Natural Products Expo West 2018

This past month I was lucky enough to visit the Natural Products Expo in California, aka my heaven on earth. For those of you who do not know, the Natural Products Expo is the largest annual trade show (both on the east and west coast) in the natural, organic and health product industry. The exhibitor list has a wide range of companies, offering natural, organic or alternative diet supportive products in the food, beverage, supplement and beauty industry. 

For the past four years I have gone to the Natural Expo to explore the upcoming trends and new product launches from both new and familiar brands. After walking, and snacking, down the aisles of the expo I have consolidated my findings in a small trend report. The report highlights the major flavor, ingredient and allergy trends that will impact consumers in 2018. Take a look at the slideshow below to explore the trends thats that will be hitting your shelves this year.


 

One Year and Counting

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It’s official I have been out and about in the culinary real world for ONE whole year. Time has flown by (seriously, what day is it?!) But exactly one year ago I took my final cook tech exam at the Natural Gourmet Institute before being sent on my way into this insane, intense, passionate, terrifying yet rewarding industry. ‘Post-grad’ life has been one for the books as I go through waves of inspiration and self-doubt trying to establish myself as a cook.    

 

Can’t Take the Heat

Working in a kitchen is nothing yet everything I expected. Through popular media the life of a professional cook is glorified as a passion driven career where you do what you love every day and take pride in your final product. Sprinkled with the horrific examples of the angry chefs and injuries that cooks subject themselves too every day.

Now, I was a culinary school graduate with no idea what to do next. Keep cooking? Find a ‘normal job’ in marketing? I was lost. I convinced myself I could make it as a cook. I knew how to poach an egg, braise vegetables, make bread and break down a chicken. I could do anything, right?

Wrong.

My first externship after school was 3 weeks of realizing I was not cut out for the job. I worked Garde Manger (salad and cold appetizer station) at Cookshop, a farmers-market driven restaurant serving amazing American fare. I had never worked in a restaurant and had no clue what I was doing. I was lucky the chef even let me on his line! Day one, I learned how to read tickets… yes, I really knew NOTHING. I was there to assist the cook who ran the station. I helped prepare ingredients, pick herbs and watch and learn the rhythm of making hundreds of salads while plating beef tartar, shuck oysters and pipe filling for deviled eggs. Needless to say, the first week was an overwhelming disaster. Luckily the team at Cookshop was so helpful and supportive. I am sure I caused more trouble than help but they always smiled and moved on to the next order. By the end of my three weeks I was shucking oysters (with minimal injury) and making salads without being ‘sent back’ by chef.

To be completely honest I thought my time in a kitchen was going to be over after my externship. I thought there was no way I could run my own station. I just wasn’t good enough. But with a little advice and a huge push I decided to give it another go and work at Cookshop’s sister restaurant Vic’s.

Fast forward, I have now been at Vic’s for just under one year! To say there was a learning curve would be a massive understatement. I showed up with a nervous and bruised ego, to run the garde manger station on my own (luckily, no oysters). The beginning was rough, riddled with tears, burns and a little yelling every now and then. Everyday was a blow to the ego, a “what the F*** am I doing here kind of a day.” But yet again, the team had my back. Everyone was eager to help and encouraged me to keep going.

Then it started to fall into place. Shifts became less hectic, I could set up my station in time without running out of prep, I could plate desserts and salads at the same time. I was feeling confident, until BAM I was promoted to the next station… hot appetizers. Stuck in the middle of the open kitchen so every diner could watch me under pressure. There was a lot of, ‘the vegetables are under salted,’ ‘the carrots aren’t hot,’ ‘there’s no shine,’ ‘the vegetables look dry,’ ‘Emily, I missing 6 corns, 3 carrots and a farinata!’… aka a flash back to my first month. But if there is one thing I have learned through this processes is that if you keep your head down, try your hardest and build a sense of confidence you can get through the push.

Now, I have moved onto my 3rd station… I can’t believe it. I still stumble over tickets and cause a mess of the kitchen but I am learning. Every day I put in my best effort, try to understand the ins and outs of the kitchen, soaking up any information given to me. That is a part of the rewarding side of the job that leaves you yearning for more, if you push yourself hard enough you can achieve radical results.

Long story short, popular media hasn’t quite nailed it. They forget to portray the crazy hours, never seeing your friends that live outside of the restaurant, holidays in the kitchen and constant self-doubt. They leave out the family you build when everyone is pushed to their limits, the power of a team and the intoxicating feeling of getting through a rough night. And they forget the strength of the people you work with, who work 21 hours in a day to make ends meet without ever complaining. It’s not easy, not always fun but there is something that makes it worth it.

