Last night I dreamt of rows of cooking sauces, plates full of fantastic chocolates, dark, super dark, and plenty of caramels with salt—one had salt and pepper–cut into nibble-sized pieces. There were rows of jams and marmalades, quite a few with yuzu. And salted peanuts, unsalted nut mixes and cookies and balsamic vinegar, white, dark, domestic, imported. And meats: sausages, haute hot dogs, chicken tikka and bacon of course.
Wait a minute, that wasn’t a dream. That was the reality of the past three days at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc., where we had the first part of judging to select finalists for our 37th annual sofi™ Awards for the outstanding specialty foods and beverages of 2009. sofi stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation. The NASFT is a non-profit trade association with more than 3,000 member companies from across the U.S. and abroad that produce specialty products whether a great jam, salsa, cheese or tortilla chip.
Our members entered a whopping 1,411 products, and there is another session coming up in June when we expect at least 700 more! The judges convened for three days at our offices on Wall Street and finished just in time yesterday for those who needed to race to LaGuardia and Kennedy to catch their flights home. No doubt this weekend will include very little eating for them. New York City, a fabulous food town of course, was represented by West Side Market and the French Culinary Institute. And Chicago was in the mix with Charlotte Lyons, longtime food editor of Ebony magazine and a former judge for the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
The nine judges tasted and evaluated the hundreds of sofi entries over three days. They are all steeped in
the profession of sourcing and buying specialty products and ingredients from local purveyors and from around the world, whether for The Pasta Shop in Oakland, Ca., Pier 1 Imports—which has expanded its food offerings—or Meijer, the mega chain based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is working to elevate the level of excellence of its deli, bakery and foodservice departments. Tim Calderone of Meijer observed between sampling “Frozen Savory” entries and “Meat, Pate & Seafood” submissions yesterday that the sofi judging would enhance his experience at the Summer Fancy Food Show. “This has been very valuable for me. Unlike walking the show floor, this allows me to get a little bit closer to the products.”
Our members are mostly small businesses and entrepreneurs, many career changers and dreamers among them, who are trying, and in many cases succeeding, at creating all manner of foods and beverages that delight the senses and add a special touch to meals, snack time and cocktail hour. Local, artisanal, fresh, hand-picked, are all standard words on our members’ labels.
Stay tuned for our announcement next week of the sofi Silver Award finalists.