November 11th, 2015

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Violet Taco

Posted in About Allison



Valentina Tex Mex BBQ recently opened a new food truck here in Austin on the patio of Star Bar in downtown Austin’s 6th Street District. Typically known for their BBQ smoked meats, Valentina’s new truck boasts a San Antonio style taco round up with some unique flavor combinations.  The tacos feature the freshest produce, handmade tortillas, and unique toppings and sauces, as well as marinated proteins and Valentina’s signature hand crafted BBQ.


For our starter taco, we tasted “The Mighty Mo”, a garlic lime shrimp taco, tangy violet slaw, avo de gallo, and sriracha lime aioli on a fresh pillowy tortilla. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the taco was full of flavor. The heat of the sriracha aioli added the perfect bite in contrast to the cooling creamy avocado salsa. Well cooked shrimp can be difficult to execute in a food truck environment, but Violet’s did not disappoint.


Next up was the Violet Taco’s namesake, the “Violet Taco”. Featuring cerveza lime marinated chicken, sweet caramelized onions and poblanos, with violet slaw and a brilliantly colored prickly pear crema, the “Violet Taco” was a unique offering. The chicken was very tender and well-seasoned, but the star of the show was the brilliant purple and slightly sweet crema drizzled on the top of the taco. The mix-up of flavors made for a truly craveable bite.


For a Tex-Mex twist on the Chicago dog, we tried the “Tejano Dog”. The Violet Taco’s version featured a griddled 100% beef frank on a warm soft tortilla. Topped with caramelized onions, pico de gallo, crema, and a mildly spicy house made brown mustard. While the flavors here were more subtle, they were still complementary and well executed. The house mustard was rich and creamy, making this an easy to enjoy riff on the traditional hot dog.


Of course, you can’t eat tacos at a place known for BBQ without trying the BBQ tacos, so the last bite we ordered was the smoked brisket taco. Piled high with juicy smoked brisket, sea salt and lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa, it was well worth the wait. The brisket was very tender with pronounced smoky notes and the cooling guacamole served to cool the “gangsta-style” salsa. I have to be honest, even though I was already full, I had a hard time sharing this one!


Overall, the Violet Taco is the quintessential Texas-Style taco truck, blending the flavors of the Southwest perfectly, while putting their own spin on the menu.

October 22nd, 2015

Walking the Sweet and Savory Line: Pushing the Boundaries of Flavor

Posted in About Allison

Sweet and savory combinations have been around for a while and are extremely popular with consumers. This craving for unique flavor combinations has pushed food development in some very interesting directions.  From something as simple as salted caramel to other combinations that are downright wacky, consumers desire the contrast that sweet and salty or savory items bring.

So what happens when a food product you are so familiar with releases a new flavor and you are not sure how you feel? Does it confuse you or make you want to jump right in and try it? Does the flavor combination intrigue or repel you?

Lay’s Potato Chips has done this type of reimagining for the past several years with their ‘Do Us a Flavor’ promotion, where the grand prize flavor submission earns $1,000,000 or 1% of the earnings from the new flavor. This year’s contest focus was regional U.S. flavors.  This year’s flavor finalists include Biscuits and Gravy, West Coast Truffle Fries, New York Reuben and Greek Town Gyro.  If you want to learn more about how Frito Lay developed these ideas and the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, they will be a keynote speaker at the Research Chefs Association annual conference next March in Denver, CO.

Let’s look at some other concepts that are pushing these boundaries.

We all grew up with certain snacks or desserts that give us a comfortable nostalgic feeling when we revisit them. One of mine is crunchy Cheetos. It was the one mainstay snack in our house beyond any other. And of course it also conjures up images of fingers stained orange by the cheese powder.

In other countries, such as Japan, unique and often unheard of flavor combinations are much more common. Take the Banana Cheetos©, which debuted in Japan in response to the release of the new Minions movie. Such a familiar food, yet reimagined with banana powder, cinnamon and salt.

