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August 2, 2017

Tastes Like Home

Take your customers on a trip down memory lane by incorporating flavors in your menu that can be found in their childhood favorite meals and experiences. Give them a twist on Mom’s brown-bag classics to reminisce over lunch. Remind them of dinners at Grandma’s filled with smiles and Sloppy Joe’s. People tend to associate food with sentiments from their past — foods that taste good can make us feel good too.

As the years go by, we often reflect back on old memories and can develop a sense of nostalgia or a longing for the past. Seen in recent movie and television reboots, games and clothing, nostalgic marketing is taking over various markets and industries. *Forbes explains that this nostalgia tactic embodies the idea of tapping into positive cultural memories from previous decades. Although originally adapted to attract millennials to specific products, it is now seen as a successful strategy to engage with all age groups. Through nostalgic marketing, businesses can connect to their audience through cross-cultural and generational appeals. People love sentiments from their past — from the colors, packaging, smells, and taste, they appreciate the positive emotions that it can evoke.

Nostalgia

The ultimate way to adapt this trend to your restaurant is by creating a meal that uses familiar flavors from childhood classics.

Your restaurant environment can tell a story. From the names on the cocktail menu to the fold of the napkin, small details in your restaurant setting can help recreate cherished memories. It generates an immersive experience that will take your customers on a journey to a different point in time.

Re-purpose the Retro. Don’t just replicate a dish from the past; make it new and relevant to fit with the present. Give cult-favorites an upgrade by modernizing old recipes. From the ingredients, to the cooking technique, to the presentation, you can adapt dishes so that they’ll never go out of style.

Try it out:

  1. Make your own adult lunchable with an indulgent cheese and charcuterie board featuring aged cheddar, hard salami and decadent pâté
  2. Go vintage by serving Coca-Cola in the classic glass bottle
  3. Serve a homemade soft and golden Honey Bun smothered with a sweet honey bourbon glaze for breakfast
  4. Use vintage cereals to create sweet and crunchy toppings for desserts or breading
  5. Incorporate new spices and seasonings to put a twist on classic recipes like Mom’s chicken with Shake n’ Bake breadcrumbs

If you include modern novelty recipes, they are sure to be hit items for years to come. Remember to look back on the past to power your future.

 

*Friedman, Lauren. "Why Nostalgia Marketing Works So Well With Millennials, And How Your Brand Can Benefit." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 03 Aug. 2016. Web. 07 July 2017.

July 3, 2017

Complements for your Cocktails

Your customers are having drinks at the bar and need a little something to snack on, so offer up some old time bar snacks. Something salty and crunchy that is bursting with flavor and easy to eat. Include dishes that not only complement your bar beverages, but help entice your customers to order more.

Nuts are an easy choice, but pre-made nut mixes can be a bit pricey and not very exciting. Bulk raw nuts, on the other hand, can be bought for much less and can easily be custom roasted in-house to create your own signature nut dish. Almonds are great for such a snack - especially if peeled. You could create your own honey roasted almonds with honey, balsamic vinegar, demerara sugar and sel gris. Or go for something more exotic, by tossing the almonds with za’atar and olive oil.

Bar_snacks

Nuts, however, aren’t the only choice. 

Chick peas and even split peas can be served up as yummy bar food. Rehydrate the peas overnight then pat dry. For the perfect chick pea, toss in flour then with Aleppo pepper, fry, and finish with a sprinkle of salt. For the split peas, toss with a little wasabi powder for a really nice heat and crunch. Aleppo pepper, wasabi powder, or even a little house made bacon salt, all could go well on the fried peas but could also perform beautifully on a simple bowl of fresh popcorn.

Crackers, particularly a buttery style, are always a popular munchie, especially when served with a crock of spread. House made preserves like a fig jam or pepper jelly, are good when paired with a strong, firm cheese. Of course, the crock itself could be cheese based. Along the Atlantic seaboard, pimento cheese is hot right now, with a number of restaurants and bars being most known for that dish alone. Herbed cheese spreads, using whipped cream cheese and whatever fresh herbs and spices inspire you, could be another way to go, especially during the spring and summer months. When the leaves turn and the cold sets in, a cheddar cheese spread infused with port, sherry, or even whisky might be just the right snack.

