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August 20, 2012 / joyful plate

Aldo and the art of coffee

Aldo's, Greenport, North Fork. LI, NY.

I have been visiting Greenport for years to visit a dear friend. Whenever I go, I look forward to a coffee at Aldo’s. Everyone knows Aldo here, the mad scientist of coffee and the town eccentric.

In the old days at Aldo’s, you’d be hard pressed to find a seat-bags of beans were everywhere, with random pages from the International Herald Tribune on crates. Today you can sit comfortably in the café or out back overlooking the docks. Thankfully there’s still plenty of highbrow art and just a touch of lovely madness.

On my last visit I woke up early and biked over for a quick espresso. I asked Aldo to recommend a strong blend. His response: “That’s not the way to ask for coffee”. This humbled me. I should have known better. That’s the equivalent of someone asking for “oaky” wine. I reminded him that we met years ago, and that my background was in food and wine. That’s when this quick hello turned into a full-blown interview and I morphed into Michelle the food journalist. When you’ve been in business for a while you recognize an expert when they tell you “I’m not an expert, but….”. That usually translates to “pay attention, this humble genius is going to rock my world and touch my heart with his knowledge”.

Aldo has been in Greenport for 34 years since 1978. I asked what got him into the coffee business. His answer? Necessity. He is an Italian who grew up in the South of France. When he came to Greenport two essentials were missing. The first: good bread. The second: good coffee.

Today, people come to his cafe daily; in fact some highly caffeinated people are coming 2-3 times a day. People travel from literally all over the world to have his coffee. Some save their moment all the way from JFK for 3 hours East to Greenport to have a cup. His doctor walked in while we were chatting. He checks in on Aldo regularly, as do many people. They bring him wine, eggs, plants, flowers….they can’t wait for his molto gentile greeting, “Buongiorno!”. Yes, the coffee is wonderful, but a big part of the thrill is to exchange a few words with him. He thinks they just want to keep him alive so they can be guaranteed a good cup on the North Fork.

A regular customer walked in who requested four bags to travel with. His better judgment was to refuse for fear the beans would not stay fresh, but she was persuasive. In fact, Aldo only uses an espresso machine to make coffee. It’s not an elitist thing, but he insists on giving his customers a fresh cup every time.

We then walked from the café to the roasting room, where my lesson continued. He opened some bags…. from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra and Yemen. “With Yemen, you get a big mix…some little, some big, some flat, some round, they look like debris in a way, but it’s the combination that makes it more complex and interesting to me”.


He went on to explain the beauty of the Yemen beans. The cherries stay on the tree for a long time to ripen, which makes them less bitter and acidic. It’s the variety and ripeness that bring the complexity in the cup. Yemen has a wonderfully earthy bouquet that reminds him of aromas of sheep or dried grass in Provence. “These smells are not something I read about, I lived it”. When he first discovered Yemen, he noticed how smooth and pleasant it was. He couldn’t understand why it was so delicious and nearly sweet. Sometimes like sweet chocolate.

“You don’t have to look for aromas, they just come to you. This is the connection between smelling and the palate. The whole experience is in the discovery. It’s about making a connection with all items on sensory level. Like fermented compost…cooks are smelling fermented things all the time. That’s how you tell the connection between smell and taste”.

It was then realized I was speaking with a man who lives life completely by his senses. Our conversation took a detour from the ripening of Yemen cherries to botrytis (the “noble rot” necessary for sauterne-style wine) and eventually to ripe fruit. An Italian man growing up in the South of France knows his fruit: like Bartlet pears- “when they are ripe they have a gorgeous perfumy essence”. When you buy cantaloupe, you need to wait a few days to get it perfectly ripe. Bananas also have an incredible fragrance. “When you caramelize them for curry sauce, it’s the developed fruit that make the flavors extraordinary. You try to catch the spirit of the fruit itself. That is what cooking is all about”.

And you realize this when you taste his scones. “Most people don’t like scones because they’re too heavy and too dry. The English hide them with clotted crème”. He insisted I taste his scone. “Eat the lips”, he said. “You never forget that first kiss” (of the scone). And he was right: this was different, more seductive, more Southern European. The scone was not doughy at all-it was crispy on the rim and indulgently buttery. It melts in your mouth. He insists fresh bread should be eaten cold, because the flavors come together as the bread cools down. “Grocery stores make bread with crust that looks good, but inside it’s too doughy. They charge $5 for something that looks like bread. “Good bread should not be a luxury”. And, that’s why he has always made his own bread.

And so, to understand Aldo, you need to taste his coffee. You need to taste his scones. But don’t’ break the scones (as I was corrected) take the whole quarter of the scone into your mouth. Enjoy every morsel. That’s living.

That’s living…Aldo style.

Michelle Lawton, joyful plate

July 24, 2012 / joyful plate

Happy Summer 2012 from joyful plate!

