June 3, 2014
What a Show!
What a show! Every customer who attended deserves a round of applause for an incredibly focused effort on getting to the seminars, the chef demo area, and engaging in the evening events. Kudos to all!
As your corporate chef, my intention is to keep the messages from our speakers alive for the rest of the year. I can’t wait to watch the customers who embraced the business changing lessons learned at the 2014 Maines Food Show grow their businesses this year! At Maines, we define our success through your success. We firmly feel no partnership bond is stronger than the one forged through education and inspiration. Please share with your Maines territory and regional managers the profitable and progressive changes you make to your restaurants business strategies, and let them know the results. This way we can fine tune the next chapter of our relationship by delivering the next set of tools at the 2015 Maines Food Show we are already busy planning. Be sure to let us know how your number one business partner can help you meet and overcome the next set of challenges that will surely face us all.
Let’s look at some of the highlights of the 2014 Maines Food Show;
Brad Barnes, CMC reminded us that no matter how far down the road you look, if you’re not nailing operational fundamentals today, anticipating future trends won’t mean a thing. Nail down the simple things like standardized recipes, food cost and inventory controls, plate costs, menu mix strategies, job descriptions, training, etc… Once that’s done, then reach for the latest copy of Maines Essence that our marketing team does an incredible job of producing. Go page by page and ask yourselves the same questions Brad did and you will take flight!
Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality group did a phenomenal job of communicating the philosophies that helped him build a $500 million restaurant empire. He kept 800 restaurant cooks, chefs and owners rapt as our CEO and Vice President conducted an onstage (and un-rehearsed per Danny’s wishes!) interview. During the hour prior, Binghamton native Carmen Quagliata, chef/partner of Union Square Café, along with the amazingly talented Turning Stone staff served the best main event meal we’ve ever had. If you missed it, I encourage you to buy and read his book Setting the Table; http://www.amazon.com/Setting-Table-Transforming-Hospitality-Business/dp/0060742763 Read it, learn it, love it, LIVE IT! Can’t get enough Danny Meyer philosophy!? Check out the breeding ground for HQ (hospitality quotient) http://hospitalityq.com/ or follow Danny Meyer and Carmen Quagliata on Twitter @dhmeyer and @ChefCarmenQ Want to share the many fascinating and inspirational menus from Danny’s Union Square Hospitality group? Check out http://www.ushgnyc.com/ where you can access them all.
Finally, if there’s only one thing you can take away from the 2014 Maines Food Show, let it be the question Gerry O’Brion asked every one of us; what is your restaurant’s “because?” If there was ever a critical time to be asking this question, it’s now. Maines can help you answer that question. Maines can be the well-spring of your inspiration. Maines can be the partner you’ve always needed. Take the time to sit down with your Maines territory manager and talk about the things you both saw at the food show. Business partners engage with each other, and that’s who you have in our team-partners, not order takers.
Embrace the passion and excitement we brought to you at the 2014 Maine Food Show, and share the good news with your customers; you’ve chosen a partnership with Maines, you care about your customer’s experience and want to make it better every time they dine in your restaurant- and this summer you’re going to show them how much!
This month’s Best Dish Yet recipe is from our good friend and fellow Corporate Chef Brian Bernstein who works in the Baltimore market and helped us out at this year’s Chef Demo Area at the food show. He demonstrated an exciting and innovative way to present monkfish, a great seafood option for summer. Monkfish Osso Bucco can show just how fun and simple it can be to elevate a simple yet elegant and under-utilized species. Demonstrate your kitchen’s versatility and try fresh monkfish on your feature board this summer!
Cook well, and thank you for choosing Maines!
March 24, 2014
Easter is Just Around the Corner
I'm picking up where Chef Eamon ended last week. Spring is coming which means Easter is just around the corner and you have to have hot cross buns and lamb on your menu! Hot cross buns are fragrant yeasty rolls that are a tradition in many Christian countries. They are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning with the evening of Shrove Tuesday (the evening before Ash Wednesday) to Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the crucifixion. Traditional hot cross buns are a sweet bun made with raisins and topped with a sugar icing. But in my opinion we should be serving them all year long. These yeasty rolls in spite of the raisins and icing are not sweet rolls. There all kind of variations. My favorite hot cross buns are spicy filled with candied orange peel, nuts and raisins, kind of like a fruitcake version. The best part about these buns is that I eat them with cheese. It's definitely a sweet and savory snack.
There are superstitions that surround hot cross buns also. One of them states that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or mold during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover. I personally like hanging one in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The bun must be replaced each year. I'm sure once your customers taste them they will want them all year long. Hot cross buns can also generate some extra cash for your bottom line. Think about offering them as a "Take Home" offering. Your customers can pre-order them; I would sell them by six or by the dozen.
Another time-honored tradition is lamb. The tradition of a roasted lamb dinner goes back to the first Passover of the Jewish people. They believed the sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hope that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally brought along this tradition. Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. Thus, the traditions merged. Lamb also triggers that spring is here and you should have some form of it on your menu for Easter. Lamb brings bold flavors to the table, a fine edge of juicy fat and a repertoire of cuts and dishes that make it a super meat. It is also a classic partner with wines, an additional opportunity for you to sell them at your restaurant particularly Bordeaux's or Cabernet Sauvignon's, as well as a variety of other vinous options.
As a chef, I love lamb and its strong flavor that stands up to robust seasonings and a variety of cooking methods. I've served it raw in tartare or braised and falling apart; it always keeps that intense flavor. You will find that most of your customers would prefer rack, filet or leg of lamb, but many of these cuts are very expensive. Since many of your customers are looking for value now may be your chance to offer a less expensive cut of lamb such as a braised shoulder. Easter is an opportunity to have your chefs play with an unusual cut of lamb that may become a stable dish on your regular menu. I'm sure it will fare well with your customers. So spring has sprung and make sure to offer both hot cross buns and lamb on your Easter menu. This week's My Best Dish Yet recipes are for hot cross buns and lamb ragout over pappardelle pasta.
Until next time,
Remember when it comes to food, friends and fun think outside the box!
March 17, 2014
Although it doesn’t feel or look like it, spring officially begins this Thursday. This has been a long cold winter, and everyone is over it. Everything is due for a thawing, including our customers, and I think the chefs amongst us have to be the ones to be proactive. Don’t wait for the weather man to declare it’s safe to go out (we may be waiting a while.) YOU are the ones who say it’s time to emerge from hibernation and start patronizing restaurants again! You know what stirs just under that tired old blanket of snow, just waiting to pop up when the warm spring sun slowly bakes the sleepy dirt. You know fresh and sweet spring herbs, onions, peas, and radishes will start gracing produce shelves. You know it because you’re chefs, and nobody knows the rhythms of the seasons better than chefs, and by simply crafting menu features around spring green produce you can warm your customer’s moods up just like the warm spring sun.
This week, Maines is featuring 2-3 pound skin on Atlantic Salmon fillets (ask your territory manager for details.) To me, nothing locks arms with spring herbs like salmon. A simple butter sauce with a mixture of fresh herbs like chives, tarragon and parsley napped over a perfectly poached fillet of salmon is hard to beat. Pan roast a fillet skin side down until the skin crisps up nicely and serve it with a small salad of spring herbs, flat leaf parsley, lemon and olive oil. Grilled salmon with spring herbs pureed in some olive oil with lemon zest is refreshing and invigorating. The list goes on and on because they are a natural pairing, and chefs have been using them together for years.
If you’re thinking about St. Patrick today, then all the more reason to be featuring salmon this week. Prior to the Euro and up to 1968, the Irish Florin coin was graced with Salmo Salar, the “great leaper,” also known to you and me as Mr. Atlantic Salmon. Think about rolling green hills lush with herbs and carved by ancient rivers teeming with Atlantic Salmon; do you really need any other reason to be featuring salmon this week!? I think not lads and lasses!
This week’s recipe for Poached Atlantic Salmon with Spring Herb Butter Sauce can serve as the perfect spring feature ice breaker. Paired with a simple sauté of Israeli couscous and sweet peas, this dish will take the chill off the frostiest customer. Spring starts in your dining rooms, not on a weather map. Think spring with Maines Atlantic Salmon!
Until next time, happy cooking!
March 3, 2014
Irish = St. Patrick's Day = Potatoes
Two weeks from now, we will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day, so I set out to come up with something new that you could add, last minute for this year's celebration. I have all the standards in my recipe file, such as Irish soda bread, Craic eggs, and Jameson Whiskey Meatloaf –just to mention a few. I wanted something different and I think I found it while doing my research. I came across an article in Food & Wine and not only is it perfect for St. Patrick's Day, it's something that can benefit your menu all year long. The article was about how restaurants ruin potatoes during the cooking process and how to avoid making these common mistakes.
So here is a summed up version of what the article said:
Roasted Potato Mistakes
• Roasting raw potatoes. Simply tossing raw potatoes into the pan before roasting will guarantee tough results, because the high water content will steam out over the course of a long cooking time. You will feel more like you’re eating the skin, because the structure just collapses inside. In addition, the potato will get too hard. There’s crispy, and then there’s tooth-shattering! To achieve that perfectly crispy exterior and creamy interior, parboil potatoes until 3/4 cooked. You can test this by piercing the potato with a knife tip and not having the potato slip off when picked up. Drain before roasting for about 20 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees.
• Starting with a cold pan. Putting potatoes in a cold roasting pan increases the likelihood that they’ll stick. The trick here is to heating a pan in the oven then to add oil. Let that heat to just before smoking before dropping in the potatoes.
• Crowding the pan. Leaving space between the potatoes helps them cook evenly, so it’s best to keep them in a single layer.
• Micromanaging. It’s important to let potatoes brown completely on one side before turning them over. As with most food potatoes are just not as good if they’ve been handled over and over.
• Adding tons of oil. Only use enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan; otherwise, they’ll have a fried quality. I recommend using duck fat, olive oil or clarified butter. And if you want to add an extra layer of flavor, add a few sprigs of rosemary or sage to the oil.
• Using the wrong variety. Don’t try to roast a waxy potato like red bliss. It’s better to stick to Yukon gold's or even fingerlings.
Mashed Potatoes Mistakes
• Using cold butter and cream. Having your butter and cream at room temperature or warmer helps them absorb more easily into hot potatoes.
• Over-blending. Using all warm ingredients means you shouldn’t have to overwork the mixture, which can make the potatoes gluey. Avoid whipping it too much when you add the butter and cream.
• Mashing with a fork. For a creamy result, stick with food mills or potato ricers, which act like a press, pushing the cooked potato through tiny holes. Mashed potatoes should be smooth, buttery and hot, almost like a puree. By making them this way you eliminated chunky mashed potatoes.
• Using small spuds. Unless you want really short fries, find the largest potatoes you can, like Idaho russets.
• Frying fresh-cut potatoes. Soaking peeled, washed and cut fries in cold water overnight removes excess potato starch, which prevents fries from sticking together and helps achieve maximum crispness.
• Cooking them only once. I'm not a fan of cooking potatoes directly from raw to the plate. I prefer the two-step cooking process: first, blanching the fries in oil until tender but not browned, and then—when you’re ready to serve the fries—cooking them in 380-degree oil until golden and crisp. The key word is crisp.
I guarantee that if you follow these simple steps, you will create that perfect potato to accompany and compliment any dish in your restaurant. And to help celebrated St. Patrick's Day I am attaching a wee bit of authentic Irish cooking in this week's recipe for "My Best Dish Yet". This dish is known in Ireland as Colcannon, (Cabbage Mashed Potatoes), and is a centuries-old side dish that gets its great flavor from shredded cabbage and onions. I like to serve it Irish-style with a dollop of melted butter. Enjoy the tips and this recipe, I made it extra easy by using fresh mashed potatoes but you can always make your own. It just doesn't get much better than that!
Go dtí an chéad uair eile, (Until next time)
February 24, 2014
The Food Show-Look Who’s Coming to Dinner!
It is indeed that time of the year again and I’m happy to report that the Maines Food Show winning streak of incredible, industry leading speakers will remain intact. Many of you may not be aware that before the end of a Maines Food Show, considerations will have already begun for next year, not the least of which is who will Maines choose to deliver “the message” next year? Who will be the one to set the inspirational tone for our customers for the year to come? Whose experience, passion, beliefs and resume will speak directly to our customers, and who will deliver the message that will change our customers’ lives? This year, I am proud to present our guy, Danny Meyer!
Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Hospitality Group, will share the secrets to the success of his incredible restaurant empire. Learn about his restaurants, who he is, his team, and their beliefs here http://www.ushgnyc.com He will expand on the principles and ideas that fortify and serve to frame such successful brands as The Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack, Eleven Madison Park and Blue Smoke. He will share the same passion that makes many of his restaurants the most popular in the history of New York City, arguably the toughest market in the world. You will hear how he firmly believes that customers always needs to be heard, and how their feedback can help point your restaurant in the most profitable and successful direction. He will share some of the insights from his book, Setting the Table, and expand on his belief in the spirit of hospitality and its role in the restaurant, business and life. He will review how his team “executes the guest experience,” and the onus he puts on proper training. Everything he will share will easily dovetail into your own operational philosophy, and, when applied, will get you results!
Want a closer look? Just pull up your streaming Netflix account and take an hour to watch the documentary “The Restaurateur” (they have a one month free promotion right now.) In one hour, you will see first-hand how Danny approaches a new restaurant concept, the pains he takes to make the tiniest detail decisions, the passion he insists on expressing in every detail of the food, service and atmosphere. With Danny, as it is with many of us, the restaurant business picked him, he didn’t pick it. As he states in his book, Setting the Table, it was only a matter of time.
I cannot overstate how incredibly important it is to take the time to learn more about Danny Meyer. He is, arguably, one of the most successful restaurateurs in the country. The Zagat ratings, the James Beard Awards, the industry accolades only tell a small part of the story. One look at his portfolio of restaurants and you will see that he is not a one trick pony. He covers the gamut, from neighborhood joint, roadside burger joint and ice cream stand to Roman Trattoria, white table cloth fine dining to BBQ and rib joint and museum commissary. Only a man who understands that the spirit of true hospitality and the precise balance of price, product and service can always hit a chord that will resonate across all target markets, insuring that a restaurant concept will almost always be busy and full of happy customers.
I am asked by many Maines employees unfamiliar with Danny Meyer which of their customers would be best suited to hear him speak. My answer? All of them. If you take any time to look outside of yourself and your market to listen and immerse yourself in the story of one industry person, make it Danny Meyer. Your staff, your customers and your community will thank you, and Maines.
Speaking of appealing across all markets, who doesn’t love a good old fashioned bread and butter pickle? The growing trend of making pantry staples in house is about as relevant today as having silverware on the table. It’s becoming the new normal. What are you doing to embrace this? Anything? If you serve sandwiches or hamburgers in your restaurant, you owe it to yourself to try this recipe. It’ll take you all of 15 minutes to make, and I guarantee they’ll blow your mind. Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown, everyone feels obliged to tell me that their mom or grandma used to make them and that they were the best, and then they try these. In advance of you making these, allow me to just say, “Sorry mom!”
Until next time, happy cooking!
February 17, 2014
Lent Is Just Around the Corner. Time to Gear Up!
Our monthly sales meeting was cancelled on Friday due to Mother Nature's latest blanketing of snow. And I was all prepared along with Chef Eamon to discuss the upcoming Lenten season. Lent, the 40-day season of repentance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter, is a huge deal for seafood because Catholics and some other Christian faiths traditionally abstain from eating meat on Fridays during lent.
With Lent being just around the corner it is time for your restaurant to gear up for the increased demand. This should be painless as long as you don't wait until the last moment. In addition to satisfying religious beliefs, fish and seafood can be a healthy choice for people of all ages (healthy eating is on the increase). Fish and seafood are a good source of protein, low in saturated fat, rich in vitamins and minerals and are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood, in fact, is the main source for omega-3 fatty acids which promote healthy brain and vision development in children and reduce the risk of heart disease in adults. Nutritionists recommend eating a variety of fish and seafood twice a week for good health.
With that being said, this is also the perfect time of the year to let your chefs have some fun in their kitchens and allow them to test new dishes on your customers during Lent. Many of these dishes will become stable on your menu once the Lenten season is over. I also recommend featuring a vegetarian option on your menu. This is a great way to help motivate some of your customers to give something up that is unhealthy in their diet. When I was a kid growing up, I would usually give up watermelon knowing that it wasn't in season so it was easy to give up. Today, I not only challenge myself for God, but I hope to change bad habits that can lead to permanent changes. I'm not getting any younger and I need to start eating healthier. So for me this year in addition to not eating meat on Fridays I'm challenging myself to abstain from eating meat one additional day. I know I will never be the type of person that could give up meat permanently, but I do want to find ways to incorporate healthier eating choices into my diet.
Maines stocks a great variety of fresh fish and seafood from our partners at Hopkins Seafood and Indian Ridge Provisions. In addition, we also stock a variety of frozen items under our brand name of Hidden Bay. Jim Perri, Maines Brand Manager is the expert on all the fish and seafood sold under our branded label. Jim isn't bashful bringing these items to the test kitchen to let me cook and evaluate. He wants to be assured that what we (Maines) bring to the market is of the best quality and price! Over time, I have seen a variety of shrimp, scallops, oysters and other breaded options -that in my opinion are second to none. One item that jumps out is the Chesapeake Bay Stuffed Flounder #124572, its loaded with a mixture of crab, shrimp and seasoning. It's the perfect feature, easy to prepare, well received by customers and yes can put some cash to your bottom line. Another item that I was going to feature at the sales meeting was a 6 oz. Red yellow fin tuna steak #016662. I was going to pan sear it to medium rare and serve it over a salad of braised lentils drizzled with a balsamic glaze. I was calling the dish Mama Mia's Tuna. Trendy? Yes! Healthy? Yes! I'm sure your customers would love it and Mama Mia's Tuna is this week's recipe of the week.
So I need to ask, what will your restaurant menu be giving up for Lent this season? Steaks? Chicken? Pork? Now is the time to plan your menu for the Lenten season and I'm sure your Maines sales representative will be glad to assist you with all your fish and seafood options.
Good luck and until next week,
Remember when it comes to food, friends and fun think outside the box! What will you give up for Lent this year?
February 10, 2014
The Same, But Different
My partner in culinary adventures and co-worker Chef Jake always likes to say “think outside the box.” I know it’s a statement we hear a lot and maybe we’ve become numb to it, but today its significance rings louder than ever. With the mind blowing rapid change in menus and eating habits lately, it’s important to be thinking this way more than ever, and I’m talking about the last 30 years! What’s worked for a generation in your restaurant may not be the winning strategy for the next generation. It’s time to look at everything a little differently.
When we suggest this type of thing, we certainly don’t mean you should be turning your successful Italian-American restaurant into a Korean breakfast taco and fruit sushi bar. When we say outside of the box, we mean just outside the box, not outside the box, off the shelf, out of the store and in another dimension! We’ve seen many customers experiment with some pretty wild stuff, and while we fully endorse the spirit of adventurous cooking, we definitely do not endorse alienating your customer base or jumping off the deep end of the prep table with your old menu in flames. We just want your chefs to consider cooking things that may have been just a teensy weensy outside of the borders of consideration maybe five years ago. The things you and the kitchen crew looked at in books or on the internet a few times, and then proposed them to the dining room manager or owner, and then you all said “Well, maybe, if we tweak this….NAH! Too risky, it’ll never sell!” You know the dishes I’m talking about. Now is the time to green light some of those ideas. Your customers have been conditioned to expect it from you, thanks to food T.V. and the plethora of cooking shows out there today.
An example of this would be this week’s recipe for Beer Battered Cheese Curd and Irish Stout Poutine. We recently suggested this dish to a customer for St. Patrick’s Day, and knowing full well we have a lot of Irish Pubs out there as Maines partners, we figure this could work for a lot of you in a few weeks. It is indeed a mouthful, in a good way, but take note of the “just outside of the box” theory I mentioned above.
