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Restaurants Without Seats? Big Trends In 2017

4 Jan

Food trends are fascinating; we are obsessed with what we eat. But more importantly, these trends tell larger stories about who we are. Looked at yearly, they depict the shifting sands of consumer behavior.

For example, I’ve just learned that ordering food delivered from restaurants surges, improbably, on … Valentine’s Day! It’s not because of the death of romanticism in America or because restaurants are heavily booked. Just the opposite: Lured by the ease of Internet ordering and speedy delivery by Uber or Amazon, people increasingly are “eating out” at home and abandoning restaurant dining rooms.

So a big trend for 2017 will be companies opening experimental kitchen-only restaurants whose sole purpose is to send prepared meals to your home. They are called “phantom restaurants” (also known as ghost restaurants) because no one ever visits them. They’re located in low-rent locations but staffed by real chefs and cooks. Even Olive Garden, just last week, said that it was considering building kitchens in warehouse districts that could deliver to a major city, an idea earlier floated by the fast-growing Panera Bread company.

I’ve attached an article on this very subject by Financial Times’s restaurant critic Nicholas Lander as reprinted in last week’s blog by Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s premier wine experts (and someone I’ve adored for decades). Expansion of delivery-only kitchens is reshaping the restaurant business — and perhaps also our waistlines. Or it may simply satisfy an innate desire to nest.

Every year I write about food trends as gleaned from the best in the business, and there are many exciting ones on the horizon. Is seaweed the next kale? Are wildly creative sandwiches reshaping how we think about breakfast? Will congee be the next new thing? (I am crazy about it; any time of the day.) There’s all this and lots more in the 2017 food and beverage forecast from Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants, which you can read about here. Most intriguing in this report is an analysis of why vegetables are becoming the new “comfort food,” and whether that means we’re saying goodbye to mac-and-cheese.

What are some other trends on the horizon? Well, gentrification of the $4 “chopped cheese” for one. A sandwich, made famous in the bodegas of Harlem and the South Bronx, went viral this year, causing a stampede to the upper reaches of the city. This mélange of ground beef, American cheese and condiments, all piled on a hero bucks the trend of highly contrived, super-creative, attention-getting food served elsewhere at more like $4 a bite.

Another trend? Chef magicians turning food-waste into delectable things to eat. I am one of them and among the first to fry carrot tops to use as a garnish, and definitely the first to boil the peelings of fresh asparagus to resemble fettuccine. I also make “compost soup,” and transform leftover bits of iceberg lettuce into a wondrous vegetable by simply sautéing with olive oil and lemony sumac. I pulverize old gnarly carrots into “nibs” and toss them with couscous. So good. And essential to creating a sustainable planet.

Other trends? Chefs who use menu language in new ways and intentionally break from traditional forms. I now teach a class at the New School for Social Research (in New York City) called “The Language of Food,” which looks at menus as a form of literature. And chefs, like poets, use the fewest possible words to express desire and hunger, getting to the essence of a dish quickly, like good haiku. More? Specialty drinks with LED lights inside the ice cubes has a certain poetry of its own, as does “candy floss” (the British word for cotton candy) used in brand new ways.

More? It’s time to click on Whiteman’s forecast for 2017 – sporting the 13 hottest food & beverage trends in restaurant & hotel dining, not to mention 23 prescient buzzwords. According to Nick Lander’s in December’s Financial Times, “Michael Whiteman is a striking example of a lifetime well spent in the American hospitality business.” As the guy who (with his partner Joe Baum) created the world’s first food courts and five of New York’s three-star restaurants, including the legendary Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room, he knows a thing or two about what’s happening.

The Culinary Gardener

11 Jun
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A saute of celtuce, saltwort and young garlic. (Photo credit: Shayna DePersia)

For years I have been citing a directive of my own making – that one should eat, when possible, from one’s own zip code. More poetry than practical, I came up with this notion way before the farm-to-table movement, way before “local” became a destination, way before “sustainable” became a slogan. I wrote about the pleasures of eating from my window box in my first cookbook Little Meals, in 1993. Back then I pulled a few zucchini from my Park Slope backyard garden, culled a pint or two of little tomatoes, and had enough basil to keep me well supplied with freshly made pesto most of the summer. Some friends nearby grew figs and grapes in their yards, which we occasionally swapped.

