April 24th, 2013

Consumers Crave Healthy Menus: Are You In or Are You Out?

Posted in About Allison

One of the hottest trends in fast food is healthy food, or at least food with the perception that it is healthier. Many industry analysts state that if you aren’t already on the health bandwagon, you had better get moving. Offering healthier options has been fueled by consumer desire for healthier options with those chains with the foresight to fill this need and jumping ahead in the pack.

Here are some of the more recent, healthier additions in chains across the country:

Burger King: Veggie and Turkey Burgers:

A limited-time-offer for the spring, if it takes off, it could well become a permanent addition to the menu:


McDonald’s is getting into the game as well with its Egg White Delight which releases nationwide on April 22 of this year. It boasts 50 fewer calories than the Egg McMuffin (already one of the healthiest items on the menu) and also features a whole wheat English muffin. In addition, you can request egg whites on any breakfast sandwich:


In an article on the Associated Press Website, Taco Bell has committed to making 20% of its combo meals meet the federal guidelines for fat and calories. Last year’s foray into the healthy eating market with its debut of the Cantina Bell line has paved the pathway to this initiative:


Subway just debuted 2 new LTO sandwiches: Smokehouse BBQ Chicken and Chicken Teriyaki with spinach. Already a healthy eating mecca, and a real life threat to McDonalds, this is just another reason why Subway is at the top of the heap:


Hardee’s has a whole category of healthy options, touted as the “Better for You Options”. They include Veg It®, Trim It®, Gluten-Sensitive®, and Low Carb It® menu selections. Their menu customization makes it very easy to satisfy the needs of many differing dietary requirements:


Already considered one of the more healthy chains, Panera has added a hidden menu that caters to the gluten-free crowd and includes Power Breakfast Bowls, Power Salad options, and Power Hummus and Power Steak Bowls. It was launched nationally early this year:


Wendy’s just launched a line of flatbread sandwiches that showcase a 5 grain bread, and are available through May of this year:


Of course, all chains hope to benefit from the addition of healthier food items, as these seem to drive sales in a more health-conscious marketplace. A chain’s ability to churn out an interesting portfolio of products could very well be the barometer for future successes.

April 3rd, 2013

It’s Electric! Expanding Your Palate Beyond Taste.

Posted in About Allison

On a recent trip to the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York City, I had a break from the booth I was working, so I decided to take a quick walk around the show.

As I was walking past the Koppert Cress booth, I couldn’t help but notice the 10 people huddled around one of the company chefs. Donning a black rubber glove, with a pair of tweezers, he placed a bit of a flower into each person’s eagerly outstretched palm.  Faces transformed from skeptical to bright-eyed wonderment, with exclamations of “What is this?” and “I have never tasted anything like this before!” That was enough to pique my interest, so I jumped in on the conversation.

Here is a picture of the little gem:

I was handed a few florets of the mystery flower and put them on my tongue. I still had no idea what I was eating, but being adventurous, I decided to go with the flow. Then it hit my tongue and a very strong déjà vu moment happened. I knew I had tasted something similar before, and it brought to mind my experience with the Szechuan Peppercorn at the 2012 World of Flavors Conference.

How to describe the sensation? Well, that is a bit difficult, but it started out as a numbing feeling, quickly becoming tingly, and taking on the flavor of an intensely green apple, with a salty aftertaste. Overall, the effects of the flower were more sensation driven than taste driven, expanding the palette in ways I had not known possible. I asked the chef if it was Szechuan Peppercorn. It turns out that the plants are not remotely related, so it was very interesting to me that I had such a similar reaction.  And what was it, you ask? None other than Sechuan Button, or Jambu, as it is known in its native Brazil.

Marketed as “natural pop rocks”, with an electric feeling on the tongue, Sechuan buttons are catching on. Chefs are putting it into ice cream and alcoholic beverages and using it to cleanse the palette between courses.

The active ingredient in the Sechuan Button (Acmella Oleracea) is spilanthol. In its native country, it is a toothache remedy, as well as treatment for dry mouth, due to its ability to activate saliva production. Additionally, it is also considered to be antifungal and anti-parasitic, although research is inconclusive on this part.

Watch this video of members of the Washington Post when they taste this fun little flower: 


Their reactions drive home the unique sensory qualities of this plant.

I found the plant and its properties so intriguing, I decided to buy some seeds online to plant it around the yard.  I will let you know what my friends think. It’s just another product changing how we view and taste food.