Poutine, the wildly popular Canadian dish of French fries and fresh cheese curds doused in hot gravy is comforting, delicious, and probably used as the base for drinking a lot of cold Canadian beer. Sounds like something one could possibly encounter in an American pub, doesn’t it!? But copying the standard wouldn’t quite do the dish justice here, and we don’t need to be picking a fight with our benevolent neighbors to the north, especially if their filled with poutine and beer! So let’s go just outside the box and make this something we can run with safely.
We sell a cool beer battered cheese curd from Brew City #981460. It’s really cool, and it reinforces my thought that you can beer batter anything and it’ll sell. Substituting the traditional cheese curd for this item gives our version of poutine a point of difference, and with the beer flavor added in it now has every reason to be on a pub style menu. But we need to make this work for St. Patrick’s Day, so let’s add some Irish Stout to the gravy-now it’s ready to roll out! Boom! Beer Battered Cheese Curd and Irish Stout Poutine!
Notice we didn’t recreate the wheel here. It’s still hot, crispy fried potatoes, cheese and gravy. But with a few tweaks inspired by going just outside the box we are able to create a unique item with somewhat local provenance and a few interesting twists. That’s what we mean by going outside the box. Challenge yourselves. How can you take a dish that may have been just out of your menu’s reach five years ago, make it the same (but different,) and still keep within the boundaries of your brand? Ask yourselves that this week, and tell your Maines Territory Manager what you came up with. Maines has the products to make it happen!
Until next time, happy cooking!
February 3, 2014
I had a few ideas dancing through my head about this week's article but there were no front leaders. Staring at me from a pile on my desk was a copy of the ACF's monthly publication of the Culinary Review. And there it was, everything I needed to confirm this week's article. Oysters Rock! They can be game changers in your restaurants kitchens.
Customers have embraced oysters over the past few years for numerous reasons, but I believe it's mainly because of the ways chefs and restaurants have been marketing them. Shipped overnight you can introduce just about any oyster you want to your customers. West coast, east coast, farm raised or wild these delicious little treats speedily travel from harvest to your restaurant. And forget the old adage that you can't serve oysters in months without an "r". That viscous rumor started because oysters spawn in the summer months and the thought that they would tend to get soft. Not true! If anything they may not be as salty but they are still very good.
I'm saying put them on your menu today and keep them there. Think of the possibilities of having these little gems in your kitchen. Obviously the most fashionable way to serve them is raw on the half shell. If you serve them this way you will find that your customers will either "love them or leave them", mainly because of appearance and texture. If you can get them to try one normally they become "love them" customers.
Don't forget to get creative with toppings. My favorite topping is horseradish with a dash of hot sauce. Other options to serve oysters include some form of breading and deep frying, served with dipping sauce or pickled vegetables. I have also recently seen them being used in wraps, on top of salads and of course the famous Po'Boy sandwich. How about grilling them and finishing them with either compound infused dipping butter or a traditional mignonette. And if you want to think outside of the box top them with a spicy Salsa Verde. Now you have something that is super trendy -oysters, grilled, and topped with a Latino influence.
Break out the grill! Oysters may not be best sellers but they are good business for you especially at "your bar" They drive bar sales especially on the half shell. If you don't believe me ask Richard Avery and Dean Zervos of Simeons on the Common in Ithaca. They added an oyster bar and their customers just can't get enough and they both have told me they don't know why they didn't do it sooner. Every time I've been at their restaurant I've gobbled down a few new varieties that I haven't ever experienced. I always look forward to see the new additions.
I mentioned above that oysters drive sales, and that is because oyster lovers pair them with champagne, wine and beer all which are high in profits! Think about it, half a dozen oysters and a few glasses of beer. Doesn't get much better than that! So remember it really doesn't matter what your customers drink, but give them something they want, Oysters! They Rock and you need to get them on your menu. This week you will get two recipes one for the Salsa Verde and another for Italian Baked Oysters.
Enjoy and until next week,
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun, think outside the box!
January 30, 2014
Smothered Down Part: 2
Back in October I wrote about “smothering down” short ribs (both boneless and bone-in,) pulling or smashing the meat into unctuous little nuggets of goodness, and using the meat in a spin on French onion gratinee served in a cast iron vessel. Hopefully, many of you have played with this technique and created your own version or tried to use the meat in other creative ways. If you haven’t, you should. It’s a winner, and with skyrocketing meat prices looming your ability to utilize tough value cuts in a creative way, this will keep you ahead of the food cost curve.
Recently, I was working with a new Maines customer reviewing some new ideas for their menu. Interesting appetizers, small plates and sandwiches were on the agenda, and we talked a lot about the new American love affair with five dollar flavor bombs. That pretty much sums it up, right? More and more customers are drifting away from appetizer/salad/entrée/dessert type meals and moving towards constructing their own dining experience out of menus that look more like dim sum menus than the traditional American a la carte menu. This is becoming increasingly apparent by the total absence of those very words; menus used to look like this- Appetizers, Salads, Entrees, Desserts
Now they look like this- Small Plates, Plates to Share, Light Meals, Not Very Meals, Vegetable Meals, Fruits and Sweets
What happened!? A lot happened. As a matter of fact, American eating habits have changed more in the last 5 years than they have in the 50 years prior, and the extent to which they’ve changed is well outside the scope of this article. It’s safe to say however that a concept as basic as the one I present to you this week, Chinese Five Spice BBQ Pulled Beef Short Rib, can be applied anywhere on a menu today -except the vegetable and sweet menus. The only variable is how you decide to present it and where you would like to price it. The traditional pricing scale of appetizers for $5-10, salads for $4-10, entrees for $10-20+ and desserts for $3-7 has been throw right out the window. There is no road map anymore- portion it, price it and present wherever you think it’ll sell and make customers the happiest. You’ll have fun writing this kind of menu when the time comes!
Back to the flavor bomb. What’s a flavor bomb you ask? It’s a small, usually 3-4 bite menu item that has intense and exciting flavors, usually comprised of 3-5 ingredients, and often combines multiple cooking methods, textures and temperatures all on one small plate. Flavor bombs are by nature designed to entertain, excite and challenge the customer, and then all of a sudden they are gone. You aren’t supposed to eat a 12 inch pasta bowl full of flavor bomb type food-it would be too intense for one person to eat at one sitting, and besides, after 3 or 4 bites the law of diminishing returns would kick in and the subsequent bites would the become less and less satisfying. Young cook’s usually love these kind of dishes because they capture the essence of rugged and honest ethnic cooking that is becoming more and more popular today and seen with great regularity on popular food travel programming. Usually, these simple creations wind up driving food trends too. Think of a food truck; aren’t food trucks really just rolling flavor bomb kiosks? Pretty much.
This recipe uses the chuck flap meat, often sold as boneless short ribs. It is similar to the short ribs from the plate, but a lot easier to cook, they have no bones to deal with, and they are a lot leaner. They cook up like pot roast more or less. What we do is simplify the braising process, utilize a “hack” and flavor the braising liquid with Culinary Secrets Mesquite Seasoning and Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce to impart a sweet smoky flavor. Then, when they are all nice and fall apart to the touch, we slather on a simple three part Five Spice BBQ sauce and go to town!
I suggest putting the dressed meat on sliders, use as you would for pulled pork, wrap it in spring rolls, top a cool salad, use it in a funky wrap or taco, or fold it up in a crepe and serve it like you would tea smoked duck. You really can’t miss, and you can easily see how it can be positioned pretty much anywhere on the menu. I hope you try it and find a home on your new menus!
Until next time, happy cooking!
January 22, 2014
Ocean to Table
We are all familiar with the Farm to Table movement that has happened over the past few years. People are concerned where their food is grown, how it is grown, is it local, sustainable, organic,antibiotic free, etc. These types of questions are now common with regards to sourcing product. Today's customers have become more knowledgeable and are seeking higher quality and health benefits on the table. Maines has been doing its part to make this happen and continues to source as many of these types of products as possible.
One of the newest trends that is right on the heels of the Farm to Table movement is the Ocean to Table movement. Sustainable seafood is now on peoples radar and they want to have the right green initiatives. And so should your restaurant! I'm sure you have already looked at waste, packaging and energy, but fresh, local (which is difficult to do when you don't live by the ocean), sustainable, or farm raised seafood has arisen as another business decision you can make to show environmental concern and improve your business model. Fast food quick service restaurants couldn't ignore what John Q. Public was demanding and they were quick to respond, especially since fish sandwiches and platters account for a good chunk of sales.
The two questions that they asked out of the box:
1. Where does the fish come from? and What was the capture harvest method?
2. Traceability is central to any sustainable seafood practice.
Well I'm happy to say that Maines has two great partners sourcing as much as possible seafood products that fit right into this new movement. E Frank Hopkins Co, is a full service seafood distributor that has operated in Philadelphia since 1890. Their roots formed in the stalls of the Dock Street Fish Market in the early 1900's. Today they source species from all major domestic and international ports. They were one of the first companies in the country to operate under HACCP guidelines, and continue to work closely with the US FDA to continually improve both quality and wholesomeness of all seafood products they sell.
Our other partner is Indian Ridge Provisions located in Telford, PA (Between Quakertown and Philadelphia) they have been around since 1983 but are a major supplier when it comes to great seafood. They only source the best that is available and if the best isn't available they just won't sell it. One of their suppliers is Ballard Fish and Oyster Company, they have been around for 115 years and are known for producing the "Best" Oysters in the world. They are a 5th generation company and I'm not surprised that their reputation is about quality and consistency. Their oysters are environmentally friendly and a sustainable food product.
So you have many choices, I had some beautiful whole red snappers sent to the test kitchen to "Play" around with this past week. The results of that play time is this week's "My Best Dish Yet". Looking at some of the trends that are showing up in the industry, I decided to fry this beautiful fish whole. I served it with a Peruvian/ Chinese style stir-fried rice called Chaufa and laced it with a spicy Peruvian pepper sauce that has just about everything in it except the kitchen sink. This dish would be a nice feature at your restaurant and at the same time you will be doing your part to make the Ocean to Table movement successful.
Until next time,
January 13. 2014
The Mousse is Loose!
This past week I had a couple of new customers in the Syracuse test kitchen and we reviewed many of the obstacles today’s chefs face in their restaurants. We walked through their kitchens and spent time reviewing the menus and their cost and labor challenges. After developing a familiarity with their day to day struggles, we were able to develop a list of items to review upon their visit to my kitchen. They asked that I put my creative thinking cap on and present some solutions through products, methods or recipes. After our reviews, I’m very happy to report both chefs were delighted! It can be hard to measure success in my line of work, but just about every customer agrees if 2-3 three solid ideas shake out from a presentation, then the 2-3 hours spent in my kitchen were a good use of their time. Anything more than that, and it’s a homerun. I always ask kitchen visitors if the experience was a “good use of their time,” and invariably customers usually leave wondering why they didn’t engage in a partnership with Maines sooner, so the answer is always a resounding “Yes!” The other feedback we usually hear is the experience was “refreshing,” and we didn’t try to “jam things down their throats,” or “you showed us exactly what we wanted to see, not what we didn’t want to see.” That’s how we go to market!
Our (myself and Chef Jake) approach to the culinary review process is different in that we are not in the business of forced distribution. Our only aim is to make you, our customer, more successful. Naturally, we want you to do as much business with Maines as possible, but Chef Jake and I are in the business of earning it. In return for a distribution commitment to Maines, this is what Chef Jake and I do, and the equitable partnership that blossoms during these activities adds up to more than any nickels and dimes in perceived “grocery shopping” savings.
With my background in fine dining, I have a tendency to lean towards that type of cuisine. Occasionally I will be nudged by an American family style restaurant or diner owner and they remind me that not everyone serves USDA prime beef and organic, estate grown produce, so “is there anything I can offer the meatloaf crowd there chef fancy pants?”. (Fair enough, and seeing as how we eat way more meatloaf at my house than USDA Prime beef, it isn’t as much of a stretch for me as you may think-I just need a little reminding once in a while, so thank you!) It just so happens that during one of my customer reviews last week we needed to get creative with low cost and fast dessert ideas. Enter the Knorr Neutral Mousse Mix (Maines item #013295.)
Have you ever used this stuff!? It’s awesome! (We also sell the milk chocolate variety, Maines item #361074.) It’s ridiculously easy and fast to make, bullet proof, and the support for this product online is out of this world! Their website has over 40 simple variations of mousse you can make with it. It’s the artist’s canvas of dessert products, and the customer and I had fun playing with it. Check it out here http://www.unileverfoodsolutions.us/recipe/Dessert-Recipes.html
We made the butter pecan variation simply by adding chopped pecans and maple syrup. We then took the mousse, put it into a piping bag and piped it into clean Mason jars. We topped the mousse with a little caramel sauce and cinnamon whipped cream and served it with a small blondie topped with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream- super simple, classic flavors, and it looked really cool on the plate! Was this a dessert you’d typically be served in a diner or family restaurant? No, but mousse and brownie a la mode are, right? All we did was play with the presentation and set the stage for exceeding customer expectations. The customer was giddy with excitement after they saw this idea. The combinations they could create from this one simple idea were exponential! I even got a high five over the counter!
Incidentally, when pressed by the American diner and family restaurant for creative approaches to traditional menus, this is the tact I implore them to take. Rethink tradition! Prove to the next generation of American diners that you can be creative and have fun with classic American fare, and give them a fresh and progressive reason to come to your establishment. Don’t be scared to experiment and try new things! As long as the flavors and menu language remain familiar, you won’t alienate your customer base. This type of thinking will most likely drive the future success of the classic American family restaurant. In 2014, forge that partnership with Maines, engage the Maines Culinary Team, and start “making” money on the sell instead of “saving” it on the buy!
Until next time, happy cooking!
January 7, 2014
Blending Old Traditions with Modern Styles
What will you have? Old tradition or new modern styles? American Contemporary, Italian, Thai, Indian, Latino? Casual or Upscale? I think there’s all that and more to come in 2014. Today’s chefs continue to up their game composing dishes using more local, sustainable ingredients that are in-season. I believe 2014 is the year that your customers will want to be sitting at your dining table. I live in the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania and I see the changes happening every day. Michael Langdon (Hell’s Kitchen fame) has upped the ante with his thinking outside of the box at Huntsville Country Club. His posse of other local chef friends are doing the same throughout Wyoming Valley, John Tabone from Glenmaura Country Club and Chris Mullen from Blakeslee Inn, just to mention a few. In the Binghamton, NY area the same is happening, a recent trip to the new Food & Fire revealed cutting edge menu ideas. If you go downtown, you will find the same happening at places such as Loft 99, The Lost Dog, Remlik's, and Burger Mondays. All of these restaurants are composing dishes that are just delicious.
January is a great time to look at your menus and determine what you would like to do new at your restaurant in 2014. Some old traditions that you don’t want to change are the continuity of your menu and of course stellar service. A few ideas that you may want to consider are snacks, cheese and charcuterie. Both Chef Eamon and I have introduced you to items that can fit into these categories in the past. Eggplant with house-made ricotta, charred carrot salad, and house-pickled vegetables to mention a few. These items can separate you from your competition plus they are particularly favorites for customers that just drop in for a quick beer, cocktail or wine. So this week’s recipe is for Pickled Deviled Eggs, the perfect blend of old tradition with new modern thinking. These "purpled" eggs are easy to make and the possibilities are endless. You can top them with shrimp, chives, smoke salmon, crabmeat, cucumbers, etc. Here is a great item to introduce for football playoffs and the Big Game. I hope you try them and I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by your customer’s reactions.
Until next time,
And remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
December 31, 2013
Resolve to Reward Loyalty
I jumped the gun on my New Year’s Resolution. This weekend I bought some cross training shoes (I used to call them sneakers…) some shorts and sweatpants and woke up at 5:15 am and went to the gym to work with a physical trainer. At 43, it’s been almost 30 years since I’ve lifted a weight, did anything aerobic, or broke a sweat doing anything other than line cooking. Every step felt weird and awkward, especially climbing into a cold car at 5:15 in the morning before having any coffee. Muscles cried out and old bones creaked as I was led from one machine to the next by a trainer who was curiously joyous that early in the morning. The whole experience was alien to me, but I need to do it if I’m going to live another 40 years.
An unexpected benefit of the new health insurance landscape is I can now tell you with relative accuracy what my LDL’s, HDL’s, triglycerides, cholesterol, etc… are because I have to have them tested every year. To be kind, they are not where they need to be. My diet needs to improve and I need to exercise if my numbers are to improve, and that’s tough medicine for someone not used to it. I know I need to do it, I came up with every excuse in the book not to, but today is different. Today I resolve to reward myself by acting healthy.
So, while I was on the treadmill warming up, I couldn’t help but think about our customers and their New Year’s Resolutions. What business metrics are they looking at and telling themselves they need to improve? What is their tough medicine? What do they need to do different, that will feel strange and awkward at first, but in the long run make for a healthier business and more repeat customers? To me, jumping off the “half price train” and “wheel and deal” roller coaster and developing a loyalty program is as good as any place to start for 2014. Like my workout experience, it will feel strange at first, but I think it’s the right direction to head this year.
Why? Because the deals and coupons don’t develop loyalty. They develop a surge of high cost/low margin revenue to which many restaurants become addicted. My friend and loyal Maines customer Jason Thomas calls it crack for restaurateurs; once you start, it’s very difficult to stop. Deal seekers will dine at your restaurant when there’s a deal, and eventually your dining room will be full of deal seekers eating food designed to be sold at a bargain, usually food that is a far cry from what developed your brand in the first place. Once the deals stop, your dining room will become empty. The solution? Create another deal. If they find a better deal at another restaurant, then they’ll go there. In the war of deals there are no winners; it’s just a race to the bottom. What’s worse, it’s one and done “quid pro quo” economics, and no loyalty is developed, and the lifeblood of an independent restaurant is customer and brand loyalty, relationships, and repeat business returning for a high quality product served well in a nice setting at a fair value. A restaurant’s lifeblood is not wheeling and dealing! Leave that for Wall Street…
The idea of a loyalty program is to reward customer behavior that is in the best long-term interest of the business. What behavior is that you ask? They come back! Sometimes often, sometimes once in a while, but they return. It’d rather have 100 customers come to my restaurant 6 times a year than 600 customers come once. Loyal customers will get you through the tough times, the price spikes, bad weather, downturns, and the usual challenges restaurants face. This kind of customer, the kind of customer becoming rarer by the day, must be kept, and we must reward their loyalty. At the same time, we must develop new loyal customers, and these customers will replace the percentage of loyal customers lost to normal attrition, and they will also grow your business and become your future regulars. So, how do we do this?
First, I suggest you create a database of customers if you haven’t already. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask your POS company if they have a module or software available to do this, otherwise create a simple spreadsheet or address book. Anything that will help you track their visits and information. Names, phone numbers, email addresses, favorite drinks, wines, birthdays, anniversaries, etc…get it all. If this sounds creepy to you, it isn’t. This is part of the new normal we’ve been hearing about. Once this information is captured, use it as a leverage point for your brand of hospitality. If it’s a customer’s birthday you had better be prepared to do more than spring for a candle and sing happy birthday. Buy them dessert, a drink, their entrée, or their whole dang meal. Shock them with your attention and hospitality. Do something that will exceed their expectations. This is where the muscle memory kicks in. It may feel like a punch in the gut to write down a meal, but that customer will return, and not because you ran a birthday promotion (that’s a deal in my opinion;) they will return because you paid attention to them, you surprised them, and you made them feel special, not because you run a good deal.
You have to be on your game every night to pull this off, and the training it will take to develop this kind of strategy will challenge your time management skills, but it will be worth it. It is a return back to the days of the maître D’ who knew everyone in the dining room and knew what to comp to who and when. We lost sight of this in the early 90’s with the focus on celebrity chefs and now casual dining. It’s time to get back to this kind of service if independents are to thrive again.
This is my first chapter in customer loyalty. This will be one of my touchstones for 2014, and I will be writing more about it as the year bears on. For now, I want everyone to have a happy and safe New Year! Here's to prosperity, good health, happiness and family! Please enjoy this week’s recipe of Shrimp and Clams in a Saffron, Fennel and Tomato Stew, and low cost-high flavor dinner using IQF seafood that will eliminate shrink, be consistent, and serves lightning fast off the line. It also graced my dinner table on Christmas Eve!