Consider Healthier Alternatives

Offer veggie sticks with a cheese spread, hummus, pickled vegetables or stuffed olives for those looking for a healthier alternative. Hummus is a deceptively easy dish to make that is very accepting of customization by adding spices, peppers, citrus, or even creamed ingredients like avocado. Pickling vegetables and stuffing olives are both low in cost and labor, making for healthy options that are never a bad choice.

Bar snacks are simple and easy to eat. With a little planning, these micro dishes should be able to be turned out for $3-$5. Ordering a few of these dishes can lead all those happy patrons to order another round of your $15 craft cocktails.

May 30, 2017

Butter is Better

By Piet E. Jones

The five mother sauces - Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Sauce Tomat, Hollandaise. The basis for French cooking that has influenced international cuisine for generations. Learn these, as nearly every chef does very early in their career, and you have a skill that will allow you to imitate or pioneer most any dish. Once the base was made, one could modify or enhance any of them to fit the dish they were intended for - be it a thyme infused Béchamel for the perfect mac-n-cheese or spicing up your eggs with a Sriracha Hollandaise. These were the sauces that set apart the truly great dishes from the might have beens. Or at least they used to be. 

Shutterstock_250461964

Sure, there is still a place for many of them, like the aforementioned mac-n-cheese and with your brunch Benedict, but rely on them too much these days and people will refer to your menu as dated and perhaps a bit heavy. The 80s were not kind to the mother sauces, short cuts and shelf stable mixes short circuited what made these sauces classic. A roux, the first step for many of these sauces, is a great way to thicken and as a medium to capture the flavor while a quickly dumped scoop of uncooked flour leads to lumps and sadness. Tastes have also changed. People like cleaner, more natural flavors, not to mention it being a bit of a shame to smother a high quality piece of fish or meat with a heavy sauce.

The problem with all this, while some proteins can be served plain, most need a little something to elevate the taste - a little fat to add sumptuousness along with some fresh herbs and spices to celebrate and complement the quality of the protein. Fortunately there is a simple solution, compound butter - more formally called a Maitre d'Hotel Butter. Endlessly adaptable, a simple pat or two will impart all the fat and flavor you’re looking for without burying the dish.

Making a Compound Butter is Simple

Softened butter with a little liquid and whatever flavor bombs you want to add, then roll in plastic and chill. Say you have a gorgeous prime cut of steak - grilled perfectly and ready to go. Instead of a heavy béarnaise or bordelaise, you could just add a pat of tarragon compound butter - shallots and garlic softened in olive oil then finished with a touch of dry sherry, take off the heat and mix in freshly chopped tarragon then whip into the softened butter, salt and pepper to taste (fresh cracked white pepper might be a more pleasant, subtle addition), roll into a log then chill until ready to use.

Don’t like tarragon? Try chopped chives with a shot or two of Worcestershire sauce or maybe some thyme with a squeeze of lemon. Yes, you could make truffle butter, but please use real truffle. Truffle oils and essences are little more than perfume, and often taste more chemical than fungus. The thing to remember, for most compound butters, garlic and shallots are a great starting point. Once you’ve created your butter, it can be used on most anything. Steaks, fish, chicken, even pork will work.

A Compound Butter Can Also be Used With Pasta.

A cheese or mushroom tortellini could be tossed with the tarragon or chive compound butters to add just enough flavor but still allowing the fillings to shine through. Perhaps you’re making seafood ravioli, why not top it with a little lobster roe compound butter? Literally just lobster roe and butter, the compound performs a bit of culinary magic as it warms up, turning from a rather unappetizing olive green to a sublime pale pink coral color. You needn’t limit yourself to lobster roe, salmon or trout roe can also work to create different flavors and colors.

As a matter of fact, you can even infuse the butter with seafood to create all manner of compound. Finely minced cooked shrimp? Sure! Chopped anchovies? Of course! Scallops or sea urchin can work as well. Even a few drops of concentrated seafood stock, distilled from the shells of crabs and lobster, could be the perfect delicate topping for a fillet of sole or turbot.

Sweeten Things up

Your compound butters don’t always need to be savory either, they can be sweet - a little honey and some poppy seeds, or perhaps a hint of lavender. Suddenly you’ve got the butter for the artisanal biscuits or cast iron rolls your baker has been wanting to add as a starter.

