By Walter Nicholls Posted October 12, 2009, 8:00 AM EDT
There was plenty to nibble on last Wednesday, when the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (N.A.S.F.T.) and Ridgewells Inc. hosted back-to-back tasting events. Starting at 5:30 p.m. at the downtown CulinAerie cooking school, N.A.S.F.T. showcased the 33 Gold Award-winning products (think outstanding oils and condiments), chosen from entries at the association’s 2009 winter and summer Fancy Food Shows, held in San Francisco and New York, respectively. Across town in a vacant Georgian mansion in Chevy Chase, starting at 6:30, caterer Ridgewells rolled out a new partnership and hospitality division: José Andrés Catering With Ridgewells.
At CulinAerie, the New York-based N.A.S.F.T. laid-out samples of sauces, snacks, and jams—even a healthy dog treat—on the school’s stainless steel tables. Overhead in the classroom setting, four flat-screen TVs showed a montage of the product packaging. The two-hour tasting for 30 journalists and food association reps was a pilot project for N.A.S.F.T. that the group plans to take to other cities. Also announced: Washington will host the summer show in 2011.
“We are on a mission to bring our products to regional audiences,” said N.A.S.F.T. communications director Louise Kramer. “We realized, as a trade organization, we have a gem here with our awards, now in their 37th year. These product tastings are our ambassadors going on a mission.” Speakers included award winners Jeffery Garstka and Tom Gorski for their Seaside Barbecue Sauce and Henry Wainer, owner of Sid Wainer & Son Specialty Produce and Specialty Foods in Bedford, Mass.
Branded, reusable shopping bags filled with a selection of the products awaited departing guests at the door.
At the Ridgewell’s event, more then 200 event planners, press, and clients roamed an otherwise empty (and for-sale) mansion and its grounds, visiting carving stations and trying Andrés’s menu of Mediterranean, Mexican, Spanish, and molecular gastronomy cuisine found in the chef’s ThinkFoodGroup restaurants: Jaleo, Café Atlantico, Zaytinya, Oyamel, and Minibar by Jose Andres.
Ridgewell’s C.E.O. Susan Lacz proposed the partnership to Andrés last year after attending a ThinkFoodGroup catered event for the Young Presidents Organization. “They did this fabulous paella and I said to myself, 'We should be doing this,'” Lacz said, as an identical shrimp and monkfish paella, served from an eight-foot-wide pan, simmered in the distance. She added that her company will provide day-to-day operations and staffing.
In the center of the ballroom, chefs carved lamb shoulder, served with rosemary jus and salt-crusted whole red snapper topped with a parsley sauce. Poolside, guests found a gin and tonic bar and an Andrés specialty: foie gras dipped in ground corn nuts wrapped in cotton candy. A Vista provided lounge seating around the pool and projected the new catering division's “Eat Drink Dream” slogan on the back and front of the brick mansion.
The take-away was a small canvas branded tote holding the company’s new menu, recipe cards, chocolates, and a bottle of Patron tequila.