March 8th, 2016

How High Speed Home Delivery Will Change How We Eat in 2016

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Marketing, Product Innovation, Promotions, Restaurants, Retail, Trends

If you are craving a burger, but don’t feel like leaving the house, you’re not alone. According to Technomic’s 2016 food trends, the shift to eating in is driving significant growth in the easy order app sector, allowing consumers to order from the comfort of their couch. This trend toward cozy dinners in front of the TV, while watching Netflix in your pajamas, is just beginning to pick up traction. And it’s not limited to fast food either: Safeway and Meijer will deliver your groceries. It’s estimated up to 17 percent of grocery shopping to be done online by the year 2023.

Let’s look at some of the major players in the food delivery sector:

Uber: this rideshare giant has cornered the market in transporting people. They even have some novel offerings, such their ‘puppy delivery service’. Essentially bringing adoptable puppies to you for a play date. This summer they delivered free ice cream if you ordered through the app. A partnership with InterContinental Hotels Group allows riders to earn points towards their stay at participating hotels. And yes, Uber is getting into the food delivery business with Uber Eats, their food delivery platform. Serving 12 cities, including Paris and Toronto, they guarantee a 10 minute delivery within a very limited delivery range. Once you order the food, you just pick it up curbside. How simple is that?

Amazon: they have the drones, they have Amazon Prime, and now they have Amazon Prime Now, which can deliver anything from groceries to cleaning supplies in under 2 hours. That time is cut in half with an order of food arriving within 1 hour. The current delivery area is limited, serving only seven cities as of March 2016. They do have an advantage over the Uber model in that they seem to cover a larger area, you just have to wait a little longer. They even offered free cookies during the holiday season as a promotion.

Postmates: also an up and coming delivery service that features a plethora of items for delivery. Get your groceries and lunch with a delivery fee starting at an affordable $4.99. They also offered for the holidays a “12 days of Christmas” promotion where you could choose from an array of gifts to be delivered each day of the promotion. They have signed agreements with Chipotle, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

Doordash: established in 2013, they are a relative fledgling in the delivery service industry. Regardless, DoorDash has already managed to secure contracts with Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts. They are also in a pending litigation with In-N-Out regarding delivery of their food without permission. The lawsuit calls into question the issues of food safety and trademark infringement. Brand identity and food safety are pretty critical to any chain establishment, so the outcome of this lawsuit could set the tone for the future of delivery service companies.

EatOutIn: This model employs an interface where the order is sent to the restaurant and an independent driver in the local area are notified when a delivery is ready. One of the first entrants into this market, the company has been serving the Austin, TX area since 1986 with recent expansions to San Antonio and Houston.

Grubhub: one of the pioneers of the food delivery industry and the one you are probably most familiar with, Grubhub has the largest delivery base, including over 1000 cities and more than 40,000 restaurants. Their “Track Your Grub” feature gives real time updates on the status of your order. The recently merged with Seamless and formed GrubHub, Inc. in August 2013. Dedicated to bringing the best delivery dining experience, the company offers 24/7 order support to its customers.

 

February 22nd, 2016

Marketing Your Food Brand to the Customers You Love

Posted in About Allison, Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Marketing, Promotions, Restaurants, Trends

We all know that proper marketing of your food brand is just as critical as the food you serve your customers. Effective marketing differentiates your concept from the next, defines your audience, and connects you to them in a positive way.

One of the most powerful ways to bond with your customers is through emotion. Your beliefs and values are what attract customers to your company, so your brand and marketing are critical to maintaining loyalty. How you convey your mission to your customer sets the tone for any future interactions.

Here are some ways that well-known brands are building successful consumer relationships:

ZPizza: their Nice zSLice program is a partnership with 200 nationwide schools to reward kindness. Each October during National Bullying Prevention month, teachers can offer complimentary coupons for slices of pizza to students as a way to reward kind behavior towards others. The initiative also includes pizza parties and materials that educators can use in the classroom.

