April 11th, 2018

Fast Food Quality Is Way Better Than You Think

Posted in Product Innovation, R&D Technology

Recently, a friend of Culinary Culture, Chef Jerome Rejano, was featured in an excellent write up by FoodBeast.com. Read below to learn why the quality of some fast food may be higher than you think it is.

If you would like to see the original article, please click here, and remember to follow our friends at FoodBeast.com for industry news and quality content.

(All content and images hereon courtesy of FoodBeast.com and Constantine Spyrou)

Fast Food Quality Is Way Better Than You Think, This Chef Helps Ensure That

Constantine Spyrou
Feb 20, 2018

What’s your take on fast food quality? Thanks to chefs in the food industry, it may be a lot better than what you think.

fast food quality

Food industry chefs like Jerome Rejano of CTI Foods work to create high-quality foods for the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry. CTI Foods, for example, supplies brands at the national, regional, and local level with soups, sauces, and proteins. These include shredded chicken, taco meat, hamburger patties, steak strips, and chili. “If a fast food restaurant has one of those items, more than likely CTI is manufacturing that,” Rejano, CTI’s director of culinary and innovation, told Foodbeast.

But while most consumers today see fast food as low quality, Rejano and CTI Foods actually work to bring out the best in every single one of their products. Rejano utilizes his fine dining background and food science knowledge to ensure that CTI’s lineup is delicious, safe, and made with quality ingredients.

That job starts with the grades of meat CTI uses for their proteins. When it comes to fast food meats, “there’s always a connotation that it’s dog food, it’s dog meat, it’s what’s gonna go into pet food or canner or something like that,” said Rejano.

However, while each client will allow and disallow specific grades of meat, several specify USDA Select or better. For those unfamiliar with the USDA grading system, Select is the third-highest in terms of quality, behind Choice and Prime. Most of the beef and pork you can find in grocery stores is Select, meaning the meat you buy there is the same CTI uses to make fast food items.

There’s also a lot of quality assurance and food safety procedure that goes into every batch of product sent out to quick-service-restaurants by CTI. Rejano detailed exactly what some of those are:

“Raw material can’t exceed a certain age, if it’s in a package, it can’t exceed X amount of days, and then we have so many days to use it once it’s opened. In manufacturing we have certain temperatures to hit to ensure that everything is fully cooked. And even after things are made, we send them out for microbiological testing to make sure there’s no spoilage, there’s no pathogens in there like E. coli, Salmonella, some of those bugs that you hear about in food. As the manufacturer, we’re really responsible for putting out safe food first, and it’s a benefit on my end if it tastes good.”

Even with all of that testing, chains and clients will still come in for regular audits of CTI’s facilities to ensure everything is up to their specifications. During these visits, Rejano will flex his “culinary muscle” and serve fine dining-type dishes to show that the raw materials CTI works with are of a quality the customer is looking for.

Companies like CTI ensure that what you’re eating at your go-to fast food spots uses the same quality ingredients you can cook with at home. If that’s the case, though, why aren’t these restaurant chains advertising that they’re not selling “dog food” quality product?

A big reason is that if they did, people that saw fast food as higher quality would also see it as more pricey. Many major QSR chains look to capitalize on their value menus to drive traffic. The perception that they had higher-quality meat would harm their “we’re cheap” brand images. The fact that these QSRs are able to marry the two together is a remarkable feat, and something they should get a little more credit for.

Rejano feels that for those skeptical about fast food, they should “give the brand a chance.”

“Depending on what fast food chain you go to, even if you have a restricted diet, or have some likes or dislikes or eat a little bit cleaner, there’s still options out there. These fast food chains are really gearing for a pretty wide net. So if someone’s not a really high fast food user, you still have choices — it’s just a matter of seeking those out. And again, the ingredients are pretty high quality.”

