Front row at the Sofi Awards – Specialty Food’s version of the Oscars

A holding room, a red carpet procession with tv cameras and flashes firing, a large raucous crowd cheering and a 14 foot gold statue on a huge stage – this event is way more big time than we expected.

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SOFI – sofi stands for “specialty outstanding food innovation” and represents the best of the best. Winners are selected by a national panel of specialty food retailers, foodservice professionals and journalists. Feast! is being honored with an Outstanding Retailer award.

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Eric getting ready to exit the holding room and head down the Red Carpet –feelings of amazement, excitement and anxious anticipation. This is crazy! We are about to walk the Red Carpet to hundreds of screaming “fans”.

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Exciting! Clare, Neville and Oliver Turner from Virginia Chutney Company won a Gold Sofi for their Spicy Plum Chutney. In this picture, Clare is saying something brilliantly witty to star chef and host of the evening, Marcus Samuelsson.

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Thank you, Specialty Food Association, for this great honor.  There are so many people who put their heads and hearts and time into making Feast! an Outstanding Retailer, we’d like to recognize a few.

Firstly, thank you to all the family food producers – the grandmothers, grandfathers, moms and dads, sons and daughters, husbands and wives – who share their delicious food creations for us all to enjoy.  Telling your story and selling your real good foods is great for our business and our community. None of this would be possible without you.  Cheers to a bright future!

The idea for Feast! started with our parents – Maggi, Barney, Betty and Willis – who raised us to respect and love good food. At both of our homes growing up, family meal was a special time and planning for those meals- whether planting, weeding and harvesting from the garden or putting up for winter or helping to cook was what being “together” meant. Thank you Moms and Dads for your influence and support all these years.

Over the 11 year life of Feast! more than 130 staff have worked with us and many of them made a lasting impression at the store. Firstly, thank you to Suzannah Kerr McFerran who was our very first employee and whose instinct for interior design and skills at organization added so much to the “look” of the place, down to the color of the walls.  Thank you to Cate McConnell who created the “gift BOX” and to Mari Ines Arroyo Woodsome whose belief in us added much to the “feel” of the shop.  Thank you Katie Montgomery, Alex Palermo Holt and Phoebe Schweizer West for being a stellar team whose personality, passion and artistic talent brought Feast so far.

Thank you Steve Madej for being the customer service master! Also for being a cheese and cured meat cutting machine.  Our customers will never forget you.

Thank you to our Cafe Chefs over the years – Gail, Angela, Lisa, Alex, Courtenay and Megan – you all added dishes to our lunch menu that have cult followings to this day.

Thank you to Cruz and Zuri whose versatility throughout the store and high quality production made our pimento cheese and olive oils famous.

Thank you, Dave Kostelnik, for taking a risk on a career change and joining our team.  Your interest and skills took you from the cheese counter to top management. Your sense of humor, heavy lifting and team building skills allowed us to grow. We miss you, man.

And high praise and thanks to our current Feast! team who come to work with new ideas and a positive attitude every day:

Cheese – Sara, Chris & Ryan

Floor – Terri, Kelsey G, Terra

Cafe – Megan, Rene, Irvin, Nancy, Hernan, Santina, Geraldina, Fiona

Produce, Gift boxes, Catering – Kelsey Vergin

Upstairs crew – Jenna, Betsy

But perhaps the most important thank you of all goes to our customers who keep us in business and growing. You come in again and again, you bring your friends,  you try new things, you share stories and tell us about new foods, you thank us for what we do.  It is your support that led us to this point of walking down the Red Carpet. Thank you!

And one more thank you.  This one from Kate to Eric (or as I call him, G.)

Thank you, G, for taking this journey with me. It has been an on your feet, fast paced, heavy lifting, learn as you go, a million things on the list adventure that I can’t imagine having taken without you. Congratulations, my love. We made an outstanding place together.

Fate brought us together to be partners on the same team, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.

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Eric, Kate and Sara (cheese manager) celebrating after the ceremony.

Fancy Food Show Trends: #3 – Artisan Cheese & Cured meats

Artisan cheese and cured meats, made by hand in small batches, are HOT! We do have concerns about how smoothly this trend will scale up.  It’s hard to grow and keep quality up. Artisan foods take expert care on the farm, production facility and at the store level.  Producers will need to partner with retailers who are knowledgeable and equipped to honor and represent their products well.  We, at Feast!, are prepared to do just that!