Chick-Fil-A: just announced in early January, the “Moms” valet service is a new program to help hectic families make the ordering process easier. Parents with little kids can first order through the drive-through, requesting a valet. Once they receive their order in the car, they dine in the restaurant, at an assigned table including the exact number of high chairs that the family needs. The idea came from seeing young families struggle with the ordering process all while trying to wrangle the little ones. Once again, Chick-Fil-A honors its commitment to its family values.

Red Mango: the company created its Raw6 one-day juice cleanse with the help of Erika Bernhard, a registered dietician with Crave Nutrition Solutions LLC. The Raw6 retails for $42.00 and includes 6 specially crafted fruit and vegetable juice combinations. The program, developed with the healthy consumer in mind, provides a juice cleanse that is easy and approachable for the consumer. The products provide a healthy cleanse option without having to compromise on nutrition.

&Pizza: the brand has been offering free “&” tattoos to its employees, more commonly known as the “tribe”, for the past year. It also offers the free tattoo to its loyal customers once they spend $1500.00. They consider their brand, a “human” brand, and the “&” tattoo is clearly aligned with their core value set and celebration of “oneness”.

Pizza Patron: in an effort to their appreciation to veterans, Pizza Patron just launched its “Veterans Por Favor” program. Fully qualified and honorably discharged veterans will get the $20,000 fee on their first restaurant waived by the company. The program, set to run through the end of 2016 and available in Texas, makes a franchise offering a reality for candidates with the qualifications but not the bankroll.

Nekter Juice Bar: in a program clearly targeted to consumers trying to eat healthier, Nekter has designed a program to instill healthy habits in its consumers. Titled “21 Days of Nekter”, it represents the minimum number of days it takes to instill a new habit. As part of the program, they also offer a 6 bottle cleanse, including Activated Charcoal Lemonade and Green Nut Milk, as well as two seasonal soups (“Creamy” Tomato and Butternut Squash).

DQ: in a new twist, DQ is offering their blizzards served to the customer upside down. This is a call out to their values of quality and started January 1st. If your blizzard is not served to you upside down, your next one is free. The new program highlights the company’s philosophy of offering innovative and unexpected flavors and trends.

How do you connect with your consumers? In the end, your ability to interface effectively with your audience is critical to your brand success.

February 8th, 2016

The Next Great Superfood

Posted in About Allison

With increasing consumer interest in health and well-being, manufacturers and operators are always looking for ways to deliver the health message in new and inventive ways. Superfoods, known for their wealth of nutrients and antioxidants, are attractive to consumers because of their nutrient density. You’ve heard of quinoa and kale and everyone raving about green tea and chia. So what does the next crop of superfoods look like?

Achacha: native to the Amazonian basin of Bolivia, its Guarani name is achachairú, which literally means “honey kiss”. A smaller relative of the mangosteen, the achacha is a low sugar fruit. Its flavor is described as combination of bananas with vinegar. Loaded with potassium, vitamin C, and folate, it is said to contain HCA (hydroxycitric acid) in large quantities in its skin. HCA is the same active ingredient in Garcinia Cambogia, which is rumored to be a natural appetite suppressant.

Baobab: a tree native to the continent of Africa, it produces a fruit that is very high in vitamin C  and vitamin D (reputed to contain 6 times the vitamin C of an orange equivalent, and double the calcium of milk – National Geographic blog). It is also a great natural thickening agent, with an extremely high pectin count (upwards of 25% by some reports). Flavor-wise, it tastes like a mild pear. But what manufacturers really love is the low water activity, which make processing a simple straightforward process. Expect to find this in predominantly powdered form as an additive to drinks such as smoothies. Baobab Foods in Washington State, produces Baobites™, loaded with the antioxidants, it is the perfect on-the-go bite. Flavors include peach mango, blood orange and pomegranate.

Moringa: also an African native, moringa is loaded with antioxidants and minerals. It is a powerhouse of protein (double that of yogurt), potassium (three times that of bananas), and calcium (quadruple that of calcium). In Africa, it is referred to as the miracle tree. Farms are already popping up all over the Southwestern U.S., which has a similar climate to their native habitat. It is typically taken in tea form, but is also a common ingredient in skin care products.  One new entrant to the retail market is from Kuli Kuli: Moringa Green Energy Shots. Loaded with moringa, in flavors such as ginger lemon, coconut lime, and raspberry, the moringa in these products is directly source from Haiti, specifically women’s co-ops. Good for you, and good for sustainable farming, it’s a win for everyone.