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March 26th, 2018

Plant-Based Protein Gaining Traction

Posted in Consumer Trends, Educational

Demand for Plant-Based Protein Increases in 2018

How do we reconcile the traditionally American animal-protein heavy diet with science backing the importance of vegetable consumption? A new generation of plant-based proteins aims to answer that question.

Plant-based protein

The average eater in the U.S. has an imprinted image of a plate, broken into 4 wedges, each of which representing a category: fruits, vegetables, grains/starches, and protein. This plate represents the general amount of each of these foods they should be consuming, with the largest wedge belonging to vegetables.

Choose My Plate

If we were using this plate to represent how the average American really eats, the protein wedge would look much more like the vegetable wedge. On average, Americans eat twice the amount of protein they require daily (1), normally in the form of animal-based protein.

But as a country, our science is getting better, our information moves further, faster, and our people are becoming wiser. We know now that it’s detrimental to our health to consume more vegetables and reduce our intake of animal proteins, and we’re adjusting our diets to reflect that.

Plant-based protein

40% more Americans are attempting to incorporate plant-based foods in their diet, and 23% are looking specifically for plant-based proteins to assist (2). In light of this, some crafty culinarians have set out to recreate the taste, texture, aroma, Maillard reaction, and even the “bleeding” effect common to animal meats using plant-based proteins. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are creating a cult of popularity that’s beginning to appear in national restaurant chains.

 

Impossible Burgers have made their way into burger titans such as Hopdoddy, Fatburger, and Umami Burger. Beyond Meat has found equal success in national markets such as Target, AmazonFresh, and Kroger, as well as restaurants like BurgerFi and TGI Fridays. Beyond Meat has also developed a line of “chicken” products, bratwurst, and sausages.

Vegetable Burgers

Another plant-based protein carrier that continues to grow in popularity is the ever present, and universally enjoyed falafel. This crispy little concoction of chickpeas and spices offers a center-of-the-plate star that can be fried, baked, dipped, deconstructed, and dressed-up to your heart’s content. It’s not only the flexibility of falafel that makes it so popular, but also, it’s unique, savory taste and crispy texture. Expect to see it landing in more unexpected locations soon.

Drop us a line and let us know what other unique plant-based proteins you’ve come across.

Until next time!

1. Egan, Sophie. “How Much Protein Do We Need?” The New York Times: Well. 28, July, 2017. Accessed 20, March, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/28/well/eat/how-much-protein-do-we-need.html.
2. “Plant-Based Proteins Are Gaining Dollar Share Among north Americans.” The Nielsen Company: FMCG and Retail. 22, Sep., 2017. Accessed 20, March, 2018. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2017/plant-based-proteins-are-gaining-dollar-share-among-north-americans.html
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March 12th, 2018

Expo West 2018 Trends

Posted in Consumer Trends, Culinary Conferences, Food Trends

What’s Trending at Expo West 2018?

Simple answer, lots!

Expo West Lolgo

The Natural Products showcase that is Expo West featured a bevy of fun, interesting, but most importantly, responsible foods and products that will continue to shape the landscape of the industry.

Unique new items included Alove, a yogurt made with aloe vera, oat and vegetable milks, Sushi Quinoa, Pervida’s pomegranate seed seed oil infused sparkling waters, and my personal favorite, chia fruit spread.

World of Chia, based out of The Woodlands, TX, has developed a line of fruit spreads using chia seeds instead of pectin. Not only are these spreads unique and delicious, but they embody the clean-label movement perfectly with only 4 key ingredients: fruit, agave nectar, chia seeds, and lemon juice.

Now let’s take a look at the trends with traction:

Pastas from Produce

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Alternative pastas, wow! Really groundbreaking.” Fair. But what’s special about these pastas is not just that they’re made from things like chickpeas, plantains, lentils, and brown rice, it’s that they actually taste good. Really good! And that is something to be excited about.

