What I Learned at My First Fancy Food Show

I just attended my first Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I’ve never seen so much cheese under one roof in my life. It was awesome. There were creams, blues, goat cheeses, cheddars, mozzarellas, Parmigiano Reggiano and cheeses rubbed  with coffee,  wine, and pepper (to name a few), so, of course, in the name of science, I had to try every one.

Classy labels -

More rubbing – “Enhance your Breasts – Rub your Chicken” and the ever popular, “Rub Some Butt”

Rubbing was very popular, here's

Rubbing was very popular, here’s “We Rub You.”

There was chocolate, ketchup, espresso, crackers, cured meats, cakes, spicy popcorn, pasta sauce, oils, recipe starters, toothpicks, barbecue sauces with racy names, bacon hot sauce, cheesecake, and cookbooks, to name a tiny few of the things I saw.

But more than the number of products I saw, the thing that really impressed me was the spirit of the vendors. I met owners who were just starting businesses, working their tails off trying to make a go of it. I also met people working for long established businesses and everyone in between. The products I’m taking the time to feature in my blog are either ones I already liked, or ones I just discovered, with kind people behind the counter who took the time to talk to me.

And I came away with something, besides a few samples.

Now we move from rubbing to slapping.

Now we move from rubbing to slapping.

I learned there’s room for everyone. Just like in music, where some people love jazz, rock, metal, country, or symphonies, there’s serious diversity in food, even among people who make the same thing, because with food, like music — it’s all about taste. Some people like their biscotti hard as rock and some like it softer. Some like their popcorn spicy, some like it buttery, or sweet.

And you don’t have to be a business major, or be in your 20’s to start a business; you just have to have a dream and the energy, enthusiasm, and determination to keep marketing it every day. I met men and women starting new careers after already having a career or two.

Ridiculously cute tomato appetizers.

Ridiculously cute tomato appetizers

I’m so inspired. I’ve always been so intimidated by the thought of running my own business that I never did it. But after meeting these people, it’s nice to know it’s not too late to start because it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Here are some products (in alphabetical order) and people who were wonderful. Some I already knew and loved, and some I just discovered. I’m writing about these companies and products because they deserve kudos. No one is paying me a cent to do this.

Add Garlic's Lisa Chavez - excellent force feeder!

Add Garlic’s Lisa Chavez – excellent force feeder!

1. AddGarlic. Lisa Chavez behind the counter was fun and got me to taste their garlic products when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite. (These professional food pushers are very impressive – my mom should have done this for a living.) Their products, which make great starters for any recipe, have won awards, their recipes look amazing and make cooking pretty easy since you don’t have to do the chopping or mincing. AddGarlic was very good and would be really helpful, so check it out.  They’re mostly in California, but luckily you can order online! Here’s a link: AddGarlic.com.

Avocado Oil, I predict it's the next big health thing, once kale moves over.

Avocado Oil, I predict it’s the next big health thing, once kale moves over.

2. Avocare — Avocado Oil. This company just got started a year ago, according to a wonderful man I spoke to named Ruben Valdez. The company is based in  Mexico. So far the product is in Texas and Napa, but I have a feeling that avocado oil will become the next big thing  because it has essential fatty acids: Omega 3, 6 an 9, a lighter flavor than olive oil and  a much higher smoke point. They make  extra virgin plain, garlic, chipotle and basil flavored oils.

Be-Bop Biscotti founder and owner.

Be-Bop Biscotti founder and owner

3. Be-Bop Biscotti. These gals were so nice to me. They talked about running their company and how much they enjoyed it, but acknowledged it is hard work. I walked away knowing it is do-able. I wish I’d gotten their card, but at least I have a photo.

Edited Bel Gioioso

Wonderful mozarella roll with proscuitto and basil leaves – it’s wonderful.

4. Bel Gioioso – (Pronounced Bell- joy-YO-so). This company has been around for a long time, and I like their stuff. I’ve bought other ricottas, but sometimes they’re gritty. Bel Gioioso’s is not, so, it’s perfect for cannoli. Their Marketing Manager, Jamie Wichlacz was very nice and encouraged me to try their other products. And they make a million other products including a yummy mozzarella roll with proscuitto and basil. The hardest part of serving it would be trying not to wolf it down before your guests arrive.

Bellucci Olive Oil - it's smooth and beautiful.

Bellucci Olive Oil – it’s buttery.

5. Bellucci Olive Oil. After you’ve tasted eight million different olive oils, they all start to taste the same, but with this one, it was like someone put olives in a bottle then waved a wand and they turned into a rich, buttery oil. It’s from Tuscany, and would be so good drizzled on a sandwich, salad, or in pesto. I’m thinking of dabbing some on my wrists, it might help. When I went home, I did a taste test between this oil and the olive oil I’m using from Coscto.  This one tasted buttery and more rich in comparison.