Chlorella: algae is arguably one of the most abundant plant forms in the world, and is a veritable nutritional goldmine. Not only that, but algae has a low cost of production versus other plants. One of the main algal-derived products is algal oil. Solazyme is one company banking on the success of algal food products. One of their products, AlgaVia, contains 63% protein.  Many food manufacturers are already using their products, including Enjoy Life Brownie Mix, Rising Hearts Vegan Brioche, and Califa Farms Coffee Creamer.

Chocho: an Andean lupine bean that is dense and rich in protein. While it does fit the criteria for a superfood, based on its nutritional profile (it has higher protein than either soy or quinoa), manufacturers may be deterred due to its long processing time: it’s high in alkaloids, so requires soaking, rinsing, and extended cooking times. This could hamper its viability in the market place, so don’t expect this one on your supermarket shelves anytime soon.

Cloudberry: naturally occurring above the 44N Latitude marker, cloudberry have a wide distribution, all the way from Scotland to the Arctic Circle. They are similar to raspberries in their appearance and possess a tart flavor. Cloudberries have a long shelf life if stored under refrigeration, due to their high vitamin C content, and at one time were a remedy to prevent scurvy in the Nordic areas. While the majority of production is through wild foraging, commercial production is on the rise.

Stay on the lookout for these superfoods in a supermarket or café near you, it is just a matter of time before you too can enjoy a baobab smoothie.

 

January 20th, 2016

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Dai Due

Posted in About Allison, Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Restaurants, Trends

DaiDue (800x600)

 

Another Austin restaurant found its way onto the Bon Appetit best new restaurants for 2015. Dai Due, the labor of love for chef Jesse Griffiths, is equal parts farm-to-table and upscale butchery with an innovative cocktail program thrown in for good measure. Placing at number 6 on the list, the restaurant started out as a farmer’s market stall, a small format culinary school offering classes in butchery and an underground supper club.

With its brick and mortar opening last August, Dai Due has continued to gain momentum and buzz with its interesting and forward-thinking dishes. Equal parts diner and supper club, the restaurant opens for breakfast and lunch, closing at 3pm for the supper club reset. We decided to sample some of the breakfast and lunch menu items for our foray into the Dai Due universe.

 

Mezze

 

Since they are known for their seasonal focus we started with the Centex Mezze.  Featuring ‘house made feta, house-cured olives, sweet potato hummus, sprouted wheat and dried tomato tabouli, venison and kale dolmas, radish top pkhali, and house grilled flatbread’, this plate was a symphony of flavors. The sweet potato hummus was flavored with garlic and just a touch of tahini and cumin, then drizzled with olive oil. The house cured olives had a subtle briny garlic taste, and the flatbread was slightly smoky from the wood burning oven. Among the more surprising tastes were the sprouted wheat berry tabouli and the radish top pkhali. Pkhali is a Georgian dish composed of greens, nuts, spices such as fenugreek, and garlic olive oil that is pureed into a dip. It was one of my favorite flavors on the board.

 

OysterPambazo

 

Our next side trip came packaged in a house made chile drenched sesame bun. Covered with masa coated oysters, julienned watermelon radish, cilantro and chorizo Mexicano, this pambazo was a flavorful and well executed sandwich that was served with pickled jalapenos for those that like their sandwiches with a little more heat.

Hash

 

Known for their house charcuterie and smoked meats, we couldn’t leave without sampling some of their specialty meats. We decided on the hash because of the variety of meats as well as some more interesting vegetable additions, namely scarlet turnips and beet ketchup. While I loved the various house cured meats, I have to say that the local sweet potatoes were the star. Sweet and clean with just a hint of smoke, they were the epitome of the Dai Due philosophy: buy it fresh, buy it local and know your farmer.

