February 13th, 2017

Good Eggs: More Than A Name

Posted in Consumer Trends, food tours, Food Trends, Grocery, Locally Grown, Organic, Recipes, Retail, Trends

Research Chefs

Good Eggs: More Than A Name

Founded in the summer of 2011, Good Eggs is an online market that delivers local, organic, sustainable foods and groceries to the San Francisco Bay area. With same day and next day delivery options, Good Eggs aims to connect people who love food directly with the people who make it.

One mission of Good Eggs, as my guide Angelica described during my site tour, is “to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide in order to change the supply chain from the ground up, making it better for everyone.” This noble and ambitious mission shines throughout the operation.

Chef Consultants

Unlike its online competitors (think Instacart, Amazon Fresh), Good Eggs receives their products straight from farmers and suppliers, rather than tapping into an existing market chain. They have established direct relationships with their producers and in turn have created a very efficient, mutually beneficial system of operation.

This direct relationship between producers and customers also puts Good Eggs in a unique position to see culinary trends develop in real-time. Angelica noted the popularity of local foods, especially produce, Korean ribs, ramen, the return of pasta, and bone broths in 2016 and sees no slowing down going into 2017.

Additionally, they’ve seen a push for easy weeknight meal solutions for busy families, especially those with young children. Dinners that can be prepared relatively quickly and without much fuss that still maintain healthful, natural, and craveable qualities are ideal. You can even get inspiration from unique, easy to follow chef developed recipes that are found on their website.

Restaurant Consultants

Good Eggs is working hard to drive away the misconception that natural markets are only within reach of those of a higher socioeconomic class by offering competitively priced groceries and a spectrum of comparable products. They’re also aiming to ensure that EBT and WIC benefits will eventually be allowed for use in their market.

In asking what one thing Angelica wished shoppers recognized about Good Eggs, she replied “We want customers to understand that Good Eggs is the simplest way to get groceries every week. That we’re priced the same as major markets, but we source directly so it’s as fresh as if you were getting them from a farmer’s market.”

Seem too good to be true? You be the judge.

Corporate chefs

If you’re in the San Francisco area give Good Eggs a try to see for yourself if they stack up. I can tell you first hand that after visiting their facility, I’m impressed not only with their food, but with their people. They truly believe in what they do and are determined to change the world.

Plus, where else are you going to find a whole pig’s head?

I can’t wait to see what they do next…

Culinary Consultants

 

Cheers!

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January 9th, 2017

Chef Tips: Garlic

Posted in Healthy, Locally Grown, Tips

Garlic

Let’s Talk Garlic

Garlic is a cook’s close friend and longtime companion. It can be chopped, minced, sliced, pasted, fermented, blackened, pickled, roasted, etc.

Not only does garlic provide flavor and aroma to food, it is also thought to provide a myriad of health benefits including the ability to “reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases, have anti-tumor and antimicrobial effects, and show benefit on high blood glucose concentration.”(source).

Picking Garlic

In U.S. markets, there are 2 major sources of garlic, California and China. Chinese garlic tends to be much less flavorful with a lower brix level and can have a metallic taste. California grown garlic is sweet, plump, and aromatic. The easiest way to spot California grown garlic is by flipping it over. If the root is still present, it’s more than likely CA grown. If the root has been removed, leaving a concave smooth spot, it’s likely Chinese. This method is not 100% accurate mind you. Some U.S. growers do remove the root for aesthetic purposes, but it’s less common.

Peeling Garlic

There’s certainly more than one way to peel garlic, and each cook has their own favorite method. I’ll share with you the basics.

To peel a single clove of garlic, remove the clove and place it flatly on a cutting board. With a chef’s knife, slice off the blunt (root) end (1). Now lay your blade flat on the clove and press down with your palm to break (2). You should now be able to pull the garlic clove away from the husk (3).

To peel a whole garlic bulb, start by setting the bulb top side down (root facing up) on a cutting board. Using your palm press straight down into the root, breaking the cloves away from each other (1). Discard the root stem and separate any remaining joined cloves (2). Place the garlic cloves in a steel bowl, cover with a second steel bowl rim to rim, and shake vigorously for 10-20 seconds. The cloves should now be separated from their husks (3).

Cutting Garlic

For beautiful thinly sliced garlic, ensure you either use the second peeling method listed above, or go the more laborious route by cutting the end of the garlic clove and manually removing the husk with your fingers (1). Smashing the clove will result in a broken clove that does not slice nicely. Once peeled, use a chef’s or paring knife to thinly slice (almost translucent) the garlic from the root to the tip (2), leaving delicate wheels of garlic (3). This type of garlic is best used for dishes like oil based pastas or stir-fry where the garlic will be highlighted, or toasted for garnish.