 

In Other News

Through the ups and downs of my year in the kitchen I have considered quitting, looked for completely different jobs and thrown myself into new hobbies in order to alleviate the pain of everyday kitchen life. Which has left my posts and inspiration for The Fresh Slice non-existent the past few months. (Oops.)

In my social media absence, I did add a few new exciting projects to the books. I completed the second level of sommelier classes at the International Wine Center. Wine has always been a place of interest for me, especially in its connection with food. I was thirsty to know more, expand my understanding and verbiage of international wines and how to accurately pair them with food. Knowing next to nothing walking through the door, except that I love Savion Blanc, the next 9 weeks were whirlwind of information and tastings of amazing wines. The class was incredible. It provided a broad spectrum into the wine world, explored new grape varieties, trends in the market and of course food pairings. Now, I am not on the path of Master Sommelier (yet) but I am excited to share some of my findings with you in future posts.

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Lastly, I have taken on a new side hustle with This Pie is Nuts. A local gluten free, vegan and paleo company making individual pies and granola. The company was created by the amazing Diana Pappas who has single handedly grown the business for the past 2 years. All of our products are entirely out of the nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Basically, the most nutritious pie out there. With new and exciting plans in the future we are working to build This Pie is Nuts into something big. Keep an eye out, or take a bite and order online.

So woop there it is, the whole crazy, exciting, intimidating and wild year is over but one thing has remained the same… food is still the passion of my life. From cookbook lined shelves to restaurant hopping through NYC I am still hungry and I can’t wait to see what I can bring to you this year.

As the great once said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interest in it.”- Julia Child.

 

  

Recap: Natural Expo West

The Natural Products Expo West is officially over, which means 3 days of samples, amazing product launches and mindful brands have come together to share their take on how consumers should nourish their bodies. As I promised I scoured through the exposition floors in order to seek out the upcoming trends that you need to know. Take a minute and explore my take on the top 8 trends for 2016. 

1. Sustainability

Sustainability has been a buzz word among many industries for the past 5 years as consumers become increasingly aware of our impact on the environment and how to improve. Similarly in the food industry, many restaurants increased their focus on sourcing local, organic ingredients and utilizing every aspect of the ingredient. As a natural progression, food manufacturers are taking note and looking for ways to use every part of their ingredients in order to eliminate waste. 

Kimchi companies such as, Farmhouse Cultures, and Not Your Mother's Kimchi have taken their classic fermented products and created a sustainable new way of offering the same probiotic benefits in a drinkable form. They have bottled the excess probiotic-rich fermenting liquid so that you can drink your way to gut health with one simple shot. 

The sustainable transformations didn’t stop there, Forager Project, traditionally a pressed juice company launched 4 flavors of vegetable tortilla chips. You may be thinking, ‘vegetable chips aren’t new’ but Foragers’ method for utilizing their ingredients stole the show. They have created each of their 4 flavors from the excess vegetable pulp that is created during the cold-pressing process. By utilizing the pulp they have transformed their waste into a delicious, crunchy and nutritious snack. 

2. Algae

No longer scum of the sea, algae is making a debut as a nutritious superfood that adds an earthy, savory flavor to many products hitting the market. Spirulina and chlorella seem to be the buzz worthy algae for manufacturers due to their milder taste and vibrant color. These algae are packed with vitamins, minerals and protein that are easily absorbed by your body. Not only do they work to nourish our bodies they also aid the detoxing process by improving gut health and vitamin absorption. From protein bars, tortilla chips, popcorn and chocolate bars algae brings a new twist to snacking your way to health. 

Find out more about algea such as spirulina and take part in The Fresh Challenge!

3. Spice is still King

Last year companies rolled out exotic spices and flavors to pump up the heat in their products and this year was no different. As the sriracha obsession continues to grow and our curiosity with all things painfully delicious, spice continues to be the focus of natural food companies. From jalepeno, habanero and sriracha EVERYTHING, I hope you have a glass of milk handy (non-dairy of course) because things are about to get hot in here. 

4. Gut Health

From probiotics, prebiotics and fermented food and drinks its all about the gut. Due to decades of consuming highly processed and nutritionally impaired foods the health of the micro biome in our gut has diminished, increasing dietary inflammations, sickness and poor absorption of nutrients. Thankfully natural food companies have taken note and found various ways to add live cultures and healthy bacteria back into our diet. 

Kimchi and sauerkraut still have their moment in the spotlight at this years show, companies such as Wildbrine and Farmhouse Cultures are serving up new flavor combinations and ‘gut’ shots from the fermenting liquid. 

