THE GOOD FOOD AWARDS
BY managing partner, bret csencsitz
THE GOOD FOOD AWARDS
Every January foodies from around the country descend upon the city of San Francisco. Three back-to-back events are presented with the simple goal of bringing together producers, retailers, and food lovers of all kinds. The kickoff to the weekend is an award ceremony celebrating the very best in small batch, independent producers.
Now on its ninth year in San Francisco, the Good Food Awards crystalize America’s food evolution. People are increasingly more concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s grown and raised. These awards are about promoting local craft food artisans who care about quality of taste, integrity of process, and the health of our planet.
The event has long been championed by Alice Waters, founder of the Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. Opening its doors in 1972, the restaurant helped set this country on a food journey we are still on. Long before activists and politicians raised their voices, change happened slowly at the grassroots level. It began with a generation of ambitious, young chefs like Jonathan Waxman, Larry Forgione, Alice Waters, and Gotham’s chef, Alfred Portale.
A Return to Quality
The movement was (and still is) rooted in two things: #1, understanding the social and environmental impact of our food production, and #2, finding “a return to quality.” These are subjects we are passionate about here at Gotham, evidenced by our longstanding relationship with organizations like GrowNYC.
Of course, many more have taken up the torch in the decades since Gotham first opened its doors. Highlighting the connection between restaurants and farms has become more and more common. Some chefs, such as Dan Barber, have even become part-time farmers, educators, and proselytizers along the way, preaching to the masses about the importance of this quality revolution.
ON WITH THE SHOW
The awards are presented by the Good Food Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting food producers and merchants “swimming upstream to create the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic, and responsible.” Their mission is both simple and noble, and we were honored to take part in the event.
I flew out with Gotham’s Pastry Chef, Ron Paprocki, to celebrate our new line of bean-to-bar chocolates: the Artisan Series. A distinguished panel of judges nominated two of the three bars for an award, so off we went with high hopes but limited expectations.
The Good Food Awards now have 16 different categories honoring everything from pickles to chocolate, cider to seafood. And it’s only getting bigger. This past year the foundation received over 2,000 applicants from all 50 states. In the end the judges narrowed it down to 400 finalists, naming just 251 winners.
Simply being nominated is an honor all its own, but to win would be an even greater delight. Imagine our excitement when the judges declared our Hacienda Azul 70% Dark Chocolate Bar a winner.
It was our first Good Food Award.
BEYOND THE AWARDS
As the evening unfolded, I realized that the awards were just one small piece of the festivities. In fact, the true goal of the event is to foster a greater sense of community within the food industry while shining a spotlight on craft producers. We were there as ambassadors for our growing chocolate program, but soon discovered that it hardly mattered what we were peddling. All of the producers in the room shared a unique passion for that “return to quality” and it became all too easy to see a little bit of ourselves in each of them.
This point was made obvious time and again throughout the night, though perhaps most clearly in a speech delivered by a Seattle fisherman named Joe Malley.
A SALTY TALE
His boat, St. Jude, trolls the seas off the Washington coast where he focuses primarily on white albacore tuna. Malley described his fishing journey with the salty cadence of an “Old Man of the Sea.” A no nonsense smile matched by a self-deprecating practicality. His daily existence captured perfectly in his gait and manner of speech. In many ways he is exactly what you’d expect from someone whose existence hangs on the end of a fishing line.
Malley spoke as an introduction to the “Fish Award.” (The judges would soon name his albacore tuna with jalepeño as one of the winners.) He began by describing a variety of commercial innovations, making it clear that creatures of the sea stand little chance against modern techniques like longline fishing, trawling, and bottom dredging.
A driving philosophy behind these innovations has been directly related to the equation that more fish equals more money. The unintended consequence is a degradation in quality. And perhaps even more alarming is the waste and destruction caused by these new techniques, where whole ecosystems are being torn apart. A classic case of “biting the hand that feeds” happens when we eliminate not just the fish, but the fishing economy as well.
After witnessing the environmental compromises created by the commercial fishing industry, Malley decided that he would take a different approach. His goal is still to catch and bring to market the best quality albacore tuna the Northwest has to offer, but he also operates with a respect for his prey and their precious habitat. That respect constantly informs his decisions on a day-to-day basis. It was this juxtaposition that seemed to highlight so clearly the ideals that the Good Food Foundation aims to uncover.
The organization, it was explained to me, is particularly interested in the balance between the “good” and the “concerned.”
According to Malley, the “good” and the “concerned” are intertwining in a way that is virtually unprecedented in human history.
Food production and distribution has everything to do with the land (and sea), and if we are to continue eating, and eating well, we must do so responsibly. This is a sentiment that guides many of our decisions at Gotham.
The chocolate program is no different.
Over the past three years Gotham Chocolates has grown quite a bit. Our Artisan Series (and the recent Good Food Award) is certainly proof of that. These are three distinct bars made entirely in house at Gotham, where direct trade beans are sourced from three different organic plantations in Central and South America. They are then roasted, winnowed, refined, and molded right here on 12th Street, where we get to control every step of the process.
HOME SWEET HOME
Below you’ll find three links, and we hope you’ll take a few minutes to click through.
The first will take you to the Good Food Awards website, where you can learn more about this year’s winners. The second link goes to the Gotham Shop where you can order the Artisan Series 3-Pack of Chocolate Bars. The third brings you to Joe Malley’s website where you can order some of his delicious products, like his (award winning) St. Jude Tuna with Jalapeño.