FOOD FETE – SUMMER 2013

Concurrent to the Fancy Food Show taking place at the Javits Center a few blocks away, the annual Summer Food Fete event featuring a more manageable array of food purveyors presenting their latest creations to food journalists was staged, and it included some exhibitors who had booths at Javits and some who did not. ‘Manageable’ is a relative term, however, as due to its timing to take advantage of the convergence upon the big event at Javits the number of brands represented was far more than Food Fete events staged at other times of the year – whereas previous iterations have had from 15-20 or so exhibitors, the event on July 1st totaled over 60 firms. Accordingly, the time frame for the event was a three-hour period instead of the normal two hours, and I regret not having budgeted time to account for the greater number of brands on hand and getting there earlier; arriving an hour into the event, I was unable to stop by all of the exhibitors’ tables to see what all was being presented.

Among those tables that I was able to stop by there were many delectable new products to savor. As someone who spent formative years in Cincinnati (in my case at college), I can attest that just about anyone with functional taste buds moving away from the Queen City most regrets leaving behind a gustatory experience that until recently they have not been able to enjoy wherever else they have relocated to – namely Graeter’s Ice Cream [www.graeters.com]. They were on hand and sampling some flavors that will be available in limited editions in select stores nationwide from September to December – Cinnamon and Pumpkin Pie – as well as the Salted Caramel flavor they’ve been serving in their parlors in Greater Cincinnati for more than 100 years (the outfit began in 1870); these will be also be available online. As Cincinnatians well know, each pint of Graeter’s is made with all-natural ingredients and hand-crafted two gallons at a time using the century-old French Pot method (which ensures a singular fresh, creamy taste; Graeter’s is the only commercial ice cream manufacturer worldwide to use it), and something unique to the brand is how they prepare their chocolate chip varieties – with gargantuan slabs of chocolate marbling a number of fine flavors (including Black Raspberry, Mocha, Vanilla and Mint) they are paired with. It’s thrilling to know these will finally be widely available in New York supermarkets.

A much better-known brand of frozen desserts, which moved from legendary local status to national obsession some time ago is Ben & Jerry’s [www.benjerry.com], and they were on hand to showcase their three new Greek Frozen Yoghurt flavors, which makes for a total of seven. New for 2013 are Liz Lemon (complete with a picture of Tina Fey on the package), a Lemon Yoghurt with a Blueberry Lavender Swirl; Pineapple Passionfruit (Pineapple Yoghurt with Passionfruit Swirl); and Vanilla Honey Caramel (vanilla with Honey Swirl). Existing flavors are Raspberry Fudge Chunk, Banana Peanut Butter, Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Vanilla Graham. The big question I have for B & J, however, is: when will you be bringing back Wavy Gravy, my all-time favorite flavor?

Another treat with a refined sweet flavor were Dang Coconut Chips [www.dangfoods.com]. Inspired by a recipe handed down by company founder Vincent Kitirattragarn’s mother – after whom the brand is duly named – Dang Coconut Chips are a crunchy snack with all the health properties of coconut oil. Made from the nutrient-packed copra – the meat of the coconut – which is sliced out of mature coconuts and then gently toasted until golden brown and seasoned with a dash of sugar and salt, the chips are golden brown and are equally scrumptious either as a topping for desserts, salads and main dishes calling for a sweet/savory contrast – or straight from the bag (which comes in two options: snack size and family size).

The realm of dried fruit – particularly varieties that are lighter and crispier than the sort of overly-chewy ‘fruit jerky’ that’s been a typical preparation for decades – has been an area with a lot of new products and brands within the last ten years or so. One firm doing this well is Crispy Green® Dried Fruit Snacks [www.crispygreen.com], who were sampling their all natural freeze-dried tangerine sections. These were very airy and light, contain no skin or cores, and have only 40 calories per serving; they come in individual 0.36 oz. bags, or packs of 6, 36 or 72 of these.

Having established their brand by making pomegranate juice a visible presence in stores and supermarkets with the distinctive bottles that echo the spherical-shaped fruit, Wonderful Brands [www.WonderfulPistachios.com] has branched out into other foods grown in California groves. “Get crackin’!” reads the type on bags of Wonderful Pistachios, which come in Roasted & Salted variety as well as a terrific Sweet Chili flavor. The nuts are grown and processed by Paramount Farms, and there are a number of interesting food pairings the company suggest for their use, available on their website. Wonderful Brands also purvey a line of Almonds, not only Roasted & Salted Whole Almonds, but also what they call Wonderful Almond Accents – seasoned sliced almonds in flavors including Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper, Sweet Roasted With Pomegranate and Honey Roasted With Cranberries; these are great tasting by themselves, but also make a perfect garnish for salads, roasts and dishes of any kind.