SweetSquashEmpanada

 

What better way to finish a delicious meal than a spot of dessert? My dining partner has a terrible weakness for all things squash, so the sweet buttercup squash empanada with natilla was the obvious choice. I have to say that this dessert was something I might eat every day. They have mastered the crust, which was perfectly flaky and crisp. The filling was a delicately sweet squash with just a hint of warming spices. We ate this with our fingers, unabashedly dipping into the natilla custard. And someone at the table (not me) finished off the natilla with one generous swig.

 

FrontFacePatio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would say that our visit to Dai Due was a resounding success and the first of many visits to come.

December 28th, 2015

The Latest LTOs: What’s To Eat Over Christmas Break

Posted in About Allison

The holiday season always brings with it a special set of flavors and foods that we all look forward to eating. Think pumpkin, cranberry, turkey, gingerbread and peppermint. Here are the latest to grace the holiday table:

Torchy’s Tacos: Austin’s own Torchy’s Tacos has a Taco-of-The-Month program and the December feature is the South Pole which is available between December 1 and 31.    Available at all 34 locations, the special features braised leg of lamb topped with a slightly sweet cranberry-habanero jam, fresh avocado, Diablo Hot Sauce, cotija cheese, cilantro, and French-fried onions. I actually tried this taco and the lamb was very well seasoned and tender. I would definitely recommend it if you are in Texas around Christmas time.

Bruster’s Ice Cream:  Bruster’s is celebrating the holiday with two seasonal flavors, Chocolate Peppermint and Eggnog. The Chocolate Peppermint features a velvety chocolate ice cream with red and green peppermint candy pieces swirled in. The Eggnog version features custardy vanilla notes.  Enjoy them plain, in a cone, or with your favorite sundae toppings.

Dog Haus: This southern California eatery touts itself as a craft hot dog concept. Featuring 100% beef skinless wieners. Their seasonal LTO centers on that Louisiana legend the Turducken. A sausage made with turkey, duck, chicken, cranberries, and sweet potatoes is topped with sage gravy, crispy onions and a Brussels sprout-bacon slaw. According to Adam Gertler, the company’s official würschmacher (that’s sausage maker to you and me), the sausage was also inspired by holiday sides including stuffing and the ubiquitous green bean casserole.

Einstein Bros. Bagels:  Gingerbread is one of my favorite seasonal flavors and Einstein Bros. loves it too. Just in time for Christmas, they released the Gingerbread Bagel, featuring the classic spices of your favorite holiday cookie. The Nutcracker bagel also premiers this year. It starts with a French toast bagel, and from there, it’s topped with maple schmear, bacon and walnuts.

Buffalo Wild Wings: though not entirely holiday related I did have to include the new wing flavor from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Mountain Dew flavored wings  were developed in conjunction with the Citrus Bowl which takes place on New Year’s Day. Dressed in Mountain Dew, soy, ginger and red pepper notes, the wings are available starting December 14th. Buffalo Wild Wings flavor combination should be no surprise since they started the Sauce Lab last year as a showcase for new and innovative wing flavors.

Enjoy your holidays and don’t forget to try one of these delicious holiday-inspired treats!

December 10th, 2015

Technology for the R&D Professional

Posted in About Allison, Product Innovation, R&D Technology, Trends

For Research and Development teams, one thing is sure: getting your products to market as quickly as possible is the key to staying ahead of the competition. Today’s technology takes the R&D Development team well beyond Excel spreadsheets, paper forms and disjointed software systems. The future of food product development lies not in fragmented and disconnected programs but rather in a fully functioning solution that integrates all steps of the R&D process while linking it to critical company information.

From prototype development, and formulation, all the way up through taste tests with customizable surveys, online integrated solutions are the wave of the future.

Flavorstudio Suite

One company looking to change how the research and development department works is Senspire, LLC. Started in Palo Alto, California by Gregory Willis, Senspire has developed the Flavorstudio Suite as a powerful workhorse that allows the development chef to accelerate the development life cycle. A truly powerful management tool, the online platform is broken down into 4 distinct modules: Projects, Inspire, Recipes and Taste Tests.