Then there is the Ramen Ice Cream from Nissin: it features soy ramen and curry ramen flavored ice cream, and it is topped with freeze dried shrimp, beef, egg, potatoes and chives.  Available at Yokohama Nissin Cup Noodles Museum, this is one dish I am not sure I would even want to try.

And then came the RamNut: a deep fried donut made from ramen that has been cooked in horchata then mixed with eggs and frozen until firm. From there it is shaped into donuts, deep fried and covered with sweet frostings and sprinkles. This is one in a continuing series of ramen mash-ups, which started with the Ramen Burger last year.

Not to be outdone, Dominque Ansel debuted Burrata ice cream at his new West Village shop. He touts it as an alternative to the sweeter vanilla ice cream we are used to eating. It is finished with balsamic caramel and a whole confited strawberry, and it has a markedly less sweet character than a typical ice cream.

A chocolatier is Minneapolis, B.T. McElrath, is buying quality local bread, toasting it, spreading it with butter, and then enrobing it in chocolate, for its own special take on the artisan toast trend. You’ve seen this trend most commonly as avocado smeared toast and other flavors with a $10.00 price tag.

And let’s not forget one of the most notable sweet savory trends to hit the Big Easy: savory king cakes. In flavors like muffuletta, boudin and crawfish, these savory flavors are taking NOLA by storm. Based on the traditionally sweet version of the cake, some of these newer flavors manage to walk the sweet and savory line rather beautifully.

From the above examples, it is clear to see just how important the sweet and savory combination is to menu innovation.


October 7th, 2015

Vegetables Take Center Stage

Posted in About Allison

Vegetables are sitting high on the list of trends in culinary right now. Many believe that the vegetable focused trend started as early as 2001 when French chef Alain Passard removed all red meat from L’Arpege, his restaurant in France. Whether you call it vegivore cuisine, or vegetable focused, one thing is for sure, today’s chefs are reimagining vegetable preparations that appeal to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. It’s really no wonder that this trend is gaining speed.

For one, it’s an increased focus on consumer health. Rising rates of obesity and a desire for more “better-for-you” options are driving consumers to seek out new flavors and more vegetables on their plates. While the steak the size of your plate is something that will never go away, more and more the shift to vegetable-centric plates translates to a healthier bottom line for both the consumer and the restaurateur. This trend is not about excluding meat from the plate but rather using it as a flavor to complement the vegetables. Because one thing is for sure, consumers as a whole still want meat on their plate.

In addition to the purported health benefits of a vegetable dense diet, more restaurants are shifting to a focus on vegetables for another reason entirely – cost. Especially in light of the recent egg shortage and with escalating beef prices, making vegetables the star just makes sense. With this shift of protein to the left of center, food costs are reduced. It’s the difference between an 8 ounce portion of meat on the plate versus 2-3 ounces that complement the flavor of the vegetables.

Concepts that are setting the trend:

  • Dirt Candy (Amanda Cohen, NY) – a strictly vegetarian restaurant known for its fun and whimsical outlook on vegetables, features unique dishes such as portobello mousse with cherries and Asian pears as well as grilled smoked broccoli dogs.
  • Oxheart (Justin Yu, Houston, Tx) – helmed by Justin Yu, Oxheart features 2 tasting menus, the Garden Menu (vegan) and the Tasting Menu (vegetable-centered). The chef comes with a rather impressive pedigree, including time at restaurants Green Zebra, Spring and Ubuntu.
  • Gardner (Ben Edgerton & Andrew Wiseman, Austin, Tx)- featuring fresh and locally sourced produce complemented by fresh seafood and proteins with a heavy focus on vegetables, Gardner was recently nominated by Bon Appetit for “Best New Restaurant”. While they didn’t make the Top 10, even a nomination is worth a mention.
  • Commissary (Roy Choi, LA) –  a restaurant inside of a working greenhouse on the 2nd Floor of The LINE Hotel, Commissar features several protein based dishes but the predominant portion of the menu features vegetarian dishes with the signature Roy Choi flair. Think fusion cuisine with Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Charred carrots with a tart yogurt drizzle, radish sprouts and a drizzle of green sauce signify the focus of the menu: the freshest vegetables, reimagined with creative cooking techniques and complementary flavors.
  • Beefsteak (Jose Andres, D.C.) – Chipotle-esque concept in D.C. from Jose Andres that focuses on feeding fresh vegetable based dishes to the masses. With 3 locations and an assembly line format, this may very well be the beginning of a very successful vegetable based franchise.
  • Gjelina (Travis Lett, Venice Beach, CA) – while not a predominantly vegetable focused restaurant, there is a whole section devoted entirely to vegetables, and then another section devoted to salad, which may or may not contain animal proteins. Even in the salad section, the utilization of animal protein is kept to a minimum. Interesting dishes include a squash blossom pizza with burrata and roasted sun chokes with garlic tarragon and vinegar.