Provocative blends of nuts and fruits coupled with great seasonings has been the trademark of Sahale Snacks [www.sahalesnacks.com], a brand inspired by a climb up Mt. Rainier – whence the company founders felt the fabulous views they had there should be matched by culinary treats of equal elevation. Sahale’s CRUNCHERS™ Almonds with Cherries, Apples + Maple feature sliced almonds, naturally dried cherries and apples, a light glaze of maple and a finishing touch of cinnamon. The Pomegranate Pistachios main ingredients are evocative of the Middle East, and that balance is enhanced with added cherries, almonds and lemon with a hint of pepper. Valdosta Pecans are set off with black pepper and sweet cranberries; the Cashews with Pomegranate + Vanilla (made with pure vanilla bean) are augmented with apple; and the Grab & Go: Almonds with Cranberries, Honey + Sesame Seeds have a great salt and sweet balance.

The great thing about such meticulously crafted snacks is that the basic elements of them are so healthy to begin with. The Almond Board of California [www.AlmondBoard.com] was present, and in their press materials had some fascinating material regarding the qualities that make almonds so good – they are gluten-free in all forms, are the tree nut highest in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin, and a new study indicated that a breakfast including almonds may help to maintain fullness throughout the day. Several other promotional boards were represented. One was the National Honey Board [www.honey.com], whose mission involves conducting research, marketing and promotional programs to help increase awareness and usage of honey by consumers; they are also doing important work with funding of research projects to find ways to maintain the health of honey bee colonies. Lean On Lamb [www.leanonlamb.com] had me at hello, as I generally prefer it to beef, chicken and other more commonly utilized sources of protein; they served some delicious lamb-centric dishes, and for anyone interested in any information about lamb, their website is the place to get it. The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) [www.cmab.net], which represents over 1600 dairy families, was celebrating the holidays early at Food Fete, sampling cocktails and cheeseballs with an end-of-the-year theme.

Cheesy goodness was the draw at the Alouette® [www.alouettecheese.com] table, where they sampled spreadable cheeses and other products. The Alouette Pumpkin Spice Spreadable Cheese has an intense flavor of nutmeg and cinnamon, with a smooth and creamy texture that makes it an ideal topping for baked sweets and savories alike. The Alouette Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Soft Spreadable Cheese is likewise versatile, featuring the classic taste of cheesecake. You may have been at a reception where one of the delicacies on offer was a baked Brie, and Alouette Brie for Baking makes such a treat easy to prepare at home. Keeping with the sweet/savory theme of their products for 2013, the Chavrie® Crumbled Goat Cheese with Whole Cranberries is also a good option for cooking, baking and topping salads.

Since 1939 the Sartori Company [www.sartoricheese.com], a family operation, has been dedicated to making the best artisan cheese in the world from their northern Wisconsin base of Antigo. Sartori boasts a portfolio of more than a dozen cheeses, including award-winning varieties of Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina, Gorgonzola and BellaVitano®, and was featuring several limited-edition flavors: an Extra-Aged Goat with savory notes of caramel and not so chalky as many such cheeses; a Spanish-inspired Pastorale Blend® which uses both cow and sheep milk to combine for a nutty taste beneath its paprika-dusted rind; a sweet, buttery Cannella BellaVitano™ rich with cinnamon and fruity flavor; and a Cognac BellaVitano® redolent with smoky, oaky and nutty notes balancing the Remy Martin Cognac it is steeped in. And here’s another note of interest: foods I have in the home that I really enjoy I try to eat over as long a period of time as possible, so as to reward myself every now and then with a rare culinary treat, rather than gobbling them all at once or over a few days – and then regretting that they’re gone so quickly; it so happens that Sartori cheeses, being for the most part hard cheeses, are rather hardy and long-lasting, and maintain their flavorful and structural integrity over several months (though I’m sure it does help to have a very cold refrigerator).