From my family to yours, Happy New Year!
December 18, 2013
Cold Weather Means Time for Comfort Foods
If you looked out your window Sunday morning you knew there was a nip in the air, snow on the ground and a dip in the temperature; all things that signal it’s the perfect time for cold weather classics. I’m talking about comfort foods. Comfort foods are good anytime, but the combination of cold weather and darker days make me crave soups (which are their own food group), casseroles and pot pies. These foods scream “family” and they are also the kinds of foods that let your cooks shine.
Pot pies need to be on your menu. Today, my wife made a chicken pot pie; she can’t make a fancy, crimped crust to save her life. Uneven fork tine marks and filling that bubbled out the side are more her style. But, the compliments she gets when she puts this creation together... My family will take her homemade pot pie over any perfect store bought brand. It’s the love and passion she puts into it that makes it so delicious. (Although the homemade sauce I taught her to make doesn’t hurt either). I’ve made a ton of pot pies in my days but her version puts mine to shame. She starts by roasting the vegetables, the roasting brings out the sweetness of the vegetables that no other method can. In addition, it gives an excellent textural element to the dish. The vegetables get a little crusty edge of caramelization that is delectable. Then she braises the chicken thighs, makes an awesome homemade roux sauce, and then assembles the pie. It’s not easy, but this pot pie will be the best of your life and your customers will tell you that it’s what comfort food dreams are made of. The chicken thighs are dark and tender, and the finished filling is buttery and rich. I’m telling you that when you pull this pie from the oven, it will be one of those dishes your cooks will be proud of making and serving. I’m sure your customers will be asking if you make them to go. So this week’s My Best Dish Yet is compliments of my wife, even though she doesn’t know I’m giving you her recipe.
Until next time,
December 5, 2013
Do You Sell Sous Chef In a Can?
It’s that time of the year again! Everyone is probably busy grinding it out in their kitchens pounding out parties and holiday dinners. It’s the annual sprint to the finish line and this is the time that we, as chefs, make hay. With the mass of cocktail and hors d’oeuvres parties, banquets and buffets that happen at this time of year, hopefully you and your Maines territory manager have formulated a plan to capture what is probably the most profitable month of the year. Don’t forget the hors d’oeuvres! I know I liked to be able to bank a ton of them in the freezer leading up to this time of year, but I always seemed to run short on a few things. Below is a list of items you can count on from Maines partners such as Cohens, Cuisine Innovation, TMI, Paulsen, and Culinary Secrets; I call them “Sous Chef in a Can” items because that’s the best way to describe how dependable and effective they are at making the life of a chef easier, or at least tolerable in December.
Culinary Secrets, Cuisine Innovation and Cohen’s do a great job of producing the standards, and the flavor profiles are pretty mild so they leave room for you to put your own spin on them or pair them with your own signature sauces. TMI does a fantastic job with their exotic items and I know for a fact that a couple of Maines Corporate Chefs get these at their local MaineSource and serve them in their own homes for their own holiday parties! If that isn’t a stamp of approval, what is!? Finally, if you are known for high quality, hand crafted and creative hors d’oeuvres, then having items from Paulsen in your freezer is your trump card this holiday season. I used to like to make everything by hand, from scratch when I cooked, but you can only do so much in December. That’s where Paulsen comes in. These are so good, there’s no reason why you couldn’t menu them as small plates or composed appetizers to share on your everyday menu. Wendy Paulsen and her family owned company hand craft these one at a time for you-the only thing you have to do is make sure the oven is on! Jake and I have shown these many times and every time we look at each other in awe and chuckle when we talk about how long it would take us to make these ourselves. They are a steal at any price. Don’t forget about Paulsen for dessert either! We tried the below items recently and they are coming into stock at Maines next week!
Finally, there are always the cheese platters, crudités and Mediterranean displays. Every year we rely on these crowd pleasers because they are easy to produce in bulk, have a great presence in a banquet room, and typically produce a good profit. The trick is to keep the sauces and accoutrements changing so these displays don’t get tired. This week’s recipe is for something I always made in bulk and graced the displays every holiday season-my Kalamata Olive Tapenade. Tapenades (basically ground olives with garlic, olive oil and other seasonings) have become like pesto; they are showing up everywhere, and food companies are now producing really good ones, but unlike pesto, tapenade can have some twists, and I think this week’s recipe can’t be improved on by a food company. It’s my holiday gift to you, from my bag of December survival recipes to you!
Good luck grinding it out this month Chefs! Maines has the products and resources you need to make it through the holidays with style and grace! Just pick up the phone and let us know how many cans of sous chef we can send you!
November 24, 2013
A Gastronomic Journey for Future Chefs!
This past weekend I was asked to participate in a Guest Chef Wine Pairing Dinner that was held at P.S. Restaurant in Vestal, NY. We had approximately 50 guests who plopped down $150 big ones to enjoy an 8 course gastronomic feast. The event was the brain child of Chef Rick Dodd from P.S. Restaurant. Chef Rick wanted to establish a scholarship to assist future chefs and felt this would be the perfect kickoff to establish the scholarship. Chef Rick did not have any problems putting together a team of “Guest Chefs”; in fact there is a waiting list for future events. Participating chefs included:
- Chef Rick Avery: Simeon’s (Fennel Crusted Pork Belly)
- Chef Matt Jones: Burger Monday (Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, Gazpacho)
- Chef Kyle Maurer: Lampy’s (Seared Swordfish on Fregola)
- Chef Mike Morgan: Sodexho Corporate Dining (Roasted Ballontine and Sautéed Breast of Duck)
- Chef Dave Dunster: Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center (Braised Veal Cheeks)
- Chef Drew Nichols: The Loft at 99,(Braised Beef Short Rib)
- Chef Rick Dodd: P.S. Restaurant, (Sous Vide Butter Poached Lobster Tail)
- and of course I represented Maines Paper and Food Service, Inc. with a Charred Carrot Salad on Delicate Greens, Green Tomato Croutons, Goat Cheese, Garlic Chips and a White Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Southern Wine & Spirits paired the wines with all of the chefs featured creations. Not an easy task, I’m sure! The night was a huge success not only for all that participated but for our future culinarians. Chef Rick Dodd summoned it up perfectly by saying, “8 chefs came together, 8 chefs cooked, 8 chefs ruled” and a culinary scholarship was established! I can’t wait until the next dinner! This week’s My Best Dish Yet recipe is for Chef Dunster's veal cheeks. It is the ideal time of the year to put these money makers on your menu!
Until next week,
When it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
November 12, 2013
A Love for Olive Oil
Occasionally I come across a recipe that is simple, easy to prepare, and mind-blowingly delicious. This week, I offer you one of those recipes. Sometimes, good is just good, and olive oil cake is really, REALLY good! I was doing a cooking demonstration recently and I was charged with showing creative ways to use extra virgin olive oil. This is one of the items I showed, and it stole the show. I think this recipe could easily be translated into a creative dessert item for your restaurant. We are in the middle of olive oil harvesting and pressing season, so it’s timely and seasonal. Plus, with our new California Olive Oil line from Corto, this recipe is a natural for Maine’s customers.
Corto Olive Oils are now available in their pure form in 6 each 1 liter bottles or in a 10 liter bag in the box, a pretty ingenious invention limiting exposure to light and oxygen, the two enemies of extra virgin olive oil’s volatile and subtle flavors. We also have it in a 51/49 blend with canola if you like to use it in cooking applications or where the delicate flavors will be paired with other stronger flavors. Regardless, this is the best commercially available extra virgin olive oil I’ve seen in a long time! Between the deep olive color, bright green fruit flavors, low phenols and low bitterness I think we’ve finally hit a domestic olive oil that’s fit for the highest end applications. It is truly exceptional.
|015230||1||6/1 LTR||Corto||Oil Olive Extra Virgin Calif|
|015231||1||10 LTR||Corto||Oil 51/49 EV Olive and Canola|
|015232||1||10 LTR||Corto||Oil Olive Extra Virgin Calif Bulk|
I’d like to say this is my recipe, but I can’t- just keep in mind that a great chef knows a great recipe when they borrow it. It’s so darn good your customers won’t care either way…they’ll just order more. If you don’t think making the 9” cakes will work for you, I would strongly encourage you to make it in muffin tins or any of the nifty silicone molds available today. Ice them individually, garnish them with vanilla ice cream, and you will have a dessert that will transport your customers straight to Italy.
Print this recipe out and put it in your “sure thing/no-brainer folder.” That’s what I did, and I will be sharing this with my family on Thanksgiving. What does that tell you!?
November 4, 2013
Let's Talk Turkey Food Safety
Turkey is a very versatile bird and it will be on the menu of all of our restaurants in a few weeks. It’s important to properly prepare what will be the centerpiece of the holiday meal to avoid food borne illness. Turkey poses food safety challenges because it can be contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella. Adopting standard safe cooking and safe handling practices (clean, separate, cook and chill) reduces the risk of getting sick from undercooked turkey and stuffing and from cross-contamination during preparation. In an effort to reduce the risk of food borne illness outbreaks, most states require Manager Food Safety and Sanitation training. However, I believe that this isn’t enough to combat the seriousness of this issue.
I want to introduce you to a program offered by Maines called Keeping It Kleen www.keepingitkleen.com. This program supplements the nationally accredited programs by giving restaurant employers an economical and efficient option to train ALL of their employees, including the perpetually rotating hourly employees, on food safety and sanitation…because it’s the right thing to do! Ask your account sales manager for additional information. I want everyone to feel comfortable that what they serve in their restaurant is safe.
Here are a few steps to help ensure that this year’s turkey feast is a safe one.
1. Always store your turkey in your freezer or under refrigeration until you are ready to prepare.
2. Only thaw turkey under refrigeration or cold running water. Do Not Thaw a Turkey at Room Temperature.
3. Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry
4. Clean and sanitize all surfaces, cutting boards and kitchen utensils before you begin to prepare the turkey.
5. Use a clean calibrated food thermometer and cook turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 165 degrees
6. Cook stuffing separately in its own oven pan or on the stovetop. If you do stuff the turkey, place loosely in the cavity just prior to roasting and remove all
stuffing immediately after cooking. Cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.
7. Cover and store leftovers within two hours of cooking. Use leftovers within 7 days. Reheat all leftovers to 165 degrees
If you follow these few simple steps you will be on your way to serving a turkey that you know you have done everything possible to prevent a food borne illness.
This week’s recipe will be on how to brine a turkey. This recipe will give you a tender, moist, and flavorful turkey. Brining is a salt marinade which causes the meat tissues to absorb water and flavoring by breaking down the proteins. Brining is a great method of preparing turkey because any moisture lost while roasting still produces a juicy flavorful turkey. It is important to note that you do not want to brine a self-basting turkey because the turkey will be too salty.
Until next week,
When it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box
October 28, 2013
Finally, after a beautiful and prolonged autumn, a late October chill has settled in and it reminds us that winter is right around the corner. Pumpkin patches have been picked over, corn stalks and Halloween decorations around, and it’s time to reel in the garden hoses and turn off the spigots. Winterize the lawn mower, clean the gutters, promise yourself you’ll install gutter guards next year (yeah, right…) and reinstall the snow brush in the backseat of the car, unless of course you live east of Lake Ontario, where you’ll be reinstalling the push broom or roof rake for brushing snow off the car. Check the expiration date of the hot cocoa mix (our Trescerro #314224 is outstanding by the way,) see if the marshmallows have petrified and need replacing, and complete the winterizing rounds. It can all be a little depressing, but alas, it’s a small price to pay for four-season living. We northeasterners are used to it, and we are quick to embrace the good side of winter. We know these chilly chores are easily forgotten once we head back indoors and are pleasantly greeted by the comforting hug of the aroma of slowly caramelizing onions in the kitchen and the din of football game chatter on the TV. It smells and sounds like…victory! We are finally ready for winter, hibernation season is upon us, and it’s time to get in the kitchen and start smothering down some vittles.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, appreciates the smell of onions smothering down in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon in October and November like a Northeasterner. You know how they tell you to bake cookies before you show your house to potential buyers? In the Northeast, we sauté onions before we show a house. Two bucks in onions and butter will net you 10% over asking price this time of year-it’s our dirty little secret. Anyway, another dirty little secret is to caramelize onions in your restaurant right before service and let the sweet smell waft through the restaurant. Your customers will slip into a “comfort food coma” before they even get their first drink, and that’s when you suggest they tuck into this week’s My Best Dish Yet of French Onion Beef Short Ribs Gratinee.
Yes, I’m serious. Think of it as the peanut butter cup of braises; two great tastes that taste great together. Tender and unctuous chunks of slowly cooked boneless short rib, nestled in a rich, beefy and caramel-sweet broth with little knobs of roasted fingerling potatoes and slips of caramelized onions, topped off with perfectly browned and nutty gruyere cheese, and served in a miniature cast iron skillet. Are you kidding me? It’ll knock you right off your toboggan! The smell of caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese will fill a dining room and whip customers into a frenzy, and the presentation of a cast iron skillet will get neighboring tables saying things like, “Excuse me, waiter! I don’t know what that was you just served that table, but it looked so ridiculously delicious that we want one too.” I’m not sure about you, but that’s the kind of passion I want in my dining room, and it’s also the kind of margin I want in my menu. This recipe is basically beef chuck meat braised in French Onion soup with addition of premium potatoes and cheese, but the way it’s positioned and presented allows you to capture some extra revenue and profit dollars, and Maines wants you to seize those profit dollars!
Miniature cast iron pots, pans and Dutch ovens from Maines Equipment and Supply are ideal for presenting these kinds of dishes, because they appeal to customer’s visual sense and they retain heat well so the dish is nice and hot from the first bite to the last. They really don’t cost a lot considering that, unlike china, they probably won’t break, and they will actually get better with age. Ask your Maines Territory Manager about them the next time you see them.
Lastly, a word on boneless beef short ribs. Short ribs can come from two parts of the steer; the plate and the shoulder. The plate short ribs are the ones we typically see on the bone, and have an unctuous slightly fattier texture than the pot roast like shoulder/chuck short ribs. We sell both in a variety of portions from both Esposito and Indian Ridge. We also stock both at Maines in master cases; the whole bone-in plates from Black Canyon Angus (#063086,) and the boneless shoulder/chuck variety (#062116) The chuck short ribs are a little leaner than the plate short ribs, and they have less trim. The shoulder eats a little more like a pot roast, and doesn’t have the fat veins you find in the plate. I think the shoulder is easier to pre-cook and portion, but I also like the unctuous eating quality of the plate, too. Personal preference will dictate what you use, but Maines has you covered either way.
All this writing about gooey cheese, caramelizing onions and braised meat is making me hungry, so I have to run. Enjoy serving up My Best Dish Yet, don’t forget to put the snow brush in the car, and thanks for allowing Maines to be your “profit” supplier!
October 23, 2013
On the Road Again
The Maines chefs were “On The Road Again” last week. Once a year we head to Houston, Texas to sit with manufactures who pack our “branded products”. It’s our way to check quality and make sure that they are adhering to our specifications on these products. I want to assure you that you should feel confident that our branded products match up with the national brands. In addition you will see cost savings. We also are given the opportunity to see new products that Maines will be introducing in the next few months. So all that I can say is get ready to rumble with a variety of products that will bring excitement to your menu plus will help with your bottom line.
Our days started around 7:00 AM and we finished up by 6:00 PM. But once the presentations ended we headed out looking for local restaurants to see what they were offering their customers. Needless to say we ate a lot of food and came home with a load of ideas. Some are trendy, some are twists on old classics, but they all tasted incredible and we are hoping that your customers will enjoy a little bit of the South. One of our first stops was at a restaurant called Escalante’s a true Tex-Mex restaurant that states on their web page that they are proud to serve its guest with family recipes. By the end of the night our waitress was giving us her grandmother’s secret family recipes. For now we put them in “the chef vault” for future use. It was easy to see why all the locals recommended this place.
Next on the list was a single unit restaurant called The Rouxpour Restaurant and Bar, this place was all about New Orleans Cajun cuisine. We must have eaten oysters at least 5 or 6 different ways and had an appetizer of crab claws in a rich garlic wine cream sauce. Thank goodness they gave us bread to sop up the sauce. Our next destination was just out of this world when we stopped at the Flying Sauce Draught Emporium. This place has over 200 different beers but they also have a great food menu. Our eyes didn’t need to search too far down the menu when we spotted The Hungry Farmer. It was a charcuterie offering you created from a variety of cured meats and cheeses. However the next place stole our hearts, a small chain restaurant with local flair, it is called Fish City Grill. They have great drinks, super service, but exceptional food. And the one item that was my favorite was their Oyster Nachos, a fried oyster, chipotle tartar sauce, fresh Pico de Gallo on a fresh from the fryer nacho chip. They guarantee on their menu that you will “Love’em or We’ll Buy’em” Talk about standing behind your product. They were so confident in their oyster nachos that they just dropped a plate in front of us to try them, they were on the house. Now that's Good Ol’ Southern Hospitality. So this week’s My Best Dish Yet recipe is for Oyster Nachos. What a great bar food, but at the same time it can fit on your appetizer menu. Enjoy them and let me know if your customers liked them as much as I did!
Until next week,
When it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
October 14, 2013
Recently, I had a discussion with a chef who was about to open a restaurant. He had worked very hard to get this point in his career, and had saved just enough money to be taken seriously by a few investors who deemed his venture worthy of support. He was very excited, and he went on about his vision, ideas and concepts. It was daring, something the market hadn’t seen before, and more so than many restaurant openings, a huge risk. But he was confident, and determined to go through with it. When asked about the details, he used terms like “non-traditional,” “performance art,” “vertical presentations,” “conceptual eating,” “cutting-edge,” “post-modern,” “impressionism,” and, “emotional eating.” He was on fire, and I could see there would be no reasoning with him, and that, damn the torpedoes, he was moving forward with a full head of steam. I wasn’t so much concerned for him due to what he said, rather, what he didn’t say.
My fear was not whether or not the market he hoped to capture would “get it.” I’m all about new concepts and challenging diners, and when done under the right circumstances they can lead to new and lasting dining trends. My fear, in his case, was that a critical cornerstone every successful restaurant balances on would not be laid at all; a common oversight, and one that leads to many chef concept failures. In the midst of the litany of artistic and expressive terms my friend used to describe his new restaurant, the one thing he failed to mention was the one basic and fundamental idea behind every great eatery: THE PRIMARY FUNCTION OF A RESTAURANT IS FEEDING PEOPLE!
It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But holy cow man, did you plan on opening a restaurant or an art gallery? All at once, the memory of an inspiring and influential chef I worked for early in my career rushed to consciousness, and I instinctively remembered the touch stone I was told never to forget so long as I labored in a kitchen. As a journeyman cook in my very early 20’s, I foolishly fancied myself pretty awesome, and one night I decided to skip over the whole” feeding people thing” and instead chose to focus on my budding food artist career (insert serious sarcasm here.) I was asked to create a dessert feature using apples for that evening, and I proceeded to spend 30 minutes slapping together pretty lousy apple tarts, followed by 3 hours making apple tart garnishes. I proudly plated a demo for the chef before service, he tasted everything on the plate, put the fork down, and flipped out. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and never seen anything like it again. The horror that came over his face, the displeasure he espoused, and the disappointment in my misguided effort were on display for everyone in the kitchen to see and hear. By the time he was done with me, I was completely reduced, broken and deconstructed as a cook. He knew I lacked the necessary cornerstone I needed to be successful as a chef. So, as any great chef will do, he ripped me apart, right down to my foundation, placed a new cornerstone in, and put me back together again. Looking back, I know what he was doing, and I’ve done it to many of my cooks since. He seized on my mistake and used it as a teaching point for the entire crew. Great chefs do this a lot, and I was the example du jour that night, and I never cooked the same way again, thankfully.