One thing is for sure, if you are developing concepts for the next generation consumer, well-constructed, vegetable-focused plates play a key role and a tasty one at that.


September 16th, 2015

Filipino Food

Posted in About Allison

According to Campbell’s Culinary Trendscape 2015, Filipino food is on the cusp of becoming the next big cuisine. At a level 1 on their scale (discovery), this means that early adopters are experimenting with the flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques of this varied cuisine with a multi-cultural influence.

The cuisine’s roots lie in Spanish, Malay, Chinese, and American cuisines. A true fusion cuisine, Filipino cuisine is rooted in love of family. With flavor pioneers like Paul Qui (Qui in Austin) and Cristina Quackenbush (Milkfish in New Orleans) showcasing dishes with a fine dining bent, it is only a matter of time before the mainstream embraces this delicious and homey cuisine.

So why hasn’t the cuisine yet gained the acceptance that Chinese and Thai cuisines seem to effortlessly enjoy?

Surprisingly, one reason is the cuisine’s family focus. Most Filipinos do not go out to eat their own cuisine but rather take pride in family meals with coveted and often time “top secret” recipes handed down from generation to generation. “Why eat out when I can make it better at home?” many Filipinos will ask.

It then becomes even more problematic to categorize the cuisine when you consider that there are 7,000 islands in the Philippines Archipelago. With so many islands, the preparation of a popular dish like Pork Adobo may be authentic in Manila but an imposter to a native of Subic.  One region may consider coconut milk to be essential in their preparation of the dish, while another region may consider this addition a sacrilege.

Another distinction that sets Filipino food apart from other Asian cuisines: Filipino food by definition, while flavorful, is not distinguished for its spiciness. Yes, you may find the occasional hot and spicy Filipino dish, but heat does not permeate the cuisine  like it does with its closest cousin, Thai food.

To get a better understanding of some of the flavors of this unique cuisine, let’s look at some of the more interesting culinary ingredients:

Kalamansi: also called calamondin or calamandarin, this small and very sour fruit is primarily used for cooking and is thought to be a genetic cross of the mandarin orange and the kumquat.

Ube: a brightly colored purple yam that is high in starchy sugar, the ube is popularly made into a jam, a cake mix-in, and a topping for Halo-Halo.

Santol: an orange fruit almost as large as an apple it contains a tissue like pulp that encloses seeds. It is typically eaten when it is under ripe as it is preferred in the more sour state.

Balut: not for the faint of heart and most likely the most famous Filipino food you have heard, it’s a boiled fertilized duck egg. Typically it contains a fully formed duck embryo. Try it and let me know how you like it.

Pancit: a thin rice noodle typically used in stir fries with the addition of vegetables and meat.

Longanisa: the most common variety is a sweet paprika laden sausage that definitely has its roots in Spanish cuisine. Longanisa is not typical in that it can be made from chicken, tuna or beef.

