I recently returned from the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference in New York City — which featured a culinary expo that was ideal for food trend spotting. The conference is attended by world-famous chefs like Jacques Pepin, renowned cookbook authors, food writers, bloggers and even a few celebrities, like Mo Rocca — one of my all-time favorites (isn’t he just brilliant on “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”) Here’s me with Mo Rocca eating a chorizo-crusted duck wing with bleu cheese sauce made by Sara Moulton. Mo was the emcee of the IACP awards ceremony that honors the year’s top cookbooks and other culinary writing. It turns out, Mo is quite the food lover himself. He’s hosting a new show on the Cooking Channel called “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” where he learns to cook the treasured recipes of grandparents everywhere. I just couldn’t love him more.
Now, back to the trends — or at least a look at some of my favorite tastings at the culinary expo. First, I really liked Chef Salt — a line of artisan salt blends created by a dynamite trio made up of international salt expert Mark Bitterman, David Joachim and Andrew Schloss (pictured here).
The salt blends included Bamboo Curry, Tunisian Fire, Holy Mole and Bacon BBQ, which is shown below mixed with olive oil to make it easy to sample with bread. Available online and in select stores throughout the country, the seasonings are described as “bringing the art and craft of professional cooking into the home kitchen.” The creators said “our thought was to put the chef in the jar.” I especially liked the Bacon BBQ blend, which I’m sure would be amazing as a rub on steak or salmon, added to beans and grains, or tossed into a savory stew or chili. Amazingly smoky (without any real bacon inside), the blend includes smoked salt, smoked pepper, smoked paprika, sundried tomato powder and smoke-dried jalapenos.
“We paid special attention to texture in this blend, making sure that the spices are ground to uniform fineness so that all exposed surfaces of whatever you are cooking — ribs, chicken, sweet potatoes, or burgers — get an equal opportunity to inhale the smoke.” I was lucky that I scored a full-size jar of the Bacon BBQ to take home and I can’t wait to experiment with it. There are also recipes for the chef-crafted salts on their website that I want to check out.
Moving from salt to sugar…I just adored these handcrafted sugars imported from Japan. Chambre de Sucre (“the sugar room”) displayed a variety of decorative sugars for a cup of tea or coffee.
Made by the oldest family-owned business in Japan, the handmade sugars were also shown as garnishes for flutes of champagne. Besides the traditional tea service, the company said you can “drop ceremoniously into champagne cocktails.”
In addition to stirring into tea and coffee, some of the sugars are meant to be eaten along side your hot beverage to offset the bitterness.
From fancy sugars to fancy marshmallows…Mitchmallows are handmade marshmallows created by Mitchell Greenberg, who was at the expo telling his story and sharing his love of these puffy confections. This was a major trend I noticed at the expo — so much of what we were seeing was all about handmade combined with an interesting backstory. And it was taking a food or ingredient and expanding it to multiple flavors. Mitchell was a fanatic about marshmallows, and he had a vision that this childhood favorite (actually an ancient treat from Egypt) could be reimagined as a both a sweet and savory treat. The fun flavors and shapes included such varied options as Ginger Wasabi, Chocolate Chipotle, Pretzels & Beer, and Beaujolais.
Here’s another example of a handcrafted food with an interesting backstory, and one of my favorites on the exhibit floor Black and Blanco. Here’s their story:
The idea for Black and Blanco was born out of a tiny kitchen in a small one bedroom apartment in NYC. My mom is from Morocco and bakes all kinds of cookies, my favorite being the ‘sandie,’ My girlfriend Heidi flipped out over them and suggested we create a healthier version. Replacing the white flour-white sugar-GMO oil = a cookie that rocks. I played Jazz piano professionally in the NYC creative warzone for over 15 years. Heidi was an aspiring actor who paid the rent baking at a natural food market. Both of us have combined our passion for healthy cooking and creativity to make Black and Blanco. In our first product, the Sandcastle cookie, we use 100% organic whole grain rye and organic extra virgin coconut oil. Sounds simple, tastes amazing.
I agree, the cookies were amazing. I loved the version with black sesame seeds (another trend that I wrote about recently). Here are Black and Blanco owners Steve and Heidi from Queens, New York. They were participants of the “Taste of the 5 Burroughs” part of the culinary expo. Aren’t these just the kind of people you want to support!
Several vegan foods were showcased at the expo, including this interesting Faux Gras from Regal Vegan. This vegan pate, a riff on duck or goose liver foie gras, is made with lentils, walnuts and caramelized onions. It was really delicious, although I must admit, I still like the real thing, too.
So there were lots of trendy vegan products on display, but meat was also celebrated in a big way. Eating less meat is certainly on trend, but when you have meat, why not make it an amazing experience. DeBragga New York’s Butcher was part of the expo displaying some beautiful dry aged meats. They also specialize in Wagyu Kobe beef and naturally-raised beef. It’s part of the trend of high quality food experiences; quality is better than quantity. Everything they shared at their booth was incredible.
Another example of the multiple flavor trend, 7th Taste olive oils featured an amazing array of flavored oils, including the varieties featured below: mushroom, ancho chile, lavender and truffle. There seemed to be lots of different chiles added to foods, including Brooklyn’s Spoonable caramels.
Peanut Butter & Co. , a company with a PB& J sandwich shop in NYC, also went crazy with flavors, from dark and white chocolate to cinnamon raisin swirl, maple and fiery hot peanut butter.
Now here’s a drink that’s not easy to forget — a real ginger ale that made ginger the hero.
Created by Bruce Cost, this Fresh Ginger, Ginger Ale is made with cane sugar and real bits of fresh ginger. You actually have to shake it up before you drink it. The flavors include original ginger, jasmine green tea and pomegranate. The drink is surprisingly refreshing with a tangy, effervescent taste.
So here’s what stood out to me at the IACP annual conference: handcrafted, homemade, artisanal, backstory, quality ingredients. Sustainability and “ethical” eating was a common theme. The expo included multiple vegan foods, along with other foods that touted the absence of wheat, refined sugars, preservatives, soy and GMOs. Plant-based proteins got a lot of praise, including lentils and nuts. Ultimately, the expo was all about flavor.