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The Next BIG Small Brand Award 2012

Last night a group of hungry folks and local artisan food producers were on hand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for the final round of the battle between two culinary-focused cities: San Francisco and New York.  The prize, aside from bragging rights, was The Next BIG Small Brand Award, a package of design, PR, and retail placements structured to launch a start-up food brand into the next level of development and success.  This is an incredible opportunity for those who are trying to make a business out of creating and selling edible items so it is no wonder that there were some amazing things to try at this event.

Planet Fuel – New York

Planet Fuel Juice Display

These juices were created by Tom and Amy Barnouw to give their children (and others) an alternative to sugary, artificially-sweetened, juice-type beverages.  The ingredients?  Juice and water, that’s it, put together in colorful, kid-friendly bottles.  I sampled their Rainforest Rita’s Organic Tropical Punch, which had a gorgeous floral and bright fruit taste.  This is miles away from the super sweet Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red or any of the Hi-C drinks my mother let us have as a child.  I can definitely see why these products are a huge hit with parents, and I would definitely pick these up to have on hand for any little visitors.  If you live in Connecticut, Amy was saying, they are already in some of the middle and high school cafeterias there.

Amy Barnouw

Pie Corps – New York

Pie Corps pies

I don’t think I can rave enough about how delicious Pie Corps pies are.  If you look throughout this site over the past year since I discovered their incredible creations at the New Amsterdam Market, you’ll see photos of their delectable, hand-held pastries scattered throughout my market jaunts.  Eccles cakes, a lemon tart, a fried caramel apple pie, all of them have that perfect balance of flaky, buttery crust combined with sweet (and sometimes tart) filling.  Their savory items are no less tasty as well.  It’s no surprise to me that their table had one of the longest lines all night long.  The best part about seeing one of my favorite local food vendors having their hard work rewarded by this nomination was hearing them confirm that they will be at New Amsterdam again this season.  That means more pie all summer long!

Cheryl Perry and Felipa Lopez

NY Superfoods – New York

Chia Chargers in spicy, regular, and espresso flavors

This New York City-based company was completely new to me, although I’ve been watching the buzz build on Twitter about chia seeds and their properties, so I was intrigued to see these morsels packed with nuts and seeds.  I’m not a big energy bar eater, mostly because I don’t think they taste all that good or have too much artificial stuff in them.  One bite of the Chia Chargers, made with oats, agave, chia seeds, nuts, fruit, and other things I recognized with their gooey, chewy, crunchy, slightly sweet texture, and my mouth was like, “Where were these to combat that mid-afternoon slump when I worked in an office all day?”  They also produce a line of nut butters – the chocolate-peanut one would be great on crackers or bread – and granolas to kick your day off right, all with chia seeds.

Catherine Mangan Walsh

Big Dipper Baby Food – San Francisco

Samples of Big Dipper Baby Food

Duck Liver?  Bone Marrow?  These aren’t the typical things that most babies are fed when they start eating puréed food.  These are only a few of the ingredients that go into Big Dipper Baby Food‘s selections, all of them with an emphasis on healthy, flavorful combinations that give growing babies the nutrients that they need to develop.  Apprehensive about a baby food tasting at an adult event, one bite of their Baby Doll (lentils, roasted bananas, coconut oil, blueberries) with its hearty flavor and balance of sweet and savory reassured me that this is pretty sophisticated fare for the younger set.  I didn’t get a sample of the bone marrow one, but the duck liver, apple, carrots, and caramelized onions could pass for a high-quality pâté, it was that good.  The next time I have to go through dental surgery and can’t eat proper food for a week, I’m going to see if I can track down some of these products.  There’s no reason to let the babies hog all the good stuff.

Claire Hoyt

Black Jet Baking Co. – San Francisco

Mini Chocolate Cookies, Caramelized Coconut Macaroons, Devil-dog style cake-cookie

Another long line at this event was that to try the assortment of sweet treats from Black Jet Baking Co.  When I managed to make my way over there, I was rewarded with a chewy, buttery-rich macaroon, a moist deep chocolatey devils-dog cake with a sweet, creamy center, and probably my favorite of the lot, a mini chocolate chunk cookie with sea salt – just a bright pop of it to go along with the cookie’s toffee and cocoa notes.  I can see why their products are such a hit in their hometown.  These are the kinds of baked goods that we all aspire to make, and it made me realize that I’m long overdue for a West Coast trip with a stop at their shop on the itinerary.

Max Newman and Gillian Sara Shaw

Dandelion Chocolate – San Francisco

I’ve tasted quite a few bean-to-bar chocolates since I began this site, as single-origin bars have made waves in the culinary world and appeared at different events.  What always strikes me is how different they all can be in taste, texture, and perfume, much like wine.  Dandelion Chocolate wowed me last night with its selection.  Each of the samples that they brought had a completely different and equally complex profile.  The Madagascar, I could have sworn was a milk chocolate blend, with its creamy mouth feel and fruit-like aroma.  Not at all, I was told by Todd Masonais, the company’s co-founder, all they use is chocolate and a bit of sugar to make their bars.  My brain took a while to process all the wonderful flavor components that each sample contained.  This is chocolate to savor one bite at a time, letting all its possibilities develop on your palate.

Todd Masonias and chocolate

Kombucha Brooklyn – 2010 Winner

Kombucha Brooklyn’s flavor samples

Along with the current crop of competitors, the previous years’ winners were on hand to chat with their fans and to share their experiences since being named The Next BIG Small Brand.  I dropped by to say hello to the guys at Kombucha Brooklyn, who were trying to repair their trophy with electrical tape.  They are also vendors at several local markets and stores in the New York City area making it wonderful to see how they have grown since they started their journey.  One item of theirs that I mentioned in my holiday markets round-up was the do-it-yourself Kombucha Kits, for the avid fan.

Sweet Lorens – 2011 Winner

Sweet Lorens’ tasty treats

When I walked by the table with 2011 winner Loren Brill’s brownie and cookie nibbles, I couldn’t resist.  I know, I know.  I was supposed to be looking for the 2012 competitors, but I just couldn’t pass them up without trying a bite.  These are products made with whole grains and natural sweeteners and don’t use dairy or preservatives, and they taste great as well.  Her Chewy Oatmeal-Cranberry are still one of my favorite cookies from her line, but I wouldn’t pass up any of her other items either.  Since winning the competition, we were told in the remarks before this year’s winner was announced, her business has increased 400%.  She’s also now in every Whole Foods in the Northeast, up from just eight stores at the beginning of last year.

People’s Choice Award – Black Jet Baking Co.

Chocolate chip cookie with sea salt

Throughout the evening, I’d heard lots of folks buzzing excitedly about the sweet things they’d tried from this entrant, so it was no surprise to me that they won the audience’s vote last night.  They’ve also inspired me to try to fiddle with my own chocolate chip cookie recipes to see if I can capture that terrific salty-sweet flavor balance that their version has.

The Next BIG Small Brand Winner 2012 – NY Superfoods

Chia Chargers

This unique product was named the winner of this year’s Next BIG Small Brand.  As I’d mentioned above, this product made me really re-think what a good, healthy energy bar-type product could taste like.  I can see lots of potential for the company’s growth (one of the criteria for the award) not just among the athletes which form a core component of their current market.  I’ll be waiting to see this arrive on store shelves in the not-to-distant future.

Thank you to First Press PR for the opportunity to cover this event.  For profiles of all the contestants, to hear about their companies, products, and stories, please visit Food. curated to see Liza de Guia’s fantastic videos.

Buon appetito!