Those wanting to know what Central Valley chefs, bakers, growers, and distributors are cooking up have their chance for a taste this Friday.
Made Central California — formerly the Fresno Food Expo — begins Thursday at the Fresno Convention Center, with the main event Friday night.
In a nutshell, the event is nirvana for foodies. Attendees will be treated to cooking demonstrations by “Rising Stars” like chef Eddie Wutangsy, whose chopped cheese sandwiches are earning legions of fans. Or you can take in the Pressure Cooker event. One of the competitors, Saint Goods, offers a Japanese cheesecake in a can.
Heavy hitters such Rosa Brothers Milk Co., Tioga Sequoia Brewing Co., and Wawona Frozen Foods will also be showcasing their products, said Rebecca Sustaita, manager of Made Central California and special events manager for the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. The Fresno Chamber of Commerce organizes the event.
So far, 70 exhibitors will be at the event, Sustaita said.
Exposure to the Culinary World
Originally designed to connect vendors and distributors with new food products, for those outside the industry it means exposure to the culinary world of the Central Valley.
On Thursday and during the day Friday, chefs, bakers, and culinary magicians will show off their products to vendors and distributors.
Then, beginning at 5:30 p.m., the public will get to tour the different exhibitors at the event. Numerous cooking demos will be held.
The New Product Showcase puts newcomers or new inventions out front. The Pressure Cooker competition pits exhibitors against one another for the chance to win $10,000.
The pitch competition compares products on innovation, benefits to consumers, environmental sustainability, use of ag automation, or ethical behavior.
Food Start-Ups Get Exposure to Multi-Billion-Dollar World of Food Distribution
Made Central California features major food processing labels such as Wawona Frozen Foods. But it also showcases a number of entrepreneurs.
Fresno Street Eats will present the “Rising Star” award at Made Central California. Fresno Street Eats organizes food truck events throughout Fresno and Clovis.
This year, the award goes to New York City-style sandwich vendor My Guy Market. Wutangsy’s chopped cheese sandwiches, as well as his unique marketing style, caught the eyes of the two groups.
Wutangsy has become a staple wandering around Art Hop events with his robot, selling sandwiches, said Mike Osegueda, the organizer for Fresno Street Eats.
Wutangsy will host a cooking demo on Friday evening. In total, Fresno Street Eats named eight different “rising stars.” Fury Hot Chicken has a hot sauce they sell. They also feature a freeze-dried candy company, a puff corn company, and a juice company, among others.
“Those are the people you are going to hear a lot more about in the coming years,” Sustaita said. “We’re excited to have them showcase at this year’s show.”
For startups, it means exposure to the essential world of food trade shows. It can mean seeing representatives from companies such as Costco or Save Mart. Many entrepreneurs can sell at Fresno Street Eats events or farmers markets, but having the selling skills to grocery representatives is different, Osegueda said.
“Anybody that has a product, of course, is going to go through this kind of trade show world at some point,” Osegueda said. “So I think that if nothing else, sometimes it’s just getting reps.”
Ten vendors from the Clovis Culinary Center will present their products, according to Kris Marshall, operations manager at the center. In addition to Saint Goods, another vendor, Dog Eat World makes dog treats. And, Miguel’s Salsas and Kintsugi Sushi will do cooking demos.
Since the pandemic, many people have wanted to get into the world of cooking.
Demand for virtual kitchens like those at the Clovis Culinary Center is on the rise. They currently have 81 clients reserving time in their kitchen. A couple of them are getting ready to move on purchasing their own kitchens, Marshall said.
The owner of Dads Cookies, Lance Sanchez, got his start after being laid off during the pandemic. Sanchez began at the Clovis Culinary Center but has since moved out, opening his first storefront in 2022.
Sanchez won the “Rising Star” award in 2022, Osegueda said.
For startups, appearing at Made means making connections in the world of food distribution.
“It’s a huge opportunity for them just to be able to one, get their name out in the community,” Marshall said.