April 2nd, 2013

Pizza Expo 2013

Posted in About Allison

I recently returned from my whirlwind tour of Las Vegas and the Pizza Expo 2013. I got in on Monday around 10:30pm, so unfortunately I was too tired to sample any of Las Vegas many restaurants. I did hear through the grapevine that the restaurant D.O.C.G. at the Cosmopolitan. It’s the brainchild of Scott Conant, known for his delicious homemade pasta. D.O.C.G stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (the highest level of Italian wine origin). From what I hear the pizzas are spot on, accompanied by a nice selection of quality proteins: Lardo wrapped prawns anyone? Or how does a Berkshire pork chop sound? Now I am hungry!

The show itself is small enough to walk in a day but still large enough to bring in larger companies. The show is not a hot bed of innovation per se, but is a showcase of quality ingredients such as fresh mozzarella, natural cured meat products, and high-end antipasti components.

One of my favorite food finds from the show is a product called Sweety Drops. They are a tiny teardrop shaped pepper that is a cross between the Peppadew and an undisclosed South American pepper variety. They are grown for exclusively for Atalanta by a farmer in the Peruvian Amazon. This product is smack dab in the middle of the hottest food trend in a while. The peppers pack a flavor punch, and costing out at a penny per pepper they are a great value. Look for them in a store near you!

Another one of my favorite foods seen at the show sounds odd but is actually another super hot trend….popcorn. Not it’s not popcorn but a caramel corn frozen yogurt by Jelly Belly. It’s a sweet and salty popcorn flavor with a toffee finish, and it was one of the more interesting flavors I had all day. While I do not care for Jelly Belly’s buttered popcorn jelly bellies, I loved this flavor, which is ahead of its time. Other flavors are Strawberry Jam, Very Cherry, Toasted Marshmallow, Crushed Pineapple and Chocolate Pudding. The company also has low fat and indulgent ice creams in its line of products.

The majority of the innovation that I saw at the show came in the form of equipment and hard goods.

For example, this interesting oven by Unitherm, called the Unitherm Spiral Oven, has just made its way to the U.S. market in the past couple months.

The nice thing about this line of ovens is that they come in a large range of sizes. Many times, the manufacturer, who is trying to grow and migrate from batch processing to continuous processing methods, does not have an option. Unitherm has done a nice job of addressing the needs of these budding businesses. They also offer consistent quality and faster throughput than batch ovens.

Of course, pizza ovens reign as the king of equipment at the show. And in this category there were a couple of companies that are marketing the revolving pizza oven. While they may have been around for a while, I thought some of you might not be familiar with them, so I included a video from the J&G Mills booth showing how they work:

Ironically, I had a strangely serendipitous moment at the show. I was walking the aisles and came across a booth that was showcasing beautiful Italian glass ovens. For some reason I felt as if I had seen the display model before, and on a hunch, pulled up the picture of the oven from the Il Cane Rosso blog on December 5,2012 .

I approached the booth and asked the gentleman working the pizza station if the picture was one of his ovens (meaning: Did his company manufacture the oven for the restaurant?). On further elaboration, I came to find that the gentleman was none other than Dino Santonicola, the Master Pizzaiolo at Il Cane Rosso. Oh, the irony: it was really his oven!

In the hard goods category, there were 2 products that stood out as innovative. The first the Gluten Free Pizza Bag. For the manufacturer, this means that the pre-made pizza can be protected from the box to the oven then on to the table. The product handles heat up to 400F, but from Gerard Raccioppi says, it can be modified to handle the high temperatures found in commercial impinger ovens. You see these already on the recent launch of Conte’s GF Pizza bake in the bag, which debuted at the Winter Fancy Food Show, as well as a commercial application used by Chuck E Cheese. This product is also produced by Conte’s Pasta.

The other item in this category is a pizza liner that claims to be the solution to soggy pizza crust. Using Perfect CrustTM EVC technology the product sheet states that the pizza is Elevated (so that oils drain away), Ventilated (for a crispier crust), and Circulated (stored heat keeps the pizza 12-15F warmer). The product also has handles that allow for you to remove the entire pizza at once.

At the end of my walk of the show I was able to sit through a presentation by Tony Gemignani regarding how to make the perfect Napoletana pizza. I was lucky to sit in when they honored Antonio Starita of Pizzeria Starite die Matteri. Watching him make a pie, Tony G. commented that Mr. Starita has the softest hands in the business. I have to agree, he caressed the dough into compliance, commenting that too much dough action toughens it. I was lucky enough to try a piece of his pie, and it was better than I could imagine.