Imagine, if you will, that you can read the ideas he etched on my corner stone that night. They would read: “Eamon, you are employed here as a cook. Cooking is a craft comprised of preparing food for the purpose of eating. All craft can be elevated to an art, but we must master the craft first; first as an apprentice, then as a journeyman, and eventually, if you are lucky, a master. Then, and only then, should you even consider art. The primary product of your craft must be a thoughtful, nourishing, balanced, well-seasoned, properly cooked meal, served to people professionally and gracefully in a loving and comfortable atmosphere. And when I say people, I mean homo sapiens, not animals, paper shredders or garbage trucks. All people have physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs, and as those needs relate to eating, your job as a cook is to meet them, and if you are cooking for me, your job is to exceed them. It’s as simple as that. You must always think about who you are feeding, where, how and when, otherwise your food will never be served in the proper context, and it won’t succeed.”
It would continue, “You spent 3 hours on the form of the dish, and 30 minutes on its function. It looks like it was plucked right out of a Gourmet magazine, but it tastes like a cardboard box. The apples are overcooked, unseasoned, the crust is tough, it can’t be eaten with normal utensils, and it’s messy to eat. The sauce is tasteless, the ice cream is skating all over the plate, and the garnishes are inedible. It is, simply put, a slap in the face to the apple you destroyed making it. Have you ever grown an apple? Come to think of it, have you ever grown anything? Probably not, because if you knew what it took to produce an animal or vegetable you wouldn’t have produced this! This dessert was produced with no regard for the customer’s needs, no respect for the ingredients, and no regard for the craft. You only thought of your ego and your own misguided, selfish and quasi-artistic needs. As cook, the kind of cook I described, you are a failure.” And he was right. Dead-on, no questions asked.
So, I suppose, my concern is that my friend is going to place form before function, and the fundamental function of a restaurant, feeding people, will fade to a distant second. I’ve see it a million times. I want him to be successful, but sometimes cooks never get broken down and rebuilt like I did by a chef who knows the difference. Perhaps it’s an unintended consequence of the visual barrage of TV and internet chef productions. Rarely, if ever, do these shows highlight the long, difficult roads these successful chefs trudged while honing their craft. I really wish they would. But until then, take my lesson to heart, minus the public humiliation. Place yourself in the kitchen that night, and ask yourself if you are doing what I did, if what you are producing meets your customer’s needs, and does your food take into consideration who you are feeding, where, how and when. Are you respecting the craft, the ingredients, the customer and the restaurant as a whole? If you can answer all of these questions satisfactory, only then should we be considering where to put the parsley sprig.
This week’s recipe is for fennel and almond biscotti, a recipe I first published in 2011. I recently served them at a private function with Chef Jake, and when we were done, we agreed they were not much to look at, but they sure are tasty!
Until next time, happy cooking!
October 7, 2013
How Sweet It Is
I’m using a catchphrase from American comedian Jackie Gleason today to start this weeks “My Best Dish Yet”. In this case, I’m referring to a natural golden syrup-like substance that we all use. I’m talking about nature’s sweetener - honey! This past week I was in Syracuse with Chef Eamon doing a food photo shoot for the 2014 Maines calendar. I can’t wait to see it in print. You will see everything from classic presentations to some of the hottest trends running across America. Each month there will be a featured dish along with the recipe. Make sure to start asking your account manager after Thanksgiving for your copy.
Ok back to the honey. Over the years I have run into bee hives while out hunting and fishing and I always stayed clear of them fearing that I would get swarmed by the residents of the hive, but when I would see one of the hives I always wanted to go over and rip the top off to see all of the goodness the bees have produced. Well, my dream and one less thing on my bucket list was realized this week thanks to Chef Eamon. Chef Eamon is a bee keeper and has approximately 20 hives and sells his honey under the name of Lee’s Bees. We finished up early one day and Chef Eamon suggested we go visit a group of his hives. Needless to say I was all thumbs up. I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
We arrive at the site and Eamon opened his trunk and began pulling out gear for us to “suit up”. He explained all the dos and don’ts to me, Fired up the smoker, and said lets go in. It appeared we were invisible to the bees and they just kept doing what they do - making honey. What a rush of excitement I had when Eamon pulled the top off of the hive and there in front of me were thousands of bees on trays full of their hard work. When all was said and done Eamon told me I hit the trifecta. I tasted honey fresh from the hive, saw a Queen Bee and escaped the whole adventure without getting stung. It just doesn’t get any better than that. So this week’s recipe features, you guessed it, honey. This is a great item to add to your morning offerings, pumpkin honey bread. When your customers taste it you will hear a sigh after each bite bringing back those nostalgic feelings of less stressful times. Now is the time to introduce your new secret ingredient. The possibilities are endless.
Until next week,
When it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
September 30, 2013
The exciting part of this job is the research and development I get to do with Chef Jake. We have just returned from New York City and a review of some potential food show presenters. I am in no position to ruin any surprises, but trust me when I tell you that you will not be disappointed in what we put together for you in 2014. As always, the Maines Food Show will continue to be the best in the business, and the greatest source of inspiration for you and your cooks. We can hardly wait to reveal what we have planned!
While we indulged in what was basically full-contact, food tasting boot-camp, we couldn’t help but notice a little something. While we ate at some really, really nice restaurants with some exceptional food and service, there was one that stood out heads and shoulders above them all. For one, very important reason, Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster beat the lot. If you were lucky enough to join us for the 2013 Maines Food Show, you may have had the chance to hear Marcus, our keynote speaker, talk about the importance of flavor. To Marcus, flavor is captured, amplified, expressed and leveraged at every opportunity, and everything we tasted in his restaurant showed it. EVERYTHING!
From the devilled eggs, to the Caribbean spiced bacon and the lacquered pork chop, everything literally blew our taste buds away. Layers and layers of flavor were heaped upon each other to take an otherwise ordinary dish and make it exceptional. Think about it; we had devilled eggs, bacon, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and braised greens for dinner. But they were the best you ever had, hands down! It’s that kind of cooking that earns Marcus and his team all of the accolades they receive. They may not get the Michelin stars, they may not get the towering dining rooms and the 21 gun salute service staff, but they pour it on where it counts. Everything else is window dressing to them. There’s a lot to learn from a chef-owner who takes this type of approach.
Maines just brought in a new line of flavor bases that can help you achieve similar results. The company is called Major, and their flavor bases can take ordinary dishes and make them exceptional too. The best way to describe them is flavor-bomb making material. Douse an already good hamburger in Moroccan marinade and you have a burger that will melt your toughest customer. Marinate a chicken breast in their Piri-Piri marinade and you can bring Africa into your dining room. Try their Thai or Caribbean marinades on pork, chicken or seafood and all you’ll need to do is add a little garnish to earn your own accolades. Their products are that good. Other flavors include Fajita, Fra Diavolo, and Steakhouse. Some chefs may scoff at such a product, but not all of us are lucky enough to have the staff, experience or time to recreate these popular and exotic flavors from scratch. That’s why we brought them into Maines. They are instant flavor for the realistic kitchen, and you have to try them.
This week’s recipe takes advantage of a popular trend and a fun way to feature different flavors. Brazilian steakhouses are becoming very popular, and this kind of service can be a great addition to buffets, brunches, or any place that does table-side service. By using value cuts of meat and creative flavors, the sum is greater than the whole of it parts. Try it. You will be surprised at your customer’s reactions. I hope you like it, and I hope you’ll be encouraged to embark on your own flavorful journey, courtesy of Maines!
Until next time, happy cooking!
September 16, 2013
Get on the Snack Train or Get Left Behind!
Now is the time to jump on board of one of the hottest trends racing across America, Snacks! Yes Snacks! Just as Spain has tapas, Americans have snacks. There are probably a dozen reasons behind the trend, from tight budgets to the health consciousand people just wanting to eat smaller meals. Whatever the reason, there is no debate that this trend has become a way of life for many of your customers. Snacks and smaller portions are perfectly sized and priced for today’s eating styles. This trend is telling appetizers, entrees and desserts to take a back seat; they are the new first course. In fact, according to a recent story I read in Restaurant Business, the snack trend has become a success story for many restaurants. It’s a strategy that really works for them. Many restaurants are using snacks as the basis of offerings for nontraditional day parts of their operation, such as late-night, afternoon, or dessert only. This has enabled them to offer more than just downsized or reduced priced meals.
Currently, the biggest impact has been seen on bar menus. Snacks and those beautiful high-margin beverages go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Operators are creating separate venues to introduce snacks, hoping that customers come in one night for a glass or two of wine and a little snack and return another night for dinner. Bar snack menus can bring in new customers or younger customers who can be converted to regular ones once they have a taste of your hospitality and food. It’s a great way to generate extra money even before your customer sits in your dining room.
Here is a great example: while waiting for their table, customers can have a quick cocktail and a snack (flavored popcorn) at your bar. I see money going to the bottom line. Look at what McDonald’s has done with the Snack Wrap. I believe there are 10 varieties to choose from. Order up one and it’s meant to curb your hunger. There are all kind of munchies from mini deep dish pizzas, nachos, housemade guacamole and chips or Edamane dumplings with a spicy dipping sauce. But one of the small cravings that I’m enjoying on menus is snack sized salads. As Goldilocks would say “They are just right”. Maines Vice-President of Sales, Guy Zehner, returned from a trip to Chicago where he ate at perhaps the best restaurant in the city, Alinea, which is the only 3 star Michelin recognition in the city. While there he enjoyed a No-Guilt Nibble of a dish called Charred Carrot Salad. ($9.95 - just think of the profit going to your bottom line with this extremely food cost friendly dish). The carrots resemble those on the bottom of a roasting pan mixed with baby arugula and goat cheese and garnished with almonds. Armed with a photo and Guy’s description my assignment was to recreate this small craving. So here ya go, this week’s recipe of the week is Chef Jake’s version of a Charred Carrot Salad with just a slight change. (I think my version tastes better) So get on the snack train or at best offer this as a feature. Enjoy, because I’m sure your customer will.
Until next time,
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
September 9, 2013
Inspiration Right Next Door
I hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day. No other business knows the meaning of the word labor like the restaurant business, so I sincerely hope you were able to take a little time to relax. My wife and I escaped to Vermont to celebrate our first anniversary over the holiday and we stumbled upon some restaurants that, simply put, blew us away. Our quiet, quirky, and often times misunderstood neighbor to the East has a tendency to fly under the radar, and our expectations weren’t over the top. Vermont restaurants have always done a few things very well; farm to table products, cheese, maple syrup, and craft brewing are their strong suits and anything we tried in these realms was outstanding. What surprised us was how far out in front these restaurants were with the trends Chef Jake and I have been talking about for the last two years, and how incredibly well they executed them. I considered, for a second, that maybe they had a portal right to our laptops, siphoning every idea right from our Essence of Maines articles and previous “My Best Dish Yets”. It was uncanny! And then it dawned on me-Vermont is setting the trends! They were right next door all of this time, quietly churning out culinary awesomeness day after day! We just needed to drive a few hours to find it.
We visited three types of restaurants: a gastropub-BBQ concept; a true white table cloth farm to table concept; and a rural, turn of the century general store front chef-owned restaurant. All three were exciting, energetic, casual (some guests were in jeans at the white table cloth restaurant,) and busy. I guess it helped that it was Labor Day weekend, but each one delivered over the top experiences.
The gastropub-BBQ place is called Prohibition Pig. We went here for lunch and were greeted with drinks in Mason jars, homemade and bottled sauces, and hot, house made pork rinds served in a cast iron skillet. The servers recommended local craft brews and seasonal mocktail and culinary cocktail drinks paired with our lunch selections. The beers were offered in full and half sizes, so my wife was able to sample three kinds in two hours without stumbling away mid-afternoon. The chef would randomly deliver entrees to tables and chat with them throughout service, getting to know them and recommending dishes in addition to their orders as well as desserts. Nobody can sell food like a chef! In such a rural setting you wouldn’t expect such a progressive menu, but there it was. The BBQ pork was whole hog, the flavors were Korean, Vietnamese, Canadian, micro-regional American, Latin, the charcuterie was all in house, and you better believe all the pickles were made there. They did it all.
The white table cloth farm to table restaurant was SoLo Farm and Table. Both early thirty-something owners, chef and hostess, worked at Michelin three star restaurants around the world, but here they were in the middle of nowhere in South Londonderry, Vermont cooking some of the best food I’ve ever had. Everything I mentioned that Prohibition Pig was cooking they were too; house charcuterie, pickling, seasonal produce, a small, ever changing menu, engaging beverage service, creative food and drinks, the whole nine yards. And all was served in a comfortable and simple setting. The place wasn’t fancy in the slightest, and yet you felt like you could have been eating in a five-star hotel. Guests were in jeans and button down shirts. It didn’t matter what you looked like or where you were from-if you liked good food and good times, you were welcome. It was SoLo that made me rethink how we serve food and eat back home, and how they distilled the entire restaurant experience down to the most important parts and left all of the fancy over-head parts out. It was simple and genius all at once.
The final place we went to was the Downtown Grocery in Ludlow, Vermont. One block off of the main drag (Vermont route 100,) and the place looked like a rural renewal project (not a bad concept for those of us on the Erie Canal and New York route 20 corridors!) This chef-owned concept had a chalkboard menu featuring everything from a crispy pig’s tail appetizer and pig ear salad to house cured beef bresaola and homemade ginger ale. Nothing was normal, and everything was delicious. There was even a menu item that bought the kitchen a round of ponys. If you ordered it, it was announced to the open kitchen and the whole staff would woot out loud! What do you think of that chefs!? The best part of this experience was the bartender, who upon noticing that I wasn’t drinking alcohol, offered to blend up some culinary cocktails to go with my dinner. He made me Country Thyme Lemonade, fresh homemade lemonade with muddled fresh lemon thyme served in a…you guessed it…ice cold Mason jar. I’ll never forget it.
So what’s my point of all this? I’m not bragging if you’ve actually done it, so I guess my point is that it’s nice to have your hard work and shared ideas validated by your neighbors in completely separate market. Chef Jake and I work tirelessly to bring you fresh and exciting ideas for you to try in your own restaurants because we want you to be successful, we want your customers to visit you over and over again, and we want your partnership with Maines to be profitable, exciting and fun. To experience the ideas we’ve shared with you first hand during my vacation inspires me to continue to seek out new ones and bring them back to you, our customers. It would appear we’ve been on the right track all along, so we will continue to forge ahead and keep you inspired and passionate. Your pleasure is our business, and we will continue to bring it, every week, in My Best Dish Yet.
Until next time, happy cooking!
August 27, 2103
Sufferin Succotash was a catch phrase that made Warner Brothers cartoon cat Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr. famous. He appeared in 103 cartoons and won three academy awards. I know most of us remember Sylvester blurting it out. But today I just want to talk about Succotash. Yes Succotash! The Native Americans in the eastern woodland were the first to prepare this dish. It mainly consisted primarily of corn and lima beans or other shell beans. As time pasted other ingredients were added including tomatoes and green or sweet red peppers. This dish was popular during many Thanksgiving celebrations in New England and as well as in Pennsylvania and other states. In the American South any mixture of vegetables prepared with lima beans and topped with butter or lard is called succotash.
A couple of weeks ago I was with Chef Eamon in Maryland at the Bakery De France manufacturing plant. It is an amazing operation that produces unbelievable artisan breads; you know the way they should be made. I can go on about that visit will reserve that for a future MBDY article. Anytime we leave the area we are looking to see what is new. At dinner that night it was pretty obvious what was “New”. It was succotash! We are seeing many of the “old” tradition dishes becoming “The New New”. Old faithful’s with a modern twist. In just about every category on the restaurant menu Succotash appeared. The first sighting was in the appetizer category, heirloom tomatoes stuffed with summer succotash. Then there was the Sufferin Succotash salad that was served with pulled pork BBQ. It was a sweet corn succotash salad with tangy barbeque vinaigrette. And no they didn’t forget the soup category. Succotash soup with clams - White beans, ham hocks, corn, three types of squash, onions and spices. And it was added to a couple of entrees, Grilled jalapeno shrimp with Hominy Succotash. So many choices but I went with a dish called “Three Little Pigs” This dish had Pennsylvania Dutch written all over it. Three different grilled sausage links, accompanied with sautéed spaetzel in brown butter and PICKLED SUMMER SUCCOTASH! It was so delicious and just rounded out the warmth of the sausage and spaetzel. So this week’s recipe of the week is for the pickled summer succotash. Don’t be afraid to use it with an entrée, or as a side dish. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised when you add this old-new favorite to your menu.
Until next time,
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
August 18, 2013
Picture Perfect Profits
Consider, for a moment, social media and the power of imagery. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, and every single one of those words are communicated, even if you are limited to 126 characters on Twitter. A picture of your friends flavor bomb burger at so and so’s burger shack posted on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Vine will do more to move the next generation of diners than a rambling 2000 word review in a newspaper. (2000 words!? Who has time for that!?) Times have changed, and if today’s modern restaurateur doesn’t change with them, they may be missing the boat. Let’s take a hard look at what we’re serving in our restaurant, and then consider that many others who have never been to your restaurant are probably looking at it too. If you play your cards right, 50 cents in added expense to a dessert could net you thousands in new business.
Many industry pundits have noted that restaurant customers have a tendency to remember the first part of their experience, the last part, and the bad part. The goal is to hedge your bets and virtually guarantee that customers will remember the best part, photograph it, and then share it with everyone they know through social media. With this in mind, ask yourself which dishes on your menu are most likely to be photographed and posted online? Are they the most profitable dishes on your menu? Do they define your restaurants brand? Or, are they even worthy of a photograph at all? These are hard questions, and usually spur some pretty heated debates amongst your staff. That’s a good thing. The most successful brands always analyze, scrutinize and tweak their menu items, and in this manner, you’ll be getting them ready for a photo shoot!
The easiest course to do this with is dessert. Invariably, it is a category that could benefit from increased sales, everyone loves desserts, and it’s usually the last image the customer remembers. With the introduction of the new individual desserts from Sweet Street (the gluten-free flourless chocolate torte 017802, the blackberry-cabernet cheesecake 017800, the Tahitian French vanilla cheesecake 017798, the salted caramel cheesecake 017799, and the goat cheese, honey and thyme infused cheesecake 017801) the hardest part of making these desserts is already done. Now it’s just a matter of dressing them up to make a serious splash in the dining room and, hopefully, all of the social media outlets!
With the simple addition of an ice cream or Ciao Bella gelato from Maines you can add a cold element. Boil up some of the many IQF fruits form Bountiful Harvest with some sugar and lemon juice and you have a delicious fruit compote and/or sauce. Season a whip cream with a complimentary spice and display it as a quenelle instead of piping it. Try making some of the tuile cookies (this week’s recipe) and build some height in your presentation. All of these elements can be made ahead of time, won’t slow down service too much, and will net a huge return. Ask yourself what you could charge for some of the desserts photographed below and what you could charge without the garnishes. An additional 50 cents worth of garnish can make a $2-$4 difference in profit.
Finally, these additions artfully displayed will make for a seriously photo-worthy Twitter post!
Tuiles are a lot of fun to make. All you need is a silicone baking sheet and a plastic fish tub. The tuile batter is easily made in a mixer and has a cooler shelf-life of two months.
Essentially you cut stencils out of the plastic fish tubs (I like to use basic geometric shapes.) Place the stencil on the silicone baking sheet and using a stiff metal spatula, scrape the tuile batter over the stencil until the form is filled and level with batter. Lift it up and you will be left with a perfect form of the stencils shape. Repeat until the silicone sheet is filled and bake at 305F convection or 335 conventional until light golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
Here’s the fun part; once cooked and while the tuiles are still warm, they can be lifted and formed into any shape you desire. After 3-5 seconds they will cool and become rigid and crispy (and very delicate too!) If the tuiles are too cool too shape, simply pop them back in the oven for a minute or two and they will be flexible once again. I’ve seen every imaginable form and shape used to make tuiles, and they are a fantastic way to allow your staff to be creative.
Once the tuiles are made, store them in an air-tight container. Handle them gently when plating, and position them delicately.