Our plates have been very full this spring…looking forward to some R&W in August (translation: relaxation…and writing!). Stay tuned for food, beverage and lifestyle trends to help you stay cool summer into fall. And for daily inspiration, visit http://www.facebook.com/joyfulplate…Please “LIKE”!

(Picture taken at JCrew, South Street Seaport summer 2012)

March 20, 2012 / joyful plate

Natural Products Expo West March, 2012: joyful plate branding trends

The best way to survive New York City in the winter is to leave it now and then…so the past few months I’ve been on the food and beverage circuit touring Fancy Food in San Fran, Miami SOBE fest and last week the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA. Here are some brands that caught my eye in my one day tour of Expo West.

First, a few comments on a macro level: A few of the trends mentioned by joyful plate in the Fancy Food show 2011 trend recap still apply: Demonstrations are reaching a new height of BRAND THEATRE: brands typically put on their best dress for trade shows, but this year’s level of performance seems to go way beyond creatively, offering a whole new kind of star quality to the experience. HEALTHY INDULGENCE is alive and well: insightful brands are delivering doses of it -with healthy products offering gourmet taste and gourmet products gone fresh, local and organic. Brands are flirting with a NATURALLY CHIC tone, dialing up the emotion without sacrificing functional credibility. After all, food is fashion! And finally, some creative natural brands are bringing the outdoors in with GARDEN FRESH design-a lifestyle trend we’ve seen for years in restaurants, home decor and clothing.

BOOM CHICKA POP

This was love at first sight and bite-what a fun, fantastical name and package that is altogether NATURALLY CHIC. “The name BOOM CHICKA POP represents just what snacking should be—light, tasty without taking itself so seriously”. It is free of gluten, GMOs and preservatives and is made with just popcorn, sunflower oil and sea salt- and, it has only 35 calories per cup and is a good source of fiber. BOOM CHICKA POP will be available in June 2012 at leading grocery stores across the country. It can also be found online at:  BOOMCHICKAPOP.

GREEK THEATRE

Chobani‘s enormous success clearly gave them the confidence to show off their sense of BRAND THEATRE. Their tagline “nothing but good” absolutely applies to the Panko Coconut Scallops with Chobani Chutney I tasted in their experiential Chobani Kitchen. And, I fell madly for their backdrop messaging, ‘It’s crazy to love a yogurt this much” (Created by  Leo Burnett campaign : apparently it is just breaking in Australia and Canada).

CRAZY FOR COCONUTS

The industry has gone coo coo for coconuts…in water, frozen desserts, even baking sticks like kelapo. And no wonder, coconut’s taste profile is rich and sweet and a perfectly pure form of HEALTHY INDULGENCE.

The folks at Dang, San Francisco hear “Dang, That’s Good!” all the time when someone tastes their coconut chips. They start with the best coconuts from Thailand, slice out the nutritious Copra (dried Coconut meat) and toast them with a touch of sugar and salt. I’m saving mine to top my next red curry. And, check out this new beverage intro,  Coco Cafe (joint venture with Vita Coco): Fair trade certified, rich and delicious, Coco cafe provides natural hydration & natural energy. More on the deal here.

NATURALLY CHIC

The lovely ladies at MetroMint posed for this picture while I sampled their all natural, no sugar, no preservatives, no sweeteners and zero calorie water.  Everything about Metro mint branding is pure and simple and NATURALLY CHIC.

thinkThin Products made a big impression at  ExpoWest. Their website recap recreated the experience well: “along with impressive outdoor and indoor booths, thinkThin had 12 models walking around the convention center, posing statuesque in front of the booth and giving people thinkThin protein bars, the #1 weight management bar in the natural channel”.  Brava! THINK THIN for your sense of BRAND THEATRE and NATURALLY CHIC style and confidence.

TASTES LIKE……

I was wowed by DaiyaFoods sense of BRAND THEATRE and displays created for their Deliciously Dairy Free products. Their design look feels GARDEN FRESH- setting an expectation for an all together new eating experience. The melty goodness of their grilled sandwich “stretched my imagination”, offering some real HEALTHY INDULGENCE. Daiya is a company from Van Couver but you can find their products at retail and used in restaraunts here: Daiya Foods Where to Buy.

Gardein encourages you to “Cheat on Meat” with their beefless burgers and crispy tenders. One taste of their burger could have fooled me, they tasted great and I loved the look of their GARDEN FRESH package. I googled Gardein and learned that it’s also a Canadian company but you can find their products at retail and used in restaraunts here: Gardein store locator.

HEALTHY INDULGENCE
This tart cherry juice from  Cheribundi was absolutely delicious: and it’s great to know it’s a super fruit: their materials say it can help you with aches and pains, trouble sleeping and slow muscle recovery.

OH BABY

Nurtur me has a sweet line of products to “feed your baby better from the ground up”: Dried organic fruits and veggies in convenient packages. And smart branding too “see the “nm” logo and brand mark) with a GARDEN FRESH look and feel to design.