For chopped garlic break the clove with the flat end of a chef’s knife (1) then chop roughly to the desired size (2). This type of non-uniform product is best for use in slow, wet cooking, and when further processing will be involved, as in a tomato sauce that will be made uniform with an immersion or table top blender.

Minced Garlic

The process for minced garlic is similar like of chopped garlic, however, the goal is to create small, uniform pieces by chopping thoroughly with your knife. This allows the garlic to be cooked at precisely the same rate and is best for when the garlic must be sautéed at high heat momentarily, as in a braised meat dish or Indian curry.

Finally, pasted garlic begins with minced garlic. Sprinkle a pinch of course Kosher salt over the garlic for added grit (1) and using the flat side of your knife, scrape the garlic back and forth on the cutting board (2). With one hand, hold the handle to the knife, and with the other hand, apply pressure with your fingertips to the top of the blade. Use controlled motions and be methodical to prevent slippage. Pasted garlic (3) can be used unilaterally, but is best suited for finished dressings or for uses that don’t require cooking.

Cooking with Garlic

Cooks commonly believe that garlic must be heavily cooked or browned for dishes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Except for certain dishes like Indian bhindi, garlic is cooked and ready the moment it becomes fragrant. This normally happens around 30 seconds, depending on the temperature of the pot or pan.

Garlic can safely be cooked much longer in foods that contain high levels of moisture, as in tomato sauces or soups, because the liquid can only reach a maximum temperature 212 degrees Fahrenheit, protecting the garlic from burning. This protection does not exist in a dry cooking where the temperature can easily exceed over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s it for this week. We hope you learned something useful and until next time, keep cooking!

Cheers!

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May 5th, 2014

Upscale Comfort Food

Posted in Locally Grown, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

According to Forbes Magazine, one of the top trends for 2014 is upscale comfort food.

We all wistfully dream of those uncomplicated childhood days, filled with gooey grilled cheese, stick-to-the-roof-of your-mouth peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Oreos dunked in milk (do you eat the whole thing? Or do you like the crème better than the cookie? These are serious questions!). These simple foods transport us back to the summers of our youth, where our only concern was being home before the streetlights went dark. The neighborhood was your family and looked out for you; you drank straight from the garden hose; and ran with careless abandon until you fell over in exhaustion, only to wake, dazed, with grass in your hair.

This food trend encompasses the feelings and memories of our childhood, while appealing to our need for more sophisticated food. All over the country simple dishes are being reimagined to appeal to the more refined palette of today’s adults.

At Bubby’s in New York it’s all about the ingredients. Considered one of the best comfort food joints in the city, they even have 3 outposts in Japan. Their motto: “Defending the American table (Also, we steal recipes from grandmas)” speaks to their belief in good old-fashioned comfort food.

They manage to interweave this trend with the locally sourced food trend beautifully, calling out their vendor sources very clearly on their website: Wild Hive Farm (Flour) and Heritage Meat Shop (heirloom pig, turkey, and other meats) to name a few. They buy only whole steers from local farms and grind the burger meat in-house. Add house-made sodas with cane sugar and a culture started in 1890 by a local family, and you have the perfect recipe for upscale quality and authentic fare. These examples are just a few of the partnerships that Bubby’s has formed in the local community.

Items on the menu you can’t miss? The house-made bacon, key lime and Michigan sour cherry pies, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and cherry wood smoked BBQ ribs, brisket and pulled pork.

At Marco’s of Brooklyn, NY, the focus is on traditional Italian dishes, synonymous with the term comfort food. Recently opened late last year, and helmed by Daniel Amend, the brunch menu includes several upscale sandwiches and breakfast dishes that are sure to make your head spin:

The spiedino alla Romana reimagines everything you know about grilled cheese. Thick pillowy white bread first gets soaked in a Parmesan-laced egg and milk batter, then beautifully crisped up in butter. Fillings include creamy rich buffalo mozzarella and minced anchovy, with a salad of parsley, lemon and capers.

And don’t forget to try the Italian version of breakfast eggs: brown butter eggs with Piave cheese and wood-grilled bread. What can I say? You had me at brown butter.

One chain that focuses on comfort food, Noodles and Company, showcases comfort food from around the world, centering on pasta dishes (of course!). They recently added bacon mac n’ cheese as a permanent offering to their menu. It’s a riff on the comfort classic: the bacon cheeseburger. With bacon, tomatoes, onions, and crumbled meatballs, it’s the best of both worlds.

They also feature such premium ingredients as MontAmore® cheese, and naturally raised braised pork on their menu.

Burger 21’s menu centers on its 21-burger menu. Upscale burgers are one of the hottest trends in fast casual right now, with Burger 21 touting itself as a “beyond-the-better-burger” concept. Certified Angus beef, chicken, turkey, shrimp and veggie burgers give customers a variety of proteins from which to choose. The chicken Marsala burger is hand-formed and Panko-crusted. After it’s fried, it is served with Marsala wine and mushroom sauce.

