2013: The A-Z Food Year That Was

A

Airline food: There was no more pie in the sky. High in the clouds didn’t translate into haute (cuisine).

Amuse bouches were crafted to be picked up with our eyelashes. Mini morsels of oxtail perched on a sliver of sardine, topped with two petunia petals were presented as an itty bitty “gift” from the chef. A tasting menu in deed!

All socially responsible consumers and food companies hailed appetite for Fair Trade.

B

Bacon became the next sizzling fad. Bacon lipstick, bacon (de)oderant, bacon dental floss, bacon ice cream and other bizarre foolishnesses streaked along the highway of absurdity.

Bees buzzed off. Many feared there would be no more almond joy.

Broccoli was not adored properly. Continue reading

Living Without Our Tools

There seems to be a romance about living in the past. I’m always baffled by that.

We somehow forget our current technology was not with us; not our cell phones, not the familiar microwave oven, essential to our heat it up fast!, fast!, fast! lifestyle, which arrived in our kitchens in the 1970s.

A little science and technology can go a long way in the kitchen, even for those who have trouble boiling water.

Cuisinart Cookbook by Irena Chalmers_With the introduction of the Cuisinart food processor into the kitchens of the clumsy and the inept, the  universe of culinary possibility stretched into infinity. Suddenly we could all call ourselves Julia.

It was David Kamp who best described the Cuisinart’s impact in his wonderful, The United States of ArugulaContinue reading

Vegging Out with the Vegetarians

Garden Vegetables and Farmer

Photo Courtesy of VegNews.com

Today vegetarianism is no longer simply a passing phase for the famous. It is becoming ever more mainstream. Millions of Americans have adopted this diet, and the converts are growing every day.

Even those who still enjoy meat are giving vegetarians greater respect, although we still find it difficult to imagine that a superstar athlete or a Commander in Chief would, or could, get to the top on a diet of beans and rice. T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, says it well:

“It’s my guess that there’s hardly another myth in nutrition so insidious yet so intractable as that which encourages us to believe that consuming lots of high-quality protein — basically the stuff of animal-based foods — makes for fitness, bigness, and strength of body. Rooted in antiquity, this myth began to sprout in the minds of men (especially men, it seems) long before protein was identified and named.”

The myth took root in the belief that we could get our strength, our agility, and our ability to soar to unimaginable heights only if we consumed the flesh and bodies of animals.

Much later, in the early 19th century, when scientists identified protein as being more or less equivalent to the flesh of animals they worshiped, it was heralded as the treasured nutrient. In the words of famous chemist Justus von Liebig, it was none other than the very “stuff of life itself.”

A remarkable shift in perception is occurring.

Choosing a vegetarian diet is now equated with having respect for one’s own health and the health of the planet. Those who can afford to buy the best organically grown produce are building a wide range of new vegetarian meals and taking a fresh look at classic meatless dishes from around the world.

Innovative vegetarian dishes are appearing with increasing frequency on restaurant menus. Offered as a summer garden of colorful vegetables and fresh pasta in a bowl drizzled with fruity olive oil, a generous spoonful of Parmesan, and a handshake of freshly ground black pepper, which of us would feel deprived?

In Western industrialized countries, there are more vegetarians than ever before — yet in a parallel shift there are more hamburgers eaten than ever before. It’s also interesting to note that Eskimos, who eat a traditional diet consisting almost entirely of meat, have a very similar life expectancy to that of Indian Hindus who are strict vegetarians.

Go figure.

Jobs for Vegetarians

  • Become A Produce Buyer for Restaurants: Buy a truck. Pick up the produce from a group of farmers and sell it to restaurants and retail markets.
  • Start a Store: Sell vegetarian specialties.
  • Write About It: Find a sponsor to finance a free newsletter to be given away at farmer’s markets, specialty food stores and grocery shops. Include seasonal recipes. Look to Vegetarian Times and terrific Mollie Kazen for inspiration.
  • Teach It: Launch a vegetarian cooking class, even bigger, launch a vegetarian cooking school.
  • Be Passionate About It: Look to VegNews.com as a start in your search.