Plum Organics raised the bar years ago for branding, and it keeps going higher and higher. For babies and tots, Plum promises “to make only the most nutritious foods that inspire a joy of eating”. It was certainly a joy to visit their display at Expo West, and very entertaining with a live DJ sharing fun for all.

Copyright © 2012 –joyful plate LLC. All rights reserved. Photographs were taken by joyful plate at the Natural Products Expo West 2012. Brand images are the copyright of the original owners. References to products and brands are not an endorsement, rather a point of view on food and beverage branding trends. Trend names and imagery have been used to support these insights. Links may be provided for brands mentioned for the purpose of providing accuracy. For any edits or corrections to this information please email michelle@joyfulplate.com and we will update information as requested. Thank you.

March 17, 2012 / joyful plate

The joy of Irish Cooking

Beannacht La Fheile Padraig!

Over the years my generous mother in law has given me many beautiful books from Ireland. Yes, Ireland is the country that has produced  Joyce and Beckett, but the books she sends me (and knows I will read!) are cook books. Yes, cookbooks.  Many people mistake Ireland for a country of  simple boiled meat and potato pub food. Nothing could be farther from the truth- especially today, with Ireland’s international profile.

Some of the most lovely food I’ve ever tasted has been when travelling through Ireland.  I’ll always remember our breakfast at The Quay House, Clifden,  (Connemara), fish stew at Morans Oyster Cottage (County Galway), the galley head prawns at the now closed Chez Youen in Baltimore (now see the Lookout Restaraunt for special fish dishes) and our magical visit (and view) many years ago at The Glebe Gardens, also in Baltimore, County Cork.

So to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, I’d like to share a list cookery books given to me that showcase the culture of cooking in Ireland. First on the list is a cookbook from Avoca, my favorite place to drop by in Dublin or Enniskerry. Avoca is a Irish lifestyle store that was founded in the 1920′s but has connections as far back as 1723 to a County Wicklow town of the same name.  Upstairs at Avoca, in a bright airy café set amongst Dublin’s rooftops, they serve one of the best breakfasts in town-where you can indulge in gorgeous pancakes with mixed berries and clotted cream (in case you need a break from the ubiquitous full Irish). Next on the list are cookbooks from Darina Allen-Irish chef, food writer, TV personality (I am still dreaming of visiting Ballymaloe Cookery School …Ireland’s foremost cookery school…an icestorm prevented us from getting there a few holidays back). And last on the list for a bit of fun is a cookbook from Carluccio’s-a great Italian restaraunt and food shop in Dublin. My inlaws know I love to cook Italian and surprised me with this risotto tea towel from Carluccios, Dublin over the holidays. Make sure to visit on your next trip there.

Enjoy!

A year at Avoca photo: Avoca. ie.

A Year at Avoca

Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course

A Year at Ballymaloe Cookery School by Darina Allen

Ireland for Food Lovers by Georgina Campbell

Living in Ireland

Irish Country House Cooking

Favourite Irish Recipes

The Irish Farmer’s Market Cookbook

L’Ecrivain Restaraunt, Dublin

A Passion for Pasta, Antonio Carluccio

Copyright © 2012 –joyful plate LLC. All rights reserved.Photographs by M. Lawton.

December 21, 2011 / joyful plate

Happy Holidays from joyful plate

September 24, 2011 / joyful plate

Destination: Dumbo, Brooklyn

Dumbo: Etsy

As Petula Clark once sang in “Downtown”, everything was waiting in Dumbo, Brooklyn for my friend Liz Wald.

Liz joined Etsy more than two and a half years ago as the International Business Director and has been globetrotting ever since, expanding Etsy’s business around the world. From Tokyo to Berlin to London, she has been exploring cultural fits and building business operations for Etsy and basically, having a blast. Recently, Liz welcomed me as her guest for lunch at “Eatsy” when they serve the staff locally sourced, organic food from Brooklyn-based restaurants every Tuesday and Thursday.

Creative stimulus is everything at Etsy and that means food too. Even their conference rooms are inspired by quirky food and music combinations; “OREO Speedwagon” and “Depeche a la Mode”.

Employees are a mix of supertechies and designers, business folks, and customer service people who are often Etsy sellers themselves. Etsy’s Feng shui is all about living with craft, so the work area is the perfect mix of creative chaos.

Etsy started off as an owner built site in 2005 and today has over 10 million members.  Sellers sold more than $300 million in transactions in 2010, which could nearly double again this year.  People from around the world have been exchanging everything from handmade jewelry to vintage lamps, and the site is just now launching its first language other than English- German, to be followed by French and many others.  From right here at home, even my talented “Aunt Mary” is sharing her paintings on Etsy: Mary Lawton, Etsy. Watch this space for much more about Liz and Etsy. For more info on Etsy, click here: Etsy Press.

