Food Scouting 2013 Begins Next Week!


Look at me, screaming it! It’s a good thing I am in the mood because my first quarter is booked: New Zealand in January; Brooklyn in February; and Japan in March. That’s about 5 weeks of travel with a nearly singular objective: eat and scout, scout and eat. And I’ll still be the scrawniest bastard in the room!

Someone just asked me about my criteria for finding new food products. My initial reaction is rather unthoughtful: I don’t know, whatever I feel like, whatever is delicious. Realizing that answer to be insufficient, I thought more and realized that I’ve been scouting since my father walked me through every meat counter in sight.  There’s a tremendous amount to the answer.

I’m sure that I could make my selection criteria into a neat little flow diagram. After all, I did to go business school and law school. But that’s boring. Bringing foods back to my tasting panel at my whim is much more fun. This is probably what my brain sounds like as I wander a market:

No. No. Oh, that’s disgusting. No. No, thank you. Yeah, pass on that one. Ew. Oooh, finally… a gem!

Finding distinctive specialty foods is a needle-in-a-haystack affair. That’s why your local retailer orders everything off a distributor’s catalog or two… it is HARD. Even at farmers markets and upscale retail shops, most of the stuff is not very distinctive. I do know that only 20% of the products that I bring back pass our tasting panel. I’d guess that I only bother to bring back 5% of the products that I consider … and that’s from products that I find at farmers markets and upscale grocers, a very high-quality sample. I’m not afraid to deny the fact that while I like to think that I’m fairly humble, when it comes to selecting new food products I am about as judgy as it gets.

So, here’s what I’m looking for: I’m looking for distinctive products, things you have never tasted before. I want uber-high-quality products, pure products, minimally manipulated products. I don’t really care that much about price because I know that a good product costs money to make and if the maker can’t make money, then he won’t make another batch. Everybody’s gotta eat. At the same time, it can’t be prohibitively expensive otherwise people won’t buy it. I want a clear flavor profile. I want pure ingredients, I want a short ingredient list. I want it as natural and sustainable and “organic” as possible. I want it made in small batches. I want to buy direct from the producer and I want to shake his hand when I meet him at the farmers market. I want all of the things that any progressive eater wants. I know that I am not going to always get them all, but I want as many as possible. Delicious is #1 though. On the production side, I want consistency, I want a producer that is easy to work with and a producer that will work with us.  That’s the basics, but there are so many other small criteria.

Off to New Zealand…

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