Artisan Jerky

We’re continuing to push towards high protein, low carb. and calorie snacks, and the folks running the dried meats show have noticed. The big companies like Jack Links and Oberto are being challenge by small batch artisan companies such as Epic and Three Jerks, with products like Maple Bourbon Churro Filet Mignon, Sesame BBQ Chicken, and Smoked Maple Salmon. I bet I have your attention now…

Tiger Nuts

Don’t laugh. This isn’t a Rocky Mountain Oysters kind of thing. Tiger nuts are actually a tuber that grows under the soil’s surface, much like carrots. They are highly nutritious, versatile, and do not contain the same allergens as nuts making them a great alternative. It seems some folks are starting to take notice. Organic Gemini Brand has developed a line of tiger nut products including flour, granola, smoothie mixes, and because apparently they love me, tiger nut horchata beverages. Additionally, Cabo Chips is about to launch a tortilla made with tiger nuts and cassava.

This is only a small snapshot of what I found. There was also a lot of traffic around small farm honey, pickled and fermented vegetables (are we going to see a return of sauerkraut?!), and healthy savory snacks like puffed edamame and high fiber savory veggie crisps.

We’d love to hear what you took notice of at Expo West. Let us know some of your favorites in the comments section.

Cheers!

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February 26th, 2018

Mediterranean Fast-Casual on the Rise

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants

Mediterranean Cuisine Shows Continued Growth in the Fast-Casual Market

food-salad-healthy-vegetables

Fast-casual restaurants continue to gain steam as their popularity with multiple demographics holds strong. By focusing on quality ingredients within a limited, often chef-driven menu, combined with a lower overhead cost of standard brick-and-mortar establishments, fast-casual creates an opportunity to sell delicious, high quality food at reasonable prices.

Within this market, we are seeing Mediterranean cuisine thrive. With fresh ingredients, hearty options for both vegetarians and carnivores, and a continued nationwide interest in the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, the food of places like Greece, Israel, and Turkey are grasping the palates of customers nationwide and not letting go.

Restaurants like Gyroville, who have recently expanded to Ecuador, Taim, which extends from the Chipotle leadership and is set to open its 5th location, and Sajj Mediterranean opening its 8th location, exemplify the new wave of menu focused fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants. Combine these with the already existing trailblazers such as Garbanzo, Zoe’s Kitchen, and Noon Mediterranean (formerly Verts), which focus more heavily on customization, and you can see a strong pattern of flavor-first concepts taking a strong hold in an already crowded marketplace.

pexels-photo-407293

Drivers of these establishments include on-trend flavors like harissa, preserved lemon, and za’ataar. The common link between these items is their unique depth of flavor stemming from ingredients or procedures uncommon to the average American diner. This dissociation will not last long though, especially at the current rate of growth in the Mediterranean food market.

There’s still plenty to taste and explore in this cuisine, and hopefully it’s continued popularity will drive some of the even more ambiguous items, such as Cholent and Magiritsa, into the spotlight.

Until then, we’ll keep our eyes open and tasting spoons ready.

Cheers!

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February 12th, 2018

Yum! Invests $200 Million into GrubHub

Posted in news, Retail

Yum! + GrubHub

What Does the $200 Million Investment Mean?

GrubHub

As more and more consumers turn to delivery for their goods (think Amazon, Whole FoodsExpress Scripts), more corporations are taking notice and finding ways to creatively bring their products to consumers. Yum! Brands, parent company of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, is leading by example by investing a cool $200 million into food delivery service GrubHub.

With representation in over 1,300 U.S. cities and London, GrubHub connects diners to more than 75,000 restaurants. Yum! Brands’ investment shows a belief in the power of GrubHub’s service while taking a long term view on franchisee support by helping to ensure that delivery options will be more readily available to the restaurants’ customers.

Yum! Brands

Consider that between Taco Bell and KFC, there are more than 10,100 locations in the U.S. While GrubHub does not currently have representation in all of the current areas these restaurants reside, it’s obvious that Yum! brands wants to ensure they have every opportunity to make their way into these markets.

