January 28th, 2014

Culinary Mash-ups: Why They Work

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

I think we all are familiar with the CronutTM, that genius of pastry creation from Dominique Ansel. And the Doritos LocosTM Taco has been the biggest seller for Taco Bell in recent history, with over $1 Billion in sales. What about the Ramen Burger created by Keizo Shimamoto? It is just one of the latest in a string of fusion foods that breakdown the barriers of ethnicity and polite kitchen food etiquette.

The term mash-up itself, while first heard in 1859, did not become an official word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary until just last year. This alone shows how culturally relevant mash-ups are today. By definition, a mash-up is ‘something created by combining elements from two or more sources’.

The culinary mash-up seems to taunt the food purist who believes that only food in its truly authentic form is acceptable. While authentic food is a very relevant trend, bound to never go away, mash-ups also have their place in food culture. They speak to that percentage of the population that have seen it all, heard it all. They show us that innovation is not dead in the culinary world, and that all it takes is someone with a keen eye for the niche market to make it happen.

Several chain restaurants are capitalizing on the mash-up trend:

–  Take SushirritoTM, a chain in California for example. With 3 locations so far, they have combined the best of the sushi genre with the form the burrito, to create new and interesting flavor combinations.  What results are rather large hand rolls stuffed with all things sushi.

–  Then there is BurrissimoTM, also in California that peddles the Italian Burrito.  They have a similar model to Piada: Italian Street Food but choose to capitalize on the fusion form for their business model.

–  And bakery/restaurant American Cupcake (also in California) has fried chicken battered in red velvet cake batter, which is then deep-fried. They also have candy apple ribs, which are pork ribs bathed in candy apple bbq sauce, and are served with jalapeno cornbread whoopie pies and cocoa slaw. How’s that for a mash-up?

With regards to items that fall into the mash-up category, a few have recently been seen at chain restaurants across the country.

–   Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen debuted Waffle Chicken Tenders in August.

–  Carl’s Jr. has the Strawberry Pop-tart Ice Cream Sandwich.

–  Applebee’s has a hamburger quesadilla, with cheese and bacon that seems to artfully straddle the ground between Mexican and American cuisines.

–  Dunkin’ Donuts is getting into the game too with this year’s release of the Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, which is an exercise in pure indulgence.

Mash-ups are not unique to culinary in the sense that a dish is a fusion of two different cuisines. A mash-up can work if a partnership forms between two equally passionate entities. Take for example the collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery and Ippudo NY: each prides itself on creating the highest quality product, whether it is a beer or a delicious bowl of ramen.  The brainchild of that collaboration is Brooklyn Kaedama Ale.  Kaedama literally means “extra noodles” and is a practice that started in the Hakata district of Fukuoka City. In this tradition, the ramen is served in smaller portions with the firm belief that the noodles must maintain their bite. The diner can order more ramen “Kaedama”, which is a fancy term for MORE RAMEN.

These types of mash-ups are being seen all over the country, including an interesting one right here in Austin that serves coffee and beer: Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, which offers artisan roasted coffees, 39 different beers, and all the foods to complement them.  These fusion type locations are the way that the world is headed, so whether you like them or not, you had better get used to them!

What is your favorite culinary mashup?

January 14th, 2014

Detroit Style Pizza: What’s the Hype?

Posted in Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

A truly American style of pizza, the Detroit Style Pizza started from humble beginnings in 1946, as World War II was coming to a close. Buddy’s Rendezvous in Detroit, MI wanted to offer returning war veterans a taste of the foods they had in Europe during the war. Where everyone else was serving them fish and chips, Gus Guerra had other ideas. He and his wife Anna pulled out the family recipe books and developed the pie that is infamously known today as Detroit Style Pizza.

The pie, known for its edge-to-edge cheese, is baked in a special blue steel pan that caramelizes the edge of the cheese. The pizza also features sauce on top of the cheese (“pizza upside down” to some), which is added after the pizza is fully baked. The focaccia-like crust is a favorite among those preferring thicker, airier crust.

Detroit-style pizza is making the headlines lately too: Shawn Randazzo of Detroit Style Pizza Company took the honor of World’s Best Pizza at the 2012 International Pizza Expo for his homage to his hometown. In the spring of last year, Little Caesar’s rolled out a Detroit-Style pie, which is considered to be the biggest single product launch for them in their 54 year history. And in August of last year, Via 313, in Austin, Texas was named one of the top 33 places to eat pizza in America by the Huffington Post, with the Detroiter rated the best on the menu:


To understand the differences between this pizza style and others, let’s look at the components that make it authentic:

1) The pie must be baked in a seasoned square pan

2) Dough hydration must be between 65% and 75%

3) Dough proofing specific to the type (I could not elaborate in my research what this means) (some sites stated to proof with the cheese on top of the dough for 2-3 hours)

4) Pepperoni under the cheese

5) Cheese from edge to edge

6) Red tomato sauce on top

7) Baked in a deck oven

The website www.detroitstylepizza.com offers a training program and certification to those interested in taking their Detroit-Style Pizza-making skills to the next level. You can also buy the authentic pans (seasoned or unseasoned) on the website if you cannot find them elsewhere. Very recently, there was a major shortage of the pans, causing panic among operators in this market. The one and only factory that made the pans closed down production in West Virginia to move its operations to Mexico. Getting the factory up and running in Mexico took much longer than previously thought, which resulted in a huge shortage of blue steel pans that lasted nearly a year. Ironically, the pans were originally utilized to hold small machine parts in factories, and were never meant for pizza production. Just very recently, they started selling “make your own Detroit Style Pizza Dough” kits on the website as well. The kit includes a seasoned authentic dough pan, pan lid, spatula, pan grippers, and dough mix. You can also buy a dough mix refill that contains enough mix to make 20 small Detroit Style Pizzas. http://detroitstylepizza.co/mail-order/

With all the excitement around Detroit-Style, I decided to head over to Via 313 to see for myself what sets it apart from other pizza styles. The “313” in the name is in honor of the very first area code in Detroit. Housed in a small trailer in the back of Craft Pride on Austin’s infamous Rainey Street, Via 313 is the blood, sweat, and tears of two brothers: Zane and Brandon Hunt, both originally from Detroit. The brothers shared passion for pizza saw them receiving their VPN certification for Tony Gemignani in San Francisco in 2010. Both are certified in Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and in Detroit Style Pizza. Next came the truck that they opened on East 6th in Austin, TX in 2011. It wasn’t much later and the buzz reached the national level.

We ordered two pies, and the first to come out was the Omnivore. It was topped with cremini mushrooms, sweet onions, natural casing pepperoni, pinched hot Italian sausage, and green peppers. The cheese had a perfectly caramelized edge, just as promised, with a light and airy yet buttery crust with seemed lighter and fluffier than focaccia. It was topped with a thick red sauce and sprinkled generously with herbs. This was a very fresh tasting pizza with high quality ingredients.

Next up was the Cadillac, a little bit more fancy-schmancy, with creamy Gorgonzola cheese, fig preserves, prosciutto, and Parmesan. This pie was not finished in the typical Detroit fashion though: a balsamic glaze replaced the typical red sauce. I loved the flavors on this pizza, but felt that the prosciutto could have been shaved thinner so as to be less chewy. It was missing that crispy character that I would expect on an artisan pizza.

These pizzas will fill you up, and as far as comfort food in a pizza, they really hit the mark. You could feel the love that went into making these pizzas. What better meal than one of this light and crispy pies to welcome you to Austin!