Belucci Olive Oil - ready for its close-up.

Belucci Olive Oil – ready for its close-up.

When I looked at their website, I wanted to move to Italy and own an olive farm. Sarah Sherman behind the counter was sweet and knowledgeable and I’m kicking myself because I forgot to take a photo of her. On the bottle is a QR code and you can scan it to trace your bottle back to the groves in Tuscany where the olives came from — how cool is that? The  bottles are nice and dark so no oil is spoiled by too much light. Here’s a link: Bellucci Olive Oil

Melts in your mouth!

Sergiu Mititelu and Associate

Sergiu Mititelu and Associate

6. Bergland Almonta Cream Cheese Spread.  Normally, I’m not a huge fan of cream cheese spreads, but this one melted in my mouth. It was light years ahead of the others I’ve bought in a pinch when I need a quick appetizer. It tasted like pure cream, not gummy at all. They’re working on U.S. distribution.  Sergiu was lovely and his poor associate was spreading cheese as fast as her little fingers could fly.

Jon's hardworking brother at Bongiovi.

Jon’s hardworking brother, Anthony at Bongiovi.

7. Bongiovi Pasta Sauce. I have, when desperate, fallen prey to using store bought sauce. (Waiting for the lightning bolt from my deceased mother…OK, she must be up there gambling or something.) This one tastes authentic, kind of like a chunkier version of my Uncle Richard’s. Not sweet, but good. They make three: Marinara, Garden Style and Arrabbiata. I liked the marinara the best. And yes, the recipe for this sauce came from Jon Bongiovi’s dad. Here’s a link: Bongiovi Pasta Sauce. They also started the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation to help fight hunger and homelessness. You gotta love that.

Tim says he has a killer  peppermint brownie recipe!

Tim says he has a killer peppermint brownie recipe!

8. Boyajian Incorporated. I got so excited talking to Tim Enright in this photo about making brownies with a peppermint oil infused cream layer and a chocolate ganache topping, that I didn’t even know Boyajian had flavored olive oils too. Tim promised to send me the recipe for the brownies and I’m holding him to it.  I am thinking about switching from extracts to oils in my baking since I spoke with him.  Here’s a link to Boyajian Baking Oils.

My raggedy, 24 year-old Bissinger article.

My raggedy, 24 year-old Bissinger article

9. Bissinger’s Chocolates. This is proof that I am an incurable foodie. I cut out articles about food and remember them for years — like this one about Bissinger’s Chocolates I found in the L.A. Times 24 years ago. I taped the article into an old photo album, where I keep all my favorite cookie recipes,  and every time I open it (which is quite often) I see this Bissinger article. (See how hard life was before Pinterest?) Here’s online proof it’s 24 years old, I found a link! 

Katie Lawson- Brand Ambassador at Bissinger's.

Katie Lawson- Brand Ambassador at Bissinger’s

So, I was thrilled when I ran head-on into the Bissinger booth, manned by Katie Lawson, who is a real sweetheart! I tasted their chocolate which was rich, smooth and very good. (There were no chocolate covered fruits because they’re not in season yet.) I will not let another summer go by without trying their chocolate covered raspberries or blackberries (that’s what the article was about)  which Katie says are heavenly! Bissinger’s is in St. Louis, but they do ship. (I heard they’re expanding too — Yay!) Here’s a link because you’ll need some too: Bissinger’s

Will Tassi with Biscotti di Suzy

Will Tassi with Biscotti di Suzy

10. Crunchy Foods. The owner, Will Tassi was selling Biscotti di Suzy.  Cute, flavorful little biscotti, hard and good for dipping. I tried the lemon almond and they were very good. Nice for a little snack. Made me seriously re-consider selling my own biscotti! Until I do, you can buy Will’s.Here’s a link:Biscotti di Suzy

11. Dairy Goddess. I didn’t get to meet the actual goddess, she was off somewhere, but I met her husband who told me all about their operation and again, I was so impressed. Once the kids left home, Barbara (the Dairy Goddess) wanted something creative to do — and  she’s doing it now.  (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo.) They sell amazing cheese and milk products. (I should know I tasted enough!) Here’s a link to The Dairy Goddess online store.

DeLallo sandwich --  almost too big to hold!

DeLallo sandwich —
almost too big to hold!

12. DeLallo. If you read my previous post on the Italian Store — Home Sweet Home, then you know how I feel about DeLallo’s. They started in Jeanette, PA and have an amazing store there, which I just visited with my kids when I was back home. We got sandwiches so big, you could hardly hold them, let alone take a bite, yet somehow I managed.