The hope is that this partnership will not only lead to incremental sales increases and larger per check orders, but also help to raise awareness for online delivery services and attract more franchisees who can see the benefit of having an additional sales channel. By giving franchisees more opportunities to succeed through creative, forward-thinking channels, Yum! puts itself in a very attractive light for future growth.

For further information, see the Nation’s Restaurant News article by Ron Ruggless.

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January 29th, 2018

Food Trends: Comfort Foods

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Trends

2018 Sees the Trend Towards Comfort Foods

2018 Food Trends

2017 was the year of ethnic food trends. Gochujang, poke, curry, and sriracha everything, just to name a few. While 2018 will see a continued energizing of global foods, it will also see us hearkening back to our roots with regional comfort foods.

Now, don’t get caught in a box and think I’m going to start talking about macaroni and cheese, even though it’s a staple and it will never go anywhere. I’m looking at food traditions like meatloaf, hush puppies, regional BBQ flavors, and stews.

Comfort Foods Trend

But comfort foods aren’t limited to simply the regions of the US. Our country is a patchwork of global representation. 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants from all over the world are influencing and cooking the foods we eat. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see a rise in items like goulash, halo-halo, and artisan falafel.

We know that ramen, a Chinese/Japanese comfort food, has been intensely popular over the last few years, but are you familiar with jjigae, it’s Korean counterpart? You probably should be as it’s a unique blend of the sour, spicy, and umami flavors pack a major punch and simply make the world right when it’s cold outside.

Food Trends 2018

Also, 2018 could prove to be the year we finally see an uptick in flavors from arctic countries. Heavily smoked and salted fish, fermented root vegetables, and house-milled heirloom grain breads are examples of comfort foods you should keep on your watch list.

I’m excited to see what 2018 is going to bring and can’t wait to see how restaurants and food producers will adapt to the new trends. Drop a comment and let us know what trends you’re running into out there.

Here’s to eating our way through a new year!

Cheers!

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January 15th, 2018

Clean Label Movement

Posted in Consumer Trends, Educational, Retail

More Companies Moving Towards Clean Label in 2018

Clean Label

Consumers are continuing the march for clean label products moving into 2018. According to PMMI’s 2017 Trends in Food Processing Operations Market Research Report, 37% of consumers find it important to understand the nutrition facts label, while 91% of consumers believe that foods with recognizable ingredients are healthier.

Clean and transparent practices in food production include easy to understand food labels, responsible agricultural practices, and the use of natural ingredients. Clean labels have become so important to customers, we’ve seen the call make it all the way to the steps of the White House. With the upcoming implementation of a new nutrition facts label, the nutrients of food  products will be displayed in a manner that makes cleaner options much more visually attractive to a consumer.

Clean Label Opportunities

Clean Label Restaurants

This generates a huge opportunity for food producers to get ahead of the legislation and move toward clean labels voluntarily. QSR and fast food restaurants, such as Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Taco Bell, have been early adopters of such practices. Just this week Dunkin’ Brands and Baskin-Robbins announced they will be removing all artificial colors from their products.

Campbell’s is making a big push with their new line of Well Yes! soups featuring wholesome grains and vegetables. Additionally, Rich Products Corp., Pamela’s Products, and General Mills have begun distribution of more decadent clean label products like cheesecakes, cookies, and layered nut bars.

What’s Next?

Clean Label Food

This is only a snapshot of the current clean label movement. It will be interesting to watch the trend spread into other, less glamorous markets such as full service gas stations and entertainment vendors (like BaseBowls’ Poke Bowl in Dodgers Stadium).

Jump in the conversation and let us know what you see coming in the clean label movement and we push ahead into 2018.

Happy New Year!

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January 1st, 2018

Sambal, Your New Favorite Hot Sauce

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants, Trends

Look Out, Here Comes Sambal…

The unique funky-chile-citrus flavor of sambal is starting to garner some serious attention, and for those of us who have been graced with the opportunity to try a sambal glazed chicken wing, we know why.

