Summer Fancy Foods Show NYC

Last week was the annual East Coast Fancy Foods show held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. We do not present our products at this show but I make a point to attend every year to try and keep my finger on the pulse of new and developing trends in the prepared food industry. This year was especially interesting as I walked the show with a large group covering many aspects of the food industry. Our group included people from all aspects of the business, including airlines, caterers, importers, group buyers and specialty manufacturers. The bulk of our group all share membership in the RCA (Research Chef Association) and therefore, also know a good number of the over 2,000 vendors represented at the show.
This is a massive show, covering multiple floors and rooms of the convention center, with a very unique layout. The bottom floor is dedicated to new or up and coming products and is segmented by state or country of origin for each manufacturer (which gives a great insight into regional trends). Many of these products are created for and launched at this show, with the hopes of finding an anchor customer at the show to bring the product to market. Unfortunately, many of these products never come to market. This is also very true as you walk the show and see the same trend (or niche product) being shown in similar forms at multiple vendor’s booths. The second floor is for established companies (some of which will also show new products in addition to their established product line) and is segmented by an International area (by country) and domestically by category (i.e. cheese or chocolate).

Working with a team we set parameters to identify and record trends and to identify opportunities relative to each person’s company for items that would work in their wheelhouse or where raw material supply could be an option (like with our crab meat). The rule is that once you see the same item/concept 3 or more times at the show it is added to the list. Attending every year also gives a perspective of development of a category or trend over the years.
Here is the rough list from the show;

– One trend that continues to grow is detailed benefit call outs on packaging and marketing materials. This could be anything from “Non-GMO” to “gluten free” or the new super popular “good source of protein”. Sometimes it seems like the benefits of the product drive the interest more than the product itself.
– Alternative sweeteners – this trend continues to grow and become truly mainstream, white sugar is out, this year honey and maple syrup in all forms took the lead (years past it was Agave). One of our favorite products was a smoked maple syrup from Vermont, clean label.
– Alternative Protein continues to move to the forefront, it isn’t just tofu any more. Plant based protein in all types of products from meal replacement to energy bars
– Eggs are big in all types of forms and applications. From premade egg white crepes to the surprising number of vendors showing artisan marshmallows (at least 10 different examples at the show)
– International flavors in spices and finished goods. From Africa to Jamaica to India, expect to see these flavors in items and on menus this year.
– Flavored waters and unique non-alcoholic beverages. From maple water to cold brew coffee and premium teas. Teas and items flavored with tea was another big category.
– Nut and seed based items, almond milk morphs into nut or flax based crackers
– Peanut replacers – nut butter anyone
– Artisan chocolates and fudge (fudge was big!)
– Activated Charcoal, from snacks to toothpaste
– Snacks with health benefits, activated ingredients, energy bars
– Kid driven items – from edible chocolate birthday candles to “food paint” (squirt bottles with pureed fruits and vegetables)
– Popcorn – in all forms from simple to super fancy
– Artisan and specialty ice cream – from handmade/regional to dairy free, this category keeps going
– Pickled everything – even some pickled cucumbers
– Regional specific items – my favorite was sea salt from Maine and Oregon. You need this to cook your lobsters or Dungeness crab!
– Dry or dehydrated items – from soup mixes to dips and veggie chips taking off where the crispy snow peas opened the door a few years ago
– There were also allot of categories that continue to grow
o Fermented items – Kimchi continues to develop
o Jerky and meat sticks everywhere – this year added palnt and vegetable based items, mushroom jerky sound good?
o Gluten free – everything (even if just a non necessary call out)
o Plant based protein

It’s Not Just For Crab Cakes

It has kind of become our mantra at Newport International over the past decade. We all love a good crab cake and it is the most popular application for our crab meat, however, there are so many other exciting, seasonal recipes to showcase our fantastic product. That being said, we are coming into one of my favorite culinary times of year, Summer. So many of many my favorite ingredients to cook with at the peak of flavor, from vine ripe tomatoes (we are known for our tomatoes in NJ!), sweet corn, peaches, watermelon (one of my kid’s favorite foods) and the list goes on. It also means entertaining, whether it’s a cookout for family after a day of boating or a gourmet meal for friends coming to visit us on the Jersey Shore. Needless to say, no matter what the occasion, crab will be on the table at our house. So to kick off the Summer I have created some new recipes as well as reworking and updating some classics. I will be posting new recipes throughout the next weeks so please check back often! You can also check our Facebook pages to see where we will be showing our products at regional food shows in the coming months. PS, in case you were wondering about crab and Rosé (what seems to be THE drink of Summer 2018), it is a perfect pairing. Enjoy.