Kombucha is the new pressed juice… walking down the aisles of the expo it was impossible to miss a kombucha company that was launching new flavors or a new formula. As a huge kombucha fan (I kind of live on the stuff) it was exciting yet overwhelming. With so many options how are you supposed to pick the best kombucha brand?! I think for now you have to go with your gut [ ;) ]. The smells and flavor of kombucha can be off putting for some, so switch it up and try different brands to see which one fits your palate. Health-Aid and GT’s are my go to’s all of their flavors are delicious and they have really improved my gut health.

Suja Juice is getting on the probiotic bandwagon with the launch of their new probiotic waters in 4 light and refreshing flavors. Each flavor is made of a blend of vegan probiotic cultures and cold-pressed fruits each flavor was delicious but Ginger Lime gets my vote for best pick. 

Now we have all heard of probiotics in fermented kimchi, kombucha and supplements but I know the sour, feet-smelling can be hard to get on board with.  But don’t worry, YumButter is mixing up the gut health scene with an approachable almond butter protein + probiotic blend. The almond butter is delicious, easy to spread and contains 10g of protein per severing! It is the perfect way to sneak probiotics into your day without the, “you’ll get used to it,” encouragement. 

5. The Super Take-over

For those that know me, you know I’m all about superfoods… pretty obsessed. But apparently I’m not the only one, manufacturers are putting superfoods in just about everything! From power bars, crackers, popcorn, chocolate and beverages, ‘superfood’ was the buzz word of the Natural Expo this year. Now what is a superfood?! It is any whole food that is naturally nutrient dense aka it packs a big nutrient punch in a little package. Adding superfoods to everyday meals or snacks is a simple way to increase your daily vitamin, mineral, protein or omega-3 fix and companies like Larabar, Natives, Activate Living Foods, MamaChia and Hemp Hearts are taking note. Although they are all amazing, the superstars this year were chia seeds, hemp seed, goji berries, maca root, cocao, turmeric and ginger. Not only will these products fill your nutrient voids, they also taste too good to be true. So, get ready for the newest superheros on the block because they are here to stay. 

6. Got (non-dairy) Milk?

Milk is a huge part of our life, whether we believe it or not. Cereal, pastries, cheese, ice cream, coffee, yogurt, sauces, frozen yogurt, batters, butter… ok you get it, without even blinking an eye you easily have 2 servings of dairy at every meal! However, with the overwhelming consumer shift towards sustainable, ethical and nutritional foods there is a need to find a better alternative. Almond milk has been on the rise, gaining popularity for its delicious flavor and ease of conversion as a milk substitute. But this year the focus was on expanding the non-dairy craze with macadamia nuts, hemp, flax, coconut and veggie milk. From the classic drinkable milk to yogurts and frozen desserts non-dairy is the move with companies such as Califia Farms, Milkadamia, Go Veggie Milk, Vixen KitchenNadaMoo and The New Barn you can’t go wrong.

7. Return of the Familiar

Last year exotic flavors and spices from around the world were the push for consumers to expand their spice drawers and become ‘foodies’. But this year the pendulum is starting to swing back to more familiar mediterranean flavors of lemon, rosemary and truffle (but don’t worry there is still plenty of spice to go around!) and I am not complaining. These flavors are bright and comforting and easily paired with your other favorite products. You can see this trend in mixed nuts, popcorn, crackers, chips and protein bars. Rediscover the familiar like never before. 

 

 

 

8. Alternative Proteins

Similar to the non-dairy transformation, sustainable, ethical and nutrition focused consumers have created a shift for meat-less proteins. But I am not talking about faux-meats this time. Crickets are getting the more exposure than the days of Jimmy Cricket’s debut. That’s right. CRICKETS. Cultures around the world have been eating these crunchy protein packed bugs for centuries and it’s our turn test it out. Crickets are an inexpensive and sustainable source of protein containing 65% protein, more iron than spinach and minimal water requirements, crickets may be the food of the future. But don’t freak out… companies like Exo and Bitty Food’s are bringing you the benefits in an approachable way through chips, bars and protein powders. Close your eyes and take a bite, your tastebuds may surprise you. 

 

 

 

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions

#4 "You can't eat out anywhere"

Another complaint of both vegan and non-vegans is that you can’t go out to eat ANYWHERE! I am not going to lie, being vegan does make it more difficult to go out to eat and our options are limited but it is not impossible, I promise. The trick is knowing how to order and think of options that can easily be substituted in the kitchen. Here is my fail-proof guide to dining out on a vegan diet.