Projects Module

You can create projects, tasks and subtasks with deadlines; assign tasks to team members; add customers; and set project priorities. The repository allows team members to upload or download documents related to the project. You can also send messages to the team through the messages link.

Inspire Module

Here you have the ability to create flavor relationships. Start by searching for an ingredient, in this case, we will use garlic. You can create weak or strong relationships between the ingredient and other ingredients. The database is 1,000,000 items strong, so the combinations are endless. What the Inspire module does well is show the strongest flavor relationships between multiple ingredients, lending ease to the development process, especially in unfamiliar territory. In addition, the Inspire module is where one can create recipes. There is also the ability to share the recipes and scale up the recipes by changing the batch size. Want to know how much the recipe will cost? No problem, there is even a built in yield and cost option.

Recipe Module

The warehouse for all of your company’s recipes. Here you can view your current recipes, share them with colleagues, and even create new versions of the recipe. A tab along the top shows all versions in order so that you can compare changes between versions. And you can add ingredients to a subcategory. For example, let’s say you work for a spice company. To maintain better organization, you can create a subcategory titled “Spice Blends” and then add all of your spice recipes to the subcategory. It is an easy way to ensure consistency and efficiency in the process.

Taste Tests

The last module is designed to help elicit feedback from consumers, whether internal or external. The module allows you to create a taste test, set time and location parameters, add products (from your recipes module) and add tasters. It can even be set up to require a login to do the survey. You can publish the taste test, which links it to a specific project as well, and you can duplicate a taste test for efficiency.

One other part of the software that is an excellent organizing tool is the Admin section. In this section, you can add customer profiles; import recipes and costing; configure the parameters for formulation, ingredients and recipes; and set yields and costs. You can also set parameters for projects in this section, including fields visible in the dashboard.

What makes this online suite so useful above everything else is its accessibility. If you have an internet connection, you have access to the database, making it a truly convenient option.

For a better feel for Flavorstudio capabilities, start a free 7-day trial at http://www.senspirellc.com/

Alpha MOS Electronic Nose

Another challenge to R&D professionals is the matching process. We are often times asked to replicate a product without access to the formula. Relying on the human tongue can be subjective at best. By isolating the volatile chemicals in a sample, devices such as the electronic nose can accelerate the formulation step.

Electronic noses employ gas chromatography to verify chemical makeup as well as olfactometry, which can determine odor and concentration.  The combination of technologies provides a powerful solution to the issue of product consistency as well as robust analysis of product components to make effective formulation revisions.

Alpha MOS specializes in providing top solutions for flavor and order analysis. Want to make sure your products are consistent? Want to crack the code on an elusive flavor note? The Fox electronic nose is easy to use but can break down volatile chemicals and aromas with respect to concentration, origin of products and shelf life.

The model consists of 3 components: the headspace autosampler, the electronic nose unit and the software package.

The headspace autosampler can house up to 96 samples and a large vessel 750mL sampling oven. Sample headspace is generated so that the detection system sensors can identify the volatile chemical present in the sample.

From there, the samples are analyzed by the electronic nose. The Fox model houses up to 18 sensors, allowing for very fast and accurate analysis of bench samples with minimal sample preparation.

The integrated software then takes the data gathered by the electronic nose and generates and output depending on requested criteria.

With all of these features, the Alpha MOS line of products is a formidable development tool, and one you should consider having in your arsenal.

If you are looking for a more entry level model, Alpha MOS also offers an electronic tongue, the Astree. The model allows for a global analysis of compounds in solution. It can determine shelf life as well as offer taste comparisons to other samples. While not as robust as the Fox model, it can provide broad insight into the makeup of a compound mixture.

As you can see, technology advancements can make the development process all that more streamlined, assisting the development team at meeting and beating development timelines.

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November 11th, 2015

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Violet Taco

Posted in About Allison

ValentinaTexMexLogo

 

Valentina Tex Mex BBQ recently opened a new food truck here in Austin on the patio of Star Bar in downtown Austin’s 6th Street District. Typically known for their BBQ smoked meats, Valentina’s new truck boasts a San Antonio style taco round up with some unique flavor combinations.  The tacos feature the freshest produce, handmade tortillas, and unique toppings and sauces, as well as marinated proteins and Valentina’s signature hand crafted BBQ.