With any luck and a little creativity you will be pumping out picture perfect desserts in no time. If you manage to create something beautiful, why wait for your customers to post a picture of it? Snap a picture and post it all over the place, and don’t forget to add the #maines when you do!
Until next time,
August 11, 2013
Heirloom Spinach Fettuccini
By now everyone knows that when Chef Eamon and I see something new and beautiful we love it. And what I saw this week is definitely a sight of beauty. I was fortunate enough to have a sample of the first packed Heirloom Red and Green Spinach Blend that will be packed under our premium Markon label. Markon is a leader in the foodservice industry, providing fresh produce to every category of foodservice operations with a focus on food safety and innovation. These guys take food safety seriously! They have a passionate dedication to providing safe fruits and vegetables to meet your high standards. This is assured by their comprehensive 5-Star Food Safety Program. Now back to the spinach.
Innovation, here you go! This spinach blend is part of the Ready-Set-Serve product line which takes prep work out of the kitchen and allows chefs to focus on flavor and creativity. One of the immediate benefits that I saw was the bright colors which in my opinion will add excitement to any dish you would want to create. And like a great wine I know you will enjoy the mild earthy flavor, I did! And if you want to talk about nutritional value this is a powerhouse, rich in iron, folic acid, and vitamins A, B and C. It is washed and ready to use out of the box. Like sugar plums dancing in my head at Christmas so were the menu applications for this heirloom blend, it literally made me giddy with thoughts. Where should I begin? Appetizers, salads, sandwiches, entrees or sides.
After digging through the walk-in cooler I found a couple of heirloom tomatoes and Halloumi cheese (A semi-hard Greek cheese) with these two ingredients in hand I knew my first shot would be to do a pasta dish. Spinach fettuccini pasta tossed with olive oil, garlic, Heirloom red and green spinach, Heirloom tomato and Halloumi cheese cubes. Talk about a simple dish that was easy to make, healthy and most important was absolutely delicious. I then made a Quesadilla utilizing the spinach, tomatoes and Jack cheese. Another winner! I ended up with the same results with each dish I created. Believe me the new Heirloom Spinach Blend is a game changer and a must for your menu. So this week’s best dish recipe will be for the Heirloom Spinach Fettuccini, the biggest disappointment will be that you might have to wait a week or two before we can ship you the new Heirloom Spinach Blend.
Until next time,
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
August 4, 2013
Raw, Local and Sweet! Small Plate. Big Flavor!
Many of you have heard me wax poetic about the virtues of seeking out and leveraging local and seasonal produce. When you choose to do business with Maines, the journey towards that goal is a short one. The Maines Produce Express team is deeply in tune with the local markets, and they have forged longstanding relationships with local growers and farms that allow Maines to do something you will have a very hard time finding in broad-line distribution-local produce delivered the next day right to your back door! As a Pride of New York house, Maines does everything in its power to travel the least amount of distance for the best produce, and during the summer, Maines is doing just that, and supporting your local farming community, your friends, and your neighbors! What more could you ask of a distributor partnership!?
Drive in the country for any amount of distance right now and you know its sweet corn season. Stalks that just month and a half ago were struggling to get knee-high by July have benefitted from the moist soil and subsequent ripping heat, and sweet corn has arrived just in time for August. Let’s get it on the menu while it lasts!
This week’s recipe for a small plate of Raw Local Sweet Corn Salad and Seared Bristol Scallop captures a trend that has been around for a while in vegan circles and is just now enjoying some attention from the mainstream. Cooking “raw” is the trend (or, I guess, the non-cooking trend,) and it pertains to the preservation of vitamins, minerals, fiber and textures of ingredients by not cooking them. I’ve seen some really creative recipes using these methods, including an uncooked cheesecake made with avocado and no cheese that blew my mind. While that may be outside the scope of most menus, using raw corn isn’t. And yes, adding value to this recipe with the addition of scallop may negate a pure, raw vegetarian dish, it can certainly be served on its own as a raw lunch salad, vegetarian entrée, or as a side dish.
When corn is fresh, local, and at the height of the season, there really isn’t a need to cook it much, if at all. The local bi-color corn you buy from Maines is all of this, and it’s as good a time as any to try it in a raw recipe. This raw corn salad recipe plays the role of a platform for one of my favorite Maines products, the Bristol scallops available from our seafood partner Hopkins Seafood in Philadelphia. They are the best scallop we sell, and of course they are the most expensive; but quality always pays! By applying the exploding small plate trend to this recipe, you can deliver products like these without breaking the bank, but still fully entertain customers with all of the dining value they look for in your dining room.
Small plates, maximum flavor, ever engaging menus with thoughtful ingredients brought to you by Maines. Sounds like a business plan to me, and one that you will surely ride to future success.
Until next time,
July 29, 2013
Clean Out Your Freezer
Two events over the past few days have inspired this week’s Best Dish Yet! Cleaning my garage at my summer cottage (community yard sale) and the annual GO Joe 16 Bike-a-thon that supports St. Joseph’s Center. Let me explain! Cleaning my garage reminded me about going into a reach-in or walk-in freezer and taking inventory of what you have. I know you will find things in there that have become freezer chips because they have been in there too long. Unfortunately you will need to throw them out. That action will tell you just put $$$ into the trash can. With today’s economy that is the last thing anyone wants to do. You may also find a treasure or two, a bag of 16/20 shrimp or maybe a whole pork loin. These items might already be on your core menu or now you have the opportunity to run a feature or two with them. Did you notice I didn’t say special? The word special to your customer means two things, I can get it cheap or its old and the restaurant is trying to get rid of it. I recommend using the word feature moving forward.
I think the real treasures are all of those “two order” items that you wrapped and put into your freezer for future use. A piece of Andouille sausage, some seasoned chicken meat, a half a Yankee pot roast, etc. I think you get the picture. Finding these is like hitting the jackpot at a casino! These items have already been paid for now you can turn them into “A Feature” that will generate profit for you instead of throwing them into the trash. Depending on what you find you can make all type of stews, soups, risottos, etc. Follow your kitchen instincts you will be amazed at what you can do. I usually grab one of my best friends, Arborio rice add a few aromatics, some shallots, wine, along with the items that have been salvaged from the freezer, and like magic you now have a very memorable dish that you and your customers will be talking about.
But there is more, I mentioned the GO Joe 16 Bike-a-thon that happened over the past week. Joe is a local TV personality (WNEP ABC Affiliate) who yearly rides around Northeastern Pennsylvania raising money for St. Joseph’s Center. Along his travel route they usually do Tour de Restaurants featuring some of the best restaurants in NE Pennsylvania. Well on day 3 of his 5 day journey one of the stops was in the rural community of Dushore, PA which is also home of The Whistle Stop Restaurant. The Whistle Stop Restaurant just happens to be one of the restaurants in Dushore that Maines supplies and was featured by WNEP. I have eaten there and was just amazed at the many creative dishes that Chef Chris, owner and Chef Mike produce in this hidden gem restaurant. I’m telling you if you ever have the opportunity to walk into The Whistle Stop you won’t be disappointed. (Side note: Many great entrees, but one of my favorites is the Coop Chicken Sandwich with fresh cut fries) Now back to the story, while being featured, Chef Mike made a mouthwatering Jambalaya that when I saw it I wanted to get in my car and make the 1 hour drive. I’m sure they sold a boatful when Joe peddled into town. It was also an inspiration to this week’s recipe of the week: Freezer Jambalaya give it a try and don’t be afraid to add any other little treats you find in your freezer to the recipe.
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
July 22, 2013
Turf and Surf
Isn’t it interesting how things look different when you make a slight adjustment? The same thing is happening with our old favorite surf and turf. In the ongoing and seemingly unending battle to present value on the plate while costs rise and menu prices stagnate the surf and turf concept has risen from the heap of old menu engineering tricks. Where it used to represent the ultimate in big-shot menu items (lobster or steak? Why choose when you can have both!) it has now evolved into a savvy way to increase the customers value perception of a dish while keeping costs down. It is also a fantastic way to meet the needs of an ever-changing dining public.
Eat an 8 ounce steak and the last bite is rarely as good as the first. This is called the law of diminishing returns. The palate gets used to the flavor and texture of the steak as it is devoured, and the excitement and exhilaration wears off fast. Increase the steak size to a pound or more and the dining experience turns into something resembling work rather than gustatory delight. Some folks like this and that’s perfectly fine, but with the recent attention that the American diet has received lately, more people are moving away from these types of dining decisions. They want to experience more flavors textures and sensations when they go out, all the while feeling better about themselves in the process.
At 42, I couldn’t eat a one pound steak if I wanted to. I just can’t do it anymore. With the slowing of my metabolism and the inescapable reality of my HDL and LDL values and other health related metrics (courtesy of my health insurance provider,) I can no longer blissfully put a saturated fat bomb in my mouth and pretend it’s a good thing. It probably isn’t, especially since I’d like to live long enough to retire some day and chip away at my fly-fishing bucket list. So, when I go out to eat today, I look at the menu ask myself “what on this menu offers the best dining experience in terms of flavor experience without taking time off of my life clock?” Ok, maybe I don’t ask it just like that, but in essence it sums up the criteria of my decision, and this very thought process represents a vast segment of your market too. Times have changed.
Enter “turf and surf.” This week’s dish presents and reasonable alternative that satisfies the aforementioned needs. Instead of 16 ounces of protein on the plate, there are six, and they’re represented by two species instead of one. The first is veal butt tenderloin, a lean, tender and under-utilized cut that offers a great yield and is easy to portion into adorable little tournedos, or medallions if you prefer. On top of these two ounce medallions sit two one ounce chemical free wild 16-20 count shrimp from Ecuador. I say chemical free because, as many of us know, most shrimp are treated with an approved sodium compound to retain moisture during storage and shipping. While they are perfectly fine and serve a great need in our industry, we have unfortunately forgotten what an untreated shrimp tastes like. Try them and you will taste the difference yourself! They taste like lobster! More care is needed in cooking these shrimp as they will dry out if overcooked, so exercise prudence and culinary expertise when using them. The added attention will net your customers un-paralleled flavor and texture! This dish is served with quinoa, the now wildly popular South American cereal/grain containing every essential amino acid needed by our bodies; a real “super-food!” Add fennel, insanely sweet mini peppers, Kalamata olives, roasted pepper puree and the best Californian extra virgin olive oil in our warehouse and you have a dish that will add days to your customer’s lives!
I hope you give this week’s recipe a try, or at least investigate some of its elements. We should, after all, be improving and lengthening our customers’ lives, not shortening them. At the risk of sounding base, it’s also serves as an excellent business model.
July 15, 2013
Deep-Sea Red Crab is a "Hidden Treasure"!
Every now and then something will fall at your feet and you realize that it is a hidden treasure. Today I want to talk to you about such an item its, Deep-Sea Red Crab. Late last year I was in Seattle, Washington with my co-worker Brands Manager, Jim Perri. We were there visiting Trident Seafood who is a vertically integrated harvester, processor and marketer of seafood from Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and around the world. They operate offshore and shore-side processing plants many of which we inspected. We also were invited to attend seafood training with Maine’s partner and friend Food Service of America who is one of the nation’s largest broadline foodservice distributors. While at the training that is where it happened! There perched on display was Deep-sea red crab, also known as red crab. After seeing and tasting it in numerous dishes I tagged it as a hidden treasure. I was very excited and told Jim, “We got to get this at Maines for our customers”. Deep-sea red crab has a Dungeness crab-like texture and has a sweet mild flavor similar to Snow Crab. It is a local ocean friendly species that is certified sustainable seafood by the Marine Stewardship Council the MSC’s fishery certification program and seafood Eco label recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing. They are a global organization working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice of seafood.
Red crab is caught using crab pots or traps. Similar to those you can see on the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”. Red crabmeat is handpicked while frozen to maintain freshness and provide more whole pieces and less broken. The meat is layered with natural proportions of leg, claw and body meat and vacuum sealed in 2.5# pouches. The smaller pack size enables faster thawing and less waste. It can be used in a variety of recipes such as crab cakes, salads, crab claw rolls, soup, stuffing, etc. It’s a very good substitute for Maryland blue crabmeat or lobster claw and knuckle meat. So I am asking you to help me introduce this “hidden treasure” at your restaurant and to your customers. I will be attaching three recipes in this week’s “My Best Dish Yet” to give you a few serving ideas. Give it a try I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! Deep-Sea Red Crab meat #015757
Until next time,
July 8, 2013
Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
I hope everyone had a wonderful fourth of July weekend and had a chance to spend some quality time with family and loved ones. This time of year is a favorite of mine, and not because it tends to be when vacation time gets burned up (well, maybe it has a little to do with it…) I like this time of year because the hot steamy weather begins. Before you throw your pitcher of ice water at the computer claiming I’ve obviously forgotten what it’s like to be in a professional kitchen at this time of year (trust me when I say I’ll never forget that) allow me to explain what I mean. At the end of these hot, humid and oppressive days there is usually a measure of relief. Whether it’s a cooling rainstorm of which we’ve had plenty lately, or a dramatic sunset provided by distant storm clouds and dying sun light, there always seems to be a nice ending. You can literally feel the cool air begin to drop in the valleys and low spots of wherever you may find yourself at, say, 8:30 to 9:30 in the evening. The last few days I found myself in three distinct places at this time; the back veranda of a Frank Lloyd Wright house on Lake Erie, a boat dock on the southern shore of Oneida Lake, and a seat on the third base line of the Rochester Red Wings baseball stadium. Of all three, none were more inspirational and delighting as the baseball game. The reason; the roll food plays. I’ll explain.
One night, my wife and I set out to do a little fishing on Oneida Lake and watch the sun go down. We packed ginger ale, tuna sandwiches on sour dough bread, and salt and pepper potato chips. As we bobbed on the water undisturbed by any fish whatsoever, we gleefully reminded ourselves of how much hotter it must have been back in town. How a lake’s cooling effect must have beckoned everyone able to leave from the city in the summers before air-conditioning was invented, and how it, along with cheap cars and gas, must have been the sole reasons many of the great water-side resorts faded, collapsed or burned, and slowly came to be forgotten. The sun went down behind dramatic clouds, and every fish in the lake remained safe and unscathed. Not to knock my wife’s sandwich making skills, but the meal that evening was mere sustenance, but alas, sustain it did.
Another night, we lined up a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright houses because it was something we always wanted to see, and our initial planed fishing trip to the Catskills got blown out by too much rain. So be it. We made lemonade out of rainwater. The views were stunning, the tours enlightening, and the stories engaging. I’ve always loved fine craftsmanship, and there was plenty to behold. At the end of the tour of Graycliff on Lake Erie, we sat on the back veranda and ate cheese, crackers, local cherries and golden tomatoes set out by the staff. We joked as we ate and drank and told ourselves this must have been what it was like to live the high-life in the 1930’s. It was pretty cool to be sure, and those cherries were pretty awesome.
The evening to remember during our western swing through New York, however, was the one spent at the ball park on the fourth of July. Now sure, I played baseball as a kid and have been known to sub in a softball game or two, but my love of the game is not why this night was special. Neither were the fireworks, which, were it not for the city’s multi-thousand dollar pyrotechnic display popping off in the distance behind right-field fence, would have fallen flat. It was made special because of peanuts. Crazy? Maybe, but hear me out. In my estimation, there is nothing more American, more indicative of our “official pastime” than slowly and methodically working your way through a bag of salted in-shell peanuts (I say “in-shell,” because my home-away-from home, the Carrier Dome, did away with them in favor of the labor-saving, shell-less form last year. Really SU!?) As we entered the beautiful park I asked my sister if they had peanuts in the shell and she looked at me like I had six dragon heads. “Duh!” is all she said. So I grabbed a bag and we headed for the seats. My wife asked me if I was going to open the bag of peanuts or curl up with it as if it was a stuffed animal, and I replied, “It isn’t time yet. The home team isn’t up yet.” Obviously, she was unaware of the orthodoxy of eating peanuts at a ball game. When the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox were downed one-two-three, I place the corner of the bag in my teeth and nicked the thick plastic. This was done to make sure the bag could be opened right across the top, instead of the annoying diagonal side-tear. Eating peanuts is always better when you can reach your whole hand in the bag, and while never needing to look away from the game, fish around for the next victim. Nobody pours peanuts from an improperly torn bag corner. It’s just wrong. As I began to pinch, split and pop my little salty friends, I remained mindful of the pace. Don’t eat them so fast that their gone before the seventh inning stretch, and don’t eat them so slow that you leave a bunch of singles (one-nutters) in the bag you’re never sure what to do with come the ninth inning. And whenever you find a “triple,” people to the left and right of you must be informed, “Hey look! A triple! Make a wish!”
Perhaps, unlike many other pastime snacks, the peanut’s waste product is almost as important as the edible part, and probably the most annoying if you are part of the ballpark’s maintenance team. As I chaw my way through the bag the tell-tale “scat” of the peanut eater begins to form at my feet. You can learn a lot about a person and the game they were watching by a pile of peanut shells.
For starters, is there an outline of two perfect shoe prints? This is the sign of someone that never moved, remembered to go to the bathroom before the game, and was way into the game. This person is a baseball fan, and respects the fact that America’s past-time must never be interrupted. A real fan, and a professional peanut eater. If they have season tickets at the Carrier Dome, they’ve probably written at least a dozen nasty-grams to the concession committee demanding that in-shell peanuts be reinstated.
Are the shells crushed to the consistency of flour, swished to and fro covering at least three sets of seats? This person is restless, their team probably lost or committed a lot of errors, and was probably drinking a lot of beer and tracked shells up and down the row making many trips to the bathroom. They probably threw the remaining “one-nutters” at the visiting team’s dugout on their way out of the park.
Are the shells semi-crushed with letters or hearts traced in them? This peanut eater came with their newly minted spouse, probably coerced into going to the game instead of attending the cook-out the other spouse vastly preferred. This peanut eater tried to make up for their guilt by vainly sending “I love you” notes and heart signs carved in the canvas created by crushed peanut shells on the ground, and frankly, is kind of pathetic.
Are the peanut shells wet, appearing to have been soaked in water? This is the sure sign of a salt-sucker. This peanut eater is a serious salt fan, probably appears to have a sun-burn, but rather suffers from hyper-tension likely brought on by a high sodium diet, and may have OCD. But they do know how to eat a peanut. They systematically remove the salt form the shell, and quickly remove the nut and pop it in their mouth before the salt concentration subsides. This is done in the effort to enjoy the illusion that the salt actually seeped through the shell and made it to the nut, hence creating the world’s best peanut.
Lastly, there is the exploding peanut eater. This is the peanut eater whose shells are everywhere, but are most likely shot forward onto the seats in front of them, to the sides, and maybe into the isle. This peanut eater’s team not only won, but they won by hitting multiple homeruns, sending the peanut eater out of their seat straight into the air launching their shells in every conceivable direction. The area around their seat is a veritable peanut shell explosion. While it’s annoying to the other fans, no peanut eater had a better time making a bigger peanut shell mess.
You are probably wondering where I’m going with all of this. My point is that while watching a sunset over a lake, enjoying architectural history, and watching a ball game are all great ways to spend time, the ball game was enhanced by the food experience more than the others. Greatly. As I pointed out, there is a huge difference between eating peanuts in the shell versus eating shelled peanuts. It’s all about the “experience” of eating the peanuts, and what activities we associate with that type of experience that drills into our memories the most.
My message this week, or question rather, is simply this. What is it about eating at your restaurant that makes it memorable? What will the customers be talking about as they drive home? What will they talk about the next day at work? What will they remember about the experience a month from now? A year? 10 years? What little nuance about your brand will haunt them for days to come, only to be satiated by another visit? I couldn’t tell you score of that game, but I can tell you that I had a great time, ate a lot of peanuts, and when I have a chance to go again, I will. I have no idea how much I spent that evening, and that’s the point. I didn’t care. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your customers so satisfied with the experience at your restaurant that when they are asked how much it cost, their reply would be “It‘s so wonderful there and we had such a great time that it doesn’t matter!” This is the goal, and Maines can help you reach it. Ask your territory manager how Maines can help you achieve your goals, and in return for your business commitment, we won’t rest until you do.
