As an industry analyst for over 30 years, I have had to travel to over 55 countries for my work and spend countless hours on the road each year. And when I ended up with downtime in any location, I needed something to do other then ponder the future of tech. So early in my career I decided that I would learn about each country’s culture and especially their food.
I have been what you might call a serious foodie since I was a teenager. My uncle was White House chef to Harry Truman and he introduced me to really, really great food at a young and impressionable age. He was Filipino so his food had major Asian overtones. In fact, I am half Filipino and half German so I grew up on rice and sauerkraut and was already familiar with food diversity. Going to each country and finding what would be their top national food dish and then trying many versions of it to see which is the best has become quite a sport for me. For example, when I am in Singapore I try to find the best Chili Crab, their national dish. Or when I am in Greece, I search for the best Mousakka. Or in Japan, I try to find the best and freshest Tuna (Toro) Sushi. You get the idea.
As I work with and talk to tech executives and workers who travel a lot I find that many of them have become foodies too. And many of them have become wealthier thanks to their tech work so some even take their love of food to new levels. A great example of this is Nathan Mhyrvold, former CTO of Microsoft, who after he left Microsoft went to the Cordon Bleu Culinary school in Paris to learn more about his second love, food. He has become a master French chef and in fact, he will release a 1500 page book entitled Modernist Cuisine sometime in 2011.
I recently had a chance to attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco to check out what was hot in the food world, but also to see how the Internet and social media is changing the ability to market their products. This is an amazing show. Every booth had some great food to show off and in many cases, they had products for you to test. That means getting bites of the best Iberico ham (I tasted 20 of them) or taste-testing the dozens of new balsamic vinegars or even the latest and greatest in Jelly Bellies. Think of it as one giant appetizer party with hundreds of h’ordeuvres to choose from.
As I talked to the many vendors at the show, all of them told me that the Internet has dramatically changed their business. Before the Internet, most of their products were sold locally or marketed through special mailings to resellers or distributors. But thanks to the Internet, they now have a world audience for their foods, as well as the ability to market them directly to customers.
But social media has also had an important impact on the food industry. For example, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes use Facebook and Twitter to keep customers abreast of food trends and specials. However, where social media really shines and has actually enabled a major trend in the food business, is with food trucks. I learned at the show that food trucks are becoming a hot idea and they owe their success to Twitter. The best example of this is the Kogi Truck in Los Angeles. The Kogi Truck marries Asian food with Mexican twists. They are famous for their Korean taco that serves Korean BBQ in a taco. While the food itself is great and unique, it was not until they started using Twitter that their business really took off.
Before Twitter, they would park their truck in some crowded area and hope people would come by. But by using Twitter, they can broadcast where they will be each day and now people from all over the city come to eat there, with lines sometimes an hour long. Here in Silicon Valley, Sams Chowder Mobile is the hottest truck that also draws long lines. But we also have our own version of the Kogi Truck called Seoul On Wheels, and new ethnic entries such as the Indian themed truck Curry Up Now, a French food themed truck called Spencer On The Go, and my personal favorite, Filipino themed AdoboHobo.
And it turns out that these food trucks, thanks to Twitter, are growing by leaps and bounds. Just Google “Food Trucks” and put in your city or county and you will find a list of those in your neck of the woods. For example, I Googled Food Tucks NYC and got the great article from New York Restaurant Magazine on the 25 best food trucks in NYC.
I also heard that some of the very high-end restaurants are now using iPads to deliver their menus and especially their wine lists, with quick links to the wines pedigree and ratings. It was pretty clear from talking to these food industry folks that technology and especially social media is having a major impact on their businesses.
As for the food part of the show, I did see some interesting things here as well.
The coolest thing I saw was a picture of the Mona Lisa done in Jelly Bellies. Artist Kristen Cummings was commissioned by Jelly Belly’s to do this painting and it contains over 1500 Jelly Belly’s.
Most interesting Food trend: bacon everywhere. There was bacon-infused foods of all types, which seems a big trend and I even found it in chocolate. But the best thing I tried that was bacon related was Smoked Bacon SeaSalt. This was awesome and a little of this on any food gives it depth and of course, a hint of bacon flavoring. It’s made by Caravel Gourmet. And another favorite, Bacon Jam, which can be put on hamburgers, sandwiches and blended with balsamic vinegars and to add depth to sauces. I am a big fan of bacon and pig products so I was in hog heaven so-to-speak.
Most interesting product: When I started traveling to Japan, I often hear the word Umami, which is Japanese for the 5th taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter and one that loosely means deliciousness. Someone has tried to create a product that delivers this Umami taste experience in something called Umami Taste #5. Check out Dean and DeLuca’s description of it and you get a sense of how it could enhance the flavor of stews, soups, pastas, etc.
On the candy front, Jelly Belly introduced something called Jelly Bean Chocolate Dips in Very Cherry flavor. Tastes just like chocolate covered cherries. Also comes in chocolate covered Orange and Coconut flavors.
This is the one show I get to cover each year that I actually look forward to, and as a certified foodie, I love the fact that I could marry my interest in tech and food into quite a fun and informative day at the Fancy Food Show.
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