VioletTacoTruck

For our starter taco, we tasted “The Mighty Mo”, a garlic lime shrimp taco, tangy violet slaw, avo de gallo, and sriracha lime aioli on a fresh pillowy tortilla. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the taco was full of flavor. The heat of the sriracha aioli added the perfect bite in contrast to the cooling creamy avocado salsa. Well cooked shrimp can be difficult to execute in a food truck environment, but Violet’s did not disappoint.

MightyMoTaco

Next up was the Violet Taco’s namesake, the “Violet Taco”. Featuring cerveza lime marinated chicken, sweet caramelized onions and poblanos, with violet slaw and a brilliantly colored prickly pear crema, the “Violet Taco” was a unique offering. The chicken was very tender and well-seasoned, but the star of the show was the brilliant purple and slightly sweet crema drizzled on the top of the taco. The mix-up of flavors made for a truly craveable bite.

VioletTaco

For a Tex-Mex twist on the Chicago dog, we tried the “Tejano Dog”. The Violet Taco’s version featured a griddled 100% beef frank on a warm soft tortilla. Topped with caramelized onions, pico de gallo, crema, and a mildly spicy house made brown mustard. While the flavors here were more subtle, they were still complementary and well executed. The house mustard was rich and creamy, making this an easy to enjoy riff on the traditional hot dog.

TejanoDog

Of course, you can’t eat tacos at a place known for BBQ without trying the BBQ tacos, so the last bite we ordered was the smoked brisket taco. Piled high with juicy smoked brisket, sea salt and lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa, it was well worth the wait. The brisket was very tender with pronounced smoky notes and the cooling guacamole served to cool the “gangsta-style” salsa. I have to be honest, even though I was already full, I had a hard time sharing this one!

SmokedBrisketTaco

Overall, the Violet Taco is the quintessential Texas-Style taco truck, blending the flavors of the Southwest perfectly, while putting their own spin on the menu.

October 22nd, 2015

Walking the Sweet and Savory Line: Pushing the Boundaries of Flavor

Posted in About Allison

Sweet and savory combinations have been around for a while and are extremely popular with consumers. This craving for unique flavor combinations has pushed food development in some very interesting directions.  From something as simple as salted caramel to other combinations that are downright wacky, consumers desire the contrast that sweet and salty or savory items bring.

So what happens when a food product you are so familiar with releases a new flavor and you are not sure how you feel? Does it confuse you or make you want to jump right in and try it? Does the flavor combination intrigue or repel you?

Lay’s Potato Chips has done this type of reimagining for the past several years with their ‘Do Us a Flavor’ promotion, where the grand prize flavor submission earns $1,000,000 or 1% of the earnings from the new flavor. This year’s contest focus was regional U.S. flavors.  This year’s flavor finalists include Biscuits and Gravy, West Coast Truffle Fries, New York Reuben and Greek Town Gyro.  If you want to learn more about how Frito Lay developed these ideas and the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, they will be a keynote speaker at the Research Chefs Association annual conference next March in Denver, CO.

Let’s look at some other concepts that are pushing these boundaries.

We all grew up with certain snacks or desserts that give us a comfortable nostalgic feeling when we revisit them. One of mine is crunchy Cheetos. It was the one mainstay snack in our house beyond any other. And of course it also conjures up images of fingers stained orange by the cheese powder.

In other countries, such as Japan, unique and often unheard of flavor combinations are much more common. Take the Banana Cheetos©, which debuted in Japan in response to the release of the new Minions movie. Such a familiar food, yet reimagined with banana powder, cinnamon and salt.

Then there is the Ramen Ice Cream from Nissin: it features soy ramen and curry ramen flavored ice cream, and it is topped with freeze dried shrimp, beef, egg, potatoes and chives.  Available at Yokohama Nissin Cup Noodles Museum, this is one dish I am not sure I would even want to try.