This week’s recipe is a collision of two great tastes that taste great together, and a combination that has withstood the test of time; peanuts and chocolate. It also captures two hot trends; making ingredients you can otherwise buy in house, and gelato. Feature Belgium Chocolate Gelato with Homemade Peanut Brittle as a dessert feature and bet you a bag of peanuts that your customer s will have tasted something they will never forget.
Until next time,
July 1, 2013
Cooking en Papillote
Almost every weekend during the summer you will find me at my cottage unwinding from the daily grind. When I get there it normally is all about me and what I want to do, and when I want to do it. Usually I begin by building a fire, I love a fire at night (My wife calls it my caveman TV). Friday night was no exception, fire was built, friends gathered, guitars came out, drinks began to flow and then I was tasked with making dinner, even though I didn’t want to do it. As a chef you always get stuck with cooking. I knew that I definitely did not want to make it complicated so I decided to cook in aluminum foil. I had a few pieces of fish and decided to give it an international flare by making Veracruz sauce. If you see a dish referring to “Veracruz” you can bet that it hails from Mexico. The city of Veracruz is a blend of cultures, combining Spanish, Caribbean and African backgrounds. Veracruz sauce is a tomato based sauce that blends the flavors with Spanish ingredients like olive oil, capers and olives. The heat can range from mild to hot depending on your personal preferences and the amount of jalapeno peppers you use.
Traditionally this sauce is paired with red snapper but on Friday I was using haddock. I laid out a few pieces of foil, arranged and place the tomato mixture on the sheet, and then placed the fish over the mixture and fold up the foil to seal it. I place these foil packages on my preheated grill and just let them cook. In about 10 minutes I removed them from the grill and served them “as is”. It was now up to my guests to enjoy what I had created. Everyone had the opportunity to open the foil package and have the rush of aromatic flavors slap them in the face. It doesn’t get much better than that! Seeing everyone’s reactions got me thinking that it’s been a while since I talked about cooking “en papillote” or cooking in parchment. The cooking term defines the process whereby foods are enclosed and baked in parchment paper. Because the food is surrounded with moisture, foods cook quickly while preserving their inherent nutrients.
You can present it to your customer and let them also experience the rush that my friends experienced on Friday. Instead of red snapper I’m going to suggest that you use shrimp. Shrimp is cost effective, very flavorful and it will be well received by many of your customers. Plus it will definitely add some profits to your bottom line. This week’s recipe of the week is Shrimp en Papillote with Sauce Veracruz. You now are not only adding an international flair to a protein that is well received by most of your customers. But those customers will be impressed by the cooking technique and the way it is served to them. So have fun with dish and if it is well received you can always feature it again with red snapper or even chicken. The sky is the limit when it comes to cooking en papillote. It is also a great way to serve a side dish.
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
Until next time,
June 24, 2013
Summer's Here and The Time is Right... for Grilling
Like magic, the weather here has turned from “ark building weather” to “grillin’ and chillin’” weather. I suppose it’s going to be that kind of year when the weather just does what it darn well pleases and we just have to adjust our game, check the radar every hour, and get the outdoor fun in while we can. No matter, it’s officially summer now, and I for one will be acting accordingly. Hopefully you are all planning your menus accordingly too.
This week I’m committing a serious no-no in the world of culinary blogging and butting up two like ingredients in two posts. While I’m mildly sorry for this, I am not sorry for “double lambing.” In my post two weeks ago I wrote about roasting my favorite lamb cut, the top round. This week I’m grilling my favorite lamb cut that actually isn’t a cut at all; it’s a grind, and a fine grind at that. I will be shouting the virtues of the best burger I’ve had in recent memory, a burger made from ground fresh lamb from our exclusive partners at Esposito and Sons out of Philadelphia.
During a recent deep dive with our sales force into the world lamb we discovered a number of interesting facts. First of all, compared to chicken and beef, hardly anyone is eating lamb (crazy, right!?) Actually, since the 1970’s, lamb consumption has dropped, from a whopping 3 pounds per person to less than one pound currently. What happened? Well, without getting all anthropological on you, tastes and cultures change, and a fair portion of our lamb loving population has passed on, and along with them an affinity for strong and authentic flavor. To me, a chef primarily paid to watch for emerging trends, this is “take notice” time. The moment before a trend emerges is the moment we think something is completely forgotten, like Atari, skinny ties, Tommy Tutone and gamey meat. While you may not catch me grooving out to Jenny 867-5309 while playing “pong” in my piano key tie, I will be in the backyard grilling up some delicious meat with flavor (notice I didn’t say “gamey.”)
Eating gamey lamb is a thing of the past, especially since we here in the United States have come a long way in the lamb raising department. Unlike New Zealand and Australia, we like to finish our lamb on grain, which has a tendency to mellow the flavor of an otherwise pasture raised (read: grass-fed) lamb. This results in a juicy, flavorful and yet mild breed of lamb, the kind of lamb many of us wish we were forced to try as kids at Easter brunch. This is a lamb worth revisiting, and Esposito’s ground lamb is the best I’ve ever had.
This week’s recipe embraces America’s most beloved menu item, the hamburger. We are already well into the full embrace of the co-opted and upgraded burger trend, and concepts like Fuddruckers is already onto alternative game burgers. Many of the restaurants in our market may not be able to sell twenty rattlesnake or kangaroo burgers a night, but we can certainly move a juicy lamb burger, especially if we doll it up with some custom fixings.
I’ve included simple recipes for making your own Tzatziki sauce and French fries tossed with a ready-made garlic butter and crumbled feta. Along with a beautiful brioche bun from Eurobake you have a formula for an anything but normal burger. Take the tzatziki a step further and spike it with fresh mint, oregano or your own concoction of fresh herbs and spices. Either way, you’ll be demonstrating to your customers that you are willing to go the extra mile for their enjoyment and experience of a truly custom made culinary experience.
Be sure to market your partners at Esposito and Sons too. If you think your customers value a custom butcher relationship then you should be telling them about it, especially since you are already buying their products. Esposito and Sons is located in South Phili’, right on South 9th Street in the heart of the Italian Market. They’ve been cutting meat since 1911! This is literally where Rocky was filmed punching hanging beef and jogging by 50 gallon burn barrels and ordering cheese steaks. When you place an order with them, your steaks and grinds are prepared and shipped to you the very next day. Practically nobody does this anymore, and Maines takes great pains to bring it to you. If all of this imagery doesn’t conjure up the quintessential custom butcher relationship, nothing will. Your customers will gladly pay a little more for your commitment to history and authenticity, and it never goes out of style!
Addendum: A perfectly sound and proper Greek seasoning for the tzatziki recipe would be freshly chopped dill. Either way, if you make it fresh, it will blow your mind!
June 17, 2013
Fossil Farms Exotic Game Meats
I would like to start off by saying a belated Happy Father’s Day to all dads’s, step-dads and foster days! It’s was our day to relax and hopefully be pampered by our families. Unlike mother’s day which is by far the busiest day in the restaurant industry, that isn’t the case on Father’s day. There are no reservations or waiting lists for brunch of dinner, Father’s day normally is grilling in the backyard day. So instead of an outstanding brunch or dinner at some fancy restaurant it’s hotdogs, hamburgers and grilled chicken. In my past when I was younger and crazier I would celebrate the day with a bunch of my friends hitting the mountains of NE Pennsylvania in search of rattlesnakes. Yes rattlesnakes!!! We would all participate in the annual rattlesnake roundup sponsored by the Noxen Volunteer Fire Department. It was and still is their biggest fund raiser of the year. Now that I am older and hopefully wiser I no longer participate, mainly because I’m too slow and no longer flexible enough. So now I’m a spectator, in fact this year I had a rattlesnake roundup celebration party at my cottage for all my friends who did participate in the past but now are also spectators. One of the things about being in the woods was seeing all the other wild life. Turkeys, deer, bear, etc. So today I want to talk about one of our new partners at Maines. Fossil Farms which specializes in farm raised exotic game meats. They are committed to bringing you the finest exotic game meats, which include but are not limited to ostrich meat, buffalo meat, antelope, pheasant, rabbit, quail and yes rattlesnake. Their high quality, organic meat products are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, medications or preservatives. I spoke with the owners and they told me if we won’t eat it, you won’t find it in our products. That’s a pretty bold statement.
Today I want to talk about Elk; Fossil Farms elk are tender and succulent, offering an exciting new flavor in red meat. Their animals roam freely and graze in natural conditions on the pastures of the farm. They feed only on grass and are supplemented during the colder months with only natural feed like hay and silage. A variety of cuts are available. Racks, loins and tenders cook quickly over high heat. While legs and shoulders may be roasted slowly or braised. The Denver leg which is completely seamed, cleaned and boneless lends itself well to grilling and sautéing due to its natural tenderness.
So what do you think? Want to try something new on your menu this week. I spoke with a customer the other day that told me he likes to try one new item a week on his menu. It adds excitement to the menu and customers look for the “new item” every week. (He runs it as a feature). So talk to your account manager this week about Fossil Farms and what you can add to your menu. This week’s recipe is for a great summer salad that is a blend of cultures. Elk Tataki is a Thai Salad made with pan-seared elk medallions resting an on bed of peppery greens drizzled with a Thai dressing. It’s oh so good and I’m sure your customers will enjoy it.
Until next time,
June 10, 2013
Read Any Good Books Lately?
As we settle back into a groove after food show season and with your purchasing decisions for the next 10 weeks already made (because you made them at the Maines Food Show and captured all of your rebates, riiiiiight….?) you may find yourself taking delivery of some new products you booked at the show with only half an idea in mind. I’ve done it. I’ve been asked dozens of times by my cooks “Hey Chef! What’s this?” when these new items showed up on the loading dock.
“Oh, that?” I’d answer, “I ordered that at the food show.”
“What’s it for?”
“I don’t know. I just saw it, thought it looked cool, and bought it.”
“Really?” as if I’d never do something spontaneous. “Can I use it on a feature? I’ve been reading this book and I’ve been inspired to try something.”
“Go for it. Just let me taste it before we run with it.”
Many times, it was that easy in my kitchen. Exploration met inspiration all the time and good things seemed to happen on their own, but in actuality they didn’t. As chefs, we have to plant seeds in our cook’s minds and let them germinate, and eventually they will sprout in the form of inspiration, passion and drive. That way, when you happen to stumble on something “cool” at a food show, your crew will know exactly what to do when it magically shows up at the restaurant.
In my previous position as the Executive Chef at the Century Club of Syracuse, during the annual staff Christmas party, I bought my kitchen staff books as gifts. I did it almost every year for 10 years. Not just ordinary cookbooks loaded with recipes, but books that told stories of chefs, food producers, restaurant owners, food history, etc…virtually any subject related to food. I tried to hand pick each book to suit each cook and a specific area I felt they needed growth or a “spark.” Sometimes, a message from someone else other than a direct supervisor is just what an employee needs. It was my way of planting seeds, and they are still sprouting today.
Hey! Since we’re on the subject of planting seeds, out in the garden many of should have plenty of mint, thyme and parsley by now. This week’s recipe for a light entrée of roasted lamb top round (1 week special order) with a delicious salad of sugar snap peas, mint and shaved ricotta salata (3 day lead time from Indian Ridge) takes advantage of fresh spring herbs. It’s the perfect ‘tweener of an entrée; big enough for a light dinner but small enough that you could still entertain dessert. Plus it’s seasonal, relatively low in fat, and utilizes one of the hottest trends today, artisan cheese.
Here is a list of some of the books I found myself buying a lot, as well as a few movies for the “non-readers” on my staff*. I’ve personally read and seen them all. I hope you check some of them out, and maybe you will find yourself inspiring your crew the same way I inspired mine. You never know when you’ll need them to step up and put the finishing touches on those goodies you got at the food show!
Movies for Chefs
Dinner Rush 2000 Directed by Bob Giraldi. It stars Danny Aiello as a restaurateur-bookmaker in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood and Edoardo Ballerini as his son, the restaurant's star chef. A cult classic.
Babette’s Feast 1987 The first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Subtitled, “heady” and artsy.
Mostly Martha 2001 Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is a chef at Lido, a gourmet restaurant in Hamburg, Germany. A perfectionist who lives only for her work, Martha has difficulty relating to the world other than through food. Subtitled.
Big Night 1996 Set in a small town on the New Jersey Shore in the 1950s, tells the story of two Italian immigrant brothers from Abruzzo who own and operate a restaurant called "Paradise.” A classic.
Like Water For Chocolate 1992 Became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever released in the United States at the time. Subtitled.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman 1994 Taiwanese film directed by Ang Lee. Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung), a widower who is master Chinese chef, has three unmarried daughters, each of whom challenges any narrow definition of traditional Chinese culture. Subtitled. Great cooking scenes.
Books for Chefs
Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain
The Devil in the Kitchen, Marco Pierre White
White Heat, Marco Pierre White
Life, On The Line, Grant Achatz
Yes, Chef!, Marcus Samuelsson
Heat, Bill Buford
Becoming a Chef, Andrew Dornenburg
Culinary Artistry, Andrew Dornenburg
The Making of a Pastry Chef, Andrew MacLauchlan
The Soul of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman
Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton
Cod; A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky
The Last Fish Tale, Mark Kurlansky
Salt, Mark Kurlansky
American Terroir, Rowan Jacobsen
A Geography of Oysters, Rowan Jacobsen
The Beekeeper’s Lament, Hannah Nordhaus
Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller
Heirloom; Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, Tim Stark
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Cooked, Michael Pollan
A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
Burgundy Stars; A Year in the Life of a Great French Restaurant, William Echikson
Periodicals for Chefs
Art Culinaire, Culinaire Inc.
Lucky Peach, David Chang and Company
*Please keep in mind that these books and films in no way express the opinions of Maines Paper and Food Service.
JUNE 2, 2013
Peruvian Food - I Have an Inside Source!
Last week Chef Eamon recapped our week in Chicago at the NRA show and the one thing that jumped out at us was Peruvian Food. It was one of the top 10 food trends at the show. I have always been a fan of Peruvian and Cuban foods. Why? I believe it is because of the influences from the indigenous Inca and cuisines brought in with immigrants from Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Japanese cuisine. Traditional Peruvian cuisine has three main staples corn, potatoes and chili peppers. However many other foods such as quinoa, kaniwa and several root and tubers (Oca, Mashua, and Ulluco) have increases in popularity? The mixing of cultures varies from city to city and region, which will determine the cuisine of that area. I’m looking at a dish today that comes from the central coast and is the flagship dish of coastal cuisine and one of the most popular dishes among Peruvians. The dish I am referring to is Ceviche. It’s a spicy dish and generally consists of bite-size pieces of white fish, marinated raw in lime juice mixed with onions, Andean chilies peppers and served with raw onions, boiled sweet potatoes, toasted corn and local greens.
I’ve eaten plenty of Ceviche over the years in a variety of forms (fish, squid, shrimp, etc. ) and presentations but why not go to the source and get a authentic Peruvian recipe. Fly to Peru for recipe research and development? After slapping myself in the face to wake up another idea popped into my head, find a native Peruvian. Well as luck has it I didn’t need to search too far. All I needed to do is walk out of the test kitchen down a flight of steps into the offices of our facilities department. And there she sits at her desk, Erika Zevallos a “Native Peruvian”! So I asked her if she had a few minutes to talk about the dish. After discussing it with her, she told me she liked to use Bonito, which is a medium-sized predatory fish which belongs to the Sardine family. I told her I was going to get the fish and possibly we could make it together. (She gave me her recipe just in case she couldn’t make it to the test kitchen) I contacted Richie from E. Frank Hopkins Seafood, Philadelphia about getting a Bonito, he emailed right back and said it would not be a problem but he wanted me to know that it was around 10 pounds. This was a test and I really didn’t need that much so I asked him for a substitution fish and he sent me two of the most beautiful looking mackerels I have ever seen. So the stage was set and on Friday morning I got out my fillet knife and practiced getting the fillets from the mackerel and placed them in a 2 in deep ½ hotel pan. I called Erika and she was not available, so she told me to call her when it was ready. With that said it was going to be up to me to make this creation taste just like hers from back home. So I got out a mixing bowl to make the marinade “to cook” the fish. Unfortunately I did not have all of the ingredients from her recipe, so I did the next best thing I was going to make the American version of her native Peruvian recipe. Talk about a gamble, would it be acceptable or just a big disappointment? In place of the Andean chili pepper I used a Habanero and a red Thai chili pepper. I also decided to add some orange and lemon juice, garlic and red onion. The “cooking juice” was ready so I poured it over the fish, covered it with film wrap and put it in the cooler. She told me to marinate it for a minimum of 1 hour but ideally for a few hours. I kept looking at the clock to see if it was time to taste. The hands were not moving, but I’m assuming the same rule applied to me watching the clock as if you were watching a pot of water on the stove. “A watched pot never boils”! Finally the time arrived, so I pulled out the hotel pan and platted up the Ceviche. I called Erika and told her to bring her boss Eddy Osorio, our director of facilities and a native Cuban. (I’ve used Eddy as an official Guinea pig, I mean food tester before) to the test kitchen. Erika arrived but no Eddy he was not available. So the moment I was anticipating, Erika picks up the fork, takes a piece of the fish and …………………………………. I got big thumbs up! She told me it was as if she made it herself. She was impressed with the slight changes I made to her recipe. She was so impressed that she asked to take the leftovers home for her family. Talk about a compliment. As far as Eddy goes we sent him a picture and told him you snooze you lose. I’m sure he will be after me to make another batch. So this week “My Best Dish Yet” will be my version of Erika’s native Peruvian recipe. Try it at your restaurant, it the perfect time of the year for such a light refreshing dish.
Until next time,
MAY 25, 2013
Live from Chicago
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and along with the beginning of summer comes the somber remembrance of those who have fallen serving our country. I hope this Memorial Day finds all of the Maines family in healthy and vibrant spirits, and if you are amongst the brave who have answered the call to serve our country or support those who do, THANK YOU!
Chef Jake and I are fresh off a trip to Chicago and the National Restaurant Association trade show. The NRA show, as it is known, is the largest of its kind in the country. Picture the Maines Food Show multiplied by 20! That should give you an idea of the scale of this event. Industry leaders recognize this and take advantage of it by rolling out the latest in cooking equipment, china, food products, beverages, services and technology. Taking all of this in is like running a marathon in bare feet with a case of baking potatoes strapped to your back, but we did it, all the while identifying what will mean the most to your business in the months to come.
After we returned to our hotels and changed the bandages on our feet, we embarked on journeys through one of the greatest food cities in the country. Bottom line-Chicago knows how to eat! Whether you’re down with ridiculous steak houses or high-flying Latin food, Chicago has it all. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the trip is that you just don’t have enough time to try it all, or even what you think should be enough. I flew out of O’Hare cursing my puny stomach that could only handle 8000 calories in a day. Alas, we came, we saw, we ate, and now we inspire.
What I found most interesting during the trip was the ability of the NRA to track the popularity of booths while the show was going on. This allowed for an instant report on what was trending and gave credence to what we suspected was cool. I think salted caramel is pretty nifty and didn’t pass up a single chance to try its many, many manifestations at the show. Apparently so did everyone else, for upon leaving the show it was reported as the #8 trend. The same went for iced tea (#4,) but I think that’s skewed, for after walking a single isle at that show, you pretty much need an iced tea. The same goes for water, coming in at #3.
Here are the top 10 culinary trends of the NRA show this year:
1. Healthy kids food (Have we finally jumped the shark on chicken fingers!?)
2. Tropical flavors (Mango, guava, passion fruit, coconut anything and everything)
3. Water (Gas or no gas, using flavored syrups to create aqua frescas, culinary inspired infusions)
4. Iced tea (Think of it as the “street food” of the beverage category. All types of flavors from across the globe. It’s quickly chipping away at the soft drink category, and it’s just as profitable.)
5. Greek yogurt (Unless you are living under a rock, you know yogurt is beyond hot. We saw many ideas using Greek yogurt in savory recipes. Yogurt-It’s not just for breakfast anymore!)
