Today, my feet resemble fat little sausages from all the walking I did yesterday. Have you ever eaten your way around the world in 7 hours? Well, yesterday that’s exactly what I did!
My dear friend, King Ravioli, graciously took me along to the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Diego. King Ravi manufactures ravioli for high-end restaurants and resorts. He, thankfully, thinks of me when opportunities arise that would further my education about food and the food chain.
As a devoted cook and passionate flavor lover, I’m committed to life long learning about foods, processes, techniques, ingredients, global economies, sustainability and above all—all the tasting I can possibly manage in one mortal lifetime.
The group sponsoring the Winter Fancy Food Show, named The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, chose San Diego as their show location this year. They are a not-for-profit, international business trade association, established in 1952, with the intention of “fostering trade, commerce and interest in the specialty food industry.”
Their membership comprises domestic and foreign manufacturers, importers, distributors, brokers, retailers, restaurateurs, caterers and others in the specialty foods business. You know what this means?
“1,200 exhibitors-including 130 new companies and nearly 200 exhibitors in the West Coast debut of the Natural & Organic Pavilion. Timed to help retailers and restaurateurs increase the momentum of their businesses in 2008, the Winter Show features upwards of 80,000 specialty foods and beverages from 40 countries.” (Website statistic for NASFT)
I hope you read that carefully, particularly the part that said, “80,000 specialty foods?” Can you figure out which major activity I enjoyed? I ate and ate and ate.
I learned more than I thought possible about packaged foods, pre-prepared foods, packaging, transportation, shelf life, organic certification, hype, and how to properly taste cheeses, chocolates, vinegars, herbs and so much more!
When I was invited to participate in a workshop on “Focused Tasting”, I nearly jumped for joy. They intended to teach me to discern “the intriguing subtleties, important differences and immense variety in three product categories through structured, side-by-side tastings” but who could FOCUS with all those aromas?
When I saw that one of the vendors was teaching about chocolate and its subtleties, I suddenly found my focal point and concentrated with all my senses. Same with the wines and vodkas.
By the end of the day, I had tasted these things and more:
Fresh lobster, crab, sushi roe, caviar, duck confit, duck rillettes, duck salami, chocolates from 7 manufacturers, sparkling juices, wines, Lithuanian vodkas (yes, several), pates, terrines, honeycomb filled with honey, stuffed olives from Spain, Greece and Italy.
I sampled maple sugar, Swiss fondue, French escargot, organic dried fruits, olive oils from at least 5 different countries and vinegars too, cheeses from Denmark, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States.
My Escargot Shell:
In order to find quality ingredients, it helps to know the source of your food. King Ravi sought a fine ricotta and piquant parmesan for his ravioli and in the process; I learned how to choose an excellent cheese.
The cheese is the result of the grasses the animals eat, the type of animal (sheep, cow, goat or combination), the manufacturing and aging processes, flavorings and finally additives and preservatives. In order to learn this, I think I tasted at least 20 different ricottas and parmesans.
The dried mushrooms were an education unto themselves. So many fungi in a variety of forms had my head spinning. The grains made a fine showing too as did the spices that spanned the globe in variety and ethnic mixtures.
That convention hall was a veritable tower of Babel with all the assorted languages filling the air. The aromas from all those countries mingled in my sinuses for hours. Last night, my dreams were of all the things I could make with all those ingredients and flavors.
I came away from that experience, of immersion in the food industry, understanding that if you are serious about cooking and food, you owe yourself a good education.
Read your cookbooks, get to know your ingredients, learn about your food sources and maximize your enjoyment of the necessity to nourish yourself.
Cooking isn’t just about collecting recipes and sharing tips, it’s vital to our sustainability and survival.