And then came the RamNut: a deep fried donut made from ramen that has been cooked in horchata then mixed with eggs and frozen until firm. From there it is shaped into donuts, deep fried and covered with sweet frostings and sprinkles. This is one in a continuing series of ramen mash-ups, which started with the Ramen Burger last year.

Not to be outdone, Dominque Ansel debuted Burrata ice cream at his new West Village shop. He touts it as an alternative to the sweeter vanilla ice cream we are used to eating. It is finished with balsamic caramel and a whole confited strawberry, and it has a markedly less sweet character than a typical ice cream.

A chocolatier is Minneapolis, B.T. McElrath, is buying quality local bread, toasting it, spreading it with butter, and then enrobing it in chocolate, for its own special take on the artisan toast trend. You’ve seen this trend most commonly as avocado smeared toast and other flavors with a $10.00 price tag.

And let’s not forget one of the most notable sweet savory trends to hit the Big Easy: savory king cakes. In flavors like muffuletta, boudin and crawfish, these savory flavors are taking NOLA by storm. Based on the traditionally sweet version of the cake, some of these newer flavors manage to walk the sweet and savory line rather beautifully.

From the above examples, it is clear to see just how important the sweet and savory combination is to menu innovation.

 

October 7th, 2015

Vegetables Take Center Stage

Posted in About Allison

Vegetables are sitting high on the list of trends in culinary right now. Many believe that the vegetable focused trend started as early as 2001 when French chef Alain Passard removed all red meat from L’Arpege, his restaurant in France. Whether you call it vegivore cuisine, or vegetable focused, one thing is for sure, today’s chefs are reimagining vegetable preparations that appeal to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. It’s really no wonder that this trend is gaining speed.

For one, it’s an increased focus on consumer health. Rising rates of obesity and a desire for more “better-for-you” options are driving consumers to seek out new flavors and more vegetables on their plates. While the steak the size of your plate is something that will never go away, more and more the shift to vegetable-centric plates translates to a healthier bottom line for both the consumer and the restaurateur. This trend is not about excluding meat from the plate but rather using it as a flavor to complement the vegetables. Because one thing is for sure, consumers as a whole still want meat on their plate.

In addition to the purported health benefits of a vegetable dense diet, more restaurants are shifting to a focus on vegetables for another reason entirely – cost. Especially in light of the recent egg shortage and with escalating beef prices, making vegetables the star just makes sense. With this shift of protein to the left of center, food costs are reduced. It’s the difference between an 8 ounce portion of meat on the plate versus 2-3 ounces that complement the flavor of the vegetables.

Concepts that are setting the trend:

  • Dirt Candy (Amanda Cohen, NY) – a strictly vegetarian restaurant known for its fun and whimsical outlook on vegetables, features unique dishes such as portobello mousse with cherries and Asian pears as well as grilled smoked broccoli dogs.
  • Oxheart (Justin Yu, Houston, Tx) – helmed by Justin Yu, Oxheart features 2 tasting menus, the Garden Menu (vegan) and the Tasting Menu (vegetable-centered). The chef comes with a rather impressive pedigree, including time at restaurants Green Zebra, Spring and Ubuntu.
  • Gardner (Ben Edgerton & Andrew Wiseman, Austin, Tx)- featuring fresh and locally sourced produce complemented by fresh seafood and proteins with a heavy focus on vegetables, Gardner was recently nominated by Bon Appetit for “Best New Restaurant”. While they didn’t make the Top 10, even a nomination is worth a mention.
  • Commissary (Roy Choi, LA) –  a restaurant inside of a working greenhouse on the 2nd Floor of The LINE Hotel, Commissar features several protein based dishes but the predominant portion of the menu features vegetarian dishes with the signature Roy Choi flair. Think fusion cuisine with Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Charred carrots with a tart yogurt drizzle, radish sprouts and a drizzle of green sauce signify the focus of the menu: the freshest vegetables, reimagined with creative cooking techniques and complementary flavors.
  • Beefsteak (Jose Andres, D.C.) – Chipotle-esque concept in D.C. from Jose Andres that focuses on feeding fresh vegetable based dishes to the masses. With 3 locations and an assembly line format, this may very well be the beginning of a very successful vegetable based franchise.
  • Gjelina (Travis Lett, Venice Beach, CA) – while not a predominantly vegetable focused restaurant, there is a whole section devoted entirely to vegetables, and then another section devoted to salad, which may or may not contain animal proteins. Even in the salad section, the utilization of animal protein is kept to a minimum. Interesting dishes include a squash blossom pizza with burrata and roasted sun chokes with garlic tarragon and vinegar.

