Taste of Excellence – Orlando, Florida

Over the weekend I was honored to be able to attend the yearly NFRA convention in Orlando, Florida. It’s an all weekend affair that’s focused on the many great brands that showcase their amazing food in the refrigerated and frozen food aisles of your grocery stores. In addition to all of the brands and retailers being able to connect about partnerships, advertising, etc. it’s also an opportunity to highlight the latest and greatest of what’s to come in the near future. From new packaging and added flavors to brand new and innovative foods that will be hitting the shelves, I got an insider look into 2015.

The Taste of Excellence event literally feels like a black tie ceremony given the beautiful chandeliers, dim lights and amazing hospitality from the brand directors.  From the moment I walked in I was absolutely blown away at the ambiance that accompanied amazing food. I got so caught up in the conversation and atmosphere that I literally forgot that everything I ate was from the frozen food aisle. You would’ve thought there was an entire crew of well-trained chefs in the kitchen working diligently to put out such timely and tasty treats. As a chef and content creator, you so rarely get sneak peeks into new foods, much less interactions with the people that created the dishes. Obviously, there are so many things to praise at the event, but something that you don’t take for granted is the transparency and passion that each brand has for their newly created masterpiece. It was refreshing.

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Although I was distracted by such amazing food and chatting, I did manage to snap some pictures and document a few things that caught my attention. While I was already convinced that the frozen and refrigerated food aisles rocked, the night left me without a shadow of a doubt what I had always perceived to be true. With a family and a little one to feed, including full meals as well as snacks, I walked away so excited I could barely control myself. Crazy to think all this about frozen food, but I saw so many fantastic options that will help me get a great meal on the table every single night.

Enough of the love fest and on to the food! Let’s start with dessert, because WHY NOT?! I’m always looking to satisfy my sweet tooth and the three things I ate did exactly that! The Bourbon and Pecan ice cream from Graeter’s may have been the most amazing thing I have eaten in a long time. The bourbon flavors were subtle and the ice cream was loaded with huge, and I mean huge, chunks of pecans and chocolate. All I could think about was how much could I eat before I felt sick; I’m thinking I could have easily eaten a gallonJ. The second, which my wife and daughter would have loved, was by Luna Pops. They make small popsicles that use real, mashed up fruit and throw a few chocolate chips in for a little kick. I devoured the raspberry chocolate chip popsicle and walked away thinking how this would be such a great dessert alternative for my daughter, rather than just loading her up with sugar. Can’t wait for these to come out.  Lastly, So Delicious, who has an emphasis in the dairy-free coconut world, is getting ready to launch a coconut whipped cream that is absolutely ridiculous. It’s dairy-free, gluten-free and literally would go insanely awesome on any cake, pie, chocolate shake, coffee, you name it!  Heck, I would possibly put it on a roast it’s that stinkin good!

Along with great dessert options for my kid, I found the snacks that were showcased to be equally as inviting. Crystal Farms is coming out with little, flavored cheese snacks called Nibblers that are really tasty. We got to try the Buffalo Monterey Jack Cheese Nibblers and wow were they spot on. I couldn’t help but think of what else I could do with these, like finish a creamy dip or melt’em on some chicken. Most importantly though, my daughter loves cheese and these are just a great option and substitute to chips and other indulgent snacks. Really cool! The other snack I was obsessed with were the Dole Pineapple Dippers, which were frozen pieces of pineapple coated in chocolate. Seriously, I’m not even sure there needs to be an explanation, they were awesome. They were refreshing from the pineapple and deliciously sweet and smooth from the chocolate. I’m for sure going to buy 50,000 boxes once these come out.

Pizza. Even when it’s bad it’s good right? Well not always, especially when you have to wait for an hour and a half for a cold pizza, thanks to the late delivery guy. Well, if you’re looking for restaurant-quality from your very own home, you’ll find it from the frozen food aisle. No more waiting or eating cold pizzas, all you need is an oven and a hungry belly for 100% satisfaction. There are so many great new pizzas coming out this fall, winter and spring that there should be no need to ever call your local pizza spot again. I was blown away at how fresh the ingredients and how delicious the crusts were. They were serving up pepperoni, Mediterranean and my personal favorite from the guys over at Palermo’s – a Screamin’ Sicilian with bacon, chicken and jalapeño. Shoot all I needed was a beer and a football game and I would’ve been in heaven. Amazing!

The place was packed full of great food and obviously it was very difficult to capture everything, but there were a few more things that really caught my eye. The frozen appetizers and entrées were mind blowing. The presentation, colors, richness and flavors that came from these dishes were so good, I still am flabbergasted that they came from the freezer. You could visually see how fresh and properly cooked everything was. There was no grease or mushy vegetables, bright bell peppers and al dente cooked beans in the stir-fry and perfect textures in the bimbimbop. The stuffed chicken was perfectly breaded on the outside and the pot stickers were stuffed to the brim. Everyone knows how hard homemade pot stickers are to make, so my suggestion is don’t— leave it up to the guys over at Ajinomoto. Also, can’t forget about the electric light show coming from the new refrigerators. I was getting ready to put in some chips and pull the lever because for a second I thought I was in Vegas!! I’d rather take the food than lose money though. J

The quick and excellent options that the frozen food aisle provides, rivals what you make from scratch in your own kitchen, with a fraction of the time and costs. Let’s be honest, these foods and meals are being prepared in real kitchens, by real chefs using produce that is in peak season and is then simply frozen for convenience and longevity. In the end, it’s all about getting a great meal that doesn’t take all day, and arrives at the table where your family can enjoy— all so you can concentrate on what matters. There is no sacrificing flavor or time when it comes to these meals and I can’t wait for you to try the next hot wave of great food that will be sweeping through the frozen food aisle within the next few months.

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