Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend two big food-centric events in San Francisco. First up was the inaugural ceremony for the Good Food Awards. Started by Seedling Projects, a wonderful bay area grassroots organization, the awards honored 71 winners in a variety of artisanal categories—much like we did with our Taste Test Awards last October.
While we had a few winners in common (Cabot Clothbound cheddar, how I still dream of thee!), it’s becoming even more obvious that our nation harbors an increasingly talented bunch of creative food folks willing to take a gamble on putting themselves out there, along with great-tasting pickles, cheeses, preserves, and much more. I learned of exciting (new to me) artisanal items out there like sweet potato liverwurst from Weeping Radish Farm Brewery in Grandy, NC and a savory Brussels sprouts relish from Ann’s Raspberry Farm in Fredericktown, OH.
But the highlight of the evening for me—and only slightly trumping the tasting portion. I was hungry!—was hearing the inimitable Alice Waters speak. In addition to discovering she has a penchant for openly defying jaywalking regulations (please be careful, Alice!), she spoke about taste. Though it may seem obvious, taste is the main reason we were there that night (and, perhaps, the reason the whole eat local/seasonal movement has been so successful beyond the initial activist push). If a food doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter the proximity or season or healthfulness of its origin—people won’t seek it out, eat it, and support its underlying cause. That may be obvious, sure, but it’s an excellent reminder when supermarket companies are slapping “artisanal” labels on all sorts of mass-produced items in hopes the buzzword will lure consumers in, occasionally hoping they’ll overlook the taste aspect. Not likely in this crowd.
My next San Francisco mission was to attend the massive Winter Fancy Food Show. (Yes, this trip involved lots of eating. I combated that by renting a bike and spending a beautiful free Saturday riding from Golden Gate Park to Sausalito. What a great way to experience the city and negate some of the winter chill we’ve endured in Birmingham recently.)
I knew my day at the Fancy Food Show would be super-packed. Not only was I in search of new items to feature in Cooking Light’s Taste Test Awards this October, I was serving as part of the show’s Trendspotting Committee. My seven cohorts and I were looking for overarching themes present in the 80,000 (no, not an exaggeration!) food launches that covered the convention floor. Here are the trends we collectively identified:
Chocolate for Breakfast: Tea, Belgian waffles, granola, and hot chocolate on a stick.
Foods for Healing: Ancient healing teas, Blackwater with 77 minerals, aloe and cucumber drinks, plus micro-batches of healthful beverages.
New Noodles: Yam, kelp, faro, and spelt.
Heat with Flavor: Ghost peppers, yuzu-wasabi sauce, and piquillo almond glop.
Creative Chips: pinto bean, naan, peas, mung beans, kale and wild rice.
Not all of those fit into the balanced CL philosophy (weirdest thing I spotted: a caviar kit for childrens’ lunchboxes. Good luck with that), but they’re things you’ll probably see influence supermarket shelves in the coming year. As for the tastier items among the mix, you’ll likely see them in our 2nd annual Taste Test Awards this October.
In the meantime, here’s more virtual window-shopping courtesy of Lori Midson's Top 25 Food Porn Photos from the Fancy Food Show at Westword.