There are certain things that make a food writer’s heart do a couple somersaults. Thanksgiving — our great national holiday of eating and drinking to excess — is like a birthday and Christmakkah wrapped into one giant pumpkin roll. Attending, and possibly drinking into the twilight with pals, at one of the half-dozen cool food festivals/conferences like the Southern Foodways Alliance, Feast Portland or the MAD Symposium is like Spring Break with smaller batch bourbon.
You can add the Fancy Food Show to this list, which runs twice annually (January in San Francisco and late-June in rotating East Coast cities, with D.C. hosting last year and New York City winning back the honor in 2013). The pleasure drawn from walking around a crowded trade show floor came as a big shock to me because — as somebody who has walked around crowded tradeshow floors specializing in things like cheap Chinese-made electronics, fly fishing rods, luxury travel destinations and Nazi war propaganda — I was pretty convinced that trade shows basically suck (and suck the life out of you).
But I found myself at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon with 15,000 distributors, caterers, chefs and others combing through the hundreds of booths set up in the sprawling complex. Here are some of my favorite products, both new and new to me. I’m totally buying all of this stuff for my kitchen at home.
1. Lillie’s Q barbecue sauce
Chicago-based barbecue restaurant Lillie’s Q has won many awards for their competition barbecue. Now, chef-owner Charlie McKenna is selling a line of regional barbecue sauces that hone the pitmaster’s predilection in Eastern Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Alabama. Carolina Gold is a classic vinegar–mustard blend and my favorite of the six. As the name suggests, Ivory is a white sauce of mayo and apple cider vinegar commonly found in Alabama. E.N.C. (Eastern North Carolina) and Carolina (Western North Carolina) splits the state with a hand of diplomacy. lilliesq.com
2. Taste #5 Umami / Bomba XXX
The concept known as “liquid umami” is all the rage right now (with fish sauce and soy-based marinades seeing a surge in popularity). Taste #5 Umami is highly concentrated anchovy paste that was engineered with an assist from Nobu Matsuhisa. Bomba XXX is the tomato equivalent (called the world’s sauciest puree) endorsed by cookbook author Laura Santtini. Both promise to really boost your snoozy sauces. amazon.com
3. Ruby Bay King Salmon Jerky
With umami taking over the universe, seafood jerky is poised to have a moment. New York’s Acme Smoked Fish has released a line of wild-caught king salmon strips under the name Ruby Bay. And at nine grams of protein per .6 ounce serving, there is certainly a nutritional benefit. rubybayseafood.com
4. Lord Nut Levington
This is not an offshoot of ketchup re-inventors Sir Kensington, but a Waco, Texas seller of “the Ben and Jerry’s of roasted peanuts” — as company President Sanjiv Patel told me. The flavors are pretty bleeding edge (mesquite smoke and pineapple; Thai curry and lemongrass). The packaging is on point too. lordnut.com
Finger limes (discovered growing wild in Australia and now cultivated July-December in California), have been underutilized and under-promoted. Once cut in half, the digit-sized lime secretes tiny, caviar-like beads of citrus. It’s great for fish or vegetables. This Northern California company hopes to bring it to a wider audience. shanleyfarms.com
6. We Rub You Korean barbecue marinade
I’m a big supporter of any and all things relating to Korean cuisine, so it was really great to meet with sister team behind We Rub You (get it?). There are plenty of hipster kimchi makers out there, which is all good in my book. But Ann and Janet Chung have taken the next step by creating two marinades that illustrates the depth of the Korean kitchen. The original (sweeter and soy-based) is good for beef, while the spicy (with a good amount of gochugaru) is best with pork. werubyou.com
I’m no fan of flavored waters — it should go one-way (juice, soda) or the other (water), no? But I was sold on San Francisco-based Hint. The subtle all-natural flavor (which lives up to the name) derives from the skins and peels of limes, pears and strawberries. The company’s motto is “drink water, not sugar,” which is a message everybody can take a little from. drinkhint.com
8. Forte High Protein Gelato
When 39-year-old Adrian Pace, born with a severe congenital heart condition, was waiting in a hospital for a transplant, he was subjected to a variety of hospital food that one could objectively call shitty. Fast forward a couple years and Pace, energized with a new heart, took to fixing the problem with an unlikely suitor. Forte gelato is high-protein, low-calorie and remarkably creamy. It might just be the solution for getting patients to receive their much-needed nutrition. High-minded hospital fare, what a concept. Makes sense from a guy with a successful hedge fund background. tasteforte.com
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