A Chef’s Life

A Chef’s Life
Today started on a horribly sad note when my wife told me about the passing of Anthony Bourdain just a few minutes after I opened my eyes. I met Anthony back in the 90’s when I was just getting my feet wet in the business. He was cooking at Les Halles where he was Sous Chef under the husband of a coworker. At this time the Food Network was in its infancy and the idea of a celebrity chef was more of a localized phenomena (Bobby Flay was still cooking at MESA Grill and Mario Batali was at his tiny restaurant Pō for example). Food writing was done by professional writers, none of which I remember meeting had ever spent time in a professional kitchen. There was no Yelp, no online reviews or even online reservations for that matter. You would read the NY Times to know what is going on in NYC and it was one person’s opinion, the almighty Food Critic. Now we live in a world where anyone and everyone not only can share their opinion they feel entitled to share it and somehow most see themselves as an expert. I was working for my dear friend Billy Gilroy at his restaurants MATCH, which at the time were two of the hippest places in town. I was in my early 20’s, single and no children, the restaurant was my life. Most days I would work open to close, which meant getting home after a couple after shift drinks meant maybe 4 hours of sleep at best. I met some of the most interesting people during those years, coworkers, customers, vendors and the list goes on. The fuse on the culinary world had been lit and things were changing. We would meet up with friends from other restaurants at certain dive bars or if money was good maybe go to Blue Ribbon for a late night meal. We would share stories of dinner service or which Chef’s we hated or loved to work with. I loved every minute of it and I do miss the chaos at times, just not enough to go back. Great Chefs are artists and “feeding people” is their way of expression. I love the term “feeding people”, I once worked with a really amazing Chef at a super high end place and he would always say “we have X more people to feed”. There was a double meaning to this for me, one was the basic part of that was what the job was, cooking food for people, the other was the way it made it sound like we were doing some humanitarian effort, however, $150 a head is for dinner is far from charity, still you were filling an essential need to food, just on an elevated level. My brother was with a big PR firm at the time and as the celebrity Chef business began to take off the PR business had to change as well. As the years went by it became cool to be a Chef and it seemed everyone wanted to be one or at least know and hang out with one. All of these young kids dropping +25k to go to culinary school with the belief that they would graduate and be the next Gordon Ramsey, but be able to skip the talent and hard work part. I remember when Kitchen Confidential came out and friends and family were shocked by the stories that Mr. Bourdain so eloquently had told. The stories to me were all too relative and I knew or had worked with a good number of the characters in the book. Food is life and it tells the story of the people, the land, the history of where it originates. I loved watching him travel the globe and experience the culture of his surroundings through food, and drink of course. I have been lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do the same, I just do not have the writing skills that Anthony was blessed with. Something to aspire to. You will be missed.

Always have options!

