Fancy (and some not so fancy) food

The Fancy Food Show was in San Francisco last week, as it is every January, and for the first time in ages, I agreed to go. I used to go every year when I was in the restaurant business, but after transitioning to private chef work, I just don’t really feel the connection, let alone the pull to spend hours wandering through a city-sized convention center, packed with hoards of people to sample a whole lot of mediocre fare.

The show itself is truly daunting, and with over 1300 vendors and producers from 50 different countries, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Like any smart person would do, particularly one who hadn’t eaten lunch yet, I started in the Italy section of the show. There I filled my belly with prosciuttos and Parmesans, truffle honey, truffle butter, truffle oil and truffle cheese, panforte, pistachio pastes, espresso, jarred tomatoes, olive oils and of course, balsamic vinegars. Suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps my memory had failed me, and that not all of the food was so mediocre.

I then moseyed over to France for ripe, runny cheese, to Sweden for smoked salmon and pickled herring, to Spain for olives and ham, Brazil for a cocktail respite and I eventually managed to work my way around the convention center contained world. While all of this was tasty and fun, there wasn’t much there I hadn’t seen or tasted before, and I was pretty anxious at that point to see what new and exciting products were being offered.

Here are some highlights (and some lowlights) of the day:Sweet sapa and tangy verjus from Sonoma gave me new inspiration, lactose free yogurt and sour cream soon available from Green Valley Organics, was fantastic, and luscious French chocolates from Comptoir du Cacao were delectable. There were bean chips, kale chips, rice chips and falafel chips, salsas up the wazoo, fresh tofu, ice creams, tons of teas, salts and spices, and of course, hot sauce, hotter sauce and “hey where did my tongue go?” hot sauce, many of which featured ghost peppers, the hottest peppers on earth.

There were also a few products that just really made me scratch my head and ask, “why?” Those included vegan sushi (huh?), cookies meant to be eaten with wine that made no sense (peanut butter cookies and wine?), Tabasco chocolate that was little more than waxy chocolate with a burning finish, and a new peas and carrots candy from Jelly Belly, made from some marshmallow type product, that was so inedible, I think its purpose was to convince kids to actually eat their real peas and carrots.

All in all, I have to admit I was glad I went to the show. I was even more glad that I was there at closing time on the last day, as I discovered that most vendors prefer to get rid of their stuff rather than pack it up. I left the show with a massive stash of goodies, despite the secret service level of security manning the exits (by the end of it all, they do allow you to leave with one bag of swag each.) Next year, I’ll probably head back, but I’m definitely sticking to the last day when it’s less chaotic and the freebies are free-flying.