There is just too much to see, too much to nosh at the Food Marketing Institute’s “Power of Five” show at McCormick Place, a food industry confab broken into five segments: a produce packing and distribution show, a marketing aspect, a section on U.S food exports, and of most interest to me the Fancy Food Show and the Organic Trade Association’s All Things Organic expo.
Walking around the show sampling all manner of bonbons, crackers, snacks, oils, coffees, wines, create-your-own-cookie kits, sauces, and jellies produces the sort of addled sensory dislocation associated with the early stages of a lysergic tweak. For example, the industry types piled up to sample the Serrano at the table run by Ravenswood Spanish Food importer Solex, or the pate de foie de porc et gras smeared on water crackers by Elston Avenue’s European Imports Ltd., contrasted weirdly with the desolation at the loneliest of booths–the one offering the salted hog casings of Jiangsu, China.
By the end of the day I had eaten so much cheese (big ups to the Crater Lake Blue from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery) I had to rush right home and eat a head of cabbage. But despite the profusion and confusion I managed to spot a couple unique and interesting things, mostly in the organic show hidden among the doggy treats, perfume, baby food, and hemp clothes.
The Milwaukee-based World Artisan Guild is the sole U.S. importer of Moroccan Argan oil. This rare, nutty, and extremely expensive elixir is produced solely in a tiny region of southwest Morocco by Berber women. It makes its first U.S. appearance this month. World Artisan’s Stefan Hauke was a passionate salesman. I later saw him working the server at the makeshift Trotter’s To Go Cafe, but with little luck he said.
Directly across the aisle from the Argan booth was another rarity. One of the only Wasabi farms in the U.S., South Carolina’s Real Wasabi, was hawking its line of sauces and dressings, but also had a pile of the bright green larval-looking rhizomes available to sniff, and some of the grated stuff to sample. If you’ve never had real wasabi–not the ubiquitous jet-fuel-flavored, sinus-scouring horseradish imposter–hie thee to one of the better sushi establishments in town, such as Katsu and delight in this bright green, spicy, palate cleanser.
I was most disturbed by Summit Hill Flavors, a New Jersey-based “flavor and food ingredients company” whose booth I would have skipped had I not overheard a salesman mention something about “the organic food Nazis.” Summit Hill was touting a line of “Organic Savory Flavors” for sale to food processors, such as “beef dripping flavor” and “roasted chicken flavor.” Try as I might I could not get the Summit Hill salesman to tell me what was in these things beyond “defining source material.” I got little clarification from the company’s literature, which relies heavily on the FDA and USDA’s famously confusing definition of organic. Apparently at least 95 percent of the components of organic flavors i.e., “edible products whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” must be organic. Got it? Me neither.
Finally, upstairs in the U.S. Food Exports show, south Loop deli Manny’s was launching a retail line of deli meat. That’s right. Manny’s corned beef and pastrami–already stocked in suburban Sunset Foods–may be coming to a supermarket near you.