Dumbo: Wild Rise

Dumbo draws for its food too. A great place to check out is Wild Rise for their primal pizza. A simple dough of flour, water, salt and yeast is mixed with ancient techniques.  Two days later, the dough rises and is ready to dress with crushed San Marzano tomatoes picked from the mineral rich soils at the base of Mount Vesuvius in the bay of Naples, Bufala mozzarella made from the milk of Neapolitan water buffalo, and basil. Once assembled, the pie is baked at 900 degrees in this custom made oven. Visit Wild Rise @ 68 Jay St.Bar, Wild Rise.

August 14, 2011 / joyful plate

joyful plate partners with Masi Amarone for a Risotto Rendezvous in NYC July 27, 2011

Last month I had a thrill of a lifetime making risotto with the chefs at the International Culinary Center and presenting Masi’s Amarones for the first ever Masi Risotto Rendezvous in NYC. Joining me was Raffaele Boscaini, the youngest son of Dr. Sandro Boscaini, the President of Masi Agricola and President of the Amarone Families organization. Masi has been producing wine in the Veneto for seven generations, since 1772. For more of Masi’s deep appreciation for culture on every level-wine, food and particularly the arts, enjoy this video:  Masi Venetian Culture.

I worked with Sandro Boscaini and his family years ago in 1999 and was absolutely delighted to partner with them again. I fell in love with the whole process of making risotto at their cooking school, La Foresteria.  Since then, I’ve made risotto for friends and family in nyc, CT, Dublin and Paris. The place and the people often influence the recipe. Every risotto has a story:  joyful plate day after Thanksgiving risotto in Paris.

Risotto and Amarone make the perfect marriage.They are both cultural phenomenons of the Veneto.

The Rice

Rice was brought from the Orient to the Po Valley– an area with flat lands and an abundance of water for natural irrigation. Risotto dates back to 1475 in Venice where master chefs at Palazzo Ducale would prepare risotto for state dinners. “Nano” is the preferred rice in the area, grown in 90% of the region. It is short and round and absorbs liquid very well. Apparently, there are about 24 types grown in Italy and nano is the second oldest, from the Japonica strain. Risotto rices are shorter than long-grain rices and have a high proportion of amylopectin, a type of sticky starch that’s responsible for its creamy texture.

The rice we used for the event was flown in from the Serego Alighieri Estate.  If you have the chance to visit, it is one of the most special places in the world where you can be a part of some serious history. The descendants of Dante have lived there since the 1300’s and you’ll see references to the Divine Comedy while walking your way to the dining room for your blood orange juice breakfast.  Everything you taste will be tutto tutto buono, like the chestnut and apricot spreads made on the vineyard. Here is a photograph I’ll always treasure, taken on my 40th birthday (under a “bella luna”).

The Wine


Amarone is a modern wine steeped in ancient tradition and a shining example of culture in the Veneto. It starts with indigenous grape varieties (corvina, rondinella and molinara). The magic happens in the traditional process of semi-drying grapes after picking called “appassimento” which allows for a concentration of flavor. Amarone is unique because of the microclimate in the Veneto,  naturally allowing this process to happen. So with Barolo and Brunello,  Amarone is regarded as one of the most prized wines in Italy and the world.

The Menu

Here is the menu we prepared for Risotto Rendezvous:

-Lemon and mint risotto paired with Masi Masianico (pinot grigio/verduzzo)

-Masi 2006 Costasera Amarone paired with wild mushroom risotto and Amarone risotto. Click here for the authentic recipe: Serego Allighieri recipe Saveur Magazine.

After the risotto we paused from eating to reflect on the big boys (the single Vineyard Amarones): 2003 Vaio Serego Aligheri, 2001 Campolongo di Torbe and 2001 Mazzano. Rafaelle said the Mazzano has the personality of an army general. This reminded me of my visit to these hilltops years ago when I said the Campolongo di Torbe is more feminine and the Mazzano more masculine.

Dessert risotto

For the grand finale we enjoyed a sweet risotto made with coconut and wild berries, paired with 2007 Masi Casal di Ronchi Recioto dessert wine. The guests were so relaxed at this point, they started to share stories about their most unusual risottos…like risotto on the barbie in Australia, and risotto with frog’s legs in China town! We ended on a high note with a lot of laughs and exchanges. In true Masi style, new friends were made over food and wine.

Special thanks to Chef Daniele Matrocce and all the pros at the International Culinary Center.  I was in their cooking fundamentals and knife skills program back in 2003, and took the Craft of Food writing this past fall. It is a magical place where you can turn the corner to see a portrait of Jacques Pépin and so personal that you can have Dean Alan Richman (decorated food writer and GQ editor) personally edit your homework.

How to make risotto

Everyone thinks risotto is hard to make. It’s really not, you just need to plan well and take your time.

