I went to the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in NYC today – it’s a big foodie trade show thing with lots of free food samples and swag, populated by people who obsessively make notes on their BlackBerrys while simultaneously eating cabernet sorbet, walking briskly, gossiping about their collegues and competitors, and shoving massive amounts of useless samples into their gigantic swag tote bags.
Because I own my own business and because I keep it so small, I always think of it, just a bit, as playing at owning a business. When I step out of the stained wifebeater and boy shorts that constitutes my typical cooking outfit and have to act like a real chef/business owner, I always feel a little giddy – time to be a grown up!
Today I had grown-up work to do – find yellow truffle cups, a new chocolate distributor, say hi to my agave syrup suppliers, find better wasabi than the old powder I use currently – fun stuff.
Every year I start out excited for all the treats and exciting possibilities at the FFS, and every year, after diligently working my way down my to do list, I slowly start to get a little depressed, and I end up returning to my idea for a performance art piece.
Like all trade shows, the point of the FFS is to sexy up products so that people will buy them. So the FFS is full of buzz words and slogans, color and light, oceans of disposable forks, glossy promotional materials, fake smiles. It takes so much energy to wade through everything – it’s tiring on that existential level, the weariness of humanity brightly, slowly, burning itself out.
Although there are a fair number of little producers passionately selling their fairly-produced products and truly fascinating people to meet, there is also so much trash food that after a while I always want to stop fake smiling and turning down deep fried oreo cookies on a toothpick and just go from booth to booth lecturing people on all the ways I think their bottom-of-the-barrel soup packet mix or machine that uses artificial flavorings to print “edible” photos on chocolate or whatever is totally unnecessary and their lives are utterly meaningless, even though they left their boring corporate office job in order to pursue their soup-packet, chocolate printin’ dreams. The poverty of the American imagination, not to mention the American palate, amazes me daily.
One year there was a “water pavilion” that featured dozens and dozens of types of bottled water to try – Italian water, French water, water from the deep Pacific ocean (really! It’s an environmental nightmare). The vast uselessness of the bottled water industry sometimes makes me want to give up. Today I saw a booth selling hot dogs made out of fish. And the energy drinks – I think it is a FFS rule that all energy drink samples must be handed out by off-duty Hooters girls. Without tits to market them, the energy drink sector of our economy would utterly collapse.
I’m all for paying for good food – I think we spend far, far less than we should on food. Americans spend less than every other (over)developed country, and it’s sickening how we think of food as a budget item. That said, there is a fine line between paying a fair price for fair food, and the price gouging that goes on in the high-end food marketing business. So the class issues that always crop up at the FFS always annoy me. The wine people never, ever want to give me tastes. Today I actually almost got carded while reaching for a sample of a rose syrup-Champagne cocktail (extremely tasty, I must admit). I don’t have the puffed-up look of a wine store buyer or haute cuisine chef, so they don’t bother with me.
When I reach that point where it all starts to get to me, I dream of my performance art piece in earnest.
It was inspired by a dinner with a few friends at Millennium a few years ago. The restaurant was very dark. We had had some wine. We ordered a dessert sampler plate. I personally think it was the sort of dessert sampler plate that consists of all the oddly-cut dried-out pieces of cake and whatnot that have been sitting on the plate for a day or two, but one small morsel caught my attention. I stopped talking and closed my eyes and just tasted it. It had a sweet-tart exterior and burstingly juicy interior. The flavor was a million different things – wine, dirt, sunshine, jam.
It was the best dessert I’d ever had.
I was describing it to people at the table and encouraging them to taste it – “maybe the exterior is made with some sort of vegetarian gelatin, like agar-agar, and maybe some really old, really reduced balsamic vinegar. The center is…I don’t know…something dehydrated, then cooked sous-vide, then coated with a cornstarch-thickened fruit sauce and injected into the center…” when I noticed my friend Andy looking at me strangely.
“I think – Um. I think it’s a plum,” He said.
It was a really good plum.
And whenever I’m trying really hard to cook my very best and find myself mixing something like lavender with something like barbecue sauce, I try to remember the plum. The plum is why I work so hard at my farmer relationships, buttering up all my farmer friends and driving from farm to farm to farmer’s market to someone’s backyard garden full of exotic herbs, buying a little here and a little there. I use so little of the type of products sold at the Fancy Food Show. I use ingredients, not products.
So, my idea is to set up a booth handing out samples of nice, fresh, new-crop apples, maybe Pink Ladies (my favorite – I like tart apples), or Honey Crisp (an amazing sweeter apple), or Fortune (a perfect all-around apple). I’d disguise them somehow so that people couldn’t see what they were tasting, and all those jaded palates would be blown away by the amazing complexity inherent in a good apple.
Sigh! I’m afraid most people’s palates might be too far gone for an apple to revive them, though.
 truly an impossibility – I assure you. Just try. 1″ base solid color yellow truffle cups. I’ve been looking for two years. I can find a chocolate mold of a foot with a penis for a big toe in less than 30 seconds, yet my lemon truffles can’t be clothed in a cup that matches their flavor without me starting my own cup-making factory.
PS: More FFS, with pictures, here!