Same old, same old. Healthy, healthy, healthy. Blah. Everybody seems to be chasing the same brass ring and releasing product that duplicates something else in the market without any improved bells and whistles (if you don’t count ghost peppers or superfruits). I want to enjoy my food, not have my senses assaulted. Manufacturers have seemed to forget that their mandate is to sell product and have the customer binge eat that entire bag of chips or box of cookies. Having one chip and sealing up the bag or a single sip of that decadent beverage and putting it in the refrigerator doesn’t help the bottom line.
Whenever I walk the aisles of a well-known supermarket chain – which need not be named – it’s not an infrequent occurrence that there will tables set up where eager and (mostly) young people are engaged in demonstrations of new products, from chocolates to granola bars, from beer to coffee, from chips made from all variety of vegetables to dipping sauces to dunk them in. Most such products are launched on their journey to the commercial marketplace by being featured in the Fancy Food Show, which is staged by the Specialty Food Association twice a year and on both coasts – the Summer version taking place in New York at the Javits Center. Running from June 30 to July 2 in 2018, it promises not only to herald upcoming flavorful and imaginative additions to the American palate, but also to provide attendees – most of whom are engaged the food industry, from retailers to manufacturers to consultants, and the like – with opportunities to gain greater knowledge about the business while they network with partners, vendors and colleagues.
What interesting times we live in. The retail industry is crashing and burning due to e-commerce (Macy’s, Payless, Sears/KMart, Radio Shack, J.C. Penney, The Limited, American Apparel etc.) Greedy landlords who have been jacking rents through the roof for years and leveraged their portfolios to buy more over-priced real estate are now facing the grim reaper as their major anchor tenants have walked away from long term leases. The vulture capitalists are circling the carrion. The unlikely knight in shining armor turns out to be low profit margin supermarkets who have figured out they don’t need 100,000 square feet when 40,000 will do.
Once again New York gourmands can welcome in the new year by attending a competition at which there are no losers – the Annual Cassoulet Cook-off at Jimmy’s No. 43, which will hold its 9th iteration on Sunday, January 15th from 1:00-4:00pm. Co-hosted with the Chefs’ Consortium, which will help source local ingredients for the competing chefs, it will feature both professional and amateur chefs vying for prizes from sponsors Wüsthof and Anolon Cookware for people’s and judge’s choice awards.
While there are undoubtedly many theories and philosophies regarding various diet regimens designed to ensure a healthy and long life, I have always maintained that gustatory pleasure for its own sake promotes one’s well-being – or, to put it another way, “the fat is where the flavor is.” Thus, it is with expectation that New York gourmands look forward to the second annual installment of The Great Big Bacon Picnic. Hailed as “The Bacon Event of the Year”, it has been moved to Autumn for 2016, and over the two-day weekend of September 24 & 25 there will indeed be a celebration embracing all manner of cured pork delicacies and artisanal spirits at the Old Pfizer Factory at 630 Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Summer Fancy Food Show had an interesting undercurrent I only caught wind of due to my early career start in Investment Banking with JP Morgan — Mergers & Acquisitions, especially with respect to the natural and organic foods industry. The Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) conglomerates have always been on the prowl for competitors — whether to force out of business or sideline, if possible, or to replicate new product successes, co-opt or takeover. In 2016 the emphasis is on identifying new trends or ones that have been bubbling under the surface for awhile and buy them out. Hormel recent bought both Applegate Farms (a personal favorite) and Justin’s Nut Butters. General Mills started the trend by acquiring Annie’s (the bunny mac & cheese).
Perhaps the most striking group of mountains within the domain of the Alps are the Dolomites, situated in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. They point towards the sky not in the pyramidal or conical forms commonly seen elsewhere, but rather as a collection of craggy, singular sentinels looming over a very distinct area of Italy with a rich artisanal tradition and agricultural bounty. Thus it is apropos that the unique soil and environment in this realm of pristine air, clear lakes, glaciers and diverse microclimates gives rise to some exceptional wines.
It may not be the case that Matt Groening’s everyman owes his record-setting television sitcom longevity to yeast, hops and barley, but certainly many a similar notable accomplishment has been fortified with regular consumption of Homer Simpson’s favorite quaff. Those sharing his obsession have something to look forward to as from February 19-28, the 8th Annual New York City Beer Week will take place – yes it’s a ten-day week, but would seven days be sufficient to allow for a sampling of the fine products of local artisanal brewers? In the elasticity of time, let work weeks be shorter, and beer weeks be longer.
There is little better on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter than a hearty bowl of stew, and the version perfected in France, the Cassoulet, raises the concept to an art form. While there is no standard recipe, ingredients usually lean heavily on meats such as lamb and pork, slow-cooked in a savory mélange, and beans are essentially mandatory. At a previous cook-off one attendee remarked that he didn’t like beans – to which I retorted “going to a cassoulet tasting and not liking beans is like going to Bill Cosby’s house and not liking roofies.”
While January annually brings cold weather, it also avails New Yorkers a great and singular opportunity to indulge in the kind of pleasures one normally associates with the long days, warm and sunny weather, and open-air celebrations of summertime – namely, the feast presented by the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ event, slated for January 30th. Once again taking place at the Tunnel, at 608 West 28th Street, the Manhattan installment – the 7th annual – of Beer, Bourbon & BBQ is the opening event in a multi-city tour; future stagings are set for February 27 in Tampa, Florida, April 1 & 2 in Timonium, Maryland, May 7 in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 21 in Atlanta, Georgia, June 11 in Richmond, Virginia, June 17 & 18 in National Harbor, Maryland, August 5 & 6 in Cary, North Carolina, August 20 in Virginia Beach, Virginia and September 17 in Leesburg, Virginia. Named by Fest Forward the ‘Best of the Fests’ 2015 Award Winner, it is indeed a welcome gustatory escape from the rigors of winter.