Once you complete your culinary education and begin working in the restaurant world, you’ll most likely come across a number of culinary organizations and food trade associations. As is the case with any career in which a highly specialized skill (like cooking) is required, many businesses exist to connect professionals and provide even more training and resources that allow you to develop your craft over a lifetime.
From molecular gastronomy and ethnic cuisine to hospitality management, you can find just about any culinary trade organization in your field. The organization built around specialty foods is the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT).
What is the NASFT?
Boasting over 2,100 member-companies around the world, the NASFT focuses on specialty foods that appear in stores, restaurants, and gourmet food shops. This represents a unique part of the culinary industry that goes beyond preparing food in a restaurant capacity. In fact, when you consider many of the celebrity chefs currently enjoying nationwide fame (think Emeril Lagasse or Giada de Laurentiis), you’ll discover they not only have restaurants, cookbooks, and cooking shows behind them, but a huge line of specialty food products—which is a big boost to their annual income.
Of course, The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade isn’t really for celebrities. Established in 1952, it was designed to help build business relationships and boost consumer interest in specialty foods, wines, and gifts. They now have annual “Fancy Food Shows” that attract around 30,000 visitors each year.
Like most culinary trade organizations, NASFT also puts out a trade periodical (Specialty Food Magazine) and sells memberships, which are required if you want to participate in the food shows or their annual awards ceremony.
Why Join a Trade Organization at All?
Some trade organizations take the shape of not-for-profit organizations, built solely to educate and connect professionals; others might run on a for-profit business structure and provide everything from continuing education credits to national conventions. In both cases, annual dues or a membership fee may be required. It’s important to weigh the benefits of the membership against the costs, since you could easily spend a large portion of your salary this way.
Although NASFT and other organizations like it aren’t for everyone, they are a large part of the culinary professional world. If you want to network with professionals who share your passion for specialized areas of cooking and restaurant management, or if you plan to expand your own business into specialty food distribution, trade organizations like NASFT can go a long way in helping you build a viable, sustainable career.