We are always working with our customers to find “the right crab for their application”. All of our crab meat is wild caught, handpicked and hand packed. Whether it is based on price point, taste, texture, visual appeal and performance in a specific recipe or most crucial in the current market, availability of supply. Last year we faced one of the most limited natural supplies of blue swimming crab meat (Portunus Pelagicus), which tasked our team with providing our customers with alternatives both from a cost and supply basis. We focused on showing that there are viable options in both our red swimming crab meat (Portunus Haanii) and our extremely affordable frozen swimming crab meat (Ovalipes Punctatus). We had our customers do blind tastings of the same recipe using two of the different species to compare the results in a finished recipe. The results were actually shocking as over 80% of the customers who tested the recipes actually preferred the ones made with the less expensive crab.
I try to make my explanations of the differences and advantages/disadvantages of each of species (lines) of crab as simple to understand as possible. In real simple terms, our Pelagicus crab (blue swimming) is a standalone item that can literally be served on its own, applied directly to the plate, such as on a salad, soup or a beautiful steak Oscar presentation. It can be served with a sauce or drawn butter on the side and simply enjoyed. Of course it will perform excellent in any application, however, it might not be the best choice, based on the end recipe and price. Our Haanii crab (red swimming) is also an excellent product, however, due to how it is caught and processed (troll caught vs. trap caught (day boat) for the Pelagicus) it performs better in a recipe than as a standalone item (the exception to this is our Gourmet/cooked on board Haanii crab line). It is an excellent option for lightly seasoned recipes where the crab meat will benefit from some complimentary flavors, like in a mildly seasoned crab cake. With this item it is 80% about the crab and 20% about the recipe.
From there we go to our frozen crab. It is still 100% wild caught, real crab meat that is handpicked and packed, however, after pasteurization it is frozen and shipped. The product needs to be properly (safely) thawed before use and will have more natural loose liquid (crab juice!) once thawed than the refrigerated blue and red swimming crab meat. Again, this is not a standalone item, it is an ingredient to be used in a recipe/formulation. As with the Haanii crab it performs best in a recipe, but unlike the Haanii it is more like 50% about the crab and 50% about the recipe it is utilized in. For example in a classic Maryland style hot crab dip, most of our customers actually preferred the one made with the frozen crab as compared with the Pelagicus or Haanii crab. The mixing procedure, seasoning level and amount of wet ingredients or binder might need he adjusted slightly as compared to using our traditional refrigerated crab meat, however, with these adjustments the end result can actually perform the more expensive alternatives.
As our SVP of Sales, Craig “Boss Hoss” Hospodor, always says “Plan your work and work your plan”. Our plan for the past decade has been to become the expert vendor of swimming crab meat. I have spent countless hours testing hundreds of pounds of crab meat in its natural state, from raw to fully processed and in recipes to fully understand how each species performs and to identify the characteristics of each product (down to the 10th of a percent of the average loose liquid in each). This knowledge is passed to our sales team and to our customers. We are constantly looking for new links to our supply chain to help maintain and grow the domestic supply of swimming crab meat while keeping a strong focus on long term sustainability of each species. This can mean new species, new processing systems or even new regions/countries for wild harvesting of the crabs. We have been in business for over 50 years and by following this plan we will be here for another 50.
This year has brought us an even more difficult season from a supply standpoint than last year. What started out as a possible continued global shortage of Pelagius crab, has turned into a global shortage of all swimming crab meat. With prices on both blue and red swimming meat reaching record highs, or frozen crab becomes not only a functional alternative, but also a financially viable option. As a company we have sold our frozen crab to manufactures for decades. It is used by many of the major processors of items such as soups, dips and of course crab cakes. Our frozen lump allows our customers to have a true crab item (crab with a “C” not krab with a “K”!) on their menu or to offer to their customers, while still keeping costs in line. The last thing we want is to see crab leave a customer’s menu offerings due to lack of natural supply (we cannot just go make more!) or due to market driven increased costs. We have alternatives and in this historic global swimming crab shortage to carry you through the coming months.
Our team looks forward to working with you to find the solution, whether it be temporary or permanent, to this current crab market. As one of our sales guys said “It is the year of frozen crab!”.

It’s Not Just For Crab Cakes

Let me start by saying that our crab meat makes some amazing crab cakes. That being said, our company mantra for the past few years has been “it’s not just for crab cakes!”. This point was hammered home to our team last week at a seafood conference in Florida. One of the lectures was on food trends and how the younger generations, Millennials in particular, are looking for new and innovative menu items and the move from the tried and true classics, like crab cakes, is beginning to appear on menus and dinner plates across the country. The lectures were followed by a company presentation with a tasting of products. Of the dozen vendors presenting to a group of seafood buyers for national chain, retail and food distributors, I felt very confident in the menu I had planned for that afternoon.

Over the past nine years that I have been with Newport International allot has changed in the seafood business and the food business as a whole. Consumers are much better educated and their expectations in all aspects of their purchasing process have evolved. People want a “global experience in a local setting” and we try very hard to show our product as it can apply to almost all types of end users. The sweet, mild flavor of our crab lends itself to most ethnic cuisines as well as on trend and seasonal applications. This was the menu I was going to make.

With a little over an hour to put together a four course tasting for 15 guests, I started working on the menu. Something light, something rich & decadent, something seasonal and a very twist on a rather standard menu item. Having lived in New England for most of my life, I have consumed more than my fair share of lobster rolls (including a 5 day trip this year to Portland, Maine, the lobster mecca). They are all usually good (even a “bad” lobster roll is still usually pretty good) but some really stand out. One of my favorite one’s is from Abbots Lobster in Noank, CT. Fresh steamed lobster piled on a hamburger roll and covered in melted butter. I wanted to take this idea, substitute crab for lobster and up the flavor profile a bit. First we made a compound butter with sweated shallot, ginger, a touch of garlic and some Meyer lemon juice. Then we toasted a brioche roll with butter and lined with a piece of Boston/butter lettuce, tossed crab with the butter and place a small scoop in on top of the lettuce. Simple with a slight twist, a great start to a crab meal.

