I attended Hot Startups & Cool Cravings at the new (to me) Openhouse Gallery this past Saturday. I have come to enjoy “pop-up” food shows; featuring small business and local entrepreneurs, and very often locally-sourced, fair-trade, or vegan products, such small-scale shows are more memorable to me because they are on a much smaller scale and foster deeper interactions between producers and consumers than more “professional” and polished trade shows, whose large scale causes details of the memory of the event to be lost. I met many people in the local food business I would not have otherwise encountered, including but not limited to the CEO of Stogo.
This event was organized by yumspring, “a virtual incubator for food entrepreneurs”, and benefited Wellness in Schools, a New York-started non-profit organization whose mission is to promote “healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools across the country”.
I had the opportunity to taste several varieties of non-dairy ice cream as well as other innovative and interesting foods & beverages from a diverse array of smallish and start-up NYC-area food businesses. Though ice cream was given “top billing” as the sought-after food attraction, Nibmor chocolate, purely elizabeth ancient grains granola, hint naturally flavored water, Krumville Bake Shop (gluten-free baked goods so good you’d never know) were other food and beverage producers whose products were featured at the event. The black sesame ice cream touted by some of the publicity articles about the event was provided by Sky Ice NYC, which also served up melon-ball sized sample scoops of other exotic cocoanut milk-based ice cream flavors served at their Northern Thai cuisine restaurant in Brooklyn. In addition to the Black Sesame ice cream, which was accompanied by a lump of sticky rice blended with cocoanut to provide a sweet and light flavor contrast to make the somber savor of the black sesame more palatable to Occidental expectations, I sampled the Thai tea flavor (a bright orange ice cream accompanied by a lightly charred roti sliver and a drizzle of condensed milk), lime-cucumber sorbet, and amazingly sweet and exotic mangosteen ice cream. I was glad to give the durian ice cream a miss, but I would love to go to their restaurant and try their Thai main dishes as well as their extensive selection of other Thai-inspired desserts.
After ticketholders were given the opportunity to circulate around the exhibition space, tasting samples, panel discussions by some of the successful entrepreneurs behind recent food business startups were held in the back garden of the space, reachable only by a treacherous narrow stairway. There were a limited number of folding chairs, which meant that some stood on dubious sodden astroturf or makeshift concrete patio, but somehow there seemed to be less of a crowd for the speakers than for the samples.
I had the privilege of hearing Rebecca Dengrove, the foundress of Brewla Bars discuss how she developed her idea for brewed-tea ice bars from something she made in her kitchen and sold at Williamsburg’s smorgasburg food fair to a professionally produced packaged product available in some local supermarkets’ freezer cases. She also recounted that the experience she had selling her pops directly to the crowds at outdoor markets resulted in her developing some flavors which were not tea-based in response to consumer feedback. They still retain health benefits: they are all-natural and only 80 calories per bar.
The Soft Serve Fruit Co., from whose table I ate the most samples, shared their story of expanding into a successful regional chain of independent ice cream shops to sell their product (which due to nitpicky New York City laws specifying the amount of butterfat a frozen dessert must contain to be labelled as [i]ice cream[/i], they must call some other name) fruit-based frozen dessert formulated to behave in thickness and texture as soft serve ice cream, and dispensed to customers in-store from soft-serve machines.
Packed pints, molded ice pops and a small selection of other pre-packed frozen dessert products from their product line are also available in freezer cases at their retail locations. The company representative who spoke at this event told of current efforts to get soft-serve fruit frozen dessert into schools as a healthier dessert alternative to conventional ice cream, frozen yogurt, etc., and confirmed that as it is produced solely with fruit, distilled water, and cane sugar/added fructose, it was not only kosher, but pareve.
The lactose intolerant and the kashrut observant would have benefited from learning about and tasting the non-dairy alternatives to conventional ice cream available at this event. I can only hope a similar event, in a larger and better venue, can be organized for their benefit and elucidation.