6. Gluten-free (What started as a serious allergy has become a dietary trend-time to take it seriously.)
7. High tech convenience (If I had a dollar for every ipad interactive menu I saw at the NRA I could actually buy an ipad)
8. Salted caramel (The molten lava cake of 2013)
9. Peruvian food (Deemed by many chefs as the best cuisine on the planet)
10. Super foods (Lunch- with benefits!)
There’s too much to cover here in one blog, but you probably get the picture. My main takeaways are these;
If you haven’t overhauled your kids menu, it’s time. I would be having fun with vegis as best I could, and if you make it easy for parents to get their kids to eat them, I guarantee they will be at your restaurant A LOT! Have fun with it! We are, after all, supposed to be the creative ones in this struggle. We all can do better feeding our children. Leave the chicken fingers to the adults; at least we can pop a Lipitor.
Two weeks ago I wrote about culinary mock-tails, and would you lookie’ here; water and iced tea are two of the top five trends! Take note; everyone is eating and drinking healthier, and the big soda guys are worried. That’s probably why they are gobbling up every iced tea and bottled water company they can buy. So be it, but we as restaurateurs need to be scrutinizing our offerings, and take the profitability while we can. It doesn’t get any easier than creating flavored water drinks, and it definitely doesn’t get more profitable.
We live in the middle of Greek yogurt country, so we know a thing or two about this gem. It’s thick, unctuous, yummy and easy to eat. It’s also a great ingredient to use in savory preparations and dessert. I had a long talk with their corporate chef, and he says a visit to Chobani’s website will give you a load of ideas http://chobani.com/kitchen/recipes/ , and if you find yourself in SoHo, Manhattan, you can even visit their restaurant http://chobanisoho.com/ (yes, they are now in the restaurant business too.) This week’s recipe for Greek Yogurt “Cheesecake” is a home run. It’s fast and easy to make, flat-out tasty, requires no water bath, low in fat and calories, and makes for a fantastic platform for seasonal fruits.
Maines sells salt and Maines sells caramel sauce. Put both on anything and it’ll taste better (including your index finger,) but chocolate and vanilla really like caramel and salt, so run with it!
Peruvian food is not the same as Mexican food. That’s like saying Asian food is spicy. There’s a lot of real estate south of Cowboy stadium, and we covered Latin food in detail over the last couple of years. A casual dismissal of the depth of this cuisine would be a tragic mistake. Peruvian food (food from Peru) is hotter than a fryers exhaust vent, and coming on strong. We’ll be talking more about this later this year, but you may want to look into it before then.
Those are the highlights for now, but by no means is it the end. We are following up on some great stuff and hope to have you some more tools and ideas to help you continue evolving your business.
Stayed tuned to your email, and happy cooking!
MAY 19, 2013
It Came and Went Like a Big Storm! What’s next?
It wasn’t only a big storm it was the perfect storm. The Maines Annual Food Show blew into the Turning Stone Casino, and what a week it was. It was there for your taking, education yep with the likes of Brad Barnes, CMC, Bob Crumley and Steve Gilliland. Three of the industry greats! If you wanted to hear about food safety and healthy habits our own Julie Loveless sent the message about Keeping It Kleen. Did you stop by the MPFS Social Club and had a chat with Brian, Alissa or Amber you would have found out, why you need to promote your restaurant on the social media network. (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc.) And how about the show floor, isles of food, equipment, paper and non-food items. At the chef demo area you had an opportunity to not only rest your feet for a few moments but you saw some incredible dishes being prepared live utilizing many of the 700 new items from the show floor. And the storm left on the coat tails of Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef owner of the Red Rooster in Harlem. His message was how he utilized his roots and implements them in his restaurant. I know he had to jump start you’re though process on how to not only increase guest satisfaction at your restaurant but also to increase your profits. He was very entertaining and one of the most down to earth celebrity chefs I have met. So what’s next? I suggest that you recap with your account manager all the products you purchased at the show (just to make sure you didn’t miss anything) along with what you learned and implement it at your restaurant. Don’t waste the opportunity to take your restaurant to the next level. As for me and Chef Eamon we are chasing the next big storm!
We are in Chicago at the National Restaurant Associations annual restaurant, hotel-motel show. We are out here on a mission to track down some of the latest food trends, equipment and education that we can bring back to Maines for the next big storm. (The 2014 Maines Food Show) If you think the Maines show was big I’m sitting here with Chef Eamon and we are trying to figure out how to navigate the show floor with more than 1900 exhibit booths or how many of the 80 educational seminars we are going to sit in on. In addition we can’t forget about spending time with old acquaintances and making new contacts. But one thing is clear; this show is an overwhelming experience. And I can’t forget to mention all the restaurants; we have reservations at many of the hottest new trendy restaurants in the city. That’s the tough part of our job, we have to go to them and eat food, lots of it. It’s all about education! Ok I did stretch that part about it being the touch part of our jobs, but it really is about education. By visiting these restaurants we get to see what is hot and trendy right now! Many of the things we see in these restaurants will be coming your way in our weekly “Best Dish Yet” articles and recipes. Well I got to head to the show for now and will update you with my findings today. I know I can squeeze a recipe out from one of the restaurants we visit today.
Well I’m back from the show and one of the highlights was a seminar by Nancy Krause on Menu trends 2013: What’s hot, What’s not, and What’s next. One of the things she covered was side dishes, specifically corn. Yes Corn! I started to laugh as she asked the audience if anyone ever heard of a dish called Elote. Well three years ago when I was here with Chef Eamon we found that dish when we were walking the streets exploring a new concept called “street food”. We were ahead of the curve when we brought that back to Conklin, NY. She also talked about a dish called corn crème brulee and how it would round out a variety of entrees. It must be trendy, because earlier in the day I was speaking with Julie Lovelass from Keeping It Kleen and she showed me a picture of the dish. It was a side dish with her fried chicken and biscuit dinner last night. I did tell her I would seek out the recipe and I would make sure she got credit for giving me the idea. So this week’s recipe is for Julie’s Corn Crème Brulee. I know you will enjoy it and please continue to follow upcoming “My Best Dishes” issues, because today was just the tip of the iceburg with regards to trends and recipes.
Until next time,
MAY 12, 2013
Let the Good Times Roll!
It’s the eve of the Maines Food Show and I hope you are all ready to roll! I, Chef Jake, and your Maines territory and regional managers have been beating the drum for the last two months and it’s finally here! It’s hard to believe that this is the culmination of literally 364 days of focus and hard work, a year of committed effort that all began (in my eyes anyway…) with me asking one of the Maines executives “So, how are we going to top this next year?” When you arrive this week at the Turning Stone Casino you will see first-hand how we’ll top last year, and you won’t be disappointed.
In my estimation, Maines will be offering you the most valuable package of knowledge I’ve seen in my almost 5 years with the company. It astounds me to read down the itinerary, and I can’t help but ask myself, “How can a customer do it?” How can they possibly manage to lock in 10 weeks of savings, attend countless seminars, watch culinary demonstrations, attend cocktail parties and dinners and still have gas in the tank to go back the restaurant and implement what they gathered?
Here are some tips I’ve gleaned over the years that you may find helpful;
1. Wear comfortable shoes. The Maines food show isn’t a fashion show, so dress for comfort first. Busting out the little black dress and can’t decide between pumps or flats? May I suggest a sleek pair of cross-trainers or running shoes instead? Trust me, nobody will laugh. If you hear anything, it’ll be “Nice dress, but I love the shoes,” and they’ll mean it.
2. Make a plan. Hopefully you and your territory manager have already covered this, but we all get busy and tend to forget. Upon arrival, meet with your territory manager, go over the floor plan and agenda, and make a plan. The most successful plan I’ve seen is one that breaks up the food show floor into parts or sections (let’s use four sections for this example.) Hit section one in the morning, attend a seminar, then hit section two in the afternoon. Repeat the same strategy on the second day and you’ll be able to maximize your education on the show floor without suffering food show fatigue. This will be your single greatest exposure to new items this year, and you don’t want to short-change yourself by dropping out halfway through the show. You may miss the single most important item not on your menu!
3. Pace yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be gorged on fried pickles and cheese sticks before you even make it out of the first isle, and they’re not even on your menu! Maps of the show floor will be available, so study them and ask yourself how you’d feel if you sampled everything at every booth? Probably the same way you’d feel if you sampled everything on a wine tour-bombed! Don’t be that customer! Focus on what’s relevant to your restaurants goals first (especially new items) and then hit the fried pickles. You’ll thank me later.
4. Have fun, but not too much fun. Let’s face it; we’re restaurant people. We are the standard bearers of a “good time,” and when they say party like a pro, they’re talking about us. But on this occasion, the only thing that can derail the educational opportunity in front of you is a five-alarm hangover and getting tagged on Facebook with a chandelier on your head. You can always do what we do as Maines employees, “Enjoy the show responsibly.” Trust me, the alternative is brutal.
5. Finally, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. At the end of practically every isle you will find a well-stocked cooler of bottled water. You will usually find Maines territory managers huddled around them like Zebras in the Serengeti. They know, because they are all in it for the long haul. The secret to being in top form at the Maines food show is drinking plenty of water.
Or, you could try this week’s recipe!
This week I am officially kicking off summer with my favorite trend-culinary mock-tails. These refreshing jewels are just the ticket to driving the front and back end of the dinner check, and capturing the sale that has always eluded restaurants-the non-drinker. Up until now the best we could do was offer bottled water or local, straight from the tap city soda. With these unique and fun beverages the non-drinker can feel special at the table, have a conversation piece in their hand, and get to experience flavor away from the plate. As a chef, I am particularly enamored with these because it allows the rare chance for the bar tender and chef to get together and create, instead of arguing in the kitchen.
While dining at a customer recently I found myself not drinking that particular night and the bartender paired each course I had with a non-alcoholic culinary mock-tail. It was fantastic! Because it is so unusual, my dining guests were all curious as to what was in each one. It was so cool, I have no idea what I paid for them, and it was all we talked about on the way home. Imagine what your guests will think!
This week’s recipes are for two basic but delicious drinks-Watermelon Lemonade and what I call a No-jito. Each are served in Mason jars, and we all know no matter what you put in a Mason jar, it just tastes better. I hope you give them a try, usher in the summer with some fresh ideas, let the good times roll!
See you at the show, and happy cooking!
MAY 5, 2013
Maines Mission Control Center - We Are Ready For Lift-Off!
In less than two weeks the annual Maines Food Show will be launched with more force, speed and accuracy that any aerospace vehicle that NASA has sent into space. We are in the final countdown and our staff of experts and support personnel are double checking all aspects of this year’s show to make sure it is a memorable experience for everyone that attends. There will be a ton of new and exciting products to taste and talk about as you walk down the aisles of the show floor. Once you find your new favorites you can order them on the spot. It doesn’t get much easier than that. But in addition to the food, the dinners and entertainment the biggest part of this year’s show to me is education. No expense was spared when the mission control team put that part of the plan together for you “Our Business Partners”
I know over the past few weeks’ both Chef Eamon and I have expressed our opinions regarding Chef Brad Barnes and Chef Marcus Samuelsson and all their talents. We really can’t say much more on these two guys. My only suggestion, don’t miss them! But I had to ask myself, what else is there at the show? Well I’m going to tell you. I believe as an owner that you are faced every day with creating and planning for the success of your restaurant. Not just for this week, the quarter or the current fiscal year, but for the next 5 years and beyond. You must find a way to have your intentions translated into effective action at all levels in your restaurant. I’m sure you may ask yourself if your employees are doing the things that will most effectively produce what your restaurant needs right now. Or do you have your hands on what is going to make the difference in the performance going forward? Just look at the schedule of seminars that the Maines Mission Control Team has put together this year to help you answer not only those questions but will help you support any of the many challenges restaurant owners and chefs experience daily today. My advice is that you should attend the seminars, (education is like money in the bank that will pay dividends in your restaurant) walk the show floor and look at all the new products that are not only trendy but are also cost effect and profitable. Make sure to stop by the chef’s demo area to see some artistry in action, using many of those new products and cooking techniques.
I’m excited just thinking about this years’ show and everything that is offered. All of this education and the best part its “FREE” to you for just showing up. Take what you have learned and introduce it to your team, because I’m sure you know that business results today are not only about you as the owner. It’s about your team that you have assembled. When you remove the barriers between you and your team, educate them, open communication, make clear objectives, “find the time” to complete tasks with them, you will see that the efforts of your team collaborating together with you will deliver the outcome you are looking forward. Success!!! On a closing note, a late entry to this year’s show is a new product from Harvest Land (a division of Purdue) It is ABF (antibiotic free) fresh poultry. I had an opportunity this week to mess with it in the test kitchen. It’s a step above the everyday chicken that we have all become accustom to using. I know your customers have been asking for it and that is one of the reasons you will now be able to get it from Maines. So for this week’s recipe of the week I will feature this new addition.
See you at the show!
APRIL 28, 2013
Goin' to the Show
We are two weeks away from the most exciting time of the year for Maine’s customers. See all of the exciting details at www.mainesfoodshow.com Last week Chef Jake detailed all of the speakers we have lined up and the many ideas they’ll be discussing with you. I can’t stress enough the value of these speakers and their respective messages. It’s one thing to attend the best party in the industry (yeah, we do that too!) and it’s another to take advantage of aggressive rebates and lock in savings for 10 weeks. But it’s quite another to discover new items, new cooking methods, and new philosophies on how to feature them and leverage profitability and value in your own restaurants. To me, this has always been the rub, the real difference in how Maines goes to market. When you look at the lineup we put together one thing will become crystal clear-MAINES WANTS YOU TO BE SUCCESSFUL! Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Chef Brad Barnes, CMC, Bob Crumley and Steve Gilliland have risen to the top of their peer groups because of their dedication, passion, vision and philosophies, and they are coming to your show to share all of their secrets with you. If these were college courses they would require a separate grant to pay for them, but we are bringing them to you for FREE! Do not miss these opportunities! If you as owners are bringing a Chef, Sous Chef or manager then they need to attend these too. As a Chef I was often challenged as to how I should best motivate my employees to do things for the right reasons, and it is people like our speakers who can inspire them to do so. All you have to do is walk your people through the door and have them take a seat in one of these seminars in order to make the difference you’ve sought in their careers. You can do that as an owner, can’t you? I think you will.
I am unashamed to say that I am partial to Chef Brad Barnes, CMC and, of course, Marcus Samuelsson. Let’s look at Chef Barnes’ two seminars;
The Evolution of Food, Quality and the Gold Standard Impact, Tuesday May 14, 2013 | 11:00 AM
The way we cook generates the results on which we base our reputation and business. Quality is generated by craft and we as operators, chefs and culinarians design our destiny. In this seminar, you will discover the important factors of creating and meeting customer expectation through good cooking.
Trends Guide Our Progress, Wednesday May 15, 2013 | 11:00 AM
Connectivity, lifestyle, society and economics are the areas of influence which make up the change in our lives. As a service based industry, it is helpful for us to recognize and embrace the things that shape our customers' perception of value. Learn how to be more aware of trends and better understand how they impact your business.
Are you kidding me!!?? As a chef I’d be sleeping out in front of the seminar room doors like I was waiting to get front row tickets to a Grateful Dead concert! Do you know how much it costs for an education at the CIA today; tens of thousands of dollars. You know what these talks will cost you? Two hours of your life. I spend two hours a week deleting emails, so I think this will be time well spent.
I like the fact that Chef Barnes is addressing our cooking as a “craft.” As a craft, it can always be scrutinized and made better. He’ll be discussing standards and how to set them and measure them so that the product we present in the dining room is the best it can be, all the time. His approach to trends is interesting because many of us think that we as operators and chefs set the trends, but that’s not true. Our customers dictate trends with their changing needs. The real trends are simply ways to meet those needs.
Trends I am asked about a lot are small plates, seasonal cooking and “tapas” menus. These are great because they address the changing eating habits of our customers, the dissolution of the traditional day-part, and the simplification of plated food and the casual attitude that has over taken practically every restaurant in America. This week’s recipe is the essence of this type of dish, and the perfect spring appetizer/small plate to accompany the blooming forsythia and budding trees, Fried Artichoke Salad and Goat Cheese Fondue. It’s bright, different, and delicious, and the perfect way to usher in late spring. It kind of reminds me of the Maines Food show….
Happy cooking and I’ll see you at the show!
APRIL 21, 2013
More Food Show
I’m going to pick-up were Chef Eamon left off last week. Its Maines Food Show time and that is part of the daily buzz for everyone at Maines. It doesn’t matter what department you work in from transportation, warehouse, customer service, purchasing, etc. Everyone is involved. The air is filled with excitement and it should be. As Chef Eamon mentioned last week there is an incredible line up of guests, seminars and presenters. His emphasis on telling you about Chef Marcus Samuelsson and Chef Brad Barnes, CMC talents and what they can do for you at your restaurant should have you pitching a tent now to make sure you get a good seat up front at their presentations. But in addition to these two guys from the “Heavy Weight” list there is more! Bob Crumley is a speaker, author and consultant who will lay out the Three Simple Yet Difficult Rules of Success from his new book, SEE THE END FIRST. Want More? Well then you don’t want to miss Steve Gilliland, a motivational speaker who will use hints of humor to bring his message to you about making a difference. And of course I can’t forget about our own Maines’ Julie Lovelass who will talk about Keeping It Kleen in your restaurant. For less than a buck a day she will tell you about on-line access to train all your employees with job specific food training. Learn more at www.keepingitkleen.com In addition she will help you prepare for health inspections at your restaurant. For a full itinerary of the show click on www.mainesfoodshow.com .
Still looking for More? We have it for you, but you have to come to the show. Ask yourself the question, why am I going to the Maines Food show? Yes we have a great “thank you” cocktail party but you really should be coming to take advantage of the educational seminars, new products, trends, cooking demos, etc. that can help you and your operation become even more successful. I suggest that you build your own itinerary so you can focus on things that are the most important to you. If you need assistance don’t be afraid to ask your sales account manager for help, they have all been trained to assist you. I’m sure you may be thinking about, how can I gain a competitive edge? Attract and retain new customers? Reduce costs? Increase sales and Profits? All these questions can be answered for you at the show so make sure you add them to your itinerary. When your sales account manager comes in this week I want you to ask them about one of the new products that you will see at the show. It is from our partner Indian Ridge Provisions, it is a Sioux City Choice Sirloin Steak. #015373 This is a cap off (coulotte) full face steak. This steak includes the strip and filet style or “baseball” muscles of the sirloin. It is the ultimate “meat and potatoes” steak. It’s not a value cut, but is a great alternative to the traditional NY strip loin steak. (It’s perfect for your customer that wants steak but doesn’t want to spend a boat full of money) You can grill, roast or pan-sear it. In this week’s recipe I’m dumping the potatoes and lightening it up just in time for your spring and summer menu. Pan-seared sirloin steak garnished with corn relish and accompanied by Heritage lettuce blend #012387 tossed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sounds like a winner to me. This is an example of one of the many new items that can help you answer one of your questions, how to increase sales and profits. Enjoy, start planning your itinerary and see you in a few weeks at the show.
Until next time,
ARRIL 15, 2013
It's less than a month away now and I'm starting to get excited! The Maines Food Show is upon us! We've done an incredible job lining up fantastic guests, seminars and presenters who are sure to impact the success of your business. I am personally thrilled to see the extra emphasis on the culinary end with Chef Marcus Samuelsson and Chef Brad Barnes, CMC gracing us with their insight and talents. Many of you already know Chef Samuelsson from television, but not too many of you are familiar with Chef Brad Barnes, CMC.
Culinary Institute of America (CIA) alumnus Brad Barnes is senior director of continuing education and the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers professor at the CIA. Before returning to his alma mater in 2009, Chef Barnes was president of GigaChef, LLC, a consulting company for hotels and high-volume foodservice. He previously held executive chef positions for a variety of establishments, 64 Greenwich Avenue and Nancy Allen Rose Catering in Greenwich, CT. Active in the American Culinary Federation, Chef Barnes is chair of its Certified Master Chef Committee, a certified competition judge, and the recipient of several honors, including the ACF President's Award. The co-author of three books, he served as coach for Team USA at the Culinary Olympics in 2000, 2004, and 2008. So, in essence, he keeps himself pretty busy!