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Fra’Mani Salami handmade in Oakland, California

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Noceto – Italian cheese aged with walnut leaves

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Sottocenere – An Italian masterpiece. Aged in a coat of nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, licorice, cloves, and fennel, and laced throughout with slivers of black truffle.

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Ubriaco al Prosecco – means “drunk with prosecco”.  An Italian’s take on recycling- a delicious cheese aged in prosecco grape skins left after making sparkling wine.

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Sara learning about Charlito’s Cocina Cured Meats – Another young food entrepreneur, born Charles Samuel Wekselbaum, and raised in New York City in a Cuban-American household, Charles took on the nickname, “Charlito,” derived partially from a difficulty that Spanish speakers close to him seemed to  have pronouncing “Charles,” and partially of a willingness to bestow an affectionate nickname upon “little Charles.” The nickname stuck. It is rife with love, affection, and now, history. The name “Charlito’s Cocina” seemed a most fitting way to give proud and accurate identity to this gastronomic adventure.

We loved Charlito’s newest salami, Cerveza Seco, with a key ingredient of beer. It’s on order now…

Fancy Food Show Trend #2: Young Specialty Food Entrepreneurs

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The under 40 crowd is obviously inspired by making specialty foods.  Is it the a result of the Food Network, a need to save the family farm or take over the family business, or the innovative environment of the specialty food business that is attracting so many young entrepreneurs to the craft?  We don’t know, but we love to support this trend!

(pictured here: Shamus Jones, owner of Brooklyn Brine Pickles)

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Fat Toad Farm is run by husband and wife team Steve Reid and Judith Irving, their daughters Calley Hastings and Hannah Reid, and two perfectly invaluable employees Katie Sullivan & Christine Porcaro. The family has spent the last seven years building a high-quality herd of French Alpine milking goats and perfecting the art of caramel making. 

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Anne represents the finest French cheeses legally imported into the US. Her knowledge and passion is far beyond her years.

Get them at Feast! soon…

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Alessandro Carpenedo represents his Italian family’s remarkable cheeses around the world.  Here he holds the exquisite Blu ’61, a cheese that his father created for his mother in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary. It is a romantic and delectable blue cheese that is aged in wine and dried cranberries.  We can’t wait to offer it at Feast! in August.

Fancy Food Show Trends: #1 – Virginia’s rich culinary traditions.

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Family food producers from Virginia represented in high style.  From country ham to chutney to bbq sauces, chocolates and pasta, the Virginia Pavilion attracted buyers from across the nation whose great taste made the best of the Commonwealth a destination.

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Clare & Neville Turner make their award winning chutneys in Washington, VA.

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Continuing a local tradition that began with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, Charlottesville’s Pasta Valente was founded by Fran Valente in 1982. Her daughter, Marianne (pictured here) carries on the tradition. Inspired by Italian tradition, Fran started making pasta in her sewing room with a small hand-cranked pasta machine. Initially she sold her pastas at the Charlottesville City Market on Saturday. Today, Pasta Valente products can be found all across the continental United States.

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Charlottesville based Orthopaedic physicians, Dr. David Heilbronner and Dr. Bruce Wilhelmsen, promote their line of bbq and hot sauces.

Eggplant

It is the height of the summer which means long days, heat, white wine, and fresh local produce. There are few things more delicious than a big juicy tomato from my garden. Tomatoes are full of flavor and easy to cook with. Chop it up in a salad or toss it with your pasta. But, we’re not here to talk about tomatoes. I want to talk about the vegetables that aren’t so easy to cook with.  Eggplant to be more specific. I have always seen eggplant as a beautiful, mysterious vegetable. I admire its shiny bold beauty but have never been able to master the art of cooking it. Do I peel it or leave the skin on? How long do I cook it for? Why do I have to salt it for an hour?! I will admit that once or twice I have spent hours planning and slaving over a dish only  to have a big bit of squeaky, rubbery eggplant. So disappointing. Over time I have simply stopped fooling around with this difficult vegetable and left it up to the experts. However, now that I am the new produce manager here at feast! and that it is peak eggplant season, I have been ordering heaps of  eggplant from farmers and the local food hub. As it comes in and I place it on the produce boat, I am once again struck by its splendor. All I want to do is make some Eggplant Parmesan! Has this ever happened to you? Don’t be embarrassed. Apparently, this is a common occurrence among Americans as opposed to other countries like France and Turkey who use the plant often in dishes. Luckily, Ayla Algar from finecooking.com has the answer.

The possibilities are endless! Ratatouille for dinner? I think so.

Eggplant from Holland’s Three Rivers Farm in Rockbridge County