Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fun with Fancy Food

If a new food product is in your local store, odds are it debuted at the Fancy Food Show first. That's why the annual three-day show in San Francisco is a must-see for people interested in food trends.

Maybe it's the economy, but this year's show has fewer exciting new products than years past. My guess is that chefs and inventors with a dream but no funding found it impossible to get angel investors behind them.

The best new product I discovered on my first day was "Le Foam," a lemon Dijon dressing sprayed from the top of a can like cheap whipped cream. It's lower in calories because it's foamy, and I hate it when my salad is saturated with dressing. The flavor was quite good, but I wish they had more flavors. That said, the product reps said I had the same reaction as everybody else: "What is that? How do you use it?" That doesn't bode well for its reception on supermarket shelves.

Without a lot of exciting new products to check out, I spent hours grazing samples from hundreds of purveyors of everything from real Osetra caviar (you have to practically beg for a small taste) to oddities like "vegetarian caviar," made from seaweed and flavored with fish extract so that vegetarians can't eat it anyway (I tried it and will reassure vegetarians that you're not missing anything.)

If nothing else, I rediscovered how much I love some items:
* Ortiz anchovies in olive oil -- so much better than boquerones because there's no vinegar to cut the salty fishiness
* Snake River Farms American wagyu hot dog, rich and meaty and so delicious
* Merguez sausage from Fabrique Delices, so earthy and lamby
* Lavender sea-salt chocolate from Eclipse Chocolat, my favorite of the dozens of chocolates I sampled
* Sence rose-flavored soda, a delicious, delicate drink which would probably be more widely distributed if the product rep wasn't such a snob. I thought my negative reaction to her last year was my fault, but this year when talking to her once again made me feel like a homeless person trying to try on wristwatches at Tiffany's, I realized it isn't me. It's just a $4 soda, lady -- get over yourself.

Which leads me to the most amusing part of the Fancy Food Show: Goofy products and goofy conversations about them. My favorite goofy product was some new age-guru's distilled water, marketed as "intention-charged water." (What if my intentions aren't good?)

This was my best goofy-product conversation:

"Cupless Joe" is instant coffee in gelatin capsules, the size of vitamins. You're supposed to swallow 4 of them with a cup of water in lieu of drinking a cup of coffee. The product rep told me these are useful in situations where you don't have time or opportunity to drink coffee.

Me: "So it's about the caffeine."
Cupless Joe rep: "No, it's coffee. It's just freeze-dried coffee."
Me: "So I put them in my mouth and add water and it becomes coffee in my mouth."
CJr: "No, it becomes coffee in your stomach."
Me: "So it is about the caffeine."
CJr: "No, it's just coffee. You get all the antioxidant benefits of coffee." She handed me a flier.

Wow, eating freeze-dried coffee as an antioxidant. What will they think of next? (If you're thinking resveratrol-infused chocolate bars, or pasta made of Cabernet Sauvignon grape skins, you're too late, somebody's done it.)


guren said...

Okay pal, let's see you try to blame the Republicans for this one, too.

guren said...

Apologies for replying to my own comment, but I was mainly referring to the "Cupless Joe". Then again, when it comes to food, conservatives are not adventurous nor creative enough to come up with "Le Foam", "Sence rose-flavored soda" or other such wonderful contributions to gastronomy, right?

W. Blake Gray said...

Guren: That's an interesting area of speculation. Are food innovators Democrats or Republicans? Some new food products are crunchy-granola type things, but the great majority are not. Social conservatives eat new kinds of junk food too, and innovators often come from the ranks of customers.

Then there are new brands for existing foods. I liked Mother-in-Law's Kimchi; Koreans tend to be politically conservative.

Wine and spirits distributors are clearly Republican. But food distributors? I'm not sure.

guren said...

Blake, I was extrapolating from this post of yours:

I just don't see Velveeta loving conservatives coming up with such extravagant food products...

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Guren, the big difference is that the first post was about consumers, and this is about inventors, but I take your point. I'm guessing the olive-flavored hummus I just enjoyed today was not made by Republicans.

guren said...

Well, you did write above that "innovators often come from the ranks of customers." Olive-flavored hummus? Jihads have been waged over less.

Lisa said...

Do you think the innovators on either side of the political divide have different priorities?

Like, how do qualities like portability and ease of preparation factor in? Do you think it's all mouthfeel for both sides, and it's just that they experience different mouthfeel?

W. Blake Gray said...

Hi Lisa, it's an interesting question.

If I were strictly to guess, I'd imagine that, following Guren's thinking, social conservatives creating "new" food products would basically be creating new brands of existing ones. But there's an interesting gray area, the Michael Bolton of food -- who dumbs down stuff like Thai food for middle America? Is that done by Thais, liberals who understand middle America, or social conservatives who have been to Thai restaurants? My guess is middle America liberals (who won't admit to such). But until somebody does reliable polling, it's just a guess.