Lechon: a dish typically reserved for a special occasion, Lechon is a whole suckling pig that is spit-roasted

Lumpia: a Philippine style egg roll typically stuffed with pork and shredded root vegetables, but also can contain caramelized bananas.

Adobo: a braising liquid of soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, and bay in which chicken or pork is cooked, it is one of the most popular Filipino dishes. It has a characteristically salty and sour flavor profile. Sometimes coconut milk is added to sweeten the dish.

Milkfish: considered the national fish of the Philippines, milkfish is typically served whole and stuffed with native fruits and vegetables.

Filipino food is definitely unique and a cuisine worth exploring. Where are you going to start?


August 31st, 2015

By Stove, I Think He’s Got It: IBM’s Watson in the Kitchen

Posted in About Allison, New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Trends

IBM has been working on expanding the capabilities of its supercomputer, nicknamed Watson for some time now. One of the major innovation is the Cooking with Watson App that was released to the public last month. The app features the ability to input up to four ingredients and then Watson takes it from there. The app – IBM Chef Watson ( ) – was beta-tested by the Bon Appetit team, after their database of 10,000+ recipes were added to the Watson database.

One of the benefits of using Watson is that the supercomputer can analyze all recipes containing the requested ingredients (including quantities) and generate a brand new recipe based on its conclusions.

Perusing the created recipes shows a diverse range of flavors and food combinations. Once the recipe is generated, Watson makes any disclaimers up front about any ingredients it thinks will work well, but that it is unsure of the quantities. It asks for feedback on those parts of the recipe it is not sure are correct. For example, a tomato tart recipe notes that “Chef Watson is pretty sure that orange zest will taste good in this dish, but needs your help in figuring out the details”, hoping that the recipe crafter has insight that can help Watson make better procedural and flavor choices in the future.

IBM’s Watson is not only making inroads in recipe creation, it is also using its computing muscle to power Watson Explorer, an enterprise solution that allows a company to connect data points to make more informed decisions. By connecting the company’s internal data stores with the internet’s vast stores of data, the system allows companies to make informed decisions on a much reduced timeline.

But let’s get back to recipe creation! For this exercise, I perused my pantry and refrigerator for ingredients that I thought would be weird flavor combinations.

My first attempt uses tahini sauce, maple syrup, cucumber, and olives, and here is the outcome:



tahini 2










The recipe also notes the inspiration for the recipe as well, in this case Pineapple-Glazed Chicken with Jalapeno Salsa. This recipe seems a little strange in its combination of ingredients (such as cranberry and horseradish), and the availability of ingredients (such as blood orange and cranberry) should be driven towards a seasonal subcategory. The app also has the ability to modify a recipe based on style of cuisine. For example, if I select the style “Africa”, the recipe changes significantly with the addition of vegetable broth, sparkling wine, and balsamic vinegar. I have to admit this confused me, since none of these ingredients are African in origin.

Other options allow you to search by dish name, and in many instances this returned no result, which is most likely due to the varied nature of the ingredients I selected.

In all fairness to Watson, I tried it again, but this time I chose blackberry, sage, crème fraiche, and mustard as my ingredients. Here is what Watson came up with:




What I found most interesting is that the recipe once generated allows you to change the dropdowns to explore alternative ingredients. For example, if you don’t have blackberries on hand, then you could substitute kaffir lime, lime, lemon, sweetened flake coconut, grapefruit, or red grapes.

Part of the R&D development process is often taking existing flavors and reimagining them into something new entirely and for this purpose this could be an easy way to play with flavor combinations. While this may seem feasible in the future, the robustness of the program only improves with more trials and the addition of a greater breadth of recipes.

At this time my overall impression is that this app will work well for the home cook and possibly in a professional restaurant setting where chefs are looking to branch out from current recipes. Where this technology would be beneficial to the R&D community would be its ability to interface within the parameters of the company’s needs. This would mean a robust interface that compiles the data within the company database and integrates it with internet based search parameters. This is the shape of future R&D development. Will you be ready when it happens?


