I know it's a funny thing to say, but I'm totally hooked on trade shows that target the food industry. In Paris, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, I've seen the future, and it's a car crash I can't help but stop to watch.
It looks like this:
• Fake bacon made of chicken
• Japanese drinkable ice cream
• Floppy milk chocolate "slices," kind of like Kraft singles, but cocoa-flavored and Israeli
• Credit-card-sized cookies to keep in your wallet
• Vacuum-packed salad that releases gelled vinaigrette pearls
• Freeze-dried mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce
• Grated ketchup
Grated ketchup! It's for real!
So I was delighted to hear about the recent North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, particularly when I learned which popsicle suppliers would be attending. Here was my chance to finally see, in the flesh, machines I had previously only fantasized about late at night, toggling between refrigeration-specification websites, PDFs in Chinese, and Google Translate.
Even though many East Coasters think the middle of the country is one long strip mall best seen from the air (ignoring the incontrovertible fact of New Jersey), I thought Columbus actually had a lot going for it. We went to the Surly Girl bar, which has a great selection of local and woman-brewed beers. I tried Columbus-style pizza, which is thin-crusted and cut into squares. Some nice guy, seeing us rooting around for parking-meter nickels, quietly handed us an unsolicited quarter. However you want to knock it down, Columbus has an old-school letterpress, at least one artisan baker, a dealer of new and used fountain pens, a decent vintage clothes scene, a European-style food hall, and a big Baptist church that someone's turned into a bar.
What's not to like about all that?
The trade show, too, hit all the right buttons. Seminars covered topics like "Crafting a Flavor Assault," "What is Frozen Yogurt?", and "The Best ... or Just Darn Good ... Ice Cream." (I really wish I could have attended the last one, if only to understand which of the two the presenter meant to discuss.)
I strode through aisles of people selling insulated pizza carriers, bulk chicken wings, slush machines, Coca-Cola fountains, neutral sherbet base, bakeable "Ordervs," and pizza-delivery iPhone apps.
Vendors advertised Yo-Mazing Dreamsicle flavor additive, world-class corrugated packaging, 100-percent dairy-free "cream," breakfast pizzas ("Cash in on the Most Important Meal of the Day!"), text-message marketing, supposedly "organic" flavorings (100-percent artificially made), Yo-Cream University (a two-day course for frozen yogurt store owners), and a chemical called Grease Gobbler X-Treme.
The exhibitors had names like Emulso Corp., Mimiccreme (which makes Mimiccreme Sugar Free Sweetened Soft Serve Ice Cream Base), and the Brutally Honest Kick Butt Quick Service Restaurant Marketing System, which sells I have no idea what.
Some guy tried to sell me a huge Thunderbird dough mixer and, when I wasn't interested, offered to sell me a copy of his self-published science fiction romance novel. Natural-gas company representatives offered free massages. I saw one "neutral base" used for many industrial popsicles, and I believe it involved lard.
Everyone with whom I spoke told me that if we ever want our popsicles to have shelf life, preservatives are inevitable. And compostable packaging will hasten freezer burn.
I was told that popsicles with artificial flavors taste better than popsicles made with real fruit.
And I spent several hours playing with our dream popsicle machine.
Although its representatives offered a significant buy-today discount, Joel, David, and I ultimately decided not to buy the machine, even though we've spent the winter drooling over it. We just can't afford it right now--or rather, we have other priorities.
The representative took it in stride. "I know you'll be back," he said. "And even though you're tiny compared to everyone else we deal with, you guys are going to work out. You're doing your homework. I like to see it." Oddly, his vote of confidence meant a lot to me.
As I left the convention, my head swimming, I passed a sign on the way to the airport that said "THE DICTIONARY IS THE ONLY PLACE WHERE SUCCESS COMES BEFORE WORK." We have less than two months before popsicle season officially begins.
Rest assured that we will be hard at work, Crafting a Flavor Assault.
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