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I spent my 17th birthday at the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City. July 1, the second of three days at the show, was the best kind of hectic– thousands of people streaming down aisle after aisle, booths overflowing with cheeses, chocolates, cookies, pancakes, drinks and business deals going down in the corners of booths.
Let me try to paint a picture of the situation: the exhibition space spanning more than 675,000 square feet is filled to the brim – overflowing with 2,500 exhibitors from more than 80 countries. Add the 24,000 attendees who roam the exhibition, stopping at booth after booth to learn about and taste new products and the air hums in a harmony of languages: English, French, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, the list goes on, as people from across the globe gather to share one common interest: food.
I had the opportunity to attend the Fancy Food Show because my parents, Steven and Natalie Judelson, were exhibiting their business, Amagansett Sea Salt, for the first time. After agreeing to help them run their booth with an indignant huff, I was prepared to spend my three days at the show moping in the corner. I didn’t know was how much fun I would have.
My favorite part of the event was escaping from my parents’ booth and munching my way down aisle after aisle, learning about new gourmet food products. I spent a large amount of time hanging out with New York producers. What really interested me where their back-stories: how exactly did these exhibitors get into the business? Have they always had passions for caramels or beef jerky or, in my parents’ case, sea salt? Or was this a twist in their metaphorical roads?
I think the answer to the latter question is yes. Sure, maybe ice cream has always been an interest, but I believe many of these exhibitors didn’t expect they would be churning out small batches of ice cream in obscure flavors for a living. Not that there is anything wrong with that (I, for one, am extremely thankful for you and your chocolate-chipotle gelato).
My parents started making sea salt as a hobby, and when sitting in a stuffy law firm started to suffocate them, they relocated to the beach to make sea salt full time. Now they’re selling salt to Michelin star restaurants and attending an international trade show. Was this true for the other vendors? Was this the average story at the show?
I talked to many New York exhibitors, and they all seemed to agree. The girls behind The Jam Stand, an artisanal jam company in Brooklyn, moved to New York City from Florida. They began baking and experimenting with flavors, and in an attempt to try something new, started making jam for sale. Two years later, and they are first-year exhibitors at the Fancy Food Show.
Liddabit Sweets, a Brooklyn-based candy company, had a similar tale to tell. After realizing acting wasn’t for her, Liz Gutman went to pastry school at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she met her business partner, Jen King. Together they came up with the idea to start a candy company, highlighting locally made ingredients, and started selling their sweets at the Brooklyn Flea. Now, four years later, they are also exhibiting for the first time.
Making bitters was a hobby for the guys behind Hella Bitters. For fun, they would gift their bitters to their friends and family. In 2007, they started a Kickstarter, which actually made them too much money. They ended up with more bitters than they needed, and went from bar to bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, trying to sell them off. That was when they realized that they had a “pretty cool” product. The only problem was regular people didn’t know much about bitters. How could they do to make bitters accessible to average people? With the goal of making bitters fun, approachable, and different, Hella Bitters formally launched their product. A scholarship from the New York City Economic Development Corporation gave them their first booth at the Fancy Food Show.
This year was Field Trip’s, a New York based beef jerky company, third appearance. Three years ago, after eating the best jerky they’ve ever tasted in a ski town in Vermont, they asked themselves, “Why isn’t there anything like this in New York?” So they started playing around with meats and spices, and thus Field Trip beef jerky was born.
Sure, while many of the products I saw and tasted at the Fancy Food Show were made in food labs and designed for the sole purpose of money-making and consumer satisfaction, many of these delicious products are happy accidents, made just because people enjoy creating food. The owners of such products seem to be having fun, and hey, for us, it tastes good too.