You'll notice the CMC letters on his coat and after his name in writing. They stand for Certified Master Chef, and signify that he has met the CMC requirements set forth by the American Culinary Federation. This is no small matter. There is a mile-long list of pre-requisites that must be met before you can even take the test, and then, after an 8 day grueling odyssey costing thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of practice there is no guarantee you'll pass (have a look for yourself here.) To put this into perspective, there are less than 100 CMCs in the country, and we are lucky to have him as our guest. You don't want to miss what he has to say! Whether or not you call yourself a "chef" or have ever worn the standard white double-breasted starch jacket, if you are in the business of feeding people you owe it to yourself to hear what he has to say. It may be the very thing that will inspire you to embark on your own journey from the hot-line or salad station to the professional chef you've always wanted to be.
Do you already work hard? Do you have passion for food and feeding people? Do you desire to become the best cook you can possibly be? If you said yes to all three questions then you already have the most important things to launch a professional chef career. All you need now is a road map, and listening to chefs like Brad Barnes and Marcus Samuelsson at the Maines Food Show will help you draw it up! Do not miss this opportunity!
Of course, any future success in this industry also relies on the premise that you can make money for your restaurant. After all, we do not do this "for our health" (I don't anyway) and it is not a hobby. This week's recipe represents the essence of making money in this business- taking good ingredients, making them taste good, and selling them at a profit.
It involves one of my favorite items at this year's show, the fresh 4 ½" flour tortilla from Mission (Maines item #013217) Chef Jake and I discovered this item during out tour of the Mission plant in Pennsylvania and had it brought into Maines. Not only is it perfect for hand-held taco concepts I've already entertained in a previous Best Dish Yet, it's also perfect for a fun, fast and extremely profitable dessert. I call them dessert nachos, but you can get creative with the name and presentation. It's basically a one-off from fried dough, except these little guys are spiked with cinnamon and served with a delicious and mildly addictive faux dulce de leche, or Latin caramel sauce, if you will. I know, I know, it's a "hack," but who cares-it's delicious and IT WILL SELL! With a food cost of about 13% at $5.95, this is exactly the kind of item you need to sell to maintain your profit per check, especially if you feel you can't raise other menu prices. Spectrum Food Brokers will be featuring my recipe at the food show, so make sure you stop by their booth.
Is it easy? Oh yeah! Take the small round tortillas, stack them and cut into quarters. Deep fry them until they are golden brown (they will puff up a little) and immediately toss them with cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm with cool (or warm) faux dulce de leche and prepare to be amazed by the response. I've heard feedback from "These should be illegal," to "Do these come with a 12-step program so I can stop eating them," to "Can I take you home with me," all of which indicate they need to be on your menu.
Give it a try, and you will be reminded why you got into this business in the first place; because it's fun, you can make people happy, and you can make money. See you at the show!
APRIL 5, 2013
I'm a Diabetic, Now What?
I left my doctor's office having been official "Read the Riot Act" that based on a hemoglobin A1C test I am officially now a type 2 diabetic. I have been pre-diabetic for about 10 years and in my past I have managed my "New Friend" by managing my weight and as little as possible exercise that I could do! I count my blessings that if I get serious about my diet, weight and exercise I only need to take a pill everyday rather than taking some type of shots. So for me the diet is my major concern, I know I can manage my weight and exercise.
Manage my diet? Are you kidding? I'm a professional chef; my life is about food, and about eating! Now What? And I'm sure many of your customers may ask themselves that same question. They may be asking does this prevent me from dining out? Heck no, as restaurant owners there are a whole bunch of things we can do to insure these individuals come to your restaurant and not the guy down the road or even worst stay home.
I reached out to the American Diabetes Association for some help. It comes down to having a plan for your restaurant just as I need to have a plan for myself. You can call it whatever you want, diet plan, meal plan, menu plan but in the end it needs to be a "Plan" to offer a diabetic menu to your customer. Your menu needs to include low-carb offering, sugar free offerings, etc. The national chains jumped at that opportunity. In fact many post nutritional facts online to help individuals plan ahead before they go out for dinner. You can do the same thing at your restaurant by posting on your website, twitter or face book page what your diabetic menu options are.
But before you can post it, you need to create it. And that is where the ADA's "My Food Advisor" to healthy living can help you out. www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes this web site is loaded with meal plans and recipes. They talk about cost friendly meals, meal makeovers, and helpful guides to seasonal options. Currently they are telling you to Celebrate Spring! They talk about the array of colorful fruits and vegetables that are available during the spring season and how to incorporate them into a menu.
Let's start with breakfast which by far is one of the most important meals of the day and one that many of us skip, but is critical to a diabetic. Think about doing some whole grain waffles, unsweetened cereal, fresh fruits (strawberries, bananas, or mangos) don't forget non-fat Greek yogurt. I'm having a vision of a fresh spring asparagus frittata. (I bet non-diabetics would love it also)
At lunch and dinner take advantage of all the spring greens, butter lettuce, spinach and watercress that you can top with radishes, tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumbers in a light vinaigrette dressing. Add grilled chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon to make it a full menu choice. How about grilling up a piece of tilapia and flavor it with fresh squeezed lime. You can serve it as a fish taco with butter lettuce, tomatoes and non-fat plain Greek yogurt. Or you can stir-fry Swiss chard with onions, mushrooms and garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Add some toasted pine nuts and you created the perfect side dish to go with the tilapia. And don't be afraid to use whole grains barley, quinoa, or brown rice as your sides or additions to the entrées.
So what's missing? I made no mention of DESSERT! I know this is going to be one of my biggest challenges(I love dessert) and I'm sure if you come up with some sugar free, low in sugar type of offering you will be a hero to your diabetic customers. So this week's recipe of the week is for one of those "oh yeah" type desserts. It is a fresh Triple-Berry Pie. Yes pie, the perfect ending to an awesome meal, served with fresh brewed coffee or steeped tea. I'm ready for a few pieces. I know moderation is the key.
So until next week,
MARCH 31, 2013
I am coming off of a very inspirational week spent with Chef Jake at the Northeast Regional Conference of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) held at the Turning Stone Casino and resort and I'm all fired up! Chefs from all over the northeast United States descended on the casino to partake in camaraderie, idea sharing, learning and a little competition for almost five days. Each day offered multiple opportunities to attend seminars held by some of the best chefs in the country. We covered topics ranging from maple syrup harvesting, cooking with honey from around the world, cooking with offal, up to date sanitation regulations, employee motivation, aquaponics, beef and wine tastings, and the list goes on and on! I attended my first conference last year in Niagara Falls and I have to admit I went kicking and screaming because I thought I had "more important" things to do besides hobnobbing with stuffed chef coats. Wrong!!! These things are just the ticket to fire you up during a time when winter is winding down and spring isn't quite here yet. Seasonal exhaustion has ground the inspiration gears to a halt, and coming up with fresh ideas is harder than doing calculus on an abacus.
The ACF has been accused by members of the pastry community as leaning a little too heavy on the savory side. As a chef with training in both disciplines I've noticed it too and they are guilty as charged. But this year they shocked the culinary world by dedicating the last day of the conference to pastry and confections. They offered seminars with recipes and tastings put on by the corporate chefs from Callebaut (a premium chocolate we recently brought back into stock) and Cacoa-Barry, a partner of theirs. Let me just say this; these folks know their stuff. I was astounded by the new methods and technics they employed. They are doing things I've never seen before. There were Certified Master Chefs watching in awe. It was pretty cool to behold. But aside from the usual pastry voodoo they put a focus on desserts savory chefs could execute in their own kitchens, and it got me wondering, "What are my customers doing to push their pastry skills? Can I still pick out a dessert menu full of "chef desserts?" Sure can, and here's how.
Typically, there's a member of every kitchen crew who has a pension for desserts. Some more than others for sure, but this is usually the cook who actually volunteers to come in early and bang out the crème brulee and bread pudding so by the time the other cooks come in the ovens aren't painfully held hostage by desserts cooking at the otherwise useless temperature of 250F. The ovens need to be cleared so the real cooks can blast things at 500F and use stinky ingredients like garlic, curry and other contaminating aromatics every pastry chef deplores. But, in most cases, this quasi-pastry chef usually does double duty holding down the salad and appetizer station at night, and, let's be honest, is usually heaped on with the most prep and then forgotten unless something goes wrong like limp lettuce or cold soup gets served. In this case, the cook is generally thinking one thing "I have a prep list I can barely get done. Everyone is getting salads and apps, not everyone is getting dessert." Guess where their focus is? That's right- probably not dessert.
Now I know this is probably more than you'd like to know, but it shows in the dining room and especially on the dessert menu. If you're an owner this should really concern you because dessert is the last chance you have to help your food cost, affect your menu mix and hopefully generate some profit after your two-top just ate two loss-leaders and drank tap water. What does savory chef dessert menu look like? It probably reads like this:
- Crème Brulee
- Rice Pudding
- Bread Pudding
- A Hot Gooey Chocolate Dessert
- Ice Cream or Sorbet In Some Kind of Cookie Cup
Seen this menu before or something a lot like it? I know. Although perfectly serviceable it doesn't scream inspiration. I've actually found myself flicking off these choices on my hand under the table while the server recites them as if I had a bet with myself. Before you fire up your computer and write me hate mail because this is your dessert menu please consider that I am fully aware these are all time honored, reliable, tasty, easy and fast to make in huge volume standards. It's hard to argue with them as a chef, and they usually sell. Not to mention during short-staffed hard times I ran a frighteningly similar menu. Regardless, doesn't it gnaw at you just a little that maybe, maybe, there's something more we can offer? Don't you find it odd that your savory menu has evolved ten-fold over the last five years but we all seem to be serving the same desserts we did in 1995? And maybe, maybe, your customers are dying to try something new? Shouldn't we be sprinting to the finish of a meal instead of stumbling and collapsing, relieved we managed to "get 'er done?" Dessert is an extension of your dinner menu and is often the last impression a guest will have of your restaurant. If you aren't making your best effort here, of all places, then what's the point? Let's assume we want to go out with a bang. What to do now?
Look at your dessert menu. Is it as awesome and creative as your dinner menu? If it isn't, something has to change. Circle the desserts that you hang your hat on, help define your restaurant's brand and your customers can't get anywhere else. These are the keepers. Don't worry if it's only one. Now, put an asterisk next to the desserts that can be easily tweaked to become a signature. For example; add a cool or unique flavor to the vanilla crème brulee or add a flavorful spirit or spice to the bread pudding. Now circle the one or two sacred cows your customers can't live without, your grandmother made you as a kid, or a standard like crème brulee that really is better than everyone else's. My hope is that you have somewhere between 3-5 now. Stop! That's enough. At a minimum there should be a chocolate, a fruit and a nut dessert. If not, you need to tweak more. If you have 2-3 total that's fine too, but they should ALL be show-stoppers and change often, at a minimum with the seasons. The point of this exercise is to cull the dead weight items along with their prep and make room for a solid repertoire and one, single, killer, super cool, twitter trending dessert, and a good place to start would be this week's recipe.
At the ACF conference the Callebaut chef offered up hot doughnuts with caramel sauce as a dessert. Yes, doughnuts. Hot ones. No, really. The only difference was that they were made with ricotta, a one-off addition that sets them apart from everyone else's dessert doughnuts, and they didn't call them doughnuts, they called them "beignets." Hey, desserts with French names are always cool! This recipe is served with a ready to use caramel sauce, but what if you have a recipe for a hot chocolate sauce that could easily be poured over them table side? Now that's awesome, and certainly a last impression worth making.
Try them out. It can't hurt. Dessert in many cases is an after-thought and I understand why. But if you have the time and labor to set yourself apart from the competition and need to increase your bottom line, don't forget the last course. It could be the most important one you serve.
MARCH 23, 2013
So your customers gave up chocolate, booze, meat, etc. for Lent. Now What?
Whether your customers celebrate Easter or Passover, it's very likely that over the past few weeks they have be involved in giving up something they love. It could be something as simple as rice, a piece of chocolate, booze, swearing, etc. the list can go on and on. But chances are that many have been without their beloved favorite cut of meat since February. Even though I'm not the best practicing Catholic ever since having my knuckles cracked with a ruler from Sister Mary #%@*&> I still observe lent. Yes that's right because for me it's a great way to reset for Spring!
However one of the problems with lent is that if someone can give up something for 6 weeks, they can give it up forever. I can't imagine giving up something for ever especially meat. But I am getting older and I should start to eat better and since I have already weaned myself off meat, I'm not ready to jump right back into it. Wait a minute what am I saying, I not only want to jump back in I want to dive in head first. I want meat and plenty of it! And I bet your customers have these same visions. I want a big thick juicy steak smothered with a fancy sauce or pork I really don't need to say more, and it time to bring on the veal and lamb, it is SPRING TIME! Right? (Although Anna Brown, Territory Manager who lives north of Syracuse will disagree with me. 40 inches of snow this past week)
I want to make sure today that your customers don't give up meat forever. I guess you can say that the Devil is making me do this. So there Sister Mary #%@*&> revenge is sweet.
Don't be afraid to ask your territory managers about the great selections of ready cut proteins that are available from our partners Esposito and Indian Ridge. If you ask for it I'm sure that these two companies have just about anything you can dream about putting on your menu. Esposito sent a sample of a veal flank steak #066942 to both Chef Eamon and myself to "play with" I'm telling you this is a hidden treasure, it is so tender, I made a roulade that I seared and roasted. It was stuffed with fresh spinach, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper and a sharp provolone cheese. I rested it on mashed potatoes, asparagus and finished it with a red wine-veal reduction. Chef Eamon made a .... But I can't tell you. You will need to stop by the chef demo area at this year's Maines Food Show on May 14th. and 15th. To see for yourself his creation.
One of my new favorites is from Indian Ridge, It's called a Beef Hacienda steak #004836 it is the top sirloin cap steak aka Culotte Steak. I just like to hit it with salt and pepper and grill to my liking. I top it with butter and serve it with hand-cut French fries and Crispy buttermilk dipped onion rings. It's oh good.
But what I am really craving is a super special burger. One that you can taste for hours in your mouth after eating it. And that will be this week's recipe of the week. I want a Short rib burger #015944. Yes short rib, this burger is the perfect blend of ground chuck and ground short rib, I season it with salt and pepper and it's ready to grill to your liking. I lay a few slices of Coopers American cheese on top and it is ready to add it to the bun. And the bun is anything but normal, I use a brioche bun that is butter brushed and lightly toasted. I top the burger with homemade shallot jam. It just doesn't get much better.
So the countdown begins and I'm hoping your load your menu up with lots of meat items. Sorry Sister!
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!
MARCH 1, 2013
Vegetables... They Are What's For Dinner!
Is it me or is spring in a hurry to get here this year? I hope so. Last winter spoiled me. The reason this comes to mind is the haste with which Lent arrived. Chef Jake and I were blindsided, but never the less we produced Lenten recipes, tagged important items, sampled copious amounts of seafood to customers and otherwise crushed ourselves under metric tons of Lenten seafood overload. We were awash in so much seafood stray cats were starting to following us home at night! It dawned on us that the reflexive response to the demand of an alternative protein during Lent had become almost route. "It's Lent! What do we do!? Easy! Seafood!" With trends as they are today what with a demand for healthier options, more vegetables and unique starches, pastas and grains there must be more to offer. So we set forth to research alternative alternatives, if you will.
As a veg-head (meat-eating vegetable lover) who haunts farms on the weekends and has a picture of a Maines Produce Express truck on his fridge at home, my mind naturally drifted towards vegetables as an alternative center of the plate. Identified as a top 20 trend for the last two years by our industry peers, vegetables as the center of the plate is already popular. With vegans and vegetarians it has always been popular. But when embraced by professional chefs it's a concept that can be very special. How often do we look at a vine ripe tomato, head of cauliflower or fennel bulb the same way we look at a steak, fillet of fish, or a chicken breast? Consider this; how often do we treat these items with same amount of respect, reverence or attention? Vegetables have been relegated to the back side of the dinner plate, the lonely neighborhood where children seldom frequent unless accompanied by an adult. Or worse, dumped in a forgotten monkey dish, hidden on the dinner table behind the sugar packets and new-fangled electric votive candle? Wow....what did vegetables ever do to us!?
My attitude towards vegetables changed drastically once I started growing them, and then again after I befriended a farmer. Watching tomatoes grow from seed to sprout to small berry and finally a big, beautiful, ripe, voluptuous, swollen fruit is an absolutely necessary experience for every cook. Never again will you cut carelessly into another tomato. Rather, your first harvested fruit will likely sit on your counter while you ponder the absolute best preparation in which you will be devouring it. The intensity you exert in this decision will astound you. "This tomato will die with dignity!" I remember the stack of cookbooks I dragged into the kitchen when making my first decision. Ultimately I cut it into thick steak-like slices and sprinkled them with sea salt and olive oil and ate it like a rare USDA Prime porterhouse. Now THAT'S reverence!
So, why can't we bring the same attitude to other vegetables? Why can't they be elevated to the same status of proteins? Why can't they be paired with creative starches and flavorful sauces to compose a nutritional and satisfying entrée? They can. Instead of looking at Lent or any other diet changing event as being grounded like a 14 year old with an all D report card, look at it as an opportunity to become more intimate with your vegis. They've been waiting for you, patiently, behind the sugar packets and faux votive candle.
This week recipe takes a spin on salt baking or salt crusting cooking method. You may have seen salt crusted whole fish before or beets roasted in salt, but this week we'll be salt roasting whole tomatoes. The best art about this recipe is that we don't have to wait for August. Tomatoes on the vine work great! We couple them with Israeli couscous sautéed in oil until golden brown before it's boiled, and a delicious eggplant caponata sauce (which goes great with pasta, gnocchi, seafood and pork by the way...) This entrée is flavorful, creative, low in fat and more than satisfying for even the biggest appetite. All of this, and the vegetable takes center stage in your restaurant, which will send the message that you take all of your customer's food seriously, not just the proteins.
Enjoy and happy cooking!
FEBRUARY 22, 2013
Lent Dishes Continue! What's For Lunch?
There still are 35 days left in the 2013 Lenten season which translates to 35 days before you can eat meat dishes again on Fridays. It also means all the items you "gave up" for lent will again become part of your normal diet. Yeah!!! But until Easter non-meat items will continue to show up every Friday on restaurant menus to satisfy the needs of customers who abstain.
As restaurant operators I'm sure you are always looking for new options to offer and over the past few weeks Chef Eamon and I hopefully have given you a few. This past week I was with Chef Eamon at The Apawamis Club in Rye, New York as candidates for training to become and ACE (Approved Certification Evaluator) for the American Culinary Federation which is the governing body for certification among chefs.
Certification through the ACF demonstrates skill, knowledge and professionalism to the food service industry. So to all our brother and sister culinarians out there start that certification journey? On our lunch break there was buffet-style setup with a variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches for us to choose from, but one of the sandwiches jumped out at both of us and we agreed what a great luncheon item to share with our Maines Paper and Food Service, Inc. family. We all spend a lot of time thinking about "What we can feature tonight" but many times the effort is not given to the lunch hour. Sometimes are thoughts say "It's only lunch" we can feature tuna salad, clam chowder, Mac & Cheese and beer batter fish. That should cover it, let's move on. Wrong!
Most customers would love to have something new for lunch from the norm and at the same time keep them on track with their Lenten obligations. This week's recipe of the week will be for a wrap sandwich. It is made with a grilled golden wheat wrap, dressed with traditional pesto then layered with lightly breaded and fried to golden brown eggplant, sliced fresh mozzarella and roasted bell pepper marinated in olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper. I'm telling you this wrap sandwich will open eyes as your wait staff delivers them. I suggest you team it up with a small Heritage blend (#012387) salad simply tossed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. It's the perfect combination.
So until next week,
PS: Visit www.acfchefs.org for more information on certification
Remember when it comes to food, friends, and fun think outside the box!.