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Fancy Food Show Winter 2007

by Michael Chu
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Another year has passed and the Winter Fancy Food Show has come and gone again. This year, even more so than last year, there were just too many products to try, too many people to talk to, and too many stories to hear. Here's who caught my eye this year.

One of the first people I spoke to was a small (6-7 employees depending on the season), San Francisco based company called Hint. The product is still water with a tiny amount (just a hint) of natural flavoring and no sweeteners. The beverages were refreshing and drinkable (as compared to my previous experiences with MetroMint - more on that later) and the variety of flavors available was impressive (8 flavors not including their pure drinking water). My favorites? It was a tie between Pear and Pomegranate-Tangerine. In both beverages, the fruit flavor was mild but unmistakable. Even though it contained no sweeteners, the water tasted slightly sweet - perhaps the combination of the natural sweetness of water and a trick of the mind. Other flavors of note were Cucumber, which tasted of a chilled cucumber soup, reminding me of summer, and Peppermint, which tasted of mint but without the freezing burn that goes down your throat. (If you can't find Hint at your local specialty foods stores, then you can mail order from their online store.)

Speaking of the freezing burn, visiting with Hint reminded me of Metromint who I discovered the previous year. At that time, they only had Peppermint flavor and it was novel and different as water concepts went - but too strong for me. The Peppermint left a chill for several seconds where ever the water went. It was surprisingly cool and refreshing, but unfortunately, not too drinkable. The flavor was too strong and the cold burn prevented drinking any reasonable quantity of the water. Hint's Peppermint was milder, and so, perfectly drinkable. I revisited Metromint this year and discovered they had unveiled a few more flavors - Spearmint (a flavor that eluded them the previous year), Lemonmint, and Orangemint. I found all three flavors milder that the original Peppermint and the Orangemint was especially drinkable. (Metromint can be found in grocery stores and is also available online.)

Sonoma Syrup Company has been around for almost 5 years hand making syrups with natural ingredients in the heart of California's wine country. The simple syrups are all made with pure cane sugar and water (just like we'd do it at home) instead of the more commonly available corn syrup mixtures often sold in groceries stores. The flavor of the sugars really comes through in these syrups, tasting almost like a rich honey instead of basic simple syrup. The syrups produced by Sonoma Syrup are also thicker (more sugar contentration) than Italian syrup, making it perfect for mixed drinks, coffees, and baking. With 18 flavors (some are seasonal) to choose from, there's a flavor for every occasion and use. (Sonoma Syrups are carried in only a few select stores, but many of their flavors are available online.)

For those who like canned tuna, but have been concerned over mercury content, there's now Wild Planet. Since March 2006, Wild Planet has been sourcing their fish and other seafood from sustainable and by-catch free (that is, using line or trap fishing methods so everything is dolphin safe) fisheries (predominantly Carvalho Fisheries). For their tuna products, they only purchase the 3 year old fish (they buy the 9-12 pounders) resulting in minimal mercury content. (Available on and eligible for free shipping.)

Olive Street Table, an 11 person company in Santa Barbara, has produced what may be one of the best frozen pizzas I've ever tasted. (Granted, the pizza is not very traditional, but it is delicious.) The amazingly flaky crust is made of a buttery pâte brisée (pate brisee is a rich, flaky pastry dough often used in quiches and other savory pies) and topped with just the right amount of simple ingredients. Show in the picture below is their Mediterranean Crisp. (Distribution of Olive Street Table's products is fairly limited right now, but take a look at their distributors and stores to see if one of them is close to you.)

Last year, I mentioned Salute Santé as having the best tasting grapeseed oil (of the ones we tasted). This year, they're stepping up their restaurant messaging by introducing a new container and new program for restaurants within 50 miles of Napa, CA (their base of operations). The new 15 liter can is lighter than the standard food service plastic box and is also recyclable. If a restaurant signs up for their recycling program, Salute Sante will pick up the used oil for free when they deliver the fresh oil. As I understand it, usually restaurants have to pay someone to haul their waste oil away. The grapeseed oil is also ecologically sound, since it's made from a waste product - the seeds left over from grape pressings used for making wine. The recycled oil goes back to Salute Sante to power their cars. (Since Tina and I both switched to running biodiesel vehicles for nearly a year, we can certainly appreciate the effort that Salute Sante is making.) (Salute Sante oils are probably easiest purchased from their online store.)