I am very excited to see DeLallo products showing up slowly in Los Angeles. Their sales manager, TJ, said the trend will continue. In the meantime, check out their website. They have great recipes and high quality food to order: DeLallo. If you’re ever in Jeanette, you have to go. They’re right on Route 30. The crusty, chewy, tender in the middle Talonica bread alone, is well worth the trip. I’m not kidding, I could eat a whole loaf!

Chef Giovanina Bellino of Flavor Bombs!

Chef Giovanina Bellino of Flavor Bombs!

13. Flavorbombs.net. The woman at this booth was the first person I met at the show.  Her name was Giovannina Bellino and she was so nice.  She has these great little packets she’s put together so your job in the kitchen is easy.  They’re called Flavor Bombs. Giovanina says they’re an all natural, fresh, frozen cooking base. You can use them as flavoring in dishes or as a base for pasta. They can start a dish or finish one. They come in five flavors: Soffrito, Mirepoix, Basil, Rosemary and Sage. They looked really good but I didn’t taste because it was too early for garlic. Now I wish I had.  Here’s a link where you can order them and try them out: Flavorbombs

Jordan Ashcraft - a very cool, fun guy who knows his stuff!

Jordan Ashcraft – a very cool, fun guy who knows his stuff.

Fra' mani14. Fra’Mani. Oh my God, I couldn’t stop eating this stuff. This company makes cured meats like Salami and Soppressata and it is exceptional. Their sales Manager, Jordan Ashcraft, kept dishing it out and was great to talk to. Their meats tasted so fresh and didn’t have that heavily salted taste. I loved everything I tasted. They are meticulous about their product from how the pigs are raised to how the product is cut, mixed together and dried. The recipes on the website look fantastic too.

The chef, who started Fra’Mani is Paul Bertolli. He was head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley for 10 years and has won so many awards, he probably can’t even keep track. Check out the Fra’Mani website. Their products are amazing!

Must have lost his card, but I sure remember his powdered vanilla, can't wait to try it!

It was all about sustainability for Lafaza, which is so admirable and their vanilla is really superb.

15. Lafaza. this company and lots of other folks at the Fancy Food Show talked a lot about sustainability.   Lafaza sells vanilla beans, vanilla powder and extracts, which they purchase from farmers in Madagascar.  They’re very proud of dealing directly with small, independent farmers, who practice farming that’s much better for the environment and therefore sustainable. Plus, it makes better vanilla, which makes perfect sense.

I thought the vanilla powder was a wonderful idea because you get those beautiful flecks of vanilla that you usually don’t get unless you soak a vanilla bean, then scrape it. I am anxious to try it in a recipe or two and see how it turns out.  Here’s a link to their vanilla products page on their website:  Lafaza

16. La Monica. These guys were such fun, they reminded me of my brothers.  I got to taste their soups, which were creamy and yummy, but I missed getting their photo.I’m including a link to the recipe page of their website. They even have a page with everything you want to know about clams. I can’t wait to make their pasta with clam sauce and their New England Clam Chowder! I believe their products are all over the country, but I’m not positive. Check them out:  La Monica

Karen Hawa and Deborah Thompson of Mokk-a

Karen Hawa and Deborah Thompson of Mokk-a

17. Mokk-a. I met Karen Hawa as I was wrapping up my visit to the Fancy Food show and was dragging.  I saw espresso, and my eyes lit up like I was King Arthur and it was the holy grail. Karen whipped up some Italian espresso, which was wonderfully flavorful and probably saved my life that day, because I would have passed out on BART on my way home otherwise.

Karen was another impressive person, who just decided one day that she would sell coffee, even though she didn’t know much about it. I loved hearing her story and I think her espresso is wonderful. She has several types of coffees which you should check out, I’ll bet they’re all very good:  Mokk-a

Nicholas Coe and his designer daughter.

Nicholas Coe and his designer daughter

18. Molonay Tubilderborst Ketchup.  I figured anyone crazy enough to take on Heinz was worth talking to.  I grew up in Pittsburgh and Heinz was and still is king there. So, I sought out this upstart ketchup’s founder. Turned out the owner is not crazy (as far as I could tell) and his name is Nicholas Coe. He started making his own ketchup using an old family recipe from the early 19th century. Ketchup wasn’t sweet back then, had lots of spices, and was used to compliment a wide variety of meats, fish and poultry.

This ketchup comes in three flavors: Savory — which is the most like classic American ketchup, Curry, which was my favorite, and Spicy, which I was afraid to try because I’d almost burned my tongue off with some spicy popcorn a few booths earlier.

Molonay Tubilderborst Ketchup in three flavors!

Molonay Tubilderborst Ketchup in three flavors!