A number of specialty dining spots, focused on one or a few primary ingredients or dishes (mac n’ cheese, anyone?) have been increasingly sprouting up in New York, and one such niche is the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Shop. Cheeseboy [www.cheeseboy.com] is a Boston-based company that has had a great success with shops in New England and is now breaking out into a wider presence in the US. They were serving some great tasting signature recipes, including a Roast Beef sandwich set off with Provolone cheese, sweet red onions, vine-ripe tomatoes and creamy horseradish sauce; Chipotle Chicken augmented with Muenster cheese, vine-ripe tomatoes, fresh chopped basil and the eponymous pepper; a Veggie Melt with sharp Cheddar, fresh baby spinach, roasted red pepper, sweet red onions and vine-ripe tomatoes; and a Tomato Basil Classic on all-natural Italian bread.

Although I am a committed omnivore (and can’t imagine ever eliminating meat from my diet), there’s a lot to be said for companies that deliver plenty of protein in a flavorful way so that even someone like myself can say “I don’t miss the meat.” One that does is Beyond Meat [www.BeyondMeat.com]. They call their products Chicken-Free Strips – basically chicken tenders without the chicken – and in the place of the poultry are things like Soy Protein Isolate, Pea Protein Isolate, Amaranth, and a variety of seasonings. The New York Times’ Mark Bittman says they “fooled me badly in a blind tasting” and they were presenting three flavors – Grilled, Southwest Style, and Lightly Seasoned.

Beginning in 1988, Amy’s Kitchen [www.amys.com] began producing what has become in 25 years an extensive line of organic foods (burritos, pizzas, macaroni, enchiladas, pasta dishes, etc.) made from ingredients sourced from organic farms located mostly near the company’s production facilities in California, Oregon and New England. No dishes contain meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs or peanuts, and all are non-GMO with no hydrogenated fats or oils.  Amy’s prides itself on being like a home kitchen, only bigger – “other companies manufacture food, we cook it” says co-founder Andy Berliner. The new products they sampled were both Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts (in flavors of Vanilla, Dark Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip and Mocha Chocolate Chip), and Organic Andy’s Dandy Candy Bars, made from Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao, organic butter, cream, cane sugar, crisp rice, almonds and pecans; varieties are Crunchy (English Toffee with Almonds in Dark Chocolate), Chewy (Soft Caramel and Pecans covered in Chocolate), Crispy (Rice Crisps, Almonds and Caramel covered in chocolate), and Creamy (Caramel-covered nougat covered in chocolate).

There were a number of chocolatiers on hand. Jcoco from Seattle Chocolates [www.jcocochocolate.com] featured their elegant line of American chocolate bars, made from all-natural ingredients sourced from around the world. There are six varieties – agave quinoa sesame; edamame sea salt; veracruz orange; noble dark; black fig pistachio; and vanuatu coconut pecan; and also one seasonal flavor: jingle berry – and every purchase of Jcoco triggers a donation to a local food bank. Jama Cocoa [www.jamacocoa.com] showcased their “best served chilled” truffles, including Ecuador Single-Origin, exploding with notes of cherry, caramel and a hint of chili; Venezuela Single-Origin, with flavors of caramel, fruit and almonds; Peru Single-Origin, containing orange, apricot and apple notes; Colombia Single-Origin, with the strong aspects of chili pepper, orange and hazelnut; Madagascar Single-Origin, rich with cherry and raspberry flavors; and Hawaii Single-Origin, their sweetest truffle that nonetheless has a balance of bitter notes, burnt caramel and honey at play here. KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates [www.KohlerChocolates.com], is a leading manufacturer of kitchen and bath plumbing products, and yes, they have a line of chocolates; they were unveiling Platinum, its newest addition to their line. Platinum is filled with one layer of brown sugar caramel and a second of pecan praline, wrapped in a 63% dark chocolate shell.

Paula Morawski and Jennifer Blaeser got together to found twofold [www.twofoldfoods.com] in their Chicago base after they found that traveling for their previous jobs and eating healthily didn’t often mix – so they prepared their own nutritious snacks to consume on the road, and once friends and colleagues found their creations delectable it led to their current business. They’re now offering a Classic Granola with walnuts, cashews and pecans; Pistachio Granola with pistachios, almonds and currants; Quinoa Granola, with walnuts, cashews and pecans; Savory Nuts of cashews, pecans and almonds in a special spice mix; and Glazed Almonds, slightly sweetened with vanilla and cinnamon.

Given the ubiquity of maize as an American food staple, it’s rare to come across a product fashioned from corn which stakes out a genuinely new niche, but that is indeed the case with HALFPOPS, INC. [www.halfpops.com]. As partially-popped kernels of corn, they fill the heretofore unoccupied space between snacks made from unpopped kernels, like Cornnuts, and any variety of popcorn you can think of – and thus combine the best qualities of both extremes: the crunchiness and greater density of Cornnuts coupled with the easier-on-the-teeth texture of popcorn. They come in both 2 oz. and 7 oz. packages, and are available in two flavors: Natural Butter & Pure Ocean Sea Salt, and Natural Aged White Cheddar.