The rice

-Sautee shallots in olive oil and butter (whatever your recipe calls for – sometimes recipes call for onion and other recipes, garlic)

-Add rice and stir until coated and glistening. Toasting the rice before you add any wine or stock seals the grains and so they don’t soak up the liquid too quickly.

-Add wine (the pan will sizzle-the wine will evaporate)

The stock

-If you can make stock from scratch, great. The flavor of fresh stock brings out the aromatic qualities of the dish. If you can’t, no worries-just buy it.

To make stock, just sauté onions, garlic, carrots, celery and parsley –really whatever veggies you have like fennel or zucchini. Then add water and boil for a few hours and cool down. That’s it! It’s comforting to make it on a cold winter day and freeze it then you’ll always have it fresh. But here’s the trick-make sure you have the stock boiling in a big pot behind your risotto pot. It needs to be hot, not cold so when you ladel it into your pan the rice temperature remains constant. Plan for three times the amount of liquid: rice.

Ladel the stock into the rice bit by bit so the rice can absorb the stock slowly. Its very intuitive, you’ll just feel when it’s right. Taste along the way…. the rice is done when it’s al dante-firm, but not crunchy. The whole process will take about a half hour. You don’t need to constantly stir; you just need to make sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t burn.

Take the risotto off the heat. A  bbc recording I heard recently calls for adding ice-cold butter and Parmesan cheese (vs. warm) so the butter melts slowly into the rice. Then season with salt and pepper. This is what I call the “naked” risotto-it’s like a pallete you work from. From here, there are endless creative possibilities like:

-Cheese: fontina, taleggio, gorgonzola

-Veggie: asparagus, leeks, tomato, eggplant

-Herb: sage, thyme, mint, basil

-Nut: chestnut, walnut

-Meat: chorizo, bacon, pancetta

-Fish: lobster, scallops, muscles

-Sweet: peaches, fresh berries

A lovely book that has been my bible is: Risotto-Ursula Ferrigno.

Pop Culture

Preparing for this event, I discovered the coolest film about rice in Northern Italy called Riso Amaro, “Bitter Rice”. The story begins at the start of the rice-planting season in Northern Italy in 1949. In an effort to escape the law, two small-time thieves hide amongst the crowds of female workers heading to the rice fields of the Po Valley where they run into Silvana Mangano (Miss Rome 1946). The film was nominated in 1950 for an Academy Award for best story  and was entered into the 1949 Cannes film festival. Check out this you-tube video  for some delicious Italian drama, retro style: Riso Amaro (1)Riso Amaro (2).

And to find these gorgeous Masi Amarones, click here for the Zachy\’s website. For everyday enjoyment and amazing value < $20, try Masi’s Masianico, Modello, and Campofiorin (a “baby” Amarone made in the ripasso method).

Copyright © 2011 –joyful plate LLC. All rights reserved.

July 31, 2011 / joyful plate

joyful plate Fancy Food 2011

Fancy Food had its D. C. debut in July this year, so I road tripped down from NYC to explore the show. Joining me was Sharon Weiss, my first manager at P&G, dear friend and coach. Together, we compared notes on what brands inspired us in the 48-hour whirlwind of activity that is the Fancy Food Show. Observations include thoughts on positioning, brand experience, packaging and product.

First, here a few comments on a macro level to offer some perspective.

1. Brands are relishing in FLAVOR FRENZY. Chefs, mixologists and product developers are playing on polarization, combining opposite flavors from sweet to savory and textures from creamy to crunchy.  This sense of experimentation has become normalized by food television recently with shows like Bizarre Foods and Extreme Cuisine. The shock value of pairing bacon with just about everything has inspired unusual combinations like sweet potatoes with chocolate and coffee with cheese to set a new bar for the unexpected.

2. Demonstrations reached a new height of BRAND THEATRE. Brands typically put on their best dress for trade shows, but this year’s level of performance seemed to go way beyond creatively, offering a whole new kind of star quality to the experience.

3. More than ever, we saw brands express their REAL ROOTS. For a while now, the food world has been borrowing language from the wine world, talking terroir and creating a forum for food historians and anthropologists to explain food’s real history and origins (remember, 2010 was the year of the first-ever Sotheby’s heirloom vegetable auction…inspired by Beekman 1802). Food culture has arrived!

4. HEALTHY INDULGENCE is alive and well. Insightful brands are delivering doses of it -with healthy products offering gourmet taste and gourmet products gone fresh, local and organic.

5. The EPICUREAN HOSTESS GIFT is the new “bring” to a dinner party.  With the cost of food rising at exponential levels, food gifts are just as valuable as bringing a bottle of bubbly and a very personal touch for the for the semi-professional at home cook or grill man.

6. OLD WORLD NEW: Old world, authentic brands are more contemporary than ever, demonstrating mastery with artful design and daring to preserve their sense of culture on pack and in positioning.

