Wondering if there’s really anything new in smallwares and tabletop/servingware these days? You’ve come to the right story. From submergible scales and rotisserie gloves to short-handled ladles and pen-plus-thermometer combos, the items we handled in our Ninth Annual Smallwares and Tabletop Competition added up to one of the most diverse groups of products we’ve ever seen.
When our judges assembled at our Skokie, Ill., publishing headquarters on July 12, we had sorted through both kitchen tools and tabletop pieces, including tiny LEDs designed to look like flickering candles. With the tireless help of Editorial Intern Modesta Zapata, we had unpacked, unwrapped, organized and arranged on tables some 87 total entries. That included one eye-catching Tabletop display so large that it did double-duty as an entry and as a display for morning coffee and pastries.
Fast forward to early afternoon, Competition Day. After much animated discussion, the judges had agreed on nine outstanding products on the Smallwares side from a field of 43 entries, and nine from Tabletop, out of 44 entries.
But First, The Unofficial Awards
And yes, the editors who pull this whole shebang together each year couldn’t resist giving out more unofficial pre-awards this year. These included the Chinese Puzzle Box prize, given to a supplier whose shipping department had cleverly and neatly packed the five boxed parts of an elegant tabletop display cooking set-up into one large box, perfectly filling the space to the brim. That one was a challenge to repack, but we succeeded.
Another is the Assembly prize, which goes to suppliers in both Smallwares and Tabletop. One product required Chief Editor Brian Ward to bravely wield a couple of screwdrivers to put one particular kitchen tool together. Another took hardworking Sales Assistant Jessica Scurlock a good half hour to fit together all the pieces so the product looked as beautiful as its brochure.
And let’s not forget the Shoulda-Packed-It-Better prize, which went to broken products in three boxes. Luckily these suppliers had sent multiple items, so all was well where judging was concerned.
What, Exactly, Is A Smallware?
We define Smallwares as back-of-the-house tools, usually hand-held and always free of motors, although we allow batteries in items such as scales. Tabletop/servingware candidates include anything that would be used on a well-dressed table or buffet. To be eligible, products had to be new to the market since the May 2005 National Restaurant Association Show, and all entries were screened by FER editors.
This year’s discerning panel of judges numbered seven in all. The four operator judges included Kevin Appleton, executive chef/faculty at Robert Morris College, Chicago; Robert Bearman, Aramark’s retail director for Loyola University’s Watertower campus, Chicago; Heather Blume, general manager at Chicago’s Hotel Allegro; and Jay Lovell, executive chef and owner of Lovells of Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Ill.
And on the dealer side, we were pleased to welcome Monica McCabe, table settings specialist for the Boelter Cos., Lincolnwood, Ill.; Scott Pusateri, national account manager for the Wasserstrom Co., Columbus, Ohio; and Sophia Rosillo, category manager for kitchen and buffet smallwares, Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill.
We asked judges to consider five points as they analyzed: How unique or innovative is the product in its category? Does it solve a problem? Does it enhance food or labor safety? Is it durable? And, on the Tabletop side, how does it look?
When the competition was over, we donated both smallwares and tabletop items—with supplier approval—to two Chicago charity groups: St. Thomas of Canterbury’s soup kitchen, which prepares meals for up 300 people at a time, several nights a week; and the new kitchen at La Casa Norte, a group home for homeless teenage youth. Both organizations were thrilled with the donations.
The following pages give full details on both the winning and finalist groups from the Smallwares and Tabletop competitions.