One thing is for sure, if you are developing concepts for the next generation consumer, well-constructed, vegetable-focused plates play a key role and a tasty one at that.

 

September 16th, 2015

Filipino Food

Posted in About Allison

According to Campbell’s Culinary Trendscape 2015, Filipino food is on the cusp of becoming the next big cuisine. At a level 1 on their scale (discovery), this means that early adopters are experimenting with the flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques of this varied cuisine with a multi-cultural influence.

The cuisine’s roots lie in Spanish, Malay, Chinese, and American cuisines. A true fusion cuisine, Filipino cuisine is rooted in love of family. With flavor pioneers like Paul Qui (Qui in Austin) and Cristina Quackenbush (Milkfish in New Orleans) showcasing dishes with a fine dining bent, it is only a matter of time before the mainstream embraces this delicious and homey cuisine.

So why hasn’t the cuisine yet gained the acceptance that Chinese and Thai cuisines seem to effortlessly enjoy?

Surprisingly, one reason is the cuisine’s family focus. Most Filipinos do not go out to eat their own cuisine but rather take pride in family meals with coveted and often time “top secret” recipes handed down from generation to generation. “Why eat out when I can make it better at home?” many Filipinos will ask.

It then becomes even more problematic to categorize the cuisine when you consider that there are 7,000 islands in the Philippines Archipelago. With so many islands, the preparation of a popular dish like Pork Adobo may be authentic in Manila but an imposter to a native of Subic.  One region may consider coconut milk to be essential in their preparation of the dish, while another region may consider this addition a sacrilege.

Another distinction that sets Filipino food apart from other Asian cuisines: Filipino food by definition, while flavorful, is not distinguished for its spiciness. Yes, you may find the occasional hot and spicy Filipino dish, but heat does not permeate the cuisine  like it does with its closest cousin, Thai food.

To get a better understanding of some of the flavors of this unique cuisine, let’s look at some of the more interesting culinary ingredients:

Kalamansi: also called calamondin or calamandarin, this small and very sour fruit is primarily used for cooking and is thought to be a genetic cross of the mandarin orange and the kumquat.

Ube: a brightly colored purple yam that is high in starchy sugar, the ube is popularly made into a jam, a cake mix-in, and a topping for Halo-Halo.

Santol: an orange fruit almost as large as an apple it contains a tissue like pulp that encloses seeds. It is typically eaten when it is under ripe as it is preferred in the more sour state.

Balut: not for the faint of heart and most likely the most famous Filipino food you have heard, it’s a boiled fertilized duck egg. Typically it contains a fully formed duck embryo. Try it and let me know how you like it.

Pancit: a thin rice noodle typically used in stir fries with the addition of vegetables and meat.

Longanisa: the most common variety is a sweet paprika laden sausage that definitely has its roots in Spanish cuisine. Longanisa is not typical in that it can be made from chicken, tuna or beef.

Lechon: a dish typically reserved for a special occasion, Lechon is a whole suckling pig that is spit-roasted

Lumpia: a Philippine style egg roll typically stuffed with pork and shredded root vegetables, but also can contain caramelized bananas.

Adobo: a braising liquid of soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, and bay in which chicken or pork is cooked, it is one of the most popular Filipino dishes. It has a characteristically salty and sour flavor profile. Sometimes coconut milk is added to sweeten the dish.

Milkfish: considered the national fish of the Philippines, milkfish is typically served whole and stuffed with native fruits and vegetables.

Filipino food is definitely unique and a cuisine worth exploring. Where are you going to start?