I didn't get a chance to taste it, but Numi Tea's Flowering Teas are definitely beautiful. (The web site has a couple videos of the teas blooming.) The strange thing was that at the Numi booth there were two Chinese women in full costume hand sewing the tea leaves together to form the flowering bundles (some take 1 minute while complex designs take 10 minutes each). ( sells a gift set with nine varieties of flowering tea and a clear glass tea pot for a good price. You can also buy from Numi directly.)

Rushburn Toffee makes a special toffee from a secret family recipe. Although the recipe is secret, one thing is certain: it doesn't just have crushed almonds on the surface of the toffee, but also inside the toffee. The result is a very light and satisfying toffee. Care is taken in the packaging as well as the crafting - the toffee is sold in shiny silver tins and each piece is hand broken to preserve the artisanal quality of the confection. (The toffee can be ordered directly from Rushburn's website.)

If you like chocolate ice cream, you're going to love Choctal. Specializing in chocolate flavors (they have four distinct single origin chocolate flavors - Costa Rican, Kalimantan, Ghana, and San Dominican - and one vanilla flavor made with pure Madagascar Vanilla), Choctal may do for chocolate ice cream what Dagoba does for chocolate. The flavors are pure and each of the varieties has a distinct flavor that, I'm told, is produced by the variation in climate, soil, and vegetation in the region where the cacao is cultivated. (Buying the ice cream might not be so easy. You'll have to keep an eye out for it in the frozen section of your specialty foods store.)

Chocolate is such a big part of the Fancy Food Show every year that it's hard to pick a few winners out of all the products being introduced. I did come across a small two person company based in Walnut Creek, CA that produced a product called The Truffle Kit. Just Specialties Fine Foods makes chocolate truffle kits (as well as a macaroon cookie kit) in three flavors - peppermint, cappuccino, and orange dark. The kits come with everything you need except for cream and a scoop (which you can buy at the same time as your kits). The ingredients in the kit aren't low quality either - the ganache is made with Callebaut and the coating is from Guittard - all provided in chocolate drops so no chopping is required. Each kit yields about 2 dozen truffles. (All kits are available online at

It seems that I can't talk about chocolate without mentioning Dagoba. They are still, in my book, the finest producer of chocolate (the ingredient) in the world. They've introduced a bunch of new products. The ones I noticed are four new bar chocolates - lemon ginger (organic crystallized ginger and lemon), nibs (cacao nibs crushed and blended into the chocolate), seeds (omega-3 rich pumpkin, hemp, and sunflower seeds), and superfruit (high antioxidant acai, goji berries, and currants). I don't know about the health aspects of the added ingredients, but I have to say the lemon ginger was really tasty. In addition, Dagoba unveiled their Apothecary line of products - chocolates and elixirs (with a glycerin base) filled with natural supplements and remedies. I'm always wary of alternative/herbal medicines and as someone who firmly believes in the scientific method and modern medicine... well, I'll just stick with the main line of Dagoba's products. (Dagoba Chocolate is available in the chocolate aisle and baking aisle of Whole Foods and other supermarkets. You can also buy from or directly from Dagoba.)

The two ladies from Nashville, Tennessee at Savory Secret make cheesecakes that aren't sweet. In fact, they have seven savory flavors that taste amazing. It tastes like nothing I've ever had before, but at the same time is reminiscent of many appetizers - an herb crusted mini-quiche or a sweet, salty tartlet or lox on cream cheese served with a crostini. It's not really like any of those appetizers, but while I was tasting them it seemed like it was much better that any appetizer I had eaten before. The flavors they chose are perfect for the mild cream cheese base (my favorite was the Mushroom and Fontina). Each 20-ounce cheesecake is handmade by either Amy Hakola or Susannah Callaway. It's kind of cool to know the exact person who makes the food you buy. (The cheesecakes can be ordered online but shipping can be pricey due to the special care that needs to be taken. If you're local to Nashville, you may be able to arrange other shipping options.)

