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A look at the FABI Award winners from one of the judges

The National Restaurant Association’s food & beverage award is hard to get

I have been judging the National Restaurant Association Show’s FABI Awards for years. I’m not sure how many years, exactly, but I do know that the show has changed hands twice since I started. First it was bought by Winsight, and then Nation’s Restaurant News’ parent company, Informa, bought Winsight and the show along with it last year. The awards have always been tough to win, but they get more competitive each year.

You might think that judging food and beverage innovation awards is fun, and it is in a way. More so, it’s useful, because I get to put the latest trends in my mouth before almost anyone else. But it’s also a lot of work, because the FABI Awards are legit.

I have judged other awards, which I won’t name, in which I simply look at recipes or read descriptions of food or restaurants or equipment or whatever else I’m supposed to be judging and do my best to decide which ones are worthy. It’s awkward, because as hard as I and my fellow judges try, we know we can’t really assess the entries accurately without actually seeing them and working with them.

The FABIs are different. My fellow judges, quite an esteemed panel, are sent dozens of packages over the course of just a couple of weeks. I know that unboxing videos are popular on social media, but actually unboxing all of those packages, and then figuring out where to put all of that food and beverage and sauces etc., is a real chore (that was particularly true during lockdown, when we did it at home). I have become adept at converting Styrofoam boxes into makeshift freezers by collecting the dry ice from various packages, but it’s not exactly something I enjoy.

Then we cook the products if necessary, or otherwise sample them. Then we don’t just vote. We have multiple video conference calls to discuss the submissions and their positive and negative attributes. That’s the fun part.

Then in 2023 we initiated a new category: FABI Favorites, which require even more vigorous discussion.

So as you visit the FABI winners during the National Restaurant Show, remember that those awards weren’t just handed out as participation trophies, they’re real accomplishments.


Here are the FABI Favorites:
Revel Eats Horchata Bites: Bite-sized crispy morsels of cream cheese mixed with flavors including cinnamon, vanilla, and rice flour, from Ajinomoto foods North America

Aqua Blanca Shrimp: A very high-quality and extremely sustainable farmed shrimp, from Atarraya Inc.

Black Sheep Foods plant-based lamb: A bite-sized, meat-like product that has a surprisingly lamby flavor, from Black Sheep Foods

Flavor Fresh Gourmet Single Serve Vegan Ranch: A dressing that delivers on the ranch flavor without dairy, from DYMA Brands

Chile Pepper Flavor Pearls: The latest in spherified products, caviar-sized bursting bubbles filled with a spicy and red bell pepper flavored liquid with many potential applications, from Finesaler LLC

ReadyCarved Pork Al Pastor: They arrived fully cooked and frozen. Super easy to heat up and use for many applications (I toasted them with some of the flatbread FABI submissions for breakfast at work), from Grecian Delight | Kronos

Jiffy Sweet Cream Pancake and Waffle Mix: Just add water and make high-quality pancakes and waffles that also make your kitchen smell good, from JIFFY Foodservice

Gluten Free Roman-Style Pinsa Flatbread: This delivers on the promise of a baked good in the trending pinsa category that happens not to have gluten, from Oggi Foods Inc.

Prime Roots X Fabrique Délices Pâté: This is a versatile meatless product that can be used as a pâté-like spread for many applications, from Prime Roots

Zero Acre Cooking Oil: You might have already heard of this extremely high performing cooking oil sustainably produced using sugarcane, because some smaller chains are already using it, from Zero Acre Farms


And these are the other FABI winners:

Posado Cruncheros Spinach Artichoke Rolled Tacos: These fully cooked taquitos provide another way to enjoy spinach-artichoke dip, from Ajinomoto Foods North America

Revel Eats Guacamole Bites: Kind of like the rolled tacos, but for chips and guacamole, from Ajinomoto Foods North America

Beyond Smashable Burger: A plant-based meat analog that plays effective into the current smash burger trend, from Beyond Meat

Chunk Steak: This fermented meat analog comes close to mimicking the texture of beef, from Chunk Foods

Topo Chico Sabores Lime with Mint Extract, Blueberry with Hibiscus Extract, and Tangerine with Ginger Extract: Unusually well balanced and agreeably complex flavored sparkling water varieties, from The Coca-Cola Company

Flavor Fresh Gourmet Single Serve Vegan Hunny Mustard and Mayo: Unusually good vegan versions of popular condiments, from DYMA Brands

Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie: An individually wrapped treat with a brown sugar chocolate chip cookie dough crust filled with chocolate ganache, from Eli’s Cheesecake Co.

Maple Syrup Butter: Simply a superior maple-rich butter that provides a workable breakfast solution, from Epicurean Butter

Impossible Beef Jumbo Hot Dogs: The judges’ vegetarian friends gave this one a big thumbs-up, from Impossible Foods

Plant-based Calamari: If you’re not specifically looking for squid flavor in your calamari, this delivers in terms of texture, from Jinka

Konscious Plant-Based Sushi Rolls — California Roll: The plant-based aspect isn’t the key to this items uniqueness. It’s a very tasty thaw-and-serve product, from KONSCIOUS

Plant-Based Sno’ Crab: Another thaw-and-serve product that delivers on texture and kind of tastes like surimi, from KONSCIOUS

Lunchables Grilled Cheesies: This microwavable item delivers on the texture, including the crunchiness, that you want in a grilled cheese sandwich, from Kraft Heinz Company

Kraft NotMac & Cheese: Another microwavable product that delivers on texture, from The Kraft Heinz NotCompany

NotMayo: Mayonnaise without eggs has been established as a viable alternative, and here’s another high-quality example, from The Kraft Heinz NotCompany

Crunchy Garden Bites: A time saving way to serve crunchy, breaded vegetables, from No Meat Factory

Oatly Half & Half: An oat milk product with a nice mouth feel that interacts well with coffee, from Oatly

Neapolitan Gluten Free Crust: A good alternative for people avoiding gluten who still want Neapolitan-style pizza, from Oggi Foods Inc.

Prime Roots X Fabrique Délices Koji-Foie Gras: Not as versatile as the pâté that was named a FABI Favorite, but still a good product with many useful applications, from Prime Roots

San-J No Soy Tamari Sauce: Made with fermented peas, many of the judges thought this was a step up from your usual soy- and gluten-free soy sauces, from San-J International

TÖST Rose: This was actually submitted as an alcohol-free sparkling wine, and to be honest, I don’t think it delivers on that promise, but if you’re looking for an interesting sparkling soda, this is a fun choice, from TÖST Beverages

Jalapeño Cornbread: This is just an unusually taste cornbread with pieces of jalapeño pepper and whole corn kernels. It’s also free of tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, and gluten, from Veggies Made Great

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

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