Decision Making: The Magic Number Is Six

According to the Bible, God created the world in six days. Six is considered a lucky number in China. Get Your Kicks on Route 66.

Ben and Jerry said the ’90’s were the ’60s standing on their head. Seriously?! Six is a really important number. We should get to know more about six because it is a “decider” digit.

Every day we have to make decisions. Should I wear this or that? Go out? Stay in? Go to this restaurant or that one? Do I want the steak [cooked] rare or medium rare? Pepper? Blue cheese or vinaigrette? Smooth or chunky?  Small, medium or large? With or without? Regular or decaf? Law school, medical school or culinary school?

In order to survive, we have to narrow our choices. Otherwise, we’ll go crazy. If we decide to write a cookbook based on the Chicken Dishes of the World, we will drown. It would be far easier to compile the Chicken Dishes of Chicago.

Sheena S. Iyengar, the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, is among the world’s experts on the subject of decision making. She delves into the relationship between how we choose and who we are.

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyenga

I mention the distinguished professor because her most famous (at least to me) study, concerned the number ‘six’. The version I discovered concerns heuristics.

It was on Google that I tested a strawberry jam theory that goes like this. A customer wants a pot of strawberry jam so she “Googles” it.  Up pops about 5,260,000 strawberry jam references in less than 60 seconds: where to buy it, how to make it, etc.–all based on Google’s unique heuristics.

Delving deeper:

  • One site offers 12 different kinds of strawberry jam. The customer is immediately exhausted. Twelve choices is six too many so she clicks to another site.
  • Here only three kinds of strawberry jam are offered. Hmm. The customer decides this company is way too small. (If I give them my credit card number, they’ll probably steal my identity — and I’ll never receive the jam.)
  • Click. And Eureka! Here are six kinds of strawberry jam. I think I’ll place my order this company. I submit my order. Done, and done.

This seemingly totally irrelevant stuff is actually valuable information.

If a fast food restaurant offers more than six choices, the line slows and everyone quickly gets grumpy. If a bakery offers six kinds of cup cakes, the buyer will buy at least one, maybe all six. Offer six bagels, and we’ll buy ‘em all even if we had planned to buy only one.

Many chefs figured out that it is shrewd to offer six choices on the menu, particularly on holiday menus. For Easter, there must be: lamb, ham, a fish, a vegetarian dish and two other selections. Keeping the number of choices to six means there is briefer interrogation of the server and  the tables keep turning, and the reservations are honored on time.

(Except, on Thanksgiving, the menu should be turkey, turkey, turkey, more turkey, no turkey and only one other choice.)

Prix-fixe menus with six choices work well particularly when guests are less interested in intricate preparations and more concerned about how much time they have before returning to work or getting to the theater on time.

Linda Duke, the CEO of Duke Marketing, says promotional sentences should be only six words long (or actually, short). Any more, and readers lose interest. She urges restaurateurs to try describing their restaurant this way:

“Ask yourself what makes your restaurant different? Define what you do best? Now try expressing your entire philosophy with six words. Great food. Great service. Finger-licking good — (though not too great if you have sanitized hands).”

Will you ‘deep six‘ this commentary, ‘take the road less traveled’ or when it ‘comes to a fork in the road, take it’?

You decide.

Owning A Food Truck – An Open Road Adventure?

Food Truck

Ms. Patty Melt Food Truck

The term “truck stop” has an entirely new meaning these days.

Rice pudding, exotic ice cream, cupcakes, flavored popcorn, French Fries, Korean tacos or hot soup and artisainal bread are just a few among the literally dozens of street foods offered and flourishing.

A proprietor of a small operation in a busy location can literally make a fortune providing healthy, hearty, homemade sandwiches for the lunch crowd.