7. A POWER OF PURPOSE is thriving. The responsibility revolution is alive and well, with companies doing good in their own ways, trying to make a difference given the many environmental and social issues we’re challenged with in our world.

Fancy Food Features (M.Lawton)

Lotus Foods Ken Lee wanted a better rice- better for you, better for people, better for the planet. So he developed Lotus Foods – where they believe that rice is life. Their “flight of rice” was the most fascinating experience I had at the show and a great example of BRAND THEATRE. We tasted from light to dark, starting with a Mekong-Flower-Rice from Cambodia (with a delicate floral aroma), then the Madagascar Pink Rice (a tropical blend with scents of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg). Next we tasted mineral rich Volcano Rice from West Java, and then a wild crafted bamboo infused Jade Pearl Rice. For the grand finale we enjoyed a Bhutanese-Red-Rice, grown for thousands of years at 8,000 feet in the fertile soil of the Paro Valley,  irrigated with 1,000-year-old glacier water.

Lotus Foods delivers on so many  trends today – like their POWER OF PURPOSE with their “More Crop Per Drop” method (50% less water, 90% fewer seeds=3x more rice). They also showcase their REAL ROOTS with heirloom varieties: hand crafted in limited quantities, with a bit of HEALTHY INDULGENCE- delicious rice with exceptional cooking quality, taste, texture and color.

Republic of Tea I’ve been following the Republic of Tea packaging for a while now but what I found so enchanting was their sense of BRAND THEATRE. I was greeted by their Master of Ceremonies, who explained that the Republic of Tea is actually an imagined “brand country” to engage and involve consumers, the trade and employees. They have a Minster of Creativity who creates new flavors, consumers are Citizens and stores are Embassies. Their mission is to create a tea Revolution, sip by sip vs. gulp by gulp, encouraging us to enjoy our daily tea moment for some HEALTHY INDULGENCE. Going back to their REAL ROOTS, they are focusing more and more on full leaf tea these days. I tasted a rich and silky milk oolong full tea and an unoxidized rooibos (raw black currant/cardamom). Celebrating their 20th anniversary, it seems Republic of Tea has never been more relevant, with a strong  POWER OF PURPOSE.

Vosges Chocolate It was love at first sight and bite years ago when a very dear friend and chocolate fanatic gave me a box of truffles from Vosges. I have been in awe of their sense of BRAND THEATRE ever since. Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, personally chooses every spice, flower and chocolate in her Chicago kitchen. Vosges seems wonderfully exotic and new vs. traditional chocolates, and no wonder- their haut chocolat was inspired by the owner who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. This is chocolate with an edge- from high drama from “day of the dead” lollipops to their brilliant display of truffles on vintage fashion newspaper. Yes, I am blushing over the branding here, but the chocolate was lovely and inventive as well with a touch of FLAVOR FRENZY with their new Smoke+ Chocolate Stout bars.

O Olive Oil I have always adored this packaging but had never tasted the product until show. Unlike other brands that infuse oil with citrus, O offers a little FLAVOR FRENZY by crushing fresh organic citrus & tree ripened olives together, for flavor that’s naturally pure and dense. I tasted their new mandarin olive oil with sweet & tangy bright flavors, just begging for fresh seafood like crab. The line offers some of the most beautiful branding I’ve seen making it the perfect EPICUREAN HOSTESS GIFT.

Beehive Cheese In our two days at Fancy Food I think I tasted this cheese at least three times – and there was a lot of cheese to choose from. According to Beehive Cheeses of UT, barely buzzed was a kind of eureka! moment – coffee spilled on cheese to create a tactile texture to this buttery, melt in your mouth experience. The cheese is hand rubbed with a Turkish grind from the Colorado Legacy Coffee Company (The Cheesemakers brother). French Superior Lavendar buds are ground with the coffee. The rub imparts notes of butterscotch and caramel, which are prevalent near the rind, but find their way to the center of the cheese. A happy accident indeed, and a good example of FLAVOR FRENZY.

Julians Recipe These Belgian Waffles are not only buttery sweet and heavenly but ready to eat as well (no syrup needed!). They’re made by Alex Dzieduszycki (creator of Alexia Foods and Terra Chips) who grew up in Europe and was inspired by an authentic Belgian recipe. They are a great example of HEALTHY INDULGENCE as well-they’re sweet yet all natural, made with no trans fats, artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils or preservatives.

New Tree Chocolate A perfect example of HEALTHY INDULGENCE, Belgian NEWTREE invites you to experience a moment of pure chocolate pleasure that combines the satisfaction of fine cocoa and the pursuit of well-being- “natural born chocolates”. Their new Super Fruit offers of bright fruit flavors together chocolate with grape extract (a natural source of antioxidants), plus 3 times more fiber and 30% less sugar than similar chocolate. Motivated by responsibility, initiative and ambition, New Tree is also a great example of the POWER OF PURPOSE.