As part of my voyage into the comfort food craze, I decided to take a trip to Haymaker, a local Austin restaurant that focuses on “regionally-inspired comfort”. They opened last fall on Austin’s East side and showcase craft beer in addition to their comfort food menu.

We started with the poutine, that marvel of Canadian culinary innovation. Haymaker puts a southern twist on this specialty with white pepper gravy. The cheese curds were squeaky fresh, and overall the dish was everything you want in comfort food, although a few more cheese curds wouldn’t hurt.


In the “A La Plancha” category, we choose the Nutty Grilled Cheese. Think sweet pecans, Grand Cru Gruyere, sliced apples and mixed greens. I really liked this sandwich, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a true grilled cheese. It appeared that the bread was toasted rather than grilled. I think the greens would have held up to grilling since they were predominantly arugula and radicchio.

We chose the Haymaker from the “Big and Burly” category. This is the namesake of the restaurant and a gigantic open -aced sandwich fit to feed a king (and ½ of his court). Served on Texas toast, it has rare roast beef, French fries, Gruyere sauce, coleslaw, fresh tomato and a fried egg. I really liked the flavor combination, and it was just as good cold the next day for breakfast as it was served hot.

And we really couldn’t leave without trying the dessert sandwich, the Fluffernutty Cristo. The Fluffernutter was invented in Massachusetts somewhere around World War I but did not get its namesake until 1960, as part of a marketing campaign by Durkee-Mower. Stuffed with peanut butter and marshmallow crème, the sandwich is battered and fried until crispy. It is served with chocolate sauce. I have to admit by the time the dessert rolled around I was too full to enjoy the dessert except for a bite.

Overall, if you are looking for comfort food, Haymaker delivers. So bring an empty belly and a couple of your best friends, because you’re going to need both.

November 1st, 2013

Local, Seasonal, Feasible

Posted in Locally Grown, New Foods and Flavors, Organic, Restaurants, Trends

There is a lot of talk about local sourcing of products these days in the restaurant world. And for good reason: diners demand and expect to know where their food comes from. On a local level, it may seem to be an easy and straightforward enterprise to integrate fresh and local products into your menu.

But what happens when you throw in a large supply chain? And what about if your different locations are divided by states lines? No doubt there are challenges of economy that need to be addressed as well as affordability and proximity. Is it economically feasible or even wise for a chain restaurant to go after the local angle? And in some cases, it is a matter of semantics and how the word “local” is defined.

To answer these questions, let’s look at some chain restaurants that utilize seasonal /local products successfully:

Seasons 52 – the very philosophy of this Darden-held restaurant resonates with the spirit of the farmer’s market. With a commitment to serve only the freshest and ripest produce, Seasons 52 has dubbed itself a “change” restaurant as opposed to a chain restaurant because they believe change and innovation to be core to their success. They have also landed themselves on the ’50 Breakout Brands’ list composed by NRN.com. While they do not tout themselves as local, they do showcase produce to their advantage.

Sweetgreen – started by 3 Millennials in 2007, the company has made a commitment to source local and to source organic if it cannot source local. They build their salads around what is in season as well. With already 13 units in operation, their model is one for other up and coming brands to watch, as they do very well with the Millennial crowds.

Chipotle – with a commitment to purchase as much locally grown and organic produce and meat as possible, Chipotle is the model that many other chains are mimicking. They have over 1400 units, so their success is a testament to the vision of the founder. Yet they make it clear that they only buy local and organic when it’s feasible, which seems to be rather open for interpretation. Their definition of local is within 350 miles and that includes predominantly peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and avocados.

Tender Greens – a LA based chain of 13 restaurants, with a philosophy of ‘Slow food done fast’, their commitment to locally sourcing all ingredients is highly ambitious. Because of this commitment, the menus between the different locations are seasonally driven and chef-crafted by some of the best chefs in the industry. Time will tell if their expansion beyond the boundaries of California will be successful. Currently 90% of the products served at their establishments are produced in California. With the first location outside of California slated for opening in Chicago, it could prove challenging due to shorter growing seasons and droughts in the area. One way that Tender Greens hopes to accomplish this is through their partnerships with local farmers, a strategy they plan to use in Chicago as well.

Farm Burgerwith 4 locations in the Southeast, Farm Burger showcases locally grown, grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free beef and pork products from partner farms. Each restaurant is partnered with a farm to supply their products. It is a win-win for everyone. They even offer a veggie-quinoa burger for the vegan types. The number 5 with locally grown butternut squash chutney, goat cheese, and wilted chard is among the more interesting offerings.

