The Kitchen Sink 

Ham I Am

By ten o'clock in the morning, I realize I'm half-drunk. This year's Winter Fancy Food Show, at San Francisco's Moscone Center, started at eight, with a seminar on Northwest artisan cheeses and ciders. Slow Food USA brought in farmstead producers from up and down the coast, and we tasted six of their ciders -- some foamy and dry, some sweet and bitter, all fermented.

To sober up, I hit the boards. It would take five minutes to walk from one end of the South Hall to the other, if you weren't hindered by gourmet shopkeepers from San Diego and Seattle, restaurateurs from everywhere, and dodging giant lemon Jelly Bellies ("I just want to hug it," a woman behind me coos).

I meander past the rows of display booths filled with gastronomic products of every sort -- booth after booth of specialty vinegars and cheese straws and chocolate truffles. The genteel Italian olive oil merchants, all nattily clad in slim tailored suits, sit at the tables in their empty cubicles waiting for prospective importers to join them, while swarms of prosciutto-nibbling, neck-craning attendees swarm around the spacious Italfoods booth, where a toque-topped chef is stirring up batches of farro (spelt) "risotto."

I try the wares of a few East Bay producers, like San Leandro's Native Kjalii Foods, which makes corn chips and my favorite line of fire-roasted salsas. An athletic pair wearing sport clothes hands out samples of Luna bars to passersby. Narsai David's daughter talks to me about her father's line of dessert sauces, mustards, and marinades as I dip pretzels into his spicy, not-too-sweet apricot chutney.

After sampling fifty tea cookies, though, only the bizarre has the power to attract. A small square of jalape?o-sauce fudge sends me first to the water cooler, then in search of crackers to wash away the taste. An eager, eager saleswoman kneads a plastic bag of poi as I try to taste anything distinctive in her line of purple poi crackers and bagels. I pass booths for "The Cajun Injector" (rubs and marinades), "Ham I Am" (smoked hams), and "Absinthe Minded" (a wretched alcohol-free energy drink that's supposedly stronger and sweeter than Red Bull).

Three hours later, overwhelming, post-alcoholic fatigue sets in. On the way to the escalator, I'm stopped by a blond woman who's smiling at me as if she recognizes my face from my latest movie role. I smile back warmly, ready to give her directions or exchange a friendly quip. "We're a Christian-based chocolate company," she gushes, "and we'd love it if you could stop by our booth in the South Hall." The card she hands me is for Sweet Blessings, with "Touch the Soul ... Tickle the Palate" handwritten on the back.

"Thanks," I gush back. "I won't miss it."


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