Sukhis Twenty years ago Sukhi Singh came to the U.S. with a dream of bringing Indian foods to American tables. The rest is history. After building the business through food service, today Sukhi’s is the fastest growing line in the natural Indian ethnic category showcasing their REAL ROOTS. Sukhi’s offers 15-minute meal solutions with slow cooked curry sauces, spice mixes and chutneys. The curry I tasted was flavorful and satisfying with a kind of HEALTHY INDULGENCE. What drew me to their booth was the sense BRAND THEATRE and. OLDWORLDNEW in their packaging particularly in the logo and color palette.

Fancy Food Features (S.Weiss)

Giuseppe Giusti My interest in attending the show wasn’t just for business; it was fueled by a personal passion for Italian food.  After arriving, I headed downstairs to the international food section. As I was browsing the aisles of cheeses, meats, and pastas my eye caught the distinctive, red wax seal, of Giuseppe Giusti balsamic vinegars.The packaging brought back memories of my visit to Verona where I purchased the most heavenly bottle of Giusti Balsamic Vinegar. Giusti is the oldest, most awarded, producer of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.  While their original recipe dates back to 1604, today they are embodying the trend of OLD WORLD NEW  by introducing a new line of condiments and glazes that are creatively infused with flavors like pomegranate and raspberries.  They have also embraced new bottles that feature a “shampoo bottle” pop-up dispenser, so you don’t waste a drop of this precious commodity.  It is no wonder Giusti appears in the famous “101 Things To Buy Before You Die” making it the perfect EPICUREAN HOSTESS GIFT.

B.T. McElrath Chocolate You can teach an old dog new tricks – if the dog is a traditional chocolate bar. I was delighted by this wonderful pairing of dark chocolate with butter toffee and sea salt. Founder Brian McElrath let me in on the insider’s secret of tasting the chocolate first with the salt side on your tongue, which brings out the characteristics of the cocoa in the chocolate and then with the unsalted side down to bring out the buttery nature of the toffee.

Next we were led through a tasting of some of their newest chocolate truffles like Zinfandel-Balsamic, Chile-Limón, Dark Chocolate and Kaffir Lime and Chai-Spiced Honey Truffles, the new combinations embody the trend of FLAVOR FRENZY. One unique pairing was sweet potato ganache with pumpkin pie spice covered in dark chocolate.  It brought back memories of Thanksgiving dinner when you can’t decide between the sweet potato or chocolate pies, so you have both.

Lastly, B.T. McElrath has A POWER OF PURPOSE by supporting sustainable agriculture -sourcing chocolate products with a UTZ Certified Sustainability Program and implementing socially responsible business practices.

And here are a few other great finds:

Nuts & Nuts Cyrilla Suwarsa developed this business with the dream of providing much needed support to the local farmers to her native Indonesia who produce high-grade cashew nuts. Cyrilla, a talented designer, created the packaging herself. The brand also delivers on the POWER OF PURPOSE, contributing to the Lupus foundation-(Cyrilla was diagnosed in 2003).

Lorina Borrowing equities from the champagne region, Lorina plays on OLDWORLDNEW with their stylish French soda from the NW region of France (1895).

Partanna This gorgeous package is a great example of OLD WORLD NEW -absolutely authentic Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (since 1916) with a contemporary sensibility.

Julie Ann\’s Granola Her new granola offers a little HEALTHY INDULGENCE with unique flavors like decadent raspberry truffle, maple blueberry, tropical bliss and berry PB&J.

School House Kitchen 2011 joyful plate client (and new friend) introduced their new new poppy seed revival and coconut citrus vinaigrettes, offering a bright burst of sunshine. Profits support educational causes, delivering on POWER OF PURPOSE.

Rub Joe The ultimate coffee and spice rub, Rub Joe plays on FLAVOR FRENZY with their supreme seasonings you rub onto foods 1-6 hours before or during cooking. The fun packaging makes the perfect EPICUREAN HOST GIFT.

Copyright © 2011 –joyful plate LLC. All rights reserved. Photographs were taken by joyful plate at the Fancy Food Show 2011. Brand images are the copyright of the original owners. References to products are not an endorsement, rather a point of view on food and beverage branding trends. Trend names and imagery have been used to support these insights. Links may be provided to brands mentioned for the purpose of providing accuracy. For any edits or corrections to this information please email michelle@joyfulplate.com and we will update information as requested. Thank you.


July 6, 2011 / joyful plate

West Side Campaign Against Hunger

Last year when I founded joyful plate I started volunteering as a brand strategist and fundraiser for the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), a supermarket-style food pantry across the street from my office on W 86th in NYC. It’s a progressive program that empowers customers to be self-sufficient -allowing them to choose their own groceries and giving them social services like health insurance, food stamps and job training. Check out this innovative video about their story. West Side Campaign Against Hunger Video or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYPtpVXLgO4.