Next was the seasonal offering and a little something lighter on the palate. Key lime juice and honey pickled red onions were the first step. Then some very thinly sliced fennel for a bright, anise flavored crunch. Some baby arugula for a peppery bite and a 3 citrus and EVOO vinaigrette. Toss it all together with some jumbo lump crab and garnish with some orange supremes and you have a beautiful and flavorful seasonal crab salad.

Tacos seem to be on almost every menu in some for or another. What about a “crispy crab taco with mixed pepper escabeche”? Well to make it unique the tacos are made from fresh soft corn tortillas, a little spicy chipotle pulped avocado and topped with the roasted and pickled peppers and red onion. For the crispy part, we individually breaded and fried pieces of our Jumbo Lump crab. I crisp and crunchy panko breadcrumb crust hiding the sweet delicate crab meat. This was the risky dish as we have never tried this method and surprisingly the pieces of crab held up quite well to the process after a few adjustments to the consistency of the batter.

The final dish was a slight update on one of the most classic crab dishes, Steak Oscar. The asparagus was served a little different as we shaved it into long strips (like asparagus linguini) and sautéed until just soft before serving. For the steak I chose a NY Strip seared over hardwood charcoal and sliced. Pieces of Jumbo Lump Crab are set on top and lightly covered with a hollandaise sauce. Of course it wasn’t your standard hollandaise, we made ours with brown butter and Meyer lemon juice adding a rich nutty flavor countered by the bright, floral notes of the citrus.

As we continue to look for new applications for our crab meat, we will continue to share new ideas on ways to wow your guests with crab!

 

Have a Crabby Holiday Season

As I was packing for a week of business travel up and down the East Coast this week, I mentioned to my wife that I could not believe that Thanksgiving was only two weeks away. She looked at me a little confused and said “you do realize Thanksgiving is next Thursday?”, obviously I did not. Well that being said, we are officially in the Holiday season. As a chef with four children and a large family and extended family, this means a house full of hungry people for the next 6 weeks. As the Corporate Chef for a crab company, this also means there will be allot of seafood being requested and served. Well as I have said at least a million times by now, “crab isn’t just for crab cakes”, especially at the Cantwell house. You might see crab benedicts for a Holiday brunch, warm crab dip with crostini and crudité alongside of some classic cheese fondue while decorating the tree, or a beautiful crab and corn soufflé sitting on the Thanksgiving table. Over the coming weeks I will posting some of my favorite recipes as well as some new ideas of how you can enjoy the Holiday season with our crab meat. As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or recipe requests in the comments field! Happy Holidays from the entire Newport International Family.

Dish On Fish

This year is was lucky enough to sponsor me to participate in the National Fisheries Institute’s (NFI) Future Leader Program. Newport International is proud to have an extensive lineage in the program and I have heard great things from my coworkers over the years. For those wondering, “What is NFI?”, here is quote from their website (www.aboutseafood.com);
“The National Fisheries Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to education about seafood safety, sustainability, and nutrition. From vessels at sea to your favorite seafood restaurant, our diverse member companies bring delicious fish and shellfish to American families. NFI promotes the US Dietary Guidelines that suggest Americans include fish and shellfish in their diets twice per week for longer, healthier lives.
NFI and its members are committed to sustainable management of our oceans and being stewards of our environment by endorsing the United Nations Principles for Responsible Fisheries. Our investment in our oceans today will provide our children and future generations the health benefits of a plentiful supply of fish and seafood tomorrow.
From responsible aquaculture, to a marketplace supporting free trade, to ensuring the media and consumers have the facts about the health benefits of fish and shellfish, NFI and its members support and promote sound public policy based on ground truth science”.
My class consisted of about 40 people from all aspects of the seafood business including producers, importers, end users, distributors transportation and cold storage. Within each of these industries, there were representatives from nearly every department including sales, marketing, purchasing, management and logistics. The program involved travel to four “seafood driven” destinations across the US with insights into almost all facets of our business.
I will follow up with a detailed overview of the cities visited (Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Portland, OR and Portland, ME) and the activities we participated in, from a trip on a lobster boat to Ocean survival training. Lots of very interesting and educational stuff!
We divided into two groups for our “class project(s)”, supporting SeaShare (www.seashare.org) “a non-profit founded in 1994 to help the seafood industry donate to hunger-relief efforts in the United States” or developing the following within our industry for NFI’s culinary education website “Dish On Fish” (dishonfish.com). I of course chose “Dish On Fish” as it is very much inline with my daily activities as Corporate Chef for Newport International. If you follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn you have seen a plethora of post over the past months sharing the wonderful seafood recipes from the talented chefs and dieticians on the websites roster. There were even a few that were about crab! these were shared not only on our personal pages, but also on our corporate pages for both Jack’s Catch and Pacific Cove brands.
As we continue to grow the use of crab with our mantra of “it’s not just for crab cakes” we also hope to be growing the overall consumption of seafood. If you haven’t already, I recommend spending some time on both sites, there is allot of really great and exciting information supported by a vast industry that covers the globe with its reach.

