Author: Robert Stepanek


With the announcement this week of the Longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards, the previous year of outstanding achievements in American publishing, as adjudged by writers and peers in the realm of letters, has come into focus. The National Book Foundation, which presents the annual awards, has assembled panels overseeing the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature, and after reading all of the submissions – which must be written by American authors and published by American publishers, and typically range in number from approximately 150 titles in Poetry to over 500 in Nonfiction – the respective panels have settled on 10 titles from which in mid-October they will cull the shortlist of five finalists in each discipline. Thereafter, there will be a public reading of the finalists’ work on November 18th, and the following day the four winners will be chosen by the respective panels over lunch prior to the announcement of their selections at the evening gala awards ceremony on November 19th.


Among the number of specialty food niches one could survey at the International Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center this year I was particularly struck by the expanding varieties of packaged dried meat products – and this was only in the North Pavilion annexed to the main building of the Javits. Certainly I have noted more and more different brands of various beef and other jerkys on offer in the supermarkets, delis and specialty food shops around the city, but the International Fancy Food show, as always, featured varieties I had no prior knowledge of. After sampling a number of these over the time since the show, I can offer an account (by no means exhaustive) of notable products in this area.


Each year when August comes, New Yorkers can count on several annual rituals that mark the waning days of Summer. The movers and shakers who’re determined to wring every last bit of hard-earned relaxation from the season decamp even more fervently to the Hamptons and other points east (and north, for that matter), and this in turn leads to an events calendar in the city drastically pared down from the typical hurly-burly. As September nears, however, the human tide flows back to the metropolitan area, and perhaps the biggest happening signaling this shift is the US Open tennis tournament, the showpiece event of the USTA (United States Tennis Association).


There are always a good number of events occurring throughout New York City during the week leading up to and including the annual Bastille Day celebrations. While most people focus on the Sunday street fair on East 60th street adjacent to the Alliance Français, there are plenty of other noteworthy cultural and gustatory happenings to enliven Summer in the city. One of these is the afternoon-long petanque tournament on West Broadway, which took place outside Cercle Rouge restaurant on Friday, July 11th.


Notwithstanding the copious amount of words I am capable of employing to write about or verbally describe things, I have always been a visually-oriented person at heart, engaging in drawing perhaps even more compulsively than writing or talking; thus, when I visit Book Expo America I am often most drawn to books rich with illustrations of all kinds. Given the goodly number of publishing houses at BEA which specialize in such work, this is could be considered a feast of sorts for the wealth of titles on array, or a vexing circumstance due to the fact that there’s only a few days to take stock of the wide assortment on hand. You can only do your best, and this typically results in discovering some fascinating books (while yet wondering about those you may have missed).


Just as the James Beard Awards function as the Oscars of the realm of fine dining in America, the SOFI™ Awards represent the best in products in the area of specialty foods and beverages, and are the highlight of the annual Fancy Food Show, taking place this year from June 29-July 1 at the Javits Center. The acronym SOFI stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation, and this years finalists were culled from a record number of 2,734 entries – resulting in more than 130 finalists across the 32 awards categories. Up for the awards, with winners to be determined on June 30, are the following products in their respective categories:


It seems far more often than not when I am out and about, taking in meals or attending receptions, that I find the food I am presented with is too bland for my tastes – so much so that I regret not carrying around with me a bottle of preferred hot sauce to make whatever is before me either more palatable, more enlivened, or simply to bring out the essential flavors already inherent in a more pronounced way. For those like me, who like to challenge their taste buds (and stomachs, and colons – not to mention their endurance and fortitude), the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo at the Penn Pavilion Plaza was the place to be on Saturday, March 29 and Sunday, March 30.


Located at 42 East 8th Street, on the same block as Cantor Film Center, Soho Tiffin Junction [] is something truly new in the constellation of restaurants proximal to NYU – and seems poised to appeal to the sort of international students and faculty who comprise a growing segment of the NYU community. When I observed to proprietor Jawahar Chirimar that the menu options seem similar to Chipotle (a branch of which is just down the street), yet with a fundamentally different emphasis on cuisine, ingredients and seasonings, he conceded that is no accident – and it’s that very simple and healthful presentation of options with regards to placing your order that make Soho Tiffin Junction seem at once familiar while somewhat exotic.


For most people living in New York City and its environs, the most regular exposure they get to products of the nearby Canadian Province of Quebec is the annual December display of fir trees for sale on city sidewalks – most of which end up as Christmas trees in peoples’ apartments (and then typically are returned to the sidewalks once people discard of them after the holidays). A few years ago there was a sort of boomlet in poutine-themed restaurants – not surprisingly some were located in the Lower East Side area that’s become overrun with bars and bistros serving a youthful clientele both residing in the neighborhood and not; poutine is after all an ideal postprandial feast – but that trend seems not to have taken hold, lacking here the deep cultural roots which make poutine an essential element of dining options in any Quebec town large or small. However, there will now be a more sustained opportunity for New Yorkers to enjoy products of Quebec, as the year-long “Foods of Quebec” promotion will bring to the eleven Morton Williams stores of the Metropolitan area a number of fine brands produced in the Province.


Several times a year a group of food purveyors gather under the Food Fete banner to present their newest products to assembled journalists. Here is a round-up of notable products I was able to sample at the most recent edition.