But why, you ask, would someone use such a wacky name for a ketchup? Well, once you figure out how to say it, it does stick with you. The ketchup is named after a well-known gourmand, who frequented London and Paris in the 1930’s. The labels are great and were created by Nicholas’ daughter. I would definitely buy the curry flavored one – the flavor is very similar to Currywurst’s offerings in L.A., and I do think this ketchup is probably far better for you because it’s all real ingredients and sugar is not one of the first ones listed. It does have a consistency, like real food instead of something glossy and smooth, and could definitely catch on with the gourmet in your life, unless he or she is from Pittsburgh. Here’s a link: Molonay Tubilderborst Ketchup.

Michelle Sawyer from Red Clay Gourmet-she converted me!

Michelle Sawyer from Red Clay Gourmet-she converted me!

19. Red Clay Gourmet. This one really surprised me because I have never been a pimento cheese person, but I wanted to try everything. I did, and now I’m a convert and ten pounds heavier! I definitely didn’t grow up with this, but when Michelle talked to me about the macaroni and cheese possibilities, my eyes lit up and I thought, yes! You could put the mixes on hamburgers and which would melt beautifully. Or use it in a pannini or mixed with eggs, the possibilities are really endless. It was tasty, and they use all natural ingredients with very little mayonnaise. Here’s a link because I’m craving some right now: Red Clay Gourmet.

The sweet Saxon Chocolates representative.

The sweet Saxon Chocolates representative

20. Saxon Chocolates.  This display was so pretty, I had to stop, even though I’d already eaten eight million chocolates. The candy was as delicious as it was perfect. I had one with a hazlenut center, which I loved. The owner is from Belgium where he grew up with fine chocolate and decided we need it in America too. The girl who spoke to me was wonderful, but now I can’t find her card – but here’s her photo and a link to their website: Saxon Chocolates

28 thoughts on “What I Learned at My First Fancy Food Show

  1. Oh, Fran! How exciting that you went, learned, got inspired, and shared all these wonderful entrepreneurs’ delicious offerings. You truly are a food ambassador. Now get on with it, Missy!

  2. All I can say is “Wow!” You put a lot information into this blog. I printed out a copy for my kitchen, and I am excited to buy and try many of these items. So nice of you to endorse these people and their products. There’s a special niche in the food business for you! It’s coming!

    • Oh Donna, thank you. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you always reading and responding. It makes it all worth while. Let me know which products you like best! xoxoxo

  3. Hi Fran, Thanks so much for your endorsement of Flavor Bombs. I enjoyed sharing my passion with you and appreciate your enthusiasm for new food products and small business entrepreneurs. It takes tremendous commitment and resources to exhibit at the Fancy Food Show. Meeting people like you makes it fun and enjoyable, besides the hard work. If I may, here’s my link one more time…. http://www.flavorbombs.net
    Warm Regards, Giovannina

    • Hi Giovannina, I am happy to endorse anyone who has the guts to go out and make it happen and I am sure your stuff is good — it smelled fantastic– I will happily wolf some down next time whether it’s morning or not! Good luck!

  4. such a great sentiment! that is something i love about food – there truly is room for everybody. and everybody does things a little bit different, so the number of possibilities is infinite. it sounds like a wonderful fancy food show!

    • Hi Anna,
      You are right. It was a wonderful realization to have, but now I’m getting the itch to start a biscotti company…not sure if that’s inspiration or insanity. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Finally had a chance to read this one, and oh did you bring back some lovely memories for me! Went to the SF Food Show years ago with my sister and my folks. We’ve done the NY one as well — it’s a major perk of being in the food biz. So many booths and wonderful people, all encouraging you to taste their offerings! I’m so Glad you went, Fran! Thank you for sharing about it (and even including links for us). I bet you’ll go again….

  6. Fran Darling I am so glad you went and had so much fun. I have to tell you Hamo and I were there but I don’t remember it as detailed until I read you description of each company and items. Tnx😘

    • I am so sorry I missed you Adrine! There was a woman there who was selling some great Armenian crackers and spreads, I don’t remember her name, but she was very nice. I told her I was from Glendale and she chuckled and said she was sure I knew Armenian food. Next time we’ll rendezvous! Thanks for reading!

  7. Fran! So happy to hear you so inspired!! I am so thrilled that you had this experience and what a great article. I hope all of these people you met have your card and a link to your blog to see how kindly you are representing them and to share your genius with their world. And it brings back memories of the job I once had stuffing cannolis and the Javitz center food show one year! Is it any wonder most of these products or companies seems to have Italian origins?!

    • Nicol, I am finishing emailing every last one of them right now. It was really fun, I wish you could have been there, you would have enjoyed it! I did leave truly inspired, biscotti don’t seem so daunting anymore. Thanks, as always, for reading!

  8. Here’s a money-making idea: you put together a tour of a city like SF to coincide with the food show, and charge people like me who want to join you. you could do two or three a yr, centered around similar shows in different cities. You could take us to the great restaurants of the city while we’re there. Become a fancy food guru. You’d be over-the-top awesome

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