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Specialty Food Trends for Chefs and Bartenders

A motley group of grazers and noshers wandered the aisles of the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Heaven is sampling food and drink all day long for three days. We could only stomach one day of quinoa chips and chai coconut tea. But during our stroll through the specialty food universe, we kept our eyes peeled for items which might make their way to the bar or kitchen.

Some products are hard-to-find, artisanal touches to add to the blend. Others could be called expensive conveniences—but they could also be an efficient way to stay on trend without adding overhead.
Trend notes: Everything purple is hot. Purple corn in cereal and granola, purple beet chips, purple potatoes are everywhere. Moringa is the new superfood. And for gluten free, look for products with konnyaku aka konjac flour. With a similar profile to rice noodles, low carbohydrate, gluten free konjac is a dream product for some guests.

I stumbled upon kombucha in every flavor and imaginable bottle shape at the show. But a display of kombucha cocktails caught my eye. Yes, the Asian pear and ginger flavored kombucha from Wonder Drink was paired up vodka for a tasty Moscow Mule. True confession: I never drink and do not like kombucha, a slightly fizzy, fermented blend of black, green and other teas with many health properties. Yet the Asian pear and ginger Wonder Drink also appeared in an Asian Pear Ginger Mojito with silver rum. Niagara grape kombucha Wonder Drink also popped up in an approachable Niagara Mojito. We’re giving kombuch another look at the bar.

Another set of cocktails caught my eye at the Sonoma Syrup Co. booth. I’m already fond of Sonoma Syrup Olive Juice in my homegrown Dirty Martini recipe. The official name of the product is No. 31 Pure Sonoma Olive Juice: “Locally sourced and naturally cured (no lye used here) pure olive juice designed to create an all-natural dirty martini with wine country taste and style.” Not sure we taste the wine country twist, but the impression it imparts is fresh and not commercial, slightly chemical mock-ups from other brands, or not-so-hygienic, salty olive juice bled off the olive jar.

But what Sonoma Syrup was touting at the show were infused syrups such as white ginger, Meyer lemon and all-natural almond, orange blossom flower water and creamy vanilla, aka “natural orgeat.” They also preach the Moscow mule with their white ginger infused syrup for the ginger kick. Ideas for stocking the bar, just-in-case you’re out of fresh mint, the mint-infused syrup for mojitos. If you date to offer a Meyer Lemon Drop martini in the off season for the citrus, consider the Meyer Lemon Drop syrup.

Whether you’re working full-time at the bar or simply enjoy your G & T after work, check out the new Elderflower Tonic from Fever Tree. This is one product that exceeds expectations—and keeps the sugar and calorie content much lower than that found in elderflower liqueur.

An artisanal beverage from Cat Spring Tea in Texas is made by a pair of enterprising sisters who decided to investigate the indigenous yaupon holly bush on their property. They learned that Native Americans brewed yaupon tea from the plant’s leaves and stems. The plant contains caffeine which does not induce the jitters. Yaupon represents a pleasant drink that the server—or tea sommelier—can offer as an American heritage product.

Sometimes chefs and bartenders need a hand to find artisanal products from around the world. When Kitty Keller fell in love with French walnut oil, she realized that others might benefit from knowing about this special aroma and flavor the oil imparts especially on salads. Soon Keller became an importer. Today her compan, KL Keller Foodways is known as a leader in the premium wine vinegar category and more.

For starters, the Alvear Pedro Ximénez Dry and Sweet Vinegars from Spain are exceptional sherry vinegars. Made by Bodegas Alvear from Montilla wines with Pedro Ximénez grapes, the vinegars show exceptional depth of flavor. We had a delicious sample of Banyuls vinegars, white balsamics, and red wine Espelt Garnatxa from north of Barcelona, simply savored on chunks of bread.

Keller’s portfolio contains several foodservice items to spark up the plate:

- Mustard seed oil: With a high smoke point and high omega 3, the oil adds a unique flavor to dishes. Keller sources from Yandilla in Australia who specialize in old-fashioned seed hybridizing techniques.

- Herb bundles or farcellets: Sourced from Northern Sapin, these aromatic bouquets garni of thyme, oregano and savory are hand-wrapped in a bay lead and tied by hand. In Spain, you find them pre-packaged at markets with vegetables for quick soups.

- Dukkah: This addictive Middle Eastern spice blend starts with roasting sesame seeds, almonds and hazelnuts with ground cumin, coriander and sea salt. A spicy version with Aleppo and cayenne pepper is also available. Normally served with bread to dip into robust olive oi, dukkah also serves well as a healthy topping for yogurt or other dips.

- Note that Keller also sells gourmet mustards with a high mustard seed base in restaurant flavors such as black truffle—think upselling burgers—Banyuls vinegar, violet and honey. Speaking of honey, her savory varieties with chestnut, saffron, Basque pepper and more, are excellent.

Back to beverages, milk was a hot topic at the show:

For the lactose intolerant, A2 Milk offers an alternative. A2 milk comes from heritage cows whose milk possesses only A2 protein. At some point, the DNA of cows with A2 protein mutated to create an additional protein, A1, in milk. The company segregates ranches with A2 cows for their milk. A2 is now distributed nationally. Studies have shown that people who think they have lactose intolerance may simply manifest intolerance to A1 protein.

And one more thing. All-American, healthy-for-you camel milk is coming to a distributor near you. Desert Farms relies on about 10 American family farms with pasture raised camels which produce milk high in calcium and vitamin B1. I’m not really a camel-friendly person, but the milk tasted good, and I wanted cookies to go with it. Check out their farm cam. You never know what you will meet next in the culinary world.




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