Just last week, in a small organic farm in Asheville, North Carolina, I had the giddy pleasure of digging for my own lunch and then preparing the “materie prime” (prime ingredients, as the Italians would say) an hour later in the home kitchen of Evan Chender. Evan is a young soil farmer by way of Vassar College who developed his formidable skill and passion at chef Dan Barber’s world-famous Stone Barns, a sustainable farm and Michelin-starred restaurant on the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico, New York. At the age of twenty-six, Evan and his new bride, Claire (also a Vassar grad, a surfer and foodist) moved to Asheville as the town itself emerged from a sleepy enclave to a vibrant community of artists, brewers, and buskers with a burgeoning restaurant scene, daily farmer’s markets, and bespoke food.

Evan first worked as a cook in nearby Weaverville and then decided, with the help of Asheville’s great climate and sustainability vibe, to begin his own organic farm. Only 8,000 square feet, it supplies Asheville’s top restaurants (The Bull and the Beggar, most notably) with topnotch ingredients – many of which I never heard of, let alone eaten. May I extol the virtues of his saltwort, celtuce, Kailan (Chinese broccoli), menegi scallions, borage leaves, and wild vetch tendril? These, my friends, are the ingredients of the future (and some cultures’ past). If you want to partake, call Evan. He tends to every square inch of the soil, scours the world’s seed markets via the internet, and seduces the town’s voracious chefs into taking everything he grows, no matter how unusual. He is a well-tuned, one-man band. He plants every seed by hand, knows when to water, when to rotate, when to turn, turn, turn. He has already had enough seasons under his belt to make a living and live his dream. Coming this season? Aleppo pepper, fenugreek shoots, purple shiso, vegetable mallow, flageolet shell beans, and yes, tetragonia, a kind of spinach indigenous to Australia and New Zealand. In the fall you can expect to see a crop of yokatta na, shunkyo radish, oca and mashua. This is the language of poets.

And so was our zip code lunch. Freshly-dug potatoes were gently broken apart when tender and tossed in a homemade mayonnaise with freshly picked radishes, fennel fronds, and nasturtium flowers. There was a beautiful, radically fresh salad of just-picked gem lettuce, variegated lusia radicchio, powerful arugula, and fragrant bits of coriander flower, gilded with an emulsion of spicy mustard, local maple syrup, Greek olive oil, and homemade vinegar that Evan secrets in his top cupboard. Shavings of an excellent parmesan tied it all together. The most exciting dish of all contained nuggets of celtuce (hard to describe but with a slight cucumber taste, firm flesh, crisp and briny, waterchestnutty), sauteed with strands of saltwort (I am a huge fan of this sea-like veg), slivers of young garlic and finished with purple shiso. We drank a bottle of Reuilly, a crisp, aromatic white wine with subtle minerality from the Loire. The experience was nothing short of a thrill.

And how do I know Evan? He was a culinary savant at the age of fifteen who cooked lunch for me and later helped me with a cookbook I wrote for teens called Eat Fresh Food (reviewed in the science section of the New York Times in 2009). Who knew he would take it so seriously.

(www.theculinarygardener.com)

Olympic Gold: Veal Steaks “Stroganoff” with Shiitakes & Portobellos

20 Feb

AFP 520158322 S SPO SPO RUS -I hope you have been enjoying watching the Olympics as much as I have. I’ve found myself wanting to indulge in a few hearty Russian classics, but how about a new-fashioned Veal Steaks “Stroganoff?” Priyatnogo appetita!

Veal Steaks “Stroganoff” with Shiitakes & Portobellos
(Radically Simple, Rodale, 2010)

Flavors of fino sherry, espresso, and lemon “lift” an old-fashioned dish, generally made with beef, to something lighter and special.

4 thick veal steaks, about 9 ounces each
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons fino sherry
8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme
¼ teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives

Preheat the broiler. Rub the veal with the olive oil. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper and arrange on a broiler pan. Heat the cream in a large skillet until bubbly. Add 3 tablespoons of the sherry and all the mushrooms. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, 4 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons sherry, thyme, espresso powder, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and then absorb much of the sauce, 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, broil the veal six inches from the heat for 3 to four minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes; thickly slice on the bias. Top with the mushroom sauce and sprinkle with chives. Serves 4

Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers

27 May

The chive flowers are blooming once again which means it’s time to make my one of my favorite warm-weather soups:  Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers (and parsley oil). You may be astounded to know that the beautiful soup in the photo below is made with only six ingredients.  Four for the soup; two for the parsley oil. This soup is classically made from potatoes and leeks, both the chive leaves (straws) are used and the edible flowers pulled apart.  It is a dish of many virtues and healthy as can be.

