Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Night of Fancy Food in SOMA

The Winter Fancy Food Show started this Sunday in San Francisco and is supposedly one of the largest specialty food and beverage trade show in the country. But since most of the events occur during the day, I can’t check it out because of my regular day job.

So I was excited when I got an invitation to Food Fête, a sort of mini Fancy Food Show that took place last night. It’s a small gathering of selected food exhibitors without the crush of the crowds of the actual show.

One of the first tables I noticed right away was this one from Sterling Confections of Redwood City. The company used to be known as Sterling Truffle Bar because it primarily makes these colorfully decorated truffle bars, which actually looks like huge truffle logs. The company was taken over last year and was reborn as Sterling Confections.

Pat Rebro is the head chocolatier and has continued some of the traditional recipes for the truffle bars while creating new ones, such as Pineapple Ginger Macadamia Nut. Yep, it has all my favorite flavors. The truffle was creamy and soft with just a hint of the pineapple and ginger flavor and bits of macadamia nut. I told the guys they should promote it as the Obama truffle in honor of President Barack Obama’s inauguration today. The truffle bars are primarily sold online, and they have cute smaller versions in case you don’t want to overkill your friend with a huge log.

I love cheese, but this isn’t ordinary cheese. It’s super cheese. This is a Monterey Jack cheese from Pacific Cheese fortified with Omega-3s, the same fatty acids found in fish like salmon and useful to keep your heart healthy. They actually put fish oil into their cheese products, but no, the cheese didn’t taste fishy at all. It was good and kind of spicy. But you probably have to eat a whole lot of cheese to get the benefits of the Omega-3, and that might not be too good for my cholesterol. The cheese started appearing in stores late last year in Southern California and should be making its way to the Bay Area soon. For now, you can check out its site here.

From super cheese to enhanced nuts. This is something called Snacktrition, which sells a variety of nuts enhanced with all kinds of good stuff. Almonds with calcium? Cashews with extra fiber? It’s all in these little green-and-white packets. They make a great mid-morning or afternoon snack when you don’t have time to fix yourself something (like a grilled cheese sandwich).

OK, so they weren’t just exhibiting foods but there were appetizers circulating the room. But I was so busy taking photos and notes that my hands were busy and I didn’t try any of the food, which included these little snack pouches …

… and these mini hamburgers.

One thing I definitely didn’t pass up on was the Grey Goose vodka bar. (That’s right, I have my priorities right.) I wasn’t the only one. This was definitely the booth with the longest line of people waiting for a special martini.

I ended up getting a Peartini. It’s made with Grey Goose’s new La Poire Flavored Vodka, which uses the flavor of the Anjou pear from France’s Loire River Valley. The drink also includes a splash of Disaronno liqueur, simple syrup and lemon juice. It was soooo yummy. Grey Goose is my go-to premium vodka when making martinis, and I really loved the subtle pear flavored drink.

What was great about Food Fête was getting the chance to talk to the owners of small companies that are trying to launch themselves and make it big. One of them was this Milwaukee company called Cholive (trademarked BTW). Joshua Gentine is the president of the company that he started with another partner last year. What they basically make is this olive-shaped chocolate candy, thus the “Cholive.” Gentine is hoping that bars and restaurants will buy their cholive as a novelty item to pair with special chocolate drinks or with wine (I think dark chocolate goes great with red wine). What’s funny is that when I first heard chocolate and olives, I thought they were chocolate-covered green olives, but they weren’t and that’s probably gross. But you know what, I have a craving for that right now.

