WELCOME TO a world of make believe, the Fancy Food and Confection Show in New York City. There is no recession. Candy sales are not down. Free lunches still are available. It's half candy, half wine, exotic cheeses, preserves, caviar, pates and Jewish fortune cookies.
Jewish fortune cookies?
They were the most talked about novelty at this year's show. There was also a lot of conversation about real egg shells filled with chocolate and packed in egg crates. No, they were not layed by a chocolate chicken. The chocolate was sneaked in through the bottom where the shell had been deftly cut open. Nor are the Jewish fortune cookies made by Ming Toy Ginsburg.
They are the creation of graphics designer Emily Warwick. The packaging is terrific -- a Chinese carry-out container decorated with fortune cookies and Jewish sayings -- "Oedipus-schmoedipus, so long as you love your mother!" a
Equally Jewish fortunes are in each cookie. "Confucius Scwartz say: Eat it today, wear it tomorrow." "So why jog? If you're pushing 50, that's exercise enough."
You don't have to be Jewish to love them, but it helps. Their selling point is not their taste, which seems surprising at a show featuring "gourmet" foods.
Well if not gourmet, certainly top of the line. These are not the items you are likely to find at your local supermarket or your corner grocery store, unless you live around the corner from Wagshal's Delicatessan. These are expensive eight ounces of orange marmalade with brandy for $5.50; potato chips that come in cans that cost $15 (that's the cheaper size).
Business was brisk, but according to Murray Klein from Zabar's "people always eat more in a recession." Drowning their sorrow, so to speak
Business in free samples was brisk, too. At lunch time on the first day it seemed as though all of the 17,000 expected visitors to the 300-booth show had arrived. The aisles where deli, cheese and wine samples were being dispensed were impassable. The munchers were ready to nab anything in sight, including samples that were nailed down. Godiva chocolate was forced to put up a sign: "Please do not touch." Otherwise they would have been cleaned out in half an hour.
But you could get a sample of Brownie Points. They are chewy morsels made from hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, Kahlua, French coffee and chocolate chips. They come from the same people who bring you Sweet Tooth, dark and white chocolate molars presumably for people who have already lost a few teeth to their candy fix.
Or if your guilt has overcome your sweet tooth, Nova had candy bars fortified with Vitamin A and milk protein. They'll fit right in with the new Department of Agriculture regulations prohibiting the sale of candy in schools during lunch time unless it contains 5 percent of any one of several nutrients. The candy is already being used in the school feeding programs in Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
Leave it to the British to come up with a lollipop which reads: "Who Killed J.R.?"
Unlike food shows for the supermarket trade, a lot of exhibitors at the fancy food show, which is put on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, are small operations. Many of them are owned and operated by women.
The 1979 winner for Best New Domestic Fine Food was a hot pepper jelly from Judyth's Mountain, a California firm. One of the two women who own the company was showing their new entry this year, a delicious ginger jelly. But it needs some work. "We're going to have to thicken that up a bit," said Mone Omstead, as she handed a sticky sampler a wet towel.
Sable & Rosenfeld, a Toronto firm, sounds like a furrier. Instead it sells a wonderful chutney, an excellent barbecue sauce and a mustard sauce for gravlax. It's owners are two Toronto women who provide further examples of how cottage industries can be turned into thriving businesses.
The perfect surface on which to spread the ginger jelly with some cream cheese could be found around the corner where the famous Kansas City, Mo., English muffins were on display. Big, thick and unlike any other English muffin, Wolferman's are gradually making their way to the East Coast.
Some products native to natural food stores in the past are beginning to make inroads in gourmet shops: vegetarian soup mixes, low sodium soup mixes and vegetarian sauce mixes from Hugli, a Swiss firm; chocolate chip cookie mixes from Elam. Health food chocolate chip cookie mixes are a contradition in terms, but they do have whole wheat flour and fructose.
Some things you could only find in kosher markets in the past are also mainstreaming. And people who must watch their salt intake, but love sardines, can now have it both ways. Season Products Corp. is selling five kinds of canned sardines without added salt. With the exception of those packed in tomato sauce, the rest are packed in water. The same company packs tuna and salmon in water without added salt.
Off coffee and into teas? Now you will be able to buy them fruit-flavored, with peach, strawberry and other flavors. Back on coffee? You can buy water-extracted decaffeinated coffee, which answers the question for those worried about the chemicals used in most decaffeination processes.
You can also buy individually packed souffles in jars. Pop off the top; pop in the oven, let the souffle pop up, pop it in your mouth. This curiosity is from Rougle, the French importer.
There was American caviar. Not Iranian, but not bad. And samples of espresso and chocolate flavored popcorn, or if you prefer, orange and mint; full-size chocolate roller skates, 32 flavors of cheese spread (cheddar with almonds and amaretto, gruyere with chablis and peaches and others.) They may have replaced the multitudinous flavors of quiches, which even the fancy food industry describes as a "national plague."
Despite recession signs in some industries, fancy foods don't seem to be suffering. "We are definitely not experiencing any dropoff," said Linda Berliner, who with her husband, Mitch, wholesales high quality foods in Washington. "Maybe people aren't eating out as much and entertaining at home more," she speculates. Certainly gourmet cooking has become America's newest indoor sport.