A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to attend the NASFT Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C. A mecca trade-show for all artisan and ‘fancy food’ products. What it really comes down to is a huge networking event for people in the industry and a bunch of free samples! On a more serious note, I did have a moment of realization that no matter what is going on in the world, no matter the differences, people come to the NASFT Fancy Food Show on the same platform and with the same spirit and curiosity to learn and support what others are doing in the specialty food industry. Industries cross as cheese people meet the cookie people, BBQ people meet pasta people. And international countries who are millions of miles apart from each other share a reserved sense of pride and specialty food items close to their culture.
Every corner showcases originality, creativity and perseverance to educate participants of the show. There is a divine entrepreneurial spirit behind each booth, a story that led then to where they are today and a common goal to share their labors of love.
Many of the participants are just starting out, some have been around for a very long time and are launching new products. And it is also fun to spot celebrity chefs promoting their product lines. Lydia was serving pasta, Duff Goldman was promoting fun decorating supplies like cake tattoos, Richard Bayless was at his Frontera Mexican food product booth. And the lovely Cat Cora was promoting a variety of tapenades, olive oils and kitchen utensils.
Cat was also the Keynote speaker at the Sofi awards which stands for specialty outstanding food innovation. There are more than 2,600 entries which are narrowed down to 125 silver finalists and then 33 gold winners in each category. Cat’s keynote speech was a rally call for all of us who have made sacrifices and believed in ourselves to do what we love. Her advice was to push yourself to obtain the best possible education in your field, to give back to your community, to reach and develop your sense of self, and to know at everyday is a series of small steps that will get you to your goal. “Have fun, and keep cooking!”
The show itself was definitely like the Academy Awards of specialty food. However in this case the acceptance speeches are much shorter and thanks is given to key family members, employees and even the cows! People were truly gracious, touched and confirmed that their hard work has been recognized by industry leaders.
Here are links to some vendors and winners that caught my attention:
Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup – Awesome packaging, and a delicious product! They’ve also done a really great job with branding their product. The website is so well designed and gives Sir Kensington a real personality!
The Brooklyn Salsa Company – Again, great package design, delicious and they’re from Brooklyn!!! Bonus they use as much direct trade, local, and organic ingredients as possible.
Theo Chocolate – Ghost Chile Caramels was a Gold winner in the Confection category of the Sofi Awards. They say the Ghost Chile is one of the hottest peppers in the world combined with silky caramel, sounds right up my alley!
Ajiri Tea – Kenyan Black Tea – The word ajiri means “to employ” in Swahili, and that’s the goal of Ajiri Tea: to create employment for women in western Kenya. They were also the Sofi Gold winner in the innovation in Packaging Design or Function category.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company – This family won the Sofi Award and literally thanked the cows. Gotta try this!
To see all the Sofi Gold Winner Click Here
One of my favorite parts of the show is the is the International ‘pavilions.’ Each country gets several devoted rows of booths to showcase their products. It is clear that the Italians had the most robust set of showcases and most likely the first pioneers of getting their products to the United States. I’d walk by and over-hear the Italian business transactions like the melody of an Italian love song. That and anything to snatch another sample of cured meats and mozzarella cheese. You know you’re in love with food when you can look at a hunk of cured meat and admire it’s beauty.
I had a really great time, and hopefully next year I will have more time to play around and visit more booths! I’m sure I’ll be low on my free samples by then!