So it’s 1991 and I’m in Austin, Texas with my band to play a showcase for the annual South By Southwest Music Festival. Somehow we ended up hanging out with a British punk band, the lead singer of which enthusiastically announced one day that he was going out for FISH TACOS!
First of all, back in 1991, we’d never heard of such a thing, so it seemed really odd and frankly, kinda gross. And secondly, the way he said “fish tacos” was hilarious. He pronounced the word “taco”, not in the way we would; his version rhymed with “wacko”. But to tell you the truth, it all kinda made sense after he took us to a little Tex-Mex place that served up the most delicious lightly battered and fried fish topped with pico de gallo, slaw, cilantro, a slightly spicy, yet cool and refreshing sauce, anointed with a squeeze of lime, that we went from oblivious to wacko about the things.
Since then, we’ve had them all over the country, most notable of which were in San Francisco on Pier 39 and here in Edison, New Jersey at Skylark Diner.
I’ve even made them at home. Here’s my favorite recipe, courtesy of Food.com.
So, here’s the thing. I’ve been in the food industry for 17 years. Retail. Wholesale. Corporate. Private labeling. Specialty buying. You name it, I’ve probably had a hand in it directly or indirectly at one time or another. In fact, if you include all the years I worked in a grocery store deli, bakery, waited tables and managed an espresso bar (before there was a “coffee culture”), I’ve been in the industry for almost 25 years now.
Two weeks ago, was the opening day of my absolute favorite trade show — the Summer Fancy Food Show. It would have been my 17th consecutive year attending, but I missed the 2011 show due to the event temporarily relocating to D.C. while the Javits Center was being remodeled as well as personal scheduling conflicts. I hauled my tuchus down to D.C. the following year, however!
This year was my 16th show. Sixteen years attending the Fancy Food Show and I was as excited on opening day (June 30) as I was back in ’97 when I first walked into the Javits for my very first show.
The Summer Fancy Food Show is North America’s Largest Specialty Food & Beverage Event. Over 24,000 buyers from across the U.S. and around the world are prime to discover 180,000 products including confections, cheese, coffee, snacks, spices, ethnic, natural, organic and more, from 2,400 exhibitors spanning 80+ countries. The trade only event (not open to the general public) is hosted by the Specialty Food Association.
The Specialty Food Association is the preeminent not-for-profit business trade association established in 1952 to foster trade, commerce and interest in the $86 billion specialty food industry. The Association is an international organization composed of more than 3,000 member companies including domestic and foreign manufacturers, importers, distributors, brokers, retailers, restaurateurs, caterers and other specialty food businesses.
You probably think I would be tired of it all by now, but I still love it! I find new and exciting things every year. Quite honestly, anyone who is faced with over 350,000 sq. ft. of specialty food exhibitors and walks away with
no new ideas and nothing to be excited about should hang up their hat. They don’t belong in the industry anymore.
Yes, there are people like this. To them, this show is drudgery and they dread walking the aisles and expect to not find anything new. They return to their shops and continue to fill their shelves with the same lines, the same products, week after week, year after year. And, sadly, their customers end up with the short end of the stick. Their customers never have the opportunity to see or taste all of the amazing things available. Someone else made that decision for them. The shop owners chose not to take a risk, to think outside of their proverbial box. They chose to remain safe and staid. But, we must all remember that with great risk comes the opportunity for greater reward.
This year I was doubly excited because I had the unique opportunity of having a virgin Fancy Food Show crew. My team members had never before heard of, let alone been part of such an experience. We six food lovers, covered the gamut from vegan, vegetarian, dairy sensitive, gluten sensitive, alcohol allergic, diabetic to “if-it’s-on-my-plate-i’ll-eat-it”! Just as the title to this blog entry states, we went, we saw, we ate, we were inspired and at the end of the day we returned to our homes and passed out…happily.
WE CAN’T WAIT FOR NEXT YEAR!
Our team divided itself into Instagrammers and bloggers during and post-show. Here is a bit about our experience…
Well I walked my first Fancy Food Show Marathon and after much anticipation must say I had a blast!
Weaving through the crowded aisles of serious foodies from all over the world was a breeze. Chatting with whoever in our own group of 6 was nearby, I felt like a kid at summer camp. And booth after booth of delicious samples…hard to put into words. WOW! Luckily for us our General (as we called Lin) prepared us with veteran tips on pacing ourselves. Lobster pizza, East Indian cuisine, barbecue, dumplings, tacos, spreads, dips, chips, juices, coffees, and more varieties of cheeses, olives, cookies, and crackers than I could have imagined.
Our joke….. this must have been what a party at Caligula’s house was like.
Looking back at the Summer Fancy Food Show over a week later, I still mostly picture the cheeses and olives. I guess it’s because they’re my dietary Achilles heels. Other foods, I can eat in moderation … or with some reasonable semblance of same. Offered a taco (there were some great samples), pastries (check) or cold desserts like ice cream or gelato (check again) I can form the words, “No thanks” after tasting a few samples. I can exert some self-control. Not so with the cheeses, or those olives—and honest to God, I’d never seen so many, and so many varieties, and in many cases varieties I’d never known about of before, in one place.
It was one thing to hear about the billion miles and gazillion aisles of food at this event, another to be there and experience it for myself. I can only compare it to the World’s Fair or something like that. It’s kind of indescribable, which is one reason I waited awhile—way too long— to take a stab these few paragraphs. I don’t remember all the stuff I ate. I just remember eating stuff constantly for hours and hours. Delicious stuff, gourmet stuff, real fancy food.
So I’m keeping it short, sweet and simple, sticking to those central images: The trays of cheeses. The cases of multihued olives. And also the distributors and buyers from around the world haggling at the international booths, sizing each other up across tables, looking at each other eye-to-eye, exchanging business cards, taking notes and making calculations with pads and pencils along with, or instead of, laptops and tablets …
There was, I guess, an element of the Old World bazaar to this incredible event that added another layer of fascination for me as I roamed the place with Team Alecia Bakery NYC, snatching olives and cheese from anyplace within reach … and gobbling down a whole lot of other food too.
NEXT TIME, Lin … I repeat, NEXT TIME, I’ll try to remember everything I ate so I can write about it here.
(Photos by our Instagrammers: Liz, Kevin & Dan)
To the victor goes the spoils (aka some of the samples our crew snagged)…
Even our precious pugs got treats from the show when we returned home…
And a very special family of 7 children ranging in ages from 1 month to 11 years received a very generous gift from the ladies at the Happy Family booth!
It’s always nice to receive unsolicited positive feedback from customers. And thankfully, we have a loyal and steadily growing fan base who truly appreciates the love and time we put into our products. While every note of encouragement, thanks and praise, is not only appreciated, but helps to fuel our passion, occasionally we receive a note that move us to tears.
[My wife’s] father called her AGAIN about the cookies. He was almost in tears. I’ll tell you why…
As I’d mentioned to you, [my wife’s] mom used to make the same type of cookie for Xmas using walnuts. They were VERY similar in taste and texture — so light they melted in your mouth. I’d await my holiday deliveries from her every year, and she’d always make an extra batch for me. I’d never before or since found that type of cookie made as well until I tasted yours. They’re so identical it’s uncanny. Anyway, her father said the same thing to [my wife]. He said it feels as if he has her mother’s Xmas cookies again. He’d been trying out different bakeries, but nothing cut it. You did a mitzvah!!”
And that, friends, sums up what we hope you all feel when you take a bite of our treats. We aspire to remind you of happy, possibly simpler, times when a bowl of cookie dough could create fun, laughter and the most wonderful memories.