 

Not So Hidden Costs

“Food trucks typically earn a profit equivalent to about 40% of sales,”reported The Globe and Mail. And this is after obtaining licenses and permits that are far from cheap. A new mobile catering permit from the San Francisco Police Department is $9,300.

A used hot dog style cart costs about $2,000, while refurbished trucks for driving and vending can run considerably more than $40,000, with some costing as much as an astronomical $100,000.

Occasionally an investor/partner may be willing to foot the bill for a start-up food truck, but the hope of getting a bank loan may spring pretty much eternal.

Food truck insurance is an additional not so hidden expense not only to protect against the fear of food borne illness, but also in recognition that the truck may be carrying one, or several propane tanks. The chef may be cooking over an open flame or using a hotter’n’hell pizza oven.

And, bad weather is a variable that is impossible to factor into a profit projection.

Sales are likely to plummet on national holidays except for the few, who may prefer to get a turkey taco from a truck rather than committing to a family gathering on Thanksgiving Day.

Permits

The permit permits the purchaser to park in a public place for up to five locations. Each parking spot must be at least two blocks or 300 feet away from a similar food vendor, either a brick-and-mortar business, or another mobile catering vehicle.

If a truck is parked too close to a regular brick and mortar restaurant, it can, and often does, raise an objection citing unfair business practice.

Parking on private property is strictly forbidden and laws are vigorously enforced.

Permits are non-transferable, and the waiting time to get one can extend not for months but years if the city council restricts the number of mobile vendors already allowed to operate.

Some municipalities allow the food to be prepared in a different (but licensed) facility, while others demand all the food preparation be done in the truck itself and properly refrigerated. (It can’t be sloshing about in a Styrofoam cooler.)

Safety First

In many cities, food truck vendors face Health Inspectors who vigorously enforce high sanitation standards.

Spreading the Word

Social media and food truck apps continues to play a large role in food truck success. For instance, more than 50% of Gorilla Cheese’s customers track its location through social media. They tag street locations like tagging friends on Facebook.

In the end, despite all the possible road blocks, owning a food truck could set some feet on the road to happiness.

 

 

 

Keeping the Little Grey Cells Active

I went to Amazon before writing to you today. There, I discovered that there are 45,770 books available on the topic of networking. I explored the subject of networking because I went to a Sustainability Conference at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) yesterday – an event I almost didn’t attend. All too often, I think to myself that “NO, I won’t go. I’m too busy.” Or, “I can’t afford to go to an out-of-town meeting.” Yet when I do go, I am bowled over as I was yesterday. Not only was I dazzled by all the exciting and often challenging new information I gained, but also by the realization that much of the knowledge I gained only emerges during talks given by experts with an extraordinary range of data. Yesterday, for instance, I learned that there are regulations preventing wineries in California from reusing water sources for irrigation — even though these same water sources have been purified using the same processes as water for drinking.  Surely, this fact has nothing to do with that miracle about turning water into wine?

Distance from Napa, CA  to Bismark, ND

Distance from Napa, CA to Bismark, ND

I was shocked to hear from my brilliant friend and colleague, noted Wine Professor Steven Kolpan, (see his blog!), that a profound consequence of global warning “may shift the American center of wine from Mendocino or Napa, California to North Dakota (possibly over 1,500 miles!) in order to maintain the desired balance of acidity in the grapes.” Further, that “Warming temperatures will encourage infestations of pests as is already occurring in Germany. And nobody knows what to do about it.” (Will sustainable farmers be forced to spray or have to rethink the idea of releasing millions of ladybugs to gobble the newly emerging noxious pests?) By the end of this gathering, my little grey cells were electrified with new ideas and my emotions were further stimulated by meeting old friends and making new ones. I mention these things to remind myself that there is simply nothing to compare with maintaining what I once heard was described as a ‘mind alive’. I’m already on the look out for the next food conference. I hope to meet you there wherever it will be.