Besides appealing to modern tastes and cooking styles, compound butter offers more advantages over fussy sauces. It saves you time and money. A compound butter can be made then refrigerated until needed (seafood butters should be frozen). Sauces rarely last more than one night leading to waste and needing to be made fresh every day, sometimes remade in the middle of a rush if they break or go wonky in some way. A compound butter can last for several days - if it isn’t used up first. No more copper pans, tediously tended until they are just perfect, simply slice off a pat and you’re good to go. The perfect shortcut that won’t leave your diners feeling shorted.

April 26, 2017

Veggie Noodles are Here to Stay

By Piet E. Jones

Culinary trends are constantly on the move. Some pop big with lots of buzz and perhaps a bit overuse, like sous vide, before settling into becoming a somewhat commonplace technique used effectively for some dishes.Zoodles Others, like foams, devolve into culinary punchlines. 

Spiralized vegetables, or zoodles, looks like it might be on track to have some staying power. Typically made from zucchini, hence the Z, zoodles have crossed the boundary from restaurant to home kitchens cementing their popularity. Part of that is driven by the gluten free and reduced carb trends; the rest is that they are both tasty and versatile.

Any Pasta Dish Can Have Their Noodles Replaced with Zoodles.

Blanching in salted boiling water or a quick steam are common preparation methods, just be careful not to overcook lest the zucchini become limp and mushy. You can even skip precooking, just slip the zoodles into a sauté pan with the sauce and heat while tossing. A simple basil red sauce, maybe with some sliced hot Italian sausage, then finished with a little fresh shaved Parmesan is really all you need but nearly any sauce/protein combination can work. You could even list on your menu not as a separate dish but as a healthy option to your normal pasta dishes.

There is no need, however, to limit zoodles to pasta style dishes. They make great salads and slaws as well. The freshest zucchini zoodles can be served raw, although you can really dial up the color and taste with a quick blanch followed by an ice bath. Tossed with mayonnaise or dressings, they perform well as a bright and crunchy side dish or as a topping on, say, a pulled pork sandwich - either a tradition slaw dressing of mayonnaise and sour cream or with a simple, sweetened vinegar dressing.

You could even bind the zoodles together with flour and egg to make a pretty amazing latke. The flour kind of defeats the purpose of low carb and gluten free so you could sub it out for either almond (make sure you have an allergy warning) or coconut flour, just keep in mind those have very different flavor profiles so you might want to experiment with flour blends and maybe even some fresh herbs and spices to achieve your desired result. Dress the plate with the traditional accoutrements like sour cream and applesauce for the best fusion of nostalgic and contemporary.

Zoodles are Perfect for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner

Lunch and dinner also shouldn’t be the only time to consider zoodles. Potato heavy skillets and bowls are very popular these days for breakfast, zoodles are a healthy alternative to all that starch. Soften onions and peppers in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil, toss with zoodles and crispy, chopped bacon then top with a couple of poached eggs and shredded Gruyère. Voila, a great high protein/low carb way to start any day.

Zucchini is also not the only vegetable you can use. Drop the first letter from zoodle to match your veggie and you’re good to go. Coodles when you use carrots. For parsnips you’ve got poodles. OK, no one wants to put poodles on their menu… Besides, zoodles is fast becoming a more generic term that can apply to more than just spiralized zucchini, best to just stick to that and modify it with the name of the vegetable used.

Get Creative with Your Veggies

The point is, most any firm or hard vegetable will do. Some, like carrots, you can serve raw and lightly dressed. Others, like sweet potato, require cooking. You also need to be aware of how the vegetable changes when heat is applied. Some will fragment into shorter pieces with too much while others, like sweet potato, turn to mush if overcooked. In nearly all the cases, fast cooking is good, from frats blanching to deep frying. Slower methods tend to break the zoodles into increasingly smaller pieces lowering the visual appeal.

Zoodles can also help reduce waste and lower food costs. Already offering fresh broccoli on your menu? What do you do with the large center stalk? Try peeling it then run it through your spiralizer. A quick blanch and what you used to throw away is suddenly ready for the table in a slaw or side.

So, there you have it, a well-established cooking trend that is endlessly versatile and adaptable. Zoodles can help you appeal to today’s tastes and cater to those with gluten issues or trying to reduce their carbs. Plus you might be able to reduce waste and lower food costs in the process. Everybody wins!

