps Sheryl could use any leftovers for some baking!
I started Food Fete with some Cashew Milk, so it seemed pretty fitting to end on another dairy alternative. Good Karma uses flax for its milk and yogurt products, blending great taste and enhanced support for your digestive system and nutritional needs. I sampled their Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Dairy-Free Yogurt Parfaits made with their Vanilla Flax Milk Yogurt. Despite having eaten copious amounts of food all evening, I could not help myself as I made short work of it. I loved the supple texture, slight tanginess and full flavor of this non-dairy yogurt. If you are lactose-intolerant or sensitive, I would definitely seek out and try these products yourself.
Once again Jeff Davis of @FoodFete on Twitter curated a well-balanced, delicious and informative show both for the guests and exhibitors. My sincerest thanks to him, the staff and the host, the Hudson Mercantile Exchange.
Cheers and remember:
Life’s a tap…drink up ’til it’s dry.
Note: Apologies for not posting this sooner, but my son decided my computer screen was not needed anymore.