I saw some lovely crimson rhubarb at the market, too.  Look here tomorrow for radically simple ways to prepare it. Have a meaningful Memorial Day.

 

Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers (adapted from Radically Simple)
This more healthful riff on classic vichyssoise is still luxuriously suave.  For a stunning presentation, blanch a bunch of parsley and puree in a blender with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup water and salt; add a swirl to each serving to dance on the white velvet background.

2-1/2 pound cauliflower, or 1-3/4 pounds florets
2 large leeks
1 cup light cream
1 bunch chives with chive flowers

Break the cauliflower into small pieces and put in a 4-quart pot.  Add 5 cups water (water will not cover the cauliflower) and 2 teaspoons salt.  Chop the white parts of the leeks to get 1-1/2 cups.  Wash well; add to the pot.  Bring to a rapid boil; reduce the heat to medium.  Cover and cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 24 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes.  In 2 batches, puree in a food processor until ultra smooth, adding 1/2 cup cream to each batch.  Transfer to a bowl; add salt and pepper.  Cover; refrigerate until very cold.  Add water or additional cream if too thick.  Garnish with chopped chives and flowers, and optional parsley oil.  Serves 6

 

Who Needs Quinoa More Than You Do?

4 Dec

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A guest at our Thanksgiving Leftovers Dinner raved about a quinoa stuffing she’d made for her own family’s annual feast the day before. I cringed a bit because few of us comprehend the dark side of our trendy infatuation with this ancient food from high in the arid Andes.

Quinoa is the only plant that’s a source of a complete protein; it packs so many nutrients into so little space that NASA called it an ideal food for astronauts.

America’s upper classes, relentlessly striving to eat themselves into good health, have latched onto quinoa as a “superfood,” and are gobbling up tons of it. As a result, you have this gastronomic madness of stuffing an already protein-rich turkey with protein-rich quinoa, when stale bread or bulgur wheat or rice or corn would do just as well — but with far less collateral damage to the citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where this stuff is grown.

Our quinoa craze may be enriching farmers who grow the stuff — prices, by some estimates, have tripled in recent years — and they now can afford mechanized farm equipment, solid houses and college education for their children. That’s the good news. They send us quinoa, we send them money — sounds like a perfect example of globalization. The bad news is that this boom is wrecking the diets of indigenous people who actually need to eat it, because they no longer can afford to purchase this life-sustaining vegetable. (We generally think of quinoa as a grain, but it’s actually a seed of vegetable related to chard.) Even more ironic, the children of these prosperous growers now can afford junk food, so newly acquired wealth is impacting their diets, too.

There are reports that quinoa consumption among those who actually live on it is down by about a third in the years since we’ve “discovered” this 5,000-year-old seed, and that nutritionally at-risk natives of quinoa-growing countries now only can afford cheaper, less nourishing rice or, worse yet, processed food. It starts to sound like right here, where many Americans purchase cheap, nutritionally suspect processed food because they can’t afford the real thing.

Minuscule quinoa seeds are cooked more or less like rice, and the result can be a substitute for any starchy component of a meal. You can use it as a cereal for breakfast or as a pilaf at dinner; you can make a tabbouleh-like salad for your kid’s lunchbox or thicken a soup; you can use it instead of couscous or add it to your chicken curry. Much of it is labeled “organic” or “non-GMO” or “gluten-free” or “fair trade” — adding a feel-good appeal to Americans who go soft in their legs when they see the word “sustainable” but who may be unaware that they’re taking food from the mouths of children elsewhere.

What’s more, the land used for quinoa crops is fragile and depends upon delicate balance between agriculture and herds of llamas, which help fertilize the area and whose large padded feet prevent erosion. These herds are being reduced to make room for more crops, which suggests that eventually they’ll need artificial fertilizer to maintain production, undermining one of quinoa’s fundamental market appeals.

