Seventeen meals in four days, excluding bakery stops; 26 miles of walking (give or take), plus an additional 4.3 miles of exhibition halls clustered with more than 80,000 specialty foods and beverages from nearly forty countries.
Artisan cheeses and charcuterie; beans that don't make you fart; bacon beer that probably does; enough chocolate to keep Willy Wonka in business for generations to come; bacon lube, bacon bars, bacon pickles and just bacon; fruit vinegars and fruit jams, jellies and preserves; beef jerky and faux beef knockoffs; Whoop Ass salsa and olive oils packaged to trick you into thinking you're buying the Chanel equivalent; clam chowder from a can poured on a pizza; Ruth Reichl! -- that, people, sums up the four days I spent in San Francisco, waddling my way though my favorite city in America and 206,000-square-feet of convention center space, the location of this year's Fancy Food Show.
I could go on and on and on about everything I consumed while tripping my way through the halls, but this kind of culinary orgy is best translated through food porn. Herewith, thirty of the weirdest, funniest, most interesting and best products I encountered during the show.
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Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot, unless you buy into the shtick seeping out from the mouthpieces at the Fartless Factory, which guarantees beans that suppress offending odors. If margarita salt can sell millions, why can't beer salt? Pickling was a huge trend at the Fancy Food Show, and, of course, someone had to jump on board the bacon-pickle bandwagon. I'd definitely buy these, however, along with the whiskey-soaked pickles. I don't like chocolate milk -- never have -- but I've got to give props to the "ready to pour" chocolate milk from this company, whose product was superior to any chocolate milk I've ever had. Rich, chocolate-y and really, really good. There are a lot of salsas that claim to "whoop your ass," but this one, appropriately named "Whoop Ass," actually delivers on its promise. Perhaps this, and a sack of fartless beans, could be the next best Super Bowl snack-food pairing. At last year's Fancy Food Show, giddy foodniks nearly peed their pants with the introduction of umami paste. This year, the British company that produces it brought in umami dust! Sprinkled on popcorn! Whoa! Like, who didn't see that coming? Right, tonic water, some of the most vile liquid -- at least on its own -- in the beverage world. But these tonic waters, which I first encountered at Little's Wine & Spirits right here in Denver (awesome liquor store, by the way), are not only the craft beer of tonic water, they're entirely drinkable all on their own. Yeah, so there was this guy making pizzas, and he'd generated an immense crowd of onlookers, so I stopped to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out, the dude was smearing his pizzas with CANNED clam chowder, which he then topped with specks of bacon and mozzarella cheese. Wait. I totally thought this was the Fancy Food Show, not Long John Silver's. Even now, several days later, I'm still appalled. "But...but...but it's great clam chowder," the guy insisted. Whatever. Canned clam chowder -- good or not -- does not belong on a pizza. Period. I love salts, and my cupboards at home are stocked with every kind of salt imaginable, including a black-truffle sea salt that I pilfered from the show. But what I don't have (and now want) is a block of this Himalayan spa salt with its own grater. This was by far one of the coolest products I came across: a grow-your-own mushroom garden for kids from an organization called Back to the Roots. The kit yields 1.5 pounds of mushrooms in ten days. Awesome. Okay, so see the pig snout on the guy whose face appears on the peanut brittle bar? That cracked me the hell up, but pig snout or no, I could eat this stuff for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between. I only posted this snap because of the irony: an all-vegan product produced by a company that calls itself Trois Petits Cochons -- or the Three Little Pigs. Oink. Initially skeptical of anything that calls itself "Fomz," I eventually acquiesced and took a sample after the woman gave me her spiel, and I'm glad I did, because these citrus-y foams, which are pucker-tart, were incredibly addictive. If there's one reason to go to the Fancy Food Show, it's the artisan cheese displays, which never cease to amaze me. I lingered at every display -- and there are dozens of them -- sweet-talking my way into getting way more than my fair share. At the Cypress Grove booth, they were videotaping people who, for the first time, were sampling the cheese producer's Humboldt fog. The prize for the best video gets a trip to the cheesery. I faked an orgasm. These salsas, from a company in Denver, will soon be on my kitchen shelves. The big, bold flavors tasted remarkably fresh, and the guys who founded the company are really passionate about their products. Good stuff. Good lard, just give me more of that pancetta and let me revel in my makeshift pig sty. As we all know, there's shit beer and, apparently, Good Chit beer. And Oregasmic beer, which would undoubtedly be the perfect coupling for the bacon lube. Sooner or later, you knew that someone was going to bring a bacon beer to the marketplace, but these guys were cheating, because by their own admission, there is no bacon -- or bacon by-product in their bacon beer. It's all smoke...and mirrors. Of all the products that made me sneer, these olive oils, expensively packaged to mimic bottles of Chanel, were the most ridiculous. "It's all in the marketing and packaging," insisted the exhibitor, who, if I'm being honest, was better suited to spritzing your wrist with cologne at Macy's. Loved these tart fruit vinegars that had the perfect degree of acidity. You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream...cones. Talk about fancy! Continuing the pickled-vegetable craze -- which I wholeheartedly endorse -- were these insanely delicious beets and carrots. Thou shalt not steal.... I'm not much of a sugar fiend, but the fancy desserts -- and there were gobs of them -- were certainly beautiful to behold. And what's a Fancy Food Show without everyone's favorite food drug -- chocolate? Or carnival cake kits? I imagine you can purchase these at the Dollar Store, so why it made an appearance here is beyond me. But just look at all of its attributes! Startling! Made with pounded sticky rice and filled with fruity ice cream, these Japanese confections are a kaleidoscopic rainbow of brilliant colors. No, he wasn't there in person, but the chef (I use that term loosely) that everyone loves to hate made a billboard appearance to hawk his line of very mediocre barbecue sauces. If I were a man, salumi would give me an erection. That is all. Time and time again in my Chef and Tell interviews, we hear that salt is most important seasoning. And judging from the vast number of salt displays at the show -- and the chefs who couldn't keep their paws off of them -- there's more than a grain of truth to that declaration.