Family owned & operated Late July Organic Snacks [www.LateJuly.com] presented a tasty array of multigrain snack chips, made from 100% whole grains, and all Certified USDA Organic, non-GMO and gluten-free. The seven current flavor varieties include Sea Salt by the Seashore (made with crunchy whole grains & seeds, lightly salted), Mild Green Mojo (seasoned with fresh green chilies, real cheese and a hint of lime), Dude Ranch (a tangy sour cream flavor spiked with herbs and spices), Cure for the Summertime Blues (lightly salted crunchy whole grain and seed chips), How Sweet Potato It Is (made with organic North Carolina sweet potatoes), SubLime Multigrain Snack Chips (corn chips with chia seeds and tart lime seasoning), and Red Hot Mojo Multigrain Snack Chips (flavored with a fiery blend of jalapenos, red pepper and beet powder – a good balance with pleasingly mild heat, these are ideal for nachos).

Another line of delicious snack chips since 1994 are made by Boulder Canyon Natural Foods [www.bouldercanyonfoods.com]. They come in ten gourmet varieties of premium kettle chips, such as two outstanding flavors I sampled of Olive Oil Kettle Cooked Potato Chips and Red Wine Vinegar Kettle Cooked Potato Chips; three varieties of canyon-cut (wavy) chips, such as the Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper flavor (cooked in 100% olive oil, and the results taste like it, with a bolder taste than most chips) and the Sour Cream & Chive variety; and seven varieties of better-for-you non-kettle cooked snacks such as Adzuki Rice & Bean Chips, a Garden Select line of vegetable crisps (noteworthy was the Red Ripe Tomato flavor, which features a blend of 12 vegetables including potatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, broccoli and kale), and Tortilla with Hummus.

As someone who loves hot and spicy foods (though my lower digestive tract occasionally has disagreements with my taste buds), I really enjoyed the offerings by Conscious Choice Foods [www.consciouschoicefoods.com], a Dallas, Texas company that presented a great array of pickles, primarily of the hot and spicy variety. Francis Cowley’s Cellar Style Hand Packed were spawned from a recipe in the sandhills of Western Oklahoma during the great Depression; with plenty of dill and garlic, they have a solid flavor that matches the thick cut slices of pickle. Harold’s Texicun Gormay Pickuls moves into hotter territory, with not only garlic cloves and plenty of seasonings but also fresh butterflied habanero peppers thrown into the mix; they come in two dimensions of hotness: Purdy and Dern. If that’s not hot and spicy enough for you, The Original Beer Pickle just might be the thing – a “SUPER HOT Salty Dill Pickle that’s won first, second and third prizes for 2012 SCOVIE Awards in the Pickled Products category. For those who like their pickled cukes milder, Harold’s Sissy Sweet was born after numerous requests for something of the less spicy variety – though even it too possesses a habanero afterglow.

At an event featuring so many different and unique flavors playing upon the palate, it’s hard, and perhaps unfair, to single out any brand as a ‘best’, but certainly distinctive and perhaps my favorite discovery of the evening was the line of products produced by SeaFarePacific [www.seafarepacific.com], packaged by Oregon Seafoods. Winners of the National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show Product Innovations Award in 2012, their sustainable, wild-caught products come in convenient shelf-stable pouches, and everything I tasted in their wide range of products was delicious. Albacore Tuna varieties include Salt Free, Smoked, Sea Salt and Jalapeno flavors; wonderful creamy soups include Seafood Bisque, Smoked Salmon Chowder and Cioppino; Thai Curries variously feature Yellow Albacore, Green Albacore and Red Albacore; and there are also Sport Pouches™ of Red Sockeye Salmon, Smoked Albacore Tuna and Albacore Tuna with Sea Salt.

One of the spirits bar sponsors for the evening was Bridlewood Estate Winery [www.bridlewoodwinery.com], which is located just two-and-a-half hours from downtown Los Angeles. They presented a fine selection of wines, “handcrafted to reflect the artisanal spirit and relaxed lifestyle of California’s Central Coast.” The varieties were all California mainstays – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blend – and I found all complemented to foods on offer quite well. The other spirits sponsor was Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine [www.olesmokymoonshine.com], and they were making two cocktails: the Ole Smoky Moonshine Margarita, featuring their Ole Smoky® Original Moonshine, which went down a little easier than most tequilas you’d find in a Margarita; and the Ole Smoky Front Porch Peach Tea, made with a 40-proof Ole Smoky® Peach Moonshine, blended with sweet tea and lemonade.

