Washington, D.C. adopted the 2011 Fancy Food Show this year from New York City, and they did a mighty fine job of holding down the fort, providing lovely space, and creating a great atmosphere for everyone in the food business. True, there may have been 5,000 fewer attendees total over previous years (when held in NYC), but those who attended were perhaps even more interested in learning and taste-tasting, discovering new products, studying popular food trends, and discussing it all with lovely people from around the world.
Because of renovations at NYC’s Jacob Javits Center, the East Coast’s Summer Fancy Food Show for 2011 took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in central D.C. The massive convention center was a lovely building (albeit poorly laid out--quite honestly, it took 5-10 minutes just to find registration and the actual food halls) filled with new products and companies large and small. Once at one of the two huge halls (located in the basement and on the upper floor), however, attendees were welcomed with thousands of food products, well-lit spaces, kind helpers, and tasty tidbits to sample from over 80 countries. From the pop-up restaurant sponsored by Korea to the overall smaller displays from the big guns, there was more space for young upstarts and booming businesses than ever before.
Two trends that kept popping up were (as the NASFT helped predict) cherry-infused/flavored products and gluten-free edibles. Cherries, sweet and tart, were in everything from rice mixes and juices to yogurts, cheeses, and meat glazes. Gluten-free items were everywhere one could imagine, all to the delight of celiac sufferers and the rage of pasta lovers. Important to remember is that “gluten-free,” much like organic was five years ago, helps a product become more acceptable in the world of “carbs, wheat, and gluten is bad” we live in these days. While the term often scares people off, it’s also important to remember that plenty of these foods are naturally gluten-free (like the term “organic” in many foreign countries where pesticides aren’t used in the first place), and not tasting of cardboard like so many of today’s wheat-free pastas and cookies.
Back on the sampling floor, things seemed better than in New York. Perhaps it was fewer crowds. Maybe it was friendlier people who don’t look at you like a crazy person for striking up a conversation with a stranger on the Metro. Or maybe it was the well-lit space with an audience of genuinely hungry patrons instead of hundreds of food bloggers eager to be the next Julia Child. Whatever it was, this show was an absolute delight, and the trip down from NYC was absolutely worth it.
Products of note included the Italian company Bottega Casanova, which made a fantastic 10-year-old truffle balsamic. A gold leaf-infused olive oil was also on display, and though the flavor remains a mystery, the bottling was gorgeous. A hidden but standout product was the wild pine syrup from Mugolio , which was one of the most unique tasting foods at the show. The texture of a thick maple syrup, it had a strong, almost biting flavor of infused pine and earthy elements that knocked your tastebuds out for several seconds. Meanwhile, France’s Algues De Bretagne brought seaweed-based flavor pearls in mango, lavender, truffle, and more. Back to the Roots, a small company started by two friendly, fast-talking UC Berkeley grads, showed off their sustainable and easy mushroom-growing kit—a project they’ve been sharing with local students.
Güllüoglu, the well-known makers of fine Turkish pastries, was at the show with several types of baklava and borek available for tasting. Having interviewed the company previously for Food Network, it was exciting to finally taste all the delicious products and learn more about their Istanbul-based pastry company. And just a few aisles down from them was the terrific Korean Hansik Pop-Up Restaurant by chef Akira Back. 30 minutes, 3 courses, and an unforgettable experience was had at this tiny, 10-seat “prix free” restaurant. With dishes such as Bibim Tuna with Strawberry, Rayu and Mini Corn, Free Range Chicken, Ginseng Air and Ssarm Jang, and Persimmon Delight with Mocha and Korean Tea Air, there wasn’t a way to sit—or even walk by—without a wide smile. Chef Akira and his lovely team crafted beautiful dishes in extremely tight quarters, and it was certainly a highlight of the entire Fancy Food Show.
This year’s Sofi Awards for distinction in gourmet food products was hosted in the top floor’s atrium. After hors d’eouvres and a cocktail hour, keynote speaker Cat Cora helped host the ceremony. All in all, the show was a huge success, and quite frankly, the friendly food folks of D.C. can host the Fancy Food Show any year they please. And guess what? In 2012, D.C. is doing it all over again while Javits finishes its face lift.