Another company less than a year old is one by John-David Enright, who quit his operations job with a major pharmaceutical company to create Ooba, a sparkling drink made from the hibiscus flower. The company is based in Pleasanton/Dublin in the Bay Area, but Enright imports all of his hibiscus from farms in places like China. Being from Hawaii, where the state flower is the hibiscus, I was intrigued by the idea. The drink actually wasn’t as bubbly as I thought it might be and the taste had a deep flavor that reminded me of black currant or berry. It also has other flavors such as Hibiscus Orange and Hibiscus Lime, and I really enjoyed the hint of lime in that version. Enright says the hibiscus flower also has natural healing powers, thus the name: Ooba, which stands for “One of Botany’s Advantages.” I thought the name was so cool. Ooba will be popping up in Whole Foods and other specialty stores or online here. (BTW, Enright spiked his glass of Ooba by going over to the Grey Goose booth and adding some vodka. Now that's the way to put some sparkle.)

While some of the exhibitors were new, some were longstanding brands, such as Niman Ranch, which is known for its quality beef. Last night they were promoting its new line of Niman Ranch Poultry. On the right is a dish made with chicken. It was a drunken chicken dish with a tarragon cream that was created by Chef Hoss Zare of Zare at Fly Trap in San Francisco. The chicken was very tender and had a slight gamey flavor that gave it more depths than your typical white chicken breast. Next to it was a lamb stew using Niman Ranch lamb just to remind people that Niman Ranch is still all about the red meat. Currently, Niman Ranch poultry is only produced by one farmer who follows the strict standards we’ve come to expect from Niman Ranch. That means no hormones, no antibiotics and only vegetarian feeds. I’m sure many of the local restaurants will be serving Niman Ranch roast chicken on their menus soon.

Another well-known brand name is Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, a 100-plus-year-old company from the Chicago area. The company makes the best pure vanilla extract, which I currently have in my pantry. Beth Nielsen is a third-generation family member at the company, and I asked her whether growing up everything smelled like vanilla in the home. She says everything smelled good and that she has a real heightened sense of smell. But she says she never tires of the scent of vanilla, and I don’t blame her. It’s one of my favorite smells.

Look at that big bunch of vanilla beans. You know, that is probably worth $100 right there. One of their new products is that jar of Pure Vanilla Sugar, which I thought they would have created a long time ago. I’m looking forward to using it sprinkled on top of cupcakes or in a nice cup of tea.

It was fun getting a preview of some of the new products that will be appearing in markets in the coming year, and meeting the people behind them. Even in today’s economy, it’s still nice to get fancy with your foods now and then.


FJK said...

Great post, Ben.
I hadn't planned writing about the Food Fete, just about some of the vendors, so it was great to be able to link to your post to give folks a "taste" of what we tasted.

Selba said...


I would love to try the Monterey Jack cheese, hmmmm.. not sure that I can find it here in Jakarta though.

Passionate Eater said...

You are definitely a food elite! Since we (your blog readers) weren't able to tag along, will you be posting a followup pear-tini recipe for us to sample on our own? ;) No pressure.

Jeff Davis said...

Here's the Peartini recipe from Grey Goose:

2 parts Grey Goose La Poire Flavored Vodka; 1/4 part DISARONNO Liqueur; 1/4 part simple syrup; 1/2 part lemon juice. Begin with adding all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain the cocktail into a chilled martini glass. Finish the presentation with a very thin slice of pear.

Carolyn Jung said...

Nice pics! I still cannot believe we missed each other there. I guess we were both concentrating on the food too much, huh? I can vouch for those mini burgers being quite tasty. But alas, I did not even spy those little baked pouches. Drat, I missed out.

Chef Ben said...

Thanks FJK for the link. And thanks Jeff for posting the recipe for Grey Goose's peartini, you beat me to it! PE, it's pretty easy to make so hope you give it a try!

Rick Martinez said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for taking the time to post about the Food Fete event. We are interested in presenting our new premium bottled sangria in June at the event in NYC. Reading your post sold me on it.

It looks like the event is set up very well. Do you have any other pictures you could share? I'd love to get a feel for the crowd and how the layout of the event was setup.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Also I like the idea of your blog. I've added it to my RSS feeds. I'll probably also follow up with you at some point. We're looking to get as many honest online blog reviews as possible about our product.

Rick Martinez
Senor Sangria