So what should we do? None of what I’ve written means we should stop buying quinoa, because then we’d return the Andean farmers to their former states of poverty. Instead, it suggests to me that if we’re cooking a meal that might require a nutritional boost — especially if we’re vegetarians or have celiac disease, or if we’re outbound in a space capsule — then quinoa starts to make some gastronomic sense. But if we’ve already got a wholesome meal in the oven, we don’t need to overload it with superfluous “goodness” while removing disproportionate quantities of quinoa from countries where it is needed far more.

Perhaps this is a better feel-good approach.

Why Bread is No Longer Rising

1 Nov

With time on my hands this week, worrying and wondering about loved ones in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I was struck by a fascinating web post: That, as a country, we’re consuming sharply declining amounts of wheat products — less bread and rolls, less wheat-based breakfast cereals, fewer English muffins and even fewer wheat tortillas.  Sales of bread loaves are down 11.3% over a recent five-year period — and falling, even as our population grows.

Given the vast numbers of Big Macs, Subway sandwiches and Domino’s pizzas we buy every day, these data, from Food Navigator USA, seemed counterintuitive to me. Since our national waistlines aren’t shrinking, we must be eating more of something else, so I began to wonder where the replacement calories are coming from. Three large trends reveal the answers: A change in how we shop for food; big ethnic shifts in eating habits away from meat-and-potato diets and an explosion of endless snacking.

Start with snacking: Granola bar sales were up 16 percent in the same period (and still rising), so that’s one place where oats clearly is replacing wheat — a packaged snack trumps a sandwich.

In addition, a recently released 2013 food and beverage forecast by international restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman talks about the “snackification of America” — noting that snacks now account for about one-in-five eating occasions, and that we’ve become a nation of serial munchers seeking foods that are portable. “If it fits in your car’s cup holder, if you can eat it with one hand, or better yet, two fingers … then it’s being tested in (restaurant) chains’ R&D kitchens,” they say.

Another study, by Rabobank, noted that all packaged snack bar sales — consisting mostly of energy, nutrition, granola/muesli, and fruit bars — have almost doubled in the last ten years. These may sound “healthy” but by and large they’re laden with sugar — which tells me a bit more about where those extra calories are coming from.

Equally important, we’ve gradually been abandoning the archipelago of shelving in the center of our supermarkets, steering our shopping carts around the edges, where we find vivid fresh products as opposed to cardboard packages — and this trend is accelerating among younger people (who’ve gotten the eat-better message) and among single people across the board. So it’s down with Cheerios and Fruit Loops and up with carrots and broccoli, chicken and salmon.

The folks at ConAgra, where they sell grains by the carload, told the newsletter Food Navigator that supermarkets are “suffering from 50 shades of beige as … we shift from a meat-and-potatoes European diet to a more modern, colorful, multi-textured, multi-flavored diet influenced by Asian and Latino food.”

Aha! In addition to oats, we’re buying more rice and more corn-based products because that’s what Asians and Latinos like to eat — and, nationally, we’re increasingly thrilled with their flavors, aromas and spices. Less gravy, more salsa. More corn chips. Brilliant idea by Taco Bell to add Doritos flavorings to their taco shells. Will Burger King someday stuff crunchy corn nachos into their Whoppers in America — just as they’re doing right now in Taiwan?

Four other factors are at play. There’s the artisan bread movement with bakers kneading not just wheat but all manner of grains to produce a denser product that’s eaten more slowly (I think of my husband’s weekly two-day ritual to bake one large sour and aromatic whole-grain rye bread studded with barley; it lasts a week). There’s the growing anti-gluten brigade of people who, with celiac disease or not, believe they should avoid wheat for health reasons.

There’s also been a swing among fast-casual chains (like Chipotle) toward serving food in bowls instead of wraps, and a rise in salad sales at fast food chains, all taking a dent out of bread consumption.

And finally there’s the residual from last decade’s anti-carbohydrate movement when white foods and sweet stuff were forsaken by carnivores hoping to trim their midsections.

As for me, I’ll still slather my homemade jam on a slice of my husband’s warm homemade bread. It’s a far better snack than a granola bar any time of the day.

The Magic of Three Ingredients

4 Sep

With a touch of irony, I note that simplicity has become trendy. Again. This September’s cover story in Food & Wine breathlessly features their best “three-ingredient recipes ever.” Real Simple magazine boasted similar stories over the past two years, as did Oprah magazine.