March 29, 2017

There's a Hot New Ingredient in Town

By Piet E. Jones

Nope, it’s not some rare plant with an odd sounding name that’s only available on alternate full moons. Nor is it some high end heritage meat with a genetic line that exists only on some remFried-egg-burger2ote mountain farm. The hot new ingredient is actually one of the oldest ingredients of all - the egg. Now, it’s not an unusual egg that’s hot. Quail, goose, duck, even ostrich eggs can be found on menus all over but that’s not what the buzz is about. No, it’s your garden variety chicken egg that’s showing up on the hottest dishes in town.

Think About It

Heavy sauces aren’t really in vogue anymore. People want to taste their food. Simple is in. And what is more simple yet tastefully alluring than an egg? Of course, you do need the right preparation for the right dish to really make that egg sing. Scrambled eggs would be kind of silly on top of a burger. But put a fried one on top, so the creamy yolk oozes out over the juicy burger and you suddenly have a winner.

That mixed green salad with lovely sliced radishes and crisp cucumber? Try dressing it with a perfect egg. What is a perfect egg, you ask? Well, set water to a boil and then let it go back down to a low simmer. Add your egg and let it steep for five minutes. Move immediately to an ice bath to stop the cooking process and make it easier to peel. What you have is an egg where the white is firm but still slightly soft and a yolk of creamy, runny perfection. Serve it plain on the salad or roll it lightly in salt and pepper, or other spices and herbs of your choice. No need for dressing, maybe a squirt of citrus or flavored olive oil, when they slice into the egg it will run beautifully onto the greens taking some of the spices with it. Perfection.

There’s No Need to Limit Your Perfect Egg to Salads

That heritage pork chop that you serve with the fat perfectly crisped? Top it with a perfect egg. The small batch stone ground grits that are the platform for the massive shrimp? Top it with a perfect egg. Any number of dishes could benefit from the richness of a creamy yolk oozing out onto it. Sure, you could achieve a similar result with a poached egg but the improved visuals and mouthfeel of the perfect egg really can’t be beat.

Ramen and Asian style noodle dishes are showing up in all manner of restaurant, not just Asian ones. Besides the broth and noodles, often painstakingly made in-house, the star of the dish is often the egg. A perfect egg would go wonderfully on top of the slow braised broth and hand pulled noodles but you could also go another route. Instead of a 5 minute egg, how about a 4 hour one? Initially, the thought of such an egg conjures memories of grey yolks and a lingering sulfur smell. Not so if done correctly. If you’re making your own broth you already have a slowly simmering pot filled with all manner of goodness. Toss a few eggs in. After an hour remove them and slightly crack them, rolling them lightly to crack uniformly around the egg. Then put them back in the braising dish. Under the low heat, the eggs will slowly absorb some of the flavors of the broth (the low heat will also avoid the discoloration and noxious odor). Before serving remove the shell, you should have a gorgeous broken glass pattern all around the egg. You could even mix it up a bit, instead of steeping the eggs in your broth, do it in green or black tea to add a new element of flavor to your noodle dish.

Get Creative

Another creative angle being used is to sous vide the eggs. The precise temperature control really allows chefs to run the gamut from soft to extra firm with precision. A little olive oil in the bag, perhaps infused with herbs, or fine chopped cooked bacon or house made charcuterie can create tiny bites that are sure to please as either an appetizer or as part of a larger dish - almost like a dialed up deviled egg.

Regardless of which method or dish you choose, adding an egg is elegantly on trend, bringing a creaminess and feeling of homey comfort to most any plate. That is it relatively inexpensive and so easy to work with helps make it a winner ingredient behind the line. All around, perhaps the most perfect ingredient.

March 1, 2017

Pollock – America's Other White Fish

Gray pollock2

By Piet E. Jones

“Monday fish hardly worth elevating to Friday.” That was how James Beard award winning British food writer, Jane Grigson, dismissed pollock in her 1973 tome, Fish Cookery.  “Tasteless” and “muddy” were some of the other words she used to describe the poor, lamented pollock.

But that was many years ago, tastes change and what was once out is now hot.  Diners today don’t want strong, fishy seafood.  What Grigson called “tasteless,” today we describe as “delicate.”  The “muddy” color that offended her?  Our eyes see a beautiful ivory fillet.  Don’t forget, in colonial America indentured servants in New England demanded a clause in their contracts not to be fed too much lobster - a burden many of us today would gladly welcome.

 

A Blank Slate

The delicate flavor is actually the perfect blank slate for the creative chef.  Nearly any sauce pairs easily.  Plus, the firm flesh and low moisture content lends itself perfectly for breading or batters - holding up well even in deep fryers.