The Ginger People (with 13 people in Monterey, CA and 20 in Australia) seem to really know what they are doing when it comes to ginger. Not only has their Ginger Beer won top honors from NASFT (the organization that runs the Fancy Food Show), but they also have the tastiest ginger candies around. Their candied ginger has just the right amount of spiciness to warm you up but isn't overwhelming. They also make chewy ginger candies called Ginger Chews that come in Original, Apple, and Peanut flavors (all with a ginger kick). For people who really love ginger, The Ginger People have introduced Gin Gins - a hard candy with a double dose of ginger. I loved the Ginger Chews, especially the apple flavor, but didn't think I could handle the strength of Gin Gins. For those who aren't ready to take the plunge, they have the ultimate starter candy - Ginger Delight. A spin on Turkish Delight, the soft mint gels, these are lightly ginger flavored (instead of mint) and contain bits of candied ginger. The Ginger Delight doesn't have any of the spicy bite that turns ginger newbies away. My favorite product of theirs is the Ginger Soother. I actually saw the Soothers at my corner market for a few weeks before the show and was afraid to try it (thinking it would be too strong), but I got my chance at the show. It has a mild ginger flavor mixed with honey and leaves the slightest tingle of spiciness (like a good ginger ale should). It was so good that I found myself buying one at the market a couple times a week. Each 12 oz. bottle contains 19 g of ginger, so if ginger really is a healthy food (as my mom keeps telling me), then I'm finally consuming my share. (Ginger People products can be found at many grocery stores. They have an online store locator you can use to find a retailer near you. You can also order their products directly from their website.)

The evening of the second day of the show, I attended an industry event called the Food Fete where I got to meet several other vendors that I didn't get a chance to see or talk to. Because there were fewer people and more time to talk, it was easier to get a clear understanding of what each vendor was trying to achieve with their product.

Tillamook had several cheddars available for tasting. I liked all of them, but what really stood out to me was their Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar. When I tasted this cheese, I knew this is what cheddar was supposed to taste like. I immediately asked a barrage of questions about the cheese and about cheddar in general. Apparently, most of the cheddar I'd had in my life was not really cheddar. It was just colored curds pressed together and sold as cheddar. This cheese was almost crumbly and flaky, had been aged two years, and had a distinct sharpness that set it appart from the soft, molded cheddars that I was familiar with. If you like cheese and thought all was lost with American cheeses, tasting the Vintage should be a good reminder that there are still cheese manufacturers in the U.S. that can make an affordable, but outstanding cheese. (If you can't find the Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar at your local grocer's or cheese shop, I found it on

Another gem found at the Food Fete was a company called Going Native. Going Native supplies four shelf stable (non-refrigerated) meals based on curries around the world. The husband and wife company use MRE style bagging technology (enabling them to use no preservatives) to package their vegetarian curries (from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand) so they can be prepared easily and quickly. The bags can be microwaved (cut a slit in the bag and heat for 2 minutes), boiled (sous vide style), or opened and the contents heated on a pan. Serve over rice, couscous, bread, or the carb of your choice and you have an instant meal for two. The Paneer Makhani (the only one of the four curries that is not vegan) and the Potato & Bamboo Shoot Curry were excellent. In fact, some of the best curries (vegetarian or not) that I've ever had - and it came out of a bag! All the meals are all natural, gluten-free, kosher, have no hydrogenated fats, and no MSG. I spoke to Sunil Sitlani, the CEO (and husband of the husband and wife team), and found out more about what their vision was for the company. Their goals are lofty and admirable - they hope to help promote diversity and cultural understanding through the spreading of cuisines from around the world into areas that may not have much exposure to other cultures. We talked about how lucky it was for us to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where all cultures seemed to be mixed together and racial/cultural intolerance is viewed as an anomaly. I have traveled to parts of the country where it wasn't possible to find authentic ethnic foods and my Asian appearance (I'm ethnically Chinese) has been a source of discomfort to and with others (which is putting it nicely -- luckily, being born and raised in Los Angeles, I have a Californian accent [some would say no accent] and once I start talking people usually come around). I do believe that as people get to experience different cultures (even with small steps like simply eating different foods), it helps to create an understanding of how others are different and how it is possible for other cultures to think differently from us and, yet, not be wrong. I don't know if ultimately Going Native will help with this, but that they are trying to find a way to help bridge that cultural gap is admirable. Plus, it's mighty tasty. (Going Native World Curries can be purchased from and will be expanding into national chains. It is also available in Whole Foods and Pusateri's in Canada.)