I have to smile knowing that my 1996 cookbook Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only 3 Ingredients launched a quiet revolution that now is being embraced by the food world’s upper crust. Not surprisingly in the era of rampant borrowing, there’s hardly ever any attribution to the concept’s creator, but the nine books in my 1-2-3 series have been nominated for 5 James Beard Awards (with three wins) and one Julia Child/IACP award. Along with a smash hit called The 1-2-3 Collection, (going strong at Apple’s iTunes store), these books continue to surface in stores and garner testimonials from devoted 1-2-3 practitioners.

It has been said, “Never trust a simple dish to a simple chef.” And it was with that in mind that I devised my daring three-ingredient formula where every ingredient counted except salt, pepper and water.

Like the minimalist movement in art, which reacted to the excesses of abstract expressionism, I wanted to strip away the froufrou that accumulated during the last few decade that came to define “contemporary” or “creative” cooking.

Instead of competing by the number of ingredients they cram into a dish or how high they can pile it on a plate, I longed for the high priests (and priestesses) of culinary wizardry to let the “ingredients speak for themselves” and manipulate them as little as possible.

When Alain Ducasse opened at the Essex House, his press release boasted of cooking “with just a few ingredients and some herbs”. Laurent Gras, made headlines at the Waldorf’s Peacock Alley by cooking with only two ingredients. Daniel Boulud, said “cooking with three ingredients is the way a chef really wants to and does cook at home.” Boston’s Lydia Shire once said “some of the world’s best dishes have no more than three ingredients.”

Today’s superstar chefs, when asked about what kind of food they’re cooking, give the same trendy answer. “Simple,” they say. But as I study menus from hot restaurants around the country, their offerings appear radically complex in both ingredient usage and cooking techniques.

As my three-ingredient philosophy has demonstrated over the years, there’s lots of intellectual glue (like using one ingredients several different ways) needed to make simple recipes work. In addition, cooking simply teaches valuable lessons about the way we experience taste. It would be fascinating to get into the “mind” of today’s top chefs as they claim to create their own streamlined dishes.

I like many of the recipes put forth by the test kitchen in September’s Food & Wine issue. The rules of the game, however, have been altered: Olive oil has been added to the list of “free ingredients.” That’s a bit like lowering the handicap of a well-seasoned golfer, but the recipes still sound delicious.

I offer you two crowd-pleasing three-ingredient recipes of my own: Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream is the perfect dessert for the remaining lazy-hazy days of summer, and Mahogany Short Ribs proved to be one of the Washington Post’s favorite recipes. You may want to check out the reservoir of three-ingredient recipes in my books (many still in print: Recipes 1-2-3; Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook, Entertaining 1-2-3, Healthy 1-2-3, Low Carb 1-2-3; Cooking 1-2-3, Kids Cook 1-2-3, Desserts 1-2-3, Christmas 1-2-3) and you’ll understand the magic.

Mahogany Short Ribs (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3)
This irreverent merger of foodstuffs results in a tantalizing dish that will amaze and amuse your guests. Prune juice tenderizes marbled ribs of beef, while teriyaki sauce ads a touch of sweetness and salinity. Nice with a bright, young zinfandel. Make sure the ribs are cut in between the bones to make 4 large thick ribs. These are known as “long cut” to differentiate them from “flanken” which is cut across the bone.

3 pounds short ribs, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup teriyaki sauce
1 cup prune juice

Place the ribs in a large bowl. Pour teriyaki and prune juice over ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the ribs from the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a large pot with 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns. Lower the heat, add the meat, and cover the pot. Simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove the meat to a platter. Reduce the sauce for 5 minutes over high heat until syrupy. Immediately pour sauce over the ribs. This is also delicious the next day. Remove any congealed fat from the top of the sauce and slowly reheat ribs in the liquid. Serves 4

Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3)
How luxurious only 2 grams of fat can taste. This is fabulous served over fresh strawberries tossed with sugar and spiked with grappa.

2 cups sugar
5 large lemons
1 quart buttermilk

Put the sugar in a large bowl. Grate the zest of 2 or 3 lemons to get 1 tablespoon zest. Cut lemons in half and squeeze 2/3 cup juice. Add zest and juice to the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the buttermilk and a large pinch of salt and stir until completely smooth. Chill well and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serves 6 to 8

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