Sprudge has covered the Good Food Awards for five years running now. We’ve happily followed them as they’ve grown alongside the food they’ve so fervently supported. We’ve even, for the last two years, been official media partners for the event, a role we see as especially important as quality coffee continues to rise in gastronomic esteem. The 2015 Good Food Awards, held at San Francisco’s cavernous Palace of Fine Arts Theater last week, continued the tradition of celebrating all things good food and drink, from stalwarts like preserves and charcuterie to fresh-faced new honorees like honey and cider. The 2015 Good Food Awards were many things, but most importantly they were, a State of the Food Union, a summing-up of how far “good food” has come and just how far it still has to go.
Acclaimed food author Mark Bittman’s keynote address kicked the show off by describing the current atmosphere of the food world as a battlefield between good—the nominees and winners of the Good Food Awards—and bad. He described a turbulent state of food today and addressed the importance of the very folks seated in the plush chairs of the Palace of Fine Arts. He used words like “revolution” and “attack”; he pointed a finger at the corporate food world and threatened to “starve them to death” for “co-opting the vocabulary” of the good food movement. He, as well as nearly all of the speakers of the evening, applauded the hard work and commitment of not only the folks on stage, but of everyone, everywhere “fighting” the good food war.
The gravity of the current state of food was a theme highlighted time and time again throughout the ceremonies. Emily Brown of AZ Queen Bee (a winner in the honey category) said that while producing small-batch food is a huge amount of work, that there was “never a greater need” for us to do it than right now. Beer spokesman Jim Klisch of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery talked about how producing this type of food is derived from a long heritage of respecting the earth. And Lucas Farrell of Vermont’s Big Picture Farm, a winner in the confection category, argued that the production of good food is a “positive in a world that desperately needs more positive.”
This idea was at the heart of the speech given by Paul Bonds, the owner of BeanFruit Coffee Company in Flowood, Mississippi. Bonds focused on the idea that though Mississippi has far to go in terms of creating a specialty coffee community, that this distance isn’t a negative: it is instead an opportunity to teach, to share, and to express wholeheartedly the thing he loves the very most with so many people, from so many places. At the very core of the Good Food movement are the shared experiences, beliefs, and values that connect the honey makers, the vodka distillers, the apple-cider-caramel-crafters, and everyone else.
And sure, it’s nice, hell, it’s important to get a status update on the state of food in modern America, but at the end of the day, the best way to celebrate food is, well, to shove your face full of it. In the banquet hall just behind the theater, the army of folks who bring this event to life had a laid out a spread of the assorted winners’ products that could only be described as a food bacchanalia.
If you weren’t scooping up spoonfuls of Market Hall Foods’ delightfully creamy chicken liver mousse, you were probably stuffing as many handfuls of Florida’s Cacao Art Chocolates’ Panther Coffee-infused chocolates as you could into your pockets. You couldn’t go wrong with a piece of soft bread dipped into the impressively nutty roasted pistachio oil from Berkeley’s own La Tourangelle.
I found myself navigating the line (and what a line it was) time and time again to dig into Michigan’s American Spoon + The Brinery’s ramp kimchi collaboration (because in some amazing parts of this country, ramps grow like weeds in the forest, just waiting to be pickled) to Vermont Creamery’s trio of Bonne Bouche, Coupole and Cremont cheeses. This reporter’s favorite winner, which I tried at the Good Food Awards Marketplace a few days later, were the garlic and olive oil anchovies from Sausalito’s FISH.—briny, succulent bites that blew my mind even at 9:30 in the morning with a mouth full of lingering jam and honey flavors.
And this was only a sliver of what was on offer: a whole roast lamb from The Whole Beast sliced and diced and served in gyros; tiny beautiful bites from Shed in Healdsburg that paired the tang of Colorado’s Ozuke’s salted Paonia plums with a thin slice of cured meat; a bar sponsored by San Francisco’s own Rye that cranked out a bevy of citrusy booze drinks which highlighted the fine selection of spirits represented; on and on and on, until this reporter couldn’t cram another morsel of food in his maw.
And coffee, man-oh-man, there was such a spread of fine coffees from all over the nation. Repeat winners like ReAnimator from Philadelphia and Panther Coffee from Miami were artfully brewed by some of San Francisco’s finest baristas next to newer entrants like Washington’s Kuma Coffee, Illinois’ Metric Coffee and many more examples of the bevy of fine roasters to be found all over America today.
While people ate and drank, they also met for the first time, exchanged ideas and phone numbers, recipes and favorite restaurants, brewing and roasting tips, and in general celebrated the products they’d produced, and will continue producing, through hard work and dedication. The Good Food Awards are, and I’ll say it again, a celebration of just what the good food movement has become. Standing there, amongst all of these producers and the truly special foods they’ve created, you couldn’t help but feel like not only was this a place to bolster the existing community, but to spread the seeds of whatever next step it might take. In the words of Mark Bittman, “bravo, fucking bravo.”
Noah Sanders is a contributor to SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and Sprudge.com. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.
Photos by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com