What is the Best Crab for You?

As the Corporate Chef for Newport International it is my job to be a resource of information for both our team and for our customers on our swimming crab meat and how to use it in a recipe. We offer a broad line of swimming crab in various forms, species, grades and price points. My goal is to work with our customers to find the best product for their specific needs. Many times they are shocked that I recommend a less expensive option from what they are currently using and I simply ask them to test it in their recipe. With a few adjustments to the recipe or the mixing/cooking process they can achieve a near match from a culinary standpoint with substantial cost savings that they can use to decrease their overall food cost or even lower the menu/sales price to increase overall volume of sales. With a variety of crab species and forms from our premium fresh pasteurized blue swimming crab to our value priced frozen crab we can find the perfect product for almost any dish and price point.

Over the years we have also developed many specialty items to address the specific needs of our customers. This could be a “crab cube” designed to meet the portion control needs of a food manufacturer or individually quick frozen (IQF) pieces of jumbo lump to be used in manufacturing crab cakes. Many times these items are specific to a certain customers, item or process and other times they have more widespread applications. I think our IQF falls into this category, beautiful whole pieces of crab which a lightly glazed before being quick frozen to protect the quality of the meat. These can be used from frozen and allow the crab to mixed without breaking.

A few months ago I worked with some samples of our IQF crab in a variety of applications and found great success with a little adjustment to the recipe or process. The end result is whole pieces of beautiful jumbo lump crab intact and unbroken in your finished product at a value price as compared with the traditional refrigerated product. As with all of our crab, the IQF will perform best in certain applications, it is our job to guide you towards the correct option. Please feel free to contact me and we can discuss your specific culinary needs and together we will the solution, my email is j.cantwell@newportintl.com.

And then there was cod, salmon and tilapia

As the chef for Newport International 99% of my culinary focus is on our extensive line of swimming crab meat. Over the years, I have made everything from endless crab cakes to Korean style fried soft crabs with kimchi slaw. I was thrown a curveball last week by the boss to work on some ideas featuring some IQF fish that we have in inventory. To be specific really nice 4oz pieces of salmon, cod and tilapia. I did the first round of testing by simply thawing the fish under refrigeration overnight. Then I pan roasted one of each fish to get a feel for the flavor and texture. Thinking of the most common applications I was going to go safe with the recipes and do a grilled salmon, pan roasted tilapia and fish and chips with the cod. Instead I went in a different direction and tried to tie in some crab meat and other proteins to make a unique entrée. For the salmon I used a white miso and Mirin marinade, broiled until a deep bronzed lacquered finish and served with sushi rice, edamame succotash and a crab soy-butter sauce. Next is roasted tilapia stuffed with crab over wilted arugula and roasted tomato.  The cod is crusted with a crab and chorizo hash served over a sauté of white beans, roasted tomato and baby kale then finished with steamed clams in a white wine broth. Overall, the fish work really well, from the most simple application to something a little more complicated. As always, I am available for answer any questions, cooking tips or recipes!         

Have a Crabby Valentine’s Day

Our crab meat is the perfect ingredient to create a romantic dinner to celebrate Valentines Day with the ones you love. Whether you want to create a show stopping entrée like our Steak Oscar or some beautiful roasted shrimp stuffed with our jumbo lump crab, the options are endless. The sweet, delicate flavor of our crab lends itself to some many recipes deciding which one to make might be the hardest part. But, alas, this is why we give you options. Whether it is dinner for two or some beautiful hors d’oeuvres to share in front of the fire with a nice glass of wine, we have you covered.