Recognizing the eternal battle to get children to eat healthily, Sneaky Chef Foods, LLC [www.thesneakychef.com] makes plain their misdirection of intent, both in their name and in their logo (which features a female chef winking while behind her she hides a carrot – that will presumably be happily consumed by an unawares youth). They sampled their Sneaky Chef® No-Nut Butter, which is made with golden peas while being free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, dairy, gluten, artificial colors, flavors, GMO anything and hydrogenated oils. They also presented two pasta sauces, in Smooth Red and Cheesy Red varieties; each has 8 hidden veggies with other great flavors. Specializing in Pasta Sauces is Mia’s Kitchen [www.miaskitchen.com], whose products differentiate from other sauces in that they’re made only with fresh California-grown tomatoes and ingredients, with no tomato paste base. Their flavors include Bistro Marinara, Garlic & Onion, Nonni’s Special, Mushroom Tomato, and Basil Vodka.

For a number of years there has been a plenitude of olives and especially olive oils at the Fancy Food Show, and so it was at Food Fete. With a long shelf life and flavor that lasts, the products of the California Olive Committee [www.calolive.org] were notable. One does not generally expect flavor from canned olives to compare favorably with those you may buy from the barrel, but the California Ripe green olives I enjoyed straight from the can were terrific, with a nutty and buttery flavor suggestive of Italian Castelvetranos. They also purvey black canned olives, and the dish they were sampling to show off the versatility of each color variety was a new Lemon and Herb Olive recipe that combined both. The California Olive Ranch [www.californiaoliveranch.com] was sampling a selection of Extra Virgin Olive Oils, including the floral, buttery and fruity Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil; the Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, with notes of artichoke and tropical fruit; and Miller’s Blend Extra Virgin Oil, which pairs fruity and spicy aspects. Infused olive oils have become as common as flavored vodkas – and often contain the same extra ingredients – but some fabulous state-of-the-art examples of the craft are those produced by Lucini Italia [www.lucini.com], a brand featured in previous Food Fetes. Of course they begin with First Cold Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and then up the ante by adding variously flavors from such sources as the Essential Oil of Lemon, Tuscan Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Garlic to produce superior products. (Likewise, they have a sterling array of Balsamic Vinegars infused with fruit – such as Savory Fig, Dark Cherry and “the Exceptional SuperFruit,” Charma Vi™ organic sea buckthorn berries – that offer tastes of a great depth and sapidity.) Bertolli Olive Oil [www.BertolliOliveOil.com], “the World’s No. 1 Olive Oil Brand,” showed a variety of 100% Pure Olive Oil Sprays, which allow for a more flexible manner of application, whether during preparation and cooking, or as you’re eating anything you may wish to try them on. The three varieties are Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Classico Olive Oil, and Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil.

Fresh from deservedly winning a Sofi award at the Fancy Food Show, Stoger Pure Seed Oils presented their four varieties – Cherry Seed Oil, Chile Seed Oil, Organic Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil and Tomato Seed Oil – which are all pure oils (not blends), cold pressed to rigid European standards, and with a richer, deeper flavor than other oils. They’re distributed by Culinary Imports [www.culinary-imports.com], whose motto is “Searching the World for its Treasures.” A finalist for the Sofi Award at the West Coast Fancy Food Show, Stonemill Kitchens® [www.stonemillkitchens.com] was showcasing their premium line of gourmet dips both at Javits and at Food Fete. There are five flavors – Artichoke & Jalapeno; Artichoke & Parmesan; Three Cheese Pepperoncini; Spinach & Artichoke Parmesan; and Creamy Spinach – and they’re equally enjoyable hot or cold.

A 2013 Sofi Award Finalist, the GimMe Teriyaki Seaweed Snack Sheets from GimMe Health Foods LLC [www.gimmehealth.com] are a great twist on an element familiar through its use in East Asian cuisine. Created by the married team of Annie Chun and Steve Broad (who previously created the eponymous Annie Chun’s brand, the leader among Asian foods in the US, before selling it to Korea’s largest food company), GimMe Snacks are the only seaweed products on the market to be certified organic and non-GMO verified, and even though the seasoning is simple and subtle it handily distinguishes the sheets from those you’d find used in sushi preparations and the like. The two flavor varieties are Sea Salt and Sesame, and GimMe also makes Roasted Seaweed Crumbles – which come in Cheddar Cheese, Honey Dijon and Sesame flavors – and are designed to be sprinkled over rice, soups, salads, popcorn or other dishes (and are great simply out of the bag).