Sambal

Hailing from Southeast Asian islands like Malaysia and Indonesia, sambal is a spicy blend of chili peppers, acids such as lime juice and/or vinegar, and funky umami flavors of shrimp paste or fish sauce. It gives the sauce a round, zesty flavor that is as intense as it is refreshing.

Perhaps this is why restaurants nationwide are beginning to adopt it on their menus for an adventurous update to familiar dishes. As Flavor & The Menu have pointed out in their recent article Field Notes: Everybody Sambal, “Sambal is a sexy hot sauce. The name alone seduces with the promise of faraway adventure.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sambal Chili

In Austin, TX, DFG Food Truck serves an incredible dish called the scholar, which consists of marinated vermicelli noodles tossed with spicy ham, pork belly, and vegetables, topped with fried egg and a generous scoop of sambal sauce to bring it home.

Hip nightlife chain Bar Louie features the chile sauce in their spicy Voodoo Pasta, complete with andouille sausage and sautéed onions and peppers. I’d buy that for a dollar!

Denver’s Linger, a mortuary turned restaurant (cleverly dubbed an “eatuary”) jumps on the train with a fried chicken bun topped with kimchi, Togarashi Ranch, and honey sambal sauce.

Sambal Sauce

It’s safe to say this is only the beginning for sambal as hot sauce sales are expected to hit a record $1.37 billion in 2017 according to the market research firm IBISWorld. This trend doesn’t look to be slowing down with forecasts of $1.65 billion within the next five years (1).

In what places or ways have you seen this chili sauce used? We’d love to hear about it in our comments section below.

Happy eating!

1. Zlati Meyer. USA Today. “Hot sauce industry sets tongues — and sales — ablaze.” July 30, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/07/30/hot-sauce-industry-fire-supermarkets-mcdonalds/519660001/

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December 18th, 2017

Food Truck Series: Regal Ravioli

Posted in Food Trucks, Italian, Organic, Pizza, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods

Regal Ravioli Food Truck Review

Regal Ravioli Austin

I grew up in a middle class family with two working parents. This meant lots of solo time to be adventurous and get into some (good natured) trouble, and it meant more than one microwaved dinner fresh from a can.

My personal favorites at the age of 8 were Hormel Chili with Beans and Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli, each of which I usually finished with a bit of Cheddar cheese (don’t judge me, I was 8). The culinarians reading along are probably shuddering internally, but the truth is at the time, I loved those foods, and they were something my parents could have on hand to ensure I ate dinner.

Now, here I am 25 years later, sitting at Austin’s very own Regal Ravioli, having weird Chef Boyardee flashbacks. Now, don’t misunderstand me here, these are no canned, preformed pasta squares. This is gourmet, handmade shells stuffed with things like beef brisket and winter squash. This is ravioli elevated! But it feels comfortable and reassuring.

Run by Chef/Owner Zach Adams, who hails from Washington D.C., Regal Ravioli proves to be a truly special food truck on the Austin landscape. What makes it special? You mean aside from the fresh pasta made by hand daily, the locally sourced organic ingredients, the unique ravioli twists like roasted beet, or the prevalence of hearty vegetarian options on the menu like mushroom ravioli or sweet potato gnocchi? How about the fact that Regal has been running strong since 2011 and still holds a monopoly on ravioli trucks in Austin.

Their business is so consistent, as it turns out, they’re in the process of working on a pizza truck to fill the vacant space near them in their park. You can rest assured I’ll be stopping by to try that out. But let’s talk about what really matters, the food.

Sausage Ravioli w/ Tomato Marinara and Veloute Sauce

Sausage Ravioli

An instant classic. Pasta on the ravioli is a perfect al dente, nice fennel-y sausage on the inside with touch of pepper, and a bright, fresh tomato sauce made with fresh, aromatic basil.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Bolognese Sauce

Gnocchi Austin

Good flavor on the gnocchi, however they went past cooked and into mushy, which is a shame. However, the Bolognese sauce is a real treat. Fresh and bright yet still meaty and savory, simply delicious.

