In Defence of the Fancy Food Show


The Fancy Food Show is not very cool. It’s huge, feels corporate, and there are plenty of large, industrial food companies in attendance. But it’s also a place where you can talk to pickle makers from Texas, paté makers from Wales, and the guy who runs America’s last remaining stone-ground mustard mill. If you take the time to walk around, you’ll find plenty of small, family-owned food businesses, run by people who launched their companies against the financial odds, and who are just trying to get their product out there.

That’s why Grub Street’s interview with Tom Mylan of Diner and Marlow & Sons grated on me. Mylan founded the “Unfancy Food Show,” showcasing local, artisanal products. Great, the more food, the merrier. But is it really necessary to go on, as Mylan did, about what a “joke” the Fancy Food Show is? Yes, the UnFancy Food show is much hipper, we get it. I’m so tired of food people having to one up each other about who is the most profoundly artisanal.

So to prove that the Fancy Food Show is not worthy of our scorn, here are my picks for the most interesting finds there.

Elephant Pepper makes hot sauces and dry spice rubs from African birds eye chiles. The sauces are delicious, not overwhelmingly hot, but very flavorful. The company, based out of Zambia, helps rural villages develop a chile crop, which not only ends up being a source of income (Elephant Pepper buys the harvested chiles and makes them into the hot sauce) but also reduces conflict between elephants and people. Elephants often eat farmers’ crops, but it turns out that they hate chiles. By planting chiles as a barrier around other crops, the farmers can deter elephants without harming them. Buy the hot sauce because it’s good, but also because the profits are going to protect the elephant population as well as spur economic growth in rural Africa.

Super Mole, a ready-made mole poblano paste from Mexico, has a dark, nutty savor. It’s deep and rich, and tastes very close to homemade. Just add water or stock and pinches of salt and sugar to taste.

Patchwork patés are maybe the best store-bought patés I have ever had. The recipes come from Margaret Carter, a Welsh mother who started shopping her patés around to local cafés in 1982. Now the spreads are available at Fairway, and online at igourmet. My favorites are the Welsh Dragon (venison liver-chile) and chicken liver-brandy-herb.

Chocolate Grove, a Australian chocolate company, has just introduced a line of chocolates flavored with native Australian herbs, like pungent lemon myrtle and coffee-like wattleseed.

Flippin’ Pickles (no website) is a new pickle company from Texas. I loved their chow chow (Southern-style pickle relish) and their crunchy pickles, studded with slices of garlic.