Pollock also has a few more things going for it. These days savvy diners, especially Millenials, don’t just indulge, they look for enjoyable foods that also give a little extra.  They want to know if seafood is sustainable, wild caught, and even good for you. In this case, 400-500 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids per three ounce serving.  This “good fat” is considered essential and experts believe it can help ward off age related diseases like Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes. And yes, to your diners’ delight, Alaskan Pollock is both wild caught and sustainable.

 

The Alaska Angle

More and more diners also want to know where their food was sourced from. The Portlandia skit where they make light of the farm-to-table movement and the journey Colin the Chicken made to their plate may have been funny, but there is more than a grain of truth to it.  The Alaskan fisheries, where American Pollock comes from,  are some of the best managed in the world.  Strict quotas and regulatory oversight ensure that the fishery will be productive for generations to come, providing good jobs.

There is even more to that Alaskan angle. Marketing research indicates that adding “Alaskan” or “Wild Caught Alaskan” can significantly increase sales over a menu item simply described as “Pollock.”  Diners are also willing to pay a premium for dishes labeled “Alaskan” over those that aren’t, a huge benefit in times of tight margins.

 

Budget Friendly

Also, Pollock won’t destroy your budget.  It is increasingly difficult to maintain quality and portion size without changing your price points - a real challenge in the face of stiff competition at all levels of dining in the restaurant industry.  Relatively inexpensive compared to similar wild caught white fishes, pollock can help you control your food costs while maintaining quality.

Pollock has come a long way.  Once out of favor, changing palates and increased awareness of environmental and health benefits point to it being the next hot fish.  Maybe it’s time for you to consider adding it to your menu.

February 1, 2017

Make the Most of Valentine's Week

Make the Most of Valentine's Day
By Piet E. Jones

Valentine’s Day. One of the roughest days of the year for many a restaurant. Some call it “amateur night,” filled with high expectations of a quiet, romantic dinner that is at odds with the reality of barely controlled dining chaos. Look around, do you see any of your regulars? Probably not. Maybe they stopped in for a quick drink before it gets busy and then flee the scene. Most of the people you see are new faces. Some you may be able to capture as new regulars, others are out for a very rare dinner. That’s all great, take good care of these people, it’ll give you a nice bump in an otherwise slow month but there is still so much more potential you can get out of this day.

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January 27, 2017

2017 Food Trends: Part 4 African Menu Strategies

Lamb
By Piet E. Jones

So, you’ve decided to add a little African flair to your menu. Great! Now what? It might be the trending flavor at the moment, but if you don’t capitalize it properly, you may find it languishing and dying on your menu. What to do? Well, there are a few strategies to get those dishes out of your kitchen and onto the tables.

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January 20, 2017

2017 Food Trends: The Flavors of Africa Part 3, Southern Shores

South africa
The South African national dish bobotie features ground beef and lamb browned with onions, garlic, curry, turmeric, chopped apricots, apples, raisins, and almonds along with the zest of a lemon and a beaten egg to hold it all together.


By Piet E. Jones

Wrapping up our look at African cuisine, we move south and to the islands off the eastern coast. The flavors get a little lighter but are no less unique and exciting.

South Africa

Fish is abundant in South Africa and one of the preferred methods for cooking fish is in banana or plantain leaves. Either a whole or filleted fish can work, score the skin if whole, salt generously, add lemon or sliced leeks or onions, maybe a splash of wine, then wrap tightly—no steam should be able to escape.  An oven can work, but to really exploit this method, low burning coals are the best. A little charring is okay, but don’t let the leaves burn. The result is an intensifying of the flavors without it becoming fishy, not to mention the wrapped fish looking stunning on the plate. 

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January 10, 2017

2017 Food Trends: The Flavors of Africa Part 2, North Africa

Tagine_foodcentric
Lamb tagine with chickpeas, apricots and pomegranate seeds.

By Piet E. Jones


Our journey across African cuisine continues. Next we find ourselves north of the Sahara and along the upper eastern coast. Here the cuisine is a convergence of African with Middle Eastern and Asian influences. One spice, cardamom, is used across Africa but comes into play with heavy prominence here where its earthy flavor adds to the fragrant mix of the cooking. In the United States cardamom tends to be most frequently used in desserts, but maybe it’s time to take some of it up to the main line of your kitchen.

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