Elevation Burgertouting the same message as Farm Burger, Elevation Burger’s motto is: Ingredients Matter. With 30 national and 9 international locations, Elevation Burger seems to be hitting their stride. They offer organic, grass-fed, free-range beef as well as a grain-free veggie burger and a grain-based veggie burger. Although they are focused on sustainability, they are not as transparent regarding their supply chain as some of the previously mentioned chains.

So is it truly possible to be local if you are a chain restaurant? Sort of. In the respect that you can be local as much as possible, Tender Greens is doing the most to provide local ingredients. This is due to their slightly different model of allowing the in-store chef creative license to create what he/she wants for the menu. They have set aside the need for consistency among locations and instead focus on showcasing fresh produce in the best light possible. With increase in scale, comes logistical challenges, so it will be interesting to watch how Tender Greens manages to make the leap from a California-based chain to a national one.

Chipotle is recognized and appreciated for consistency across the country and as a trailblazer in the locally sourced movement, and they as well partner with local farms, among them, the infamous Niman Ranch. Chipotle has more challenges than Tender Greens due to sheer size of the operation, but they are nonetheless committed to providing local products where able, while providing a stable menu.

Whether you define it as free-range, organic, or grass-fed, quality is what matters. Local is important but quality wins every time.

July 25th, 2011

Food Revolution

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Locally Grown, Organic

Viva Comida!

Now in the midst of what some people are calling the worst depression in our country’s history, we are privileged, yes privileged, to be in the thick of and many cases taking part in a cultural and food revolution.  Never have organic and all natural products been so commonplace and such a staple in home kitchens.  The obesity epidemic coupled with the financial crunch, means people are realizing things have to change now, all across the board, including the way we eat.

Now you may see more farmers’ markets popping up in your city, or a new one in your neighborhood.  You might notice that the menu at your favorite restaurant is taking it upon themselves to let the diner know where their products come from.  What you may not notice, is that this change has been a long time coming.  The farm-to-market roadside stand and the farm-to-table restaurant aren’t the fads you expected them to be.  This is a food revolution that’s taking place right before our eyes, in our communities, neighborhoods and cities all across America.  As far as anyone can see it’s here to stay.

Now, much of this can be contributed to the rise of the celebrity chef in America.  When Julia Child did her first television cooking demonstration in the early sixties in which she made an omelette, it wasn’t because she was looking for a hundred grand and a shiny new kitchen sponsored by some appliance company.  When Yan decided he could cook, it wasn’t so he could attend red carpet premieres and wear a collared shirt under his designer chef jacket with his three hundred dollar jeans, but I digress.  Chefs are commonly celebrities these days, with shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef, Chopped, and Kitchen Nightmares often the topic of water cooler conversation the next day.  Food awareness, education and curiosity are at an all-time high. Home cooks are becoming more adventurous and enrollment in culinary schools has never been higher.  In fact, the number of schools offering culinary education has more than tripled in the last 20 years, giving rise to gastronomic education all across the board.

Now the Chefs Move to Schools program is catching on.  Launched in 2010 through the United States Department of Agriculture, the program enables chefs to partner with schools in their community so together they are able to create healthy meals for students that meet the schools dietary guidelines and falls within its budget, all the while teaching students about nutrition and making smart, healthy decisions when it comes to eating.  This comes at a time when Chef Jamie Oliver’s television show Food Revolution proved elementary school students in Huntington, West Virginia unable to identify basic fruits and vegetables.  Hopefully this program will lead to a better educated group of young people, and this will persuade these children and their families to make a change for the better.

Now, change is a comin’ and has been for quite some time.  Organic grocery delivery companies are sprouting up all over the country, and you can have delicious, farm fresh vegetables delivered to your door weekly.  Take Greenling, for example.  Based in Austin, Texas, Greenling is a cooperative of nearly thirty producers of everything local.  From Texas citrus to peaches, creameries to bison ranches, if it’s local and sustainable, Greenling will get their hands on it and have it delivered to your door.  They are helping farmers, producers and artisans to accomplish what many thought was impossible in the age of industrial farming: providing quality organic produce that’s both environmentally and economically stable.

Now that this food revolution has finally gained a foothold, it’s starting to trickle down, or up, depending on how you look at it, to chain restaurants and grocery stores.  Markets are starting to feature local produce and farmers and holding cooking demonstrations and tastings on sight.  Organic grocery stores that have long-since been go-to stops for soccer moms are now seeing a flood of younger customers looking for the healthy alternative.  Even those who don’t shop at organic-only stores are slowly starting to buy local or organic produce at their store of choice.

Now, with the focus on sustainably raised and healthy organics, celebrity chefs, better nutritional information and education to our youth, along with the well educated foodies and the most competitive food scene we’ve seen in decades, it’s time for you to join the revolution.  Start small, check out a farmer’s market this weekend, or go big and start your own maple syrup farm! Whatever it is, get to it, because make no mistake – we’re smack dab in the middle of a food revolution!

Tony