The Specialty Food Association’s Winter confab tests the very limits of how many free samples a man can eat in a day.
It’s another display filled with smoked meats. Another tray of salami placed in front of me on the counter. There’s a special, new Molinari salami there with fennel. I kind of want to try it but pause for a second. “Can I possibly eat another bite?” I ask myself.
I’ve been at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center in San Francisco all day. I’ve eaten a lot of free samples; little bites of chips, pork rinds, pasta, frosting and heirloom popcorn. Everything is sprinkled with a bit of sea salt. Sea salt is big at the Winter Fancy Food Show in 2017. Even the desserts are spiked with it.
I spear the fine salami with the toothpick and eat it. The salami is good. I think this might be my last sample for the day, but then the ravioli has just come out of the boiling water.
Can I resist? No. Look at me. I cannot. I harpoon the ravioli. The ricotta runs down my face. Fortunately, every booth keeps a stack of paper napkins handy.
Ghost pepper is also big at this year’s Fancy Food Show.
I sample some Inglehoffer mustard infused with ghost pepper. Beaverton Foods Inc. of Hillsboro, Ore., claims it’s “America’s HOTTEST MUSTARD.” They aren’t lying. It nearly burns the roof off my mouth. Their new sriracha mustard is almost a soothing palette cleanser after the ghost pepper.
Mrs. Renfro’s, the jarred salsa makers out of Fort Worth, Texas, has a ghost pepper nacho cheese sauce that has me running for the water cooler. Their new pumpkin salsa is a lot gentler. Hell, the habanero was a lot gentler.
“Things that are here are going to be edgier,” Doug Renfro, president of Renfro Foods, said of coming to San Francisco every year for the Fancy Food Show. “I check out the funky stores and see what’s out there.
“Maybe there’s a fire-roasted Kumquat salsa?" he pondered, with a look of wonder.
Renfro has been coming to the Winter Fancy Food Show for 15 years now.
The first time that Joe Papiri of Snak King, the makers of El Sabroso Pork Cracklins, came to the Fancy Food Show 27 years ago his company set up a pigpen filled with toy wind-up pigs.
“All we really made was pork rinds at the time,” Papiri recalled. “We also had pig ties.”
By the end of the day, I take a quick tour of the international food companies in Moscone’s south hall. The green olives stuffed with garlic and the paper-thin slices of Serrano ham beckon to me, but I can’t eat another bite. I find myself in the Mexico section where the tequila pours freely. I take a shot of “100% artisanal” Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal, and follow that up by sampling every variety of Origen Sagrado tequila.
And so I top off my day of burning my mouth off with ghost peppers by pouring gasoline on the fire.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.