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The Latest Trend: No More Trends

August 02, 2000|WALTER NICHOLLS | WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK — One year flavored biscotti were everywhere. That crumbled. Another year saw 10 too many hot sauces test the tolerance of taste buds. Then, there was salsa--more mushed tomatoes than you could swipe a chip at.

But at the 46th Summer National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade Fancy Food Show, held recently at the Jacob K. Javits Center, there was no sweeping trend.

Still, for the more than 24,000 buyers who dipped and sipped their way through more than 60,000 specialty foods offered by more than 1,700 domestic and international companies, it was an opportunity to meet the people behind the products and sample the winners and finalists in the trade show's awards competition.

"Sometimes you find the same thing everywhere. I'm not finding anything," said Claude Mallinger, a buyer for Sutton Place Gourmet.

There was low-fat ostrich ravioli; pastel purple, pink and green rice flours for savory and sweet blinis; and a bitter coffee soda created by the daughter of actor Ernest Borgnine. Celebrity chefs trotted out their wares: new lines of dressings, basting sauces, oils, glazes and mayonnaise. Cheese distributors enticed cheese buyers with every type of Cheddar, Brie and blue.

"I'm looking for nice American cheeses. The domestic scene is getting better and better," said Kimberly Keese, cheese buyer for Dean & DeLuca. Keese hunted, up one aisle down another, for cheese that was farm-made, unpasteurized and unique. "I can only hope that the flavor will be consistent," she said.

A dense crowd gathered at Stonewall Kitchen, which introduced 50 new condiments this year, including terrific Cherry Chipotle and Pineapple Mint jams. "We really got crazy in the kitchen," said Jonathan King, owner of the company based in York, Maine. Such jams "go way beyond the breakfast hours as spreads on sandwiches and as a glaze on meats." The flavorful Fresh Fennel Relish, which was nominated for Outstanding Savory Condiment, would be nice on grilled fish.

Corner booths at aisle crossroads were particularly popular. "Here. Try this. It has a nice whang to it," said Evelyn Roughton, owner of Antique Mall Ltd. & Crown Restaurant in Indianola, Miss. Her Catfish With Capers--A Mississippi Mousse was nominated for Outstanding Pate. It was mild and not too fishy. "That's on purpose. It's a comfort zone," said Roughton. "Most people aren't as adventurous as we would like them to be."

A building trend may be ginger beer. At least five exhibitors showed their spicy brew. Some were sweet and mild. Others made the tongue tingle. "You have got to try Fentimans Ginger Beer. It's the best on Earth," said Park Kerr, chairman of the El Paso Chile Co., an exhibitor that won this year's Outstanding Food Gift Award for its Margarita Madness gift set. Judges chose the light and refreshing Ginger People's Ginger Beer as this year's Outstanding Beverage.

Rounds of French bread smeared with a generous portion of truffle butter were a big hit at the D'Artagnan booth, where costumed "musketeers" waved plastic swords. Every bite was earthy and delicious. Just a few drops of their white truffle oil could turn a pasta dish from simple to sublime. But when it came time for awards, it was D'Artagnan's velvety Mousse of foie gras, the first product the company introduced in 1985, that won Outstanding Pate.

Wild rice can be more trouble than it's worth. The flavor can bring mud to mind. But the Ramy Wild Rice Co. from Mankato, Minn., showed a stunning Ramy Long Grain rice with an unusual, nutty and robust flavor. Such elegant rice would be sensational served with a seared duck breast finished with Glace de Canard Gold, an intense and highly reduced new roast duck stock made by More Than Gourmet.

Flavored oils continued to proliferate despite the fact that few home cooks know what to do with them. Snappy packaging drew attention to O Olive Oil, which makes lemon-, blood orange- and Tahitian lime-laced olive oil. Fruit flavors carried the day. The company's O Ruby Grapefruit oil snagged the coveted Outstanding New Product 2000 award. Said sales and marketing director Shelly Haygood: "I'd drizzle it over an avocado salad with toasted pine nuts, butter lettuce and maybe a little red onion."

Of course, there were lots of cookies. One notable entry was Sweet Dreams, made by Catamount Cookies, a very crumbly and delicate shortbread with a beautiful dulce de leche filling. Dancing Deer Baking Co., up for three awards at this show, offered a yummy Sugar Cane Lime cookie. The big winner was Immaculate Consumption for its all-natural and buttery Leapin' Lemon Cookies.

No one went begging for dessert. Iced crumbs tumbled from lips onto the red carpeting. Chocolate truffles were carefully wrapped in napkins and stashed away for later. The longest lines formed for ice cream.

Galaxy Desserts had hoped to take the prize for Outstanding Dessert for its very light and not too sweet Triple Mousse Cake in single-serving size, perfect for a special dinner party. But that was not to be. Judges went for over-the-top sweet, bestowing the award on Bittersweet Pastries for its Chocolate Marble Truffle Cake.

Some of the products are in specialty markets now; others are on their way. But not all will be available nationwide.

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