Do we need another award night honoring food artisans?
The answer to both those questions appears to be yes.
Here's why: The Good Food Awards recognizes food purveyors who demonstrate high standards in taste and sustainability and the ceremony tonight kicks off a month-long series of events showcasing artisan food producers in the sustainable food movement, many of whom struggle to make their businesses viable while they endeavor to work in environmentally-responsible and ethical ways.
The honors will be given out at a gala at San Francisco's Ferry Building hosted by the reigning queen of the sustainable food movement, Alice Waters.
The ceremony is not open to the public but passionate food folk can find out what all the fuss is about on Saturday when winning producers will be offering samples, talking up their wares, and selling them too, under the arcade at the front of the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Almost 800 entries from 41 states were submitted from food makers hoping to earn the best-of-class honors in seven categories: coffee, chocolate, preserves, cheese, pickles, and beer. A panel of 80 judges -- including industry bigwigs like chocolate superstars Michael Recchiuti, Alice Medrich, and John Scharffenberger -- were recruited for blind tastings. A list of the 130 finalists can be found on the Good Food site.
In the canning and jamming categories, Berkeley's Cultured represents the home team with Spicy Oregano Purple Carrots, while Monterey's Happy Girl Kitchen is on the preserves list for Apricot Chili Jam.
Good Food director Sarah Weiner of The Seedling Projects says the event grew out of a casual conversation at the Slow Food Nation wrap-up meeting. One of the preserves' organizers, Casey Havre of LouLou's Garden, mentioned how important it was to meet with fellow food artisans from different fields who share similar philosophies to generate ideas, learn about each other's products, and find ways to work together.
That idea stayed with Weiner, who spent time living in London, where she fell in love with an independent grocery store/deli that sold products with a little gold seal on them. Further investigation revealed that the seal was a taste award, bestowed by a British newspaper. Items that carried the seal, the proprietor confided, flew off the shelves.
Those two moments sowed the seeds for the Good Food Awards. The awards selection criteria sparked some bickering; a bitter brouhaha brewed over whether there even is such a thing as sustainable coffee. For some insights into that debate, visit the coffee news site Sprudge.com and a response to the criticism over at Fresh Cup Magazine.
Most food artisans, though, are grateful for the opportunity to show off their hard work. And with its national scope, the event can offer encouragement to sustainable food producers -- like the raspberry jam maker (a finalist) and her farmer husband in Ohio who hand-picked bugs off their crops and almost gave up on organic -- in parts of the country where there may not be much support or solutions for the challenges of sustainable production, Weiner explains.
Finalist Alex Hozven of Cultured adds that while she runs a food business, she isn't always the best at marketing her own work. The awards, she says, are a way of exposing more people to her unique products and garnering media attention that is likely to have ripple effects over time. Plus, like other fermented food fans, she's curious to see what picklers from other parts of the country are doing.
This Saturday marks the beginning of 30 days of sustainable food events, including cooking demonstrations, canning and pickling classes, and culinary and farm tours. Each week has a theme: Jan. 17-23 is devoted to events around coffee and chocolate; Jan. 24-30 features preserves and cheeses; Jan. 31-Feb. 6 charcuterie and pickles; Feb. 7-13 focuses on ethnic food and brewing events will be held in conjunction with the annual San Francisco Beer Week, Feb. 11-20.
Most events require advance tickets though many are free. For a complete schedule visit goodfoodmonth.org.
Back to the beginning. "It's good food month every second of every day in the Bay Area," agrees Lisa Rogovin, an epicurean concierge whose culinary tours In the Kitchen with Lisa are featured on the Good Food Month schedule. (Full disclosure: I lead some of these tours.)
"But locals may not frequent some of the stops on, say, our Mission Tour, such as Mr. Pollo, La Victoria Bakery, and Mission Pie, or have no idea about these businesses' back stories," she explains. "Personally, what I like about the Good Food program is that it introduces me to noted national brands that live and breath the same local, seasonal, sustainable mantra as do many of the artisans in our backyard."
Update: A list of all last night's winners and their profiles can be found at Good Food Awards.