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Taste of 5 Boroughs at the International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Expo

Unless you’ve been following me on Twitter the past few days, you might have thought it’s been very quiet around these parts.  I’ve been attending the annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals here in New York.  It’s been four jam-packed days of networking, attending panels about the food business, eating, snacking, nibbling, and catching up with some of the amazing folks who work in this industry.  Yesterday, I was able to see the fruits of the hard work that my fellow conference volunteers and I did together in a culinary expo called Taste of the 5 Boroughs, showcasing New York artisan food purveyors.

Raspberry jam with a kick of heat.  Bananas with lime and rum.  Wine-inflected sweet red onions.  These are just a few of the great flavors Sabrina and Jessica have come up with to jazz up the NYC jam scene.  I got to chat with Sabrina today and found out that we’ll be able to catch them at the markets this season.  They’ll be hanging out at the Hester Street Fair for a few Saturdays.  I’ll be there, too, picking up some of their flavorful jams.

Today, I found a new reason to count the days until succulent ripe tomatoes are finally in season again: Basilicotta from Regal Vegan.  I’d tried Ella’s Faux Gras at Smorgasburg last summer and had really enjoyed it.  The Basilicotta, however, I think is on another level altogether with its creamy texture and bright, grassy, herbal notes, perfect for pairing with summer vegetables and pastas.  I’m hoping I’ll see it for sale around the local markets because this is definitely on my shopping list.

What can I say about this product?  Alex’s granola has the ideal balance of fruit, nuts, flakes, sweet, salty, savory, chewy.  Your stomach is begging you to make a breakfast this tasty.  She’ll also be in the markets this summer, so pick up a few bags for your pantry.  You can use it to make Granola-Yogurt Parfaits, which would be ideal for brunch gatherings or anytime.

These are some other products I’m going to be keeping my eye out for to pick up and try at home.  I sampled the exotic fig jam with deep, dark notes and one of the blood orange jams, which was full of citrus perfume.  I’ll need to clear off some space on my refrigerator shelves to make room for a few of these, which would be lovely with a nice cheese platter.

Craig and Alie brought some of their New York State-produced wines to the expo to give everyone a taste of what local winemakers are doing.  This table had a line several people deep throughout the afternoon.  I sipped a sample of the rosé, with its gorgeous watermelon hue and lovely light fruit flavors.  A few bottles of this would kick off any summer party on the right note.

These sweet treats also seemed to be a big hit at the expo, with so many great things to choose from.  It was really tempting to load up on the samples of cookies and cakes.  Having rescued a few people from baking projects in the past, it was interesting to see this business and hear about how it had developed.

I first met Mitch and his delicious, whimsical marshmallows at the Foodshed market last year.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing what flavor and design his ever-creative mind is going to develop next.  In addition to his sweet, slightly spicy ChurrosMallow and a fan-favorite Ginger Wasabi mallow, I munched on these new MallowPolitans, reminiscent of the tri-colored ice cream blocks that I thought were so fancy when I was growing up.  One bite, and I was right back at a childhood dinner with all the mixed up vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors flooding right back.

Caramel really is one of my favorite flavors, so I’m enjoying it making an appearance on the artisan food scene, too.  Michelle’s product is available at several local-area stores, and has been a bit hit, which is no surprise to anyone who has tasted her smooth, buttery concoctions with their great flavor balance of sweet and salt and sometimes spice.  At the expo, we also got to try a new Brooklyn Butterscotch.  Oh, my!  I don’t think ice cream sundaes or any desserts are ever going to be the same again once they release this new caramel.

Loren and I had briefly crossed paths at the very busy Next BIG Small Brand Awards on Tuesday night.  Her amazing cookie and brownie doughs had been the 2011 winner, so she was there to support and judge this year’s program.  Of course, I couldn’t resist my favorites, her chocolatey brownie and the oatmeal cranberry, so I picked up a few samples and then hit the rest of the expo.