WSCAH is helping more people than ever before in its 32-year history. They ended the fiscal year last week with a 17% increase in people turning to them—a 48% increase since the start of the recession. WSCAH provides about one hundred ten thousand low-income New Yorkers with food for about one million meals. Their social workers will help the heads of over 4,000 households who never had to turn to emergency food help before.

This winter, demand was so high that WSCAH could no longer afford to keep enough food on its shelves. Last month, I attended a “Fill Our Shelves” luncheon with other members like my new friends Diane Velletri of  ChowCiaoDesign and Ben Schmerler of  First Press Pr.

The luncheon raised enough money to buy food for the pantry for a week. We heard from a formerly incarcerated customer who told the audience how hopeless he was to build a new life until WSCAH’s counselors took the time to listen and guide him on the road to employment. We also heard about the importance of contacting your congressional representative to oppose cuts to federal nutrition support programs, SNAP (food stamps) and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

The guests at the event enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by Chef/Instructor Mark D’Alessandro and his customer chef class. Special thanks to Shake Shack for dessert; Joe: the Art of Coffee; and wholesaler HYCO for donating the food.

WSCAH receives food donations from all kinds of sources including consumer packaged goods companies. If your company would like to help fill WSCAH’s shelves on a regular base, please contact Michelle Lawton at michelle@joyfulplate.com or Stewart Desmond, Director of Development West Side Campaign Against Hunger at sdesmond@wscah.org. Thank you.

July 4, 2011 / joyful plate

Connecticut getaway

Need some fresh air? You’re just a zip car ride away from nyc to Connecticut. In just an hour you can be immersed in greenery and detached from the busyness of the city. I think the reason I’ve survived my 10+ years living in nyc is my good fortune to be able to escape to CT to visit family and friends. Here are a few places I’ve been this spring that may be of interest this summer.
One of my best kept secrets for over 20 years for an authentic gastronomic get away. I discovered Sharpe Hill when my mom retired to the”Quiet Corner” of NE CT. It’s a naturally stunning area where you can drive aimlessly in the back country to find working dairy farms and all kinds of classic antique and book stores. Sharpe Hill is tucked away in Pomfret, a historic town where thankfully, time has stood still. What makes this place so special is the secluded setting, outdoor seating in their herb garden, and a thoughtful display of antiques  from all over  New England and Europe (where the owners originally found their inspiration for cooking and winemaking). I’ve tasted a lot of their award winning wines over the years, and what I keep coming back to is the cabernet franc (a bold, Bordeaux style Claret wine made entirely from their Cabernet Franc grapes), the Reserve Chardonnay  (a lovely crisp and dry Burgundian style, bright and clean on the palate with a distinctive mineral character, a blend of 100% estate grown Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne grapes) and the Select Late Harvest  (made entirely from estate grown, handpicked botrytised Vingnoles- with aromas of gorgeous honey, peaches and apricots and a nicely balanced level of acidity).  Also intriguing is the St. Croix (A full bodied, estate bottle dry red made entirely from their St. Croix grapes, indigenous to Minnesota but grown on the estate). The wonderful thing about Sharpe Hill is that the food is as good as the wine. They have classic Lamb Chops and Filet Mignon but my favorite dishes go Creole…the Spicy Jamican Chicken served over rice with grilled bananas and fresh mango chutney and the Shrimp, marinated in a hot Louisiana sauce , wood grilled, served with lemon thyme rice. I’ll be there for sure again at some point this summer, and I’ve learned the insider trick that if you want to dine in the garden next month, make ressies now.
While you’re in the area, visit Roseland Cottage. A National Historic Landmark, it is a Victorian estate sold by the Bowen family to the town of Woodstock on the condition that it be kept hot pink! I have been visiting the “pink house” since my college days at nearby UCONN. The gardens are serene and there are all kind of curiosities on the grounds. According to Historic New England,, the private bowling alley at Roseland Cottage is the oldest surviving indoor alley in the country. It was built on one of the outbuildings at the same time the house was constructed in 1846. The Bowens held grand Fourth of July parties for twenty-five years at Roseland Cottage. Hundreds of guests were invited including three United States presidents, (Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes). Eventually these events grew so large that Bowen developed an elegant public park to host his July 4th celebrations, with gilded fountains, a boathouse, and private bungalows. The park, named Roseland Park, was first opened in 1876 and in accordance with Bowen’s will is still open to the public today.
On your way back to the city, pay a visit to Holbrook Farm in West Redding and say hello to John and Lynn (friends of my relatives for years). They make the best home made peanut butter and bread & butter bell-jar pickles around.
And finally, if you are in the area for a while,  why not learn some Italian with lovely Lee DeMilo at Lingua E Cucina in Silvermine. Lee was gracious enough to invite me to her home this spring for an absolutely authentic Italian experience. Every dish was tutto tutto buono and her home a historic treasure.