Mushroom Ravioli w/ Pecan Pesto

Mushroom Ravioli

This was a real showstopper. So much flavor in such a little pillow. Fantastic mushroom and herb filling with a hint of truffle to really get the nose going. The pecan pesto is creamy and nutty while maintaining a cheesy quality that’s divine. I need more thumbs to put up for this dish.

Roasted Beet Ravioli w/ Caramelized Red Onion and Orange Zest

Italian Restaurants Austin

Let me lead with the fact that I don’t like beets, however, I love culinary risk takers. This dish was definitely a risk taker. While I thought the dish could have benefited from additional sweet/tangy flavors (i.e. Balsamic vinegar), the execution was perfect. Everything was cooked well, fit the profile, and was absolutely unique.

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli w/ Caramelized Onion, Poblano Pepper, and Gouda Veloute

Italian Food Trucks Austin

There’s something decidedly wonderful about the combination of winter squash and smoky peppers. And, apparently, if you take those two items and stuff them in pasta and smother it with Gouda cheese sauce it goes from wonderful to amazing. Great combination, unique twist, all around outstanding.

Handmade Meatball

Italian Food Austin

I’ve long felt a good ruler for quality when it comes to classic Sicilian Italian fare is the meatball. If I use that rule then Regal is doing great. Flavorful meatball, not too dense, not too salty, nice herbs and garlic, and definitely more meat than binder. Cuts with a fork but doesn’t crumble. Nailed it!

Broccolini

Quick Italian Austin

Hey, after all that pasta I needed some fiber, and Regal’s broccolini is a complete win. Charred just enough to compliment the bitter notes, cooked nicely with a bit of crunch left, and served with roasted garlic and a wedge of lemon. I could’ve eaten 3 orders of this easy.

So there you have it friends. Another Austin food truck, another delicious meal. Thanks Regal Ravioli for being the standard bearer of what delicious, home-style Italian cooking should be. I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do with a pizza (don’t sleep on the broccolini).

Until next time,

Cheers!

Regal Ravioli
1502 S 1st St.
Austin, TX 78704
https://www.regalravioli.com/

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December 4th, 2017

Green Tomato Dashi Recipe

Posted in Educational, Food Trends, Japanese

Green Tomato Dashi Recipe

Dashi Recipe

One thing we love to do here at Paradise is eat, and eat well. Therefore, we want you to eat well too! And to help you along, when we find a great recipe we just can’t help but share.

Today’s recipe is for green tomato dashi, and oh is it a winner!

Dashi is a traditional Japanese cooking stock or soup made most commonly with kombu (edible kelp) and dried fish (i.e. bonito flakes or katsuobushi). It makes for a very flavorful, exotic broth great for soups, poaching seafood, or steaming clams. See what other great uses you can come up with for this savory, umami packed broth.

Green Tomato Dashi: 32oz

  • Water – 18qt
  • Kombu Sheets – 8ea
  • White Soy Sauce – 1/2 C
  • Salt – As Needed
  • Bonito Flakes – 4 C
  • Green Tomato – 1 ea
  • Vegetable Oil – As Needed
  • Black Pepper, ground – As Needed

Directions

  1. Combine water, kombu, white soy sauce, and salt in a large stock pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.
  2. Remove stock from heat and add bonito flakes, rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Strain stock through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.
  4. Toss tomato in oil, salt, and pepper and smoke for 2hrs at 225*F. It should be very soft and wilted.
  5. While still hot, blend 3 parts dashi to one part tomato until smooth. Thin out with more dashi if necessary.
  6. Strain once more through fine mesh if desired.
  7. Enjoy!

Soup Recipes

A special thanks to Plate Magazine for the awesome recipe.

Thanks for reading along and let us know what awesome uses for the green tomato dashi you found.

 

Cheers!

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