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1. Get comfortable making changes to items on a menu. Yes you may feel needy, picky, difficult or annoying at first but the reality is, the restaurant is there to serve you. They want to offer options that will satisfy your palate (as much as they can) in order to keep you happy with the hopes that you’ll return and refer others. As long as you know what needs to be substituted for your needs, they will usually try to accommodate.

2. Read the menu thoroughly (possibly before hand). Look at the sides, entrée accompaniments and salad toppings they offer in the restaurant. They may not pair roasted vegetables or beans with their salads offerings… but if you notice that the meat or fish entrees are served with grilled vegetables and/or beans, you’ve found a solution so ask to mix and match. HOWEVER, be mindful that traditionally roasted vegetables, soups, sauces and grains are finished with butter for service, ask if they can be prepared in olive oil to avoid any confusion.

3. Call ahead of time. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diners are becoming more prominent and restaurants are eager to accommodate. When making the reservation inform the hostess that you have a vegan diner and ask if accommodations can be made. If the restaurant is strict on substitutions they will let you know right away.

4. Choose ethnic cuisines. Restaurants offering traditional cuisines are more likely to have non-meat and cheese laced options. Explore Indian, Thai, Mexican and Filipino restaurants many dishes are easier to alter for a vegan diet.

If all else fails (or it’s veg choice ;) ) choose a vegetarian restaurant. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian and/or raw restaurants around the country that are redefining how ‘healthy’ should taste. Happy Cow is an amazing resource when you aren't sure where to look, plug in your location and Happy Cow will find you a vegetarian- friendly restaurant near you. 

Here are a few of my go- to vegetarian restaurants in some of my favorite parts of the U.S.

 

Everywhere else… we are getting there - if you have suggestions for vegan restaurants you love, please share in the comments below.  And for even more, check out this Thrillist list for the best vegetarian restaurants in the country. 

 

Why Culinary School?

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Before I break into the nitty gritty, it is important to understand the driving force that led me to culinary school and The Natural Gourmet Institute. Food has been a source of energy, inspiration and love throughout my life. I grew up in a large Mid-western family whose idea of holiday traditions and celebrations was nothing shy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen by watching and spending time with my mom and aunts and learned how to handle a grill by watching my dad. These family and food-filled gatherings were a place of laughter, love and happiness. Understanding at a young age that food brought people together, inspired me.

My desire to test my creativity in the kitchen escalated as I entered high school. It all began when I decided to bake cupcakes, cakes and cookies to surprise my friends on their birthdays but very quickly grew into something more. I found myself straying away from cookbooks and coming up with my own recipes – ones I would sneak into the kitchen late at night to test out – instead of sitting in my room studying.

By the end of my senior year, I was torn between applying to college or pastry school. After countless hours of research and debates – internally and with my family, I decided to put my passion on the back burner and head to San Diego for college. While in school, I further defined and redefined my passion for cooking, baking and the food industry. I sought out internship opportunities at small to medium sized companies within the industry. Over the course of my college career, I interned for DairyChem, Chuao Chocolatier, Beach Bum Foods, Yelp!, a food-marketing agency Sterling Rice Group, and The Patachou Foundation. Each experience was amazing and taught me more about food, health and food culture than I knew possible.

Beyond my internships, my relationship with food continued to change as I struggled with my weight and began experiencing digestive health problems. I started researching nutrition and alternative cooking methods in order to improve my health. I tried everything from juice cleanses to gluten free, vegan and raw diets. All of which would make me feel great for a few days, until the weekend came and I’d binge on cocktails and late night grub with my friends. After beating myself up week in and week out, disappointed with my semi-conscious decisions and the way it made me feel, I decided to make a lifestyle change that would enhance my life. I came to peace with the idea that health is a balancing act of eating to fuel your body and your soul. For me, that means following a primarily vegan diet full of vitamins, proteins and healthy fats, while maintaining an open mind to alternative diets, new foods and various ways to think about nutrition. As a result, I have cleared my mind, loosened my waistline and amplified my drive to step into the food industry.

Before I knew it college graduation was around the corner… missing the kitchen and hungry to learn more about the foundation of the culinary world I decided to apply to a culinary school. However, I needed a school that shared my passion and outlook on food as a source of nutrition and healing. The Natural Gourmet Institute is a primarily plant based school (in NYC), focused on teaching the fundamentals of culinary technique, nutrition and sustainability to enrich the culinary landscape and change the way we think about food.

I created The Fresh Slice as a way to share my experiences, knowledge and recipes with others. So follow along on Instagram at @TheFreshSlice and check back here for even more insight and inspiration. But most importantly, I’d love to hear from you – so feel free to ask me questions and share your experiences in the comments below or on my Contact page, but most of all bon appetite!