(And people were not permitted to leave the exhibition halls with samples; one group caught smuggling out bits of German chocolate and English water crackers were sternly told by a security guard that they must eat everything before being allowed to leave. There were words and gnashing of teeth, but when last I saw the smugglers, they were sullenly munching away.)
The show, sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, was the 22nd annual winter event. (The summer version is generally staged in July, at the Javits Center in New York City.) More than 800 exhibitors displayed their offerings to more than 25,000 buyers from around the world -- the point being, mainly, to develop contacts for bringing products to market.
Louise Danelian, for instance -- founder and co-owner of Louise's Garden, a line of boutique salad dressings -- spent much of her time wooing distributors who might be able to put her bottles on grocers' shelves. She was optimistic that the recent acquisition by Safeway of Vons, a Southern California supermarket chain, would be a big breakthrough, because Louise's Garden salad dressings are already available at Vons.
But the matter of what gets sold where is often delicate and subtle. "We want to be something that people can't get just anywhere," she said. "That's part of our marketing image."
Several local fancy-food concerns won awards from the association. The Meza roasted vegetable polenta of G&G Foods, on Revere Avenue, was named outstanding pasta, rice, or bean dish. The outstanding dessert was a chocolate terrine cake -- described by the judges as "really sensational" -- from the French Patisserie on Rodgers Street.
And vinegar paradiso -- a rice-wine vinegar infused with vanilla and coconut, and manufactured by Golden Whisk of South San Francisco -- was named outstanding oil, vinegar, or salad dressing. Vanilla-coconut vinegar sounds improbable, but Elinor Hill-Courtney, president of the company, suggested using it for pan deglazing, pairing it with macadamia-nut oil in a vinaigrette, or adding it to pear sorbet. It comes in a stylishly narrow grappa bottle, so even if you have trouble deciding what to do with the actual vinegar, you'll be adding a bit of snazz to your cupboards.
By Paul Reidinger