I happen to be partial to sour cherries over the sweeter kind, yet two exhibitors were sampling the sweet variety, and these were quite good. A non-profit organization which supports growers and promotes cherry distribution in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah, Northwest Cherry Growers/WSFC [www.nwcherries.com] provides much information about the fruit, including the seven varieties of Bing, Rainier, Sweetheart, Chelan, Teiton, Lapins and Skeena, and their health benefits; the phenolic compounds found in them help in fighting Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Inflammation, and Hypertension & Stroke. Also to be found on their website are recipes and recommendations regarding canning, cooking and making syrups and jams. Prepared cherries are the expertise of Gray & Company – the world’s largest producer of maraschino cherries – that presented its newest product CherryMan® Farm to Market Maraschinos™ [www.cherryman.com/FarmtoMarket]. Coming from select farms in Michigan and Oregon, and free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, each jar has a unique QR code that can be scanned to reveal the exact origins of the fruit and the story behind the growers.

ACTIVATE Drinks [www.activatedrinks.com] is a line of nutrient-enhanced water with doses of vitamins to promote health. With research finding vitamins A, B, C and E lose potency sitting in water, the ACTIVATE innovation is to store the nutrients in its patented twist cap, thusly releasing them only upon consumption. ACTIVATE has 10 different SKUs tailored to different consumer needs supporting immunity, skin cell support, renewed energy support, re-hydration support and overall health. Bottles are 16.9 fl. oz. and varieties include ACTIVATE Balance (Lulu Pear and Fruit Punch), ACTIVATE Defend (Raspberry Citrus and Orange), ACTIVATE Rebound (Passion Fruit and Pink Grapefruit), ACTIVATE Beauty (Exotic Berry), ACTIVATE Defy (Blueberry Pom), and ACTIVATE Charged (Grape and Lemon Lime).

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning another unfortunate consequence of my late arrival – when I approached the check-in desk the name tag which had been pre-printed for me was missing. The people at the desk were gracious about this, and upon establishing my confirmed status made up a replacement name tag for me, but as I walked through the exhibition space thereafter and noted the presence of a well-known professional con-man who knows my name – and has made unwelcome approaches toward me at previous events – it became clear what likely had transpired: this creep represented himself as me in order to be admitted – thus committing identity theft and fraud in one stroke – and not long after he had received the name tag intended for a confirmed attendee (myself), he pocketed it or otherwise safely secreted or discarded it (he was wearing no name tag when I saw him) so that his identity theft and fraud would not be detected by anyone else there (including me once I ultimately arrived) who might happen to know what I look like and see that the guy who acquired my name tag was not in fact the person for whom it was meant. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and the presence of an expanding roster of freeloaders on the New York social circuit – another whom I spotted at Food Fete is the little guy who always shows up with his wife, out for a cost-free night on the town (and in this instance an opportunity to re-stock the larders) – makes it likely that such tactics will remain part of the freeloader playbook.

Of course, the people at the welcome desk at Food Fete cannot be blamed for not knowing who’s there legitimately or not if the fraudsters who arrive possess sufficient information about genuine invitees to put something over on people handling the guest list – especially when the staffers may be from out of town, and thus unfamiliar with the ‘cast of characters’. Still, it’s remarkable that the policies of some PR firms actually abet such fraud, as with the policy of merely requiring any attendee to just present a business card in order to gain admittance to an event, even if they haven’t previously been registered (this low bar to entry is commonplace at wine tastings) – has it never occurred to PR professionals that one of the more basic strategies of these folks is to print up cards which relate to no honest professional affiliations or even personal activities? (And they’re free with Vistaprint; if you don’t want the advertising on the back it’s a nominal fee to forego it.) While it’s understandable that the focus on getting the good word out about products and the like prompts some event organizers to cast a reasonably wide net regarding attendees, if they’re serious about managing the door one easy means to do so would be to either in advance and/or onsite Google the name of a prospective attendee along with a key word relating to the event in question – say “food,” “wine,” or “fashion,” for example – in order to establish whether the would-be journalist has actually ever put up anything online relating to the matter at hand.