These beautiful, pillowy, cakey gingerbread confections are some of my favorite Christmastime treats.  I left them under the glass dome because if I had had access to even one of them, they would have all been gone in a flash.  Sandy’s Lebkuchen were one of the hits of the Brooklyn Flea when it moved indoors before the year-end holidays in 2011.  They seemed to be no less popular at yesterday’s expo, even if we are still a few months away from their peak season.  I also want to give a very special shout-out to Julian of Melt Bakery (one half another fantastic local food business).  He was lending Sandy a hand on this very busy Sunday, showing once again just how supportive the culinary community is of each other and of helping everyone’s enterprises to grow.

This table from a Greek bakery in Astoria, Queens had a beautiful array of sweets.  I limited myself to a small square of flaky, buttery, sweet baklava, which just made my mouth so happy with its gooey, sweetness and a bit of crunch from each delicate layer of pastry.

Based out of the incubator kitchens located in La Marqueta in East Harlem, these baked goods and the photos of the cakes that Veda whips up were too good looking to resist.  I nibbled on a small sample of a mini pecan pie type pastry which was buttery, nutty, and not too sweet with a great interplay between crust and filling.

This locally-based coffee roasting company is coming up on its 100th year anniversary in the city and prides itself on responsible and fair trade practices, something that they were ahead of their time in implementing even before the current boom of artisan coffee bean packaging and production.  When I went back by their table for a second round of visits to the Taste of 5 Boroughs participants, I was told that they’d been drained dry of their delicious brews.

I predict that this company will have a very busy market season this year once everyone gets to sample their unique products.  Piroshki (dough filled with savory vegetables and meats) and Vatrushka (pastry round with centers of jam and/or cheese) will be too tempting for the hungry crowds to pass up while they are perusing the stalls at the Hester Street Fair.

As big as a fan of granola as I am, this gluten-free, nut-based product might have me swapping it out in the mornings.  The sample I tasted was full of crunch with a hint of coconut and a richness and meatiness from the nuts themselves.  What I also really liked was that it came in a snack size in addition to a regular bag, which is perfect for keeping in one’s desk to ward off the mid-afternoon slump.

With Easter just around the corner, it was no wonder that lots of people headed over to this table to see what wonders they had to share.  Artisan chocolates have also become a huge hit in the local food entrepreneur scene, which is never a bad thing to my mind.  I really enjoy seeing what each company does and how they interpret childhood favorites for a more adult taste sensibility.

Also based at La Marqueta in Harlem, the folks at Hot Bread Kitchen have a loyal fan following in the city.  I’d encourage you to read the story of their business and how they help low-income, immigrant women with language, computer, and other skills to enable them to build their own businesses.  I’m a huge fan of their layered, buttery M’smen Moroccan flatbread (which they didn’t have at the expo).  Their crisp Lavash Crackers were the base for one of the more popular snacks I put out for my guests after our holiday caroling party.

Ginger is one of my favorite seasonings, so much so that it caused the “Ginger Chicken Incident,” as it is known in my family, many, many years ago, although I’m not going to go into that here.  It was great to see the all the varieties of Bruce Cost’s lightly fizzy, refreshing beverages made with real ginger at the expo yesterday.  This was just the kick and pick-me-up that the afternoon needed to give everyone the extra energy to navigate all the booths.  I sampled their new passionfruit flavor with its delicate tropical, floral perfume and a punch of spice from the ginger.  This will definitely hit the spot on a warm, sultry summer’s day.

I met Steve and Heidi on the last market day I attended of Smorgasburg.  After I popped that first, crumbly beautifully-scented morsel of one of their organic, wheat-free Sandcastles into my mouth, all I could think was “Where were these all season?”  Using New York State rye flour, which has been making a comeback after many years when the grain was just used as a cover crop, these baked treats take the word “cookie” to a different plane altogether.  The Marzipan captures the creamy, sweet and floral flavor of the almonds perfectly.  It’s hard to choose, but the Maple-Dusted Cardamom with its dark syrupy tones and exotic spice notes might be my favorite of their line, then again, maybe I need to go back and try them all again just to be sure.

It was wonderful to see these NYC artisan food producers at the Taste of 5 Boroughs culinary expo for the International Association of Culinary Professionals yesterday.  There’s so many wonderful and delicious items being created around our city, many of them using other local and regional products thereby creating a strong economic chain.  It was also terrific to see in person and on Twitter how folks were coming together to support these enterprises and the people who work so hard to bring us great things to eat.

Buon appetito!

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