The last product I wanted to mention is the smoothie product from Lightfull Foods. It's a smoothie that has the consistency of a yogurt drink that comes in Chocolate Fudge, Cafe Latte, Peaches & Cream, and Strawberries & Cream (Strawberry is the best). What makes it special? It's designed to promote satiety - the state of being satisfactorily full. They do this by making sure each smoothie has at least 6 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. The folks at Lightfull explained that the combination of fiber and protein triggers the body to release cholecystokinin (CCK) which tells the brain that it's full. The full feeling lasts about two hours. So instead of reaching for a bag of cookies at 3pm to fight back that hungry feeling before dinner, one of these 90 calorie smoothies will do the trick instead. (Lightfull can be purchased from, or from Safeway, Whole Foods, or, if you're as lucky as I am, the corner store on the same block as my work.)

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on February 05, 2007 at 01:00 AM
7 comments on Fancy Food Show Winter 2007:(Post a comment)

On February 05, 2007 at 10:48 AM, Kiba (guest) said...
Subject: Vintage White Cheddar
Just thought that I would add that you can get a babyloaf of the Vintange White at some Costcos! :)

On February 05, 2007 at 01:18 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I tried the pear and pomegranite-tangerine HINT from my local supermarket. I was so excited to try these, as I've been looking for ages for a flavored water with no sweetner in it.
Glaceau used to have this, but have changed their formula to add sweetner. Anyway, I found with the two HINTs, the flavorings kinda burned my throat, almost in a chemically kinda way.
The pear was mild, but the pomegranite was much worse.
The pomegraninte was also very perfumy.
I haven't tried the other flavors yet, but I am scared to! lol
Does anyone make a decent unsweetened flavored water?

On February 05, 2007 at 05:19 PM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
I tried the pear and pomegranite-tangerine HINT from my local supermarket. I was so excited to try these, as I've been looking for ages for a flavored water with no sweetner in it.
Glaceau used to have this, but have changed their formula to add sweetner. Anyway, I found with the two HINTs, the flavorings kinda burned my throat, almost in a chemically kinda way.
The pear was mild, but the pomegranite was much worse.
The pomegraninte was also very perfumy.
I haven't tried the other flavors yet, but I am scared to! lol
Does anyone make a decent unsweetened flavored water?

Wow, that wasn't my experience at the show. I just noticed today that the corner store near my work now carries two Hint waters, so I shall have to try them again.

On February 06, 2007 at 03:06 PM, slick (guest) said...
Subject: Metro Mint
When I tried the Metro Mint spearmint, it was too strong for me too. I drink a lot of water though and I found mixing a small amount of the Metro Mint, about 1oz in a 16oz bottle of plain water was just right. And that really stretches out the Metro Mint. Usually though at home I use a Pur water filter put a couple of mint leaves and a couple slices of lemon in a pitcher and that is great on a hot summer day.

On February 07, 2007 at 05:04 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I was introduced to Savory Secrets cheesecakes at a sample tasting in Birmingham, Alabama at Western Supermarket. I bought several but my family's favorite is the Pear-Gorgonzola. I do not live in Birmingham so when I was back in town, I bought a few more to keep in my freezer for entertaining and I even gave a few away for Christmas presents. They keep very well in the freezer. I think they may be available in other stores around the states to save on the shipping costs.

On February 17, 2007 at 09:48 PM, Annie (guest) said...
Subject: Unsweetened Flavored Water
I make unsweetened flavored water very simply: Stuff a tea bag, any flavor, into a pint size bottle of water. The water can be any temperature. The tea bag will flavor the water within a half hour or so, and the result is really refreshing and thirst quenching. Even kids will drink this! Just line up a few bottles, stuff in the tea bags, and throw them all in the fridge so they're ice cold.

On February 24, 2007 at 05:55 PM, YummySF (guest) said...
Hello, fellow Bay Area food blog! I loved the Fancy Food Show in SF! And I liked the Salute Sante booth too. They were awesome! I also like how you got each vendor's background story.

Overall, it was fun and I will miss the Fancy Food Show next year when they will be in San Diego. Your site is very informative and well organized.

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