August 4th, 2015

Keeping it Fresh: Emerging Restaurants That are Defining the Future of Health Food

Posted in About Allison, Healthy, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

As the general public continues to demand fresh, healthy, and economically feasible food with an environmentally sustainable outlook, investors are looking heavily into new chain concepts that fit the ever evolving needs of the consumer. As a result, there has been an influx of restaurant concepts that are tailored to the growing consumer desire for healthy food. Even at higher price points than typical fast food restaurants, consumers are willing to fork over the extra cash. In fact a full 88% of consumers, when polled, were willing to pay extra for healthier foods, according to a 2015 Nielsen poll.

So, with this in mind, let’s look at a few of the more interesting emerging and growing concepts you need to keep on your radar:

Wayback Burgers: the chain got its start in Newark, DE and from there has spread across the U.S. and Argentina, with now more than 100 locations. From their premium burgers and house made chips to their signature Cricket Shake, the chain is all about fresh cues and innovative menus. In either Oreo Mud Pie or Jerky flavors, the protein rich shakes boast 24 and 20 grams of protein respectively. The shake was actually voted on by consumers to remain on the menu after a very successful LTO offering. This is the first time we see cricket-inspired items on a mainstream menu, so this is an ingredient we need to start considering. While the chain markets itself more as a premium, hand-crafted concept as opposed to a ‘health food’ concept, per se, the addition of the cricket shake is one that is a sign that healthy protein alternatives are gaining acceptance. Not yet mainstream in the U.S., to be sure, but this is a big step in the niche of alternative proteins.

Sus Hi Eatstation: a rather new entry into the fast casual category, Sus Hi features all kinds of sushi, from the traditional Japanese fare to more approachable sushi preparations made with cooked chicken, bacon and other mainstream ingredients. These more mainstream friendly menu items are designed for the entry level sushi eater to ease the transition to raw fish sushi. The founder, Robert Ly, has dubbed himself Grand Master Fun Ly as a way to accent the chain’s focus on fun.

Roti Mediterranean Grill: a Chicago based Mediterranean concept with outposts in New York and Washington, D.C., the Roti Grill offers healthy, filling options for the consumer on the go. You can choose from a wrap, a salad or a rice plate. From there, you pick your protein (these include a salmon and a vegetarian falafel option), vegetables, sauces and sides. They also offer hummus served with house-baked pita.  A simple loyalty program where you snap your receipt for rewards gives incentive to cost-conscious consumers who appreciate coupon-based rewards. Considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, it is great to see Mediterranean food enter the spotlight.

Native Foods Café: started in 1994 by a vegan chef, the chain features scratch-made, fresh vegan and vegetarian food. Surprisingly, 85% of visitors fall into the omnivore category, further emphasizing the chain’s widespread appeal. Among the signature items that draw in the omnivores are the Reuben sandwich made with thinly sliced, house made seitan and the meatball sub made with seitan meatballs.

SweetGreen: founded in Washington, D.C., the chain is 31 stores strong and growing. Adhering to a strict set of sustainability practices and offering seasonal menus that rotate based on available produce, the chain has found resonance among the young and upcoming urban professionals in the communities it serves. The current late summer menu includes a watermelon and feta salad and a peach and goat cheese salad among its offerings. Signature dishes available year-round include the kale Caesar and a grain bowl made with quinoa and farro, called the Earth Bowl.

Salata: the Houston based salad concepts features 50 premium toppings as well as 10 house-made dressings, all complemented by your choice of protein. They are now 43 locations strong with projected growth for 10 more openings before the end of 2015. They also feature house made soups and signature teas and lemonades in flavors like plum cinnamon tea, tropical green tea and peach lemonade.

Kosofresh: an emerging chain in New York that features customizable bowls with Korean ingredients, including the highly popular Gochujang, Bulgogi, nori, and Korean radish among the ingredients offered. While they only have 1 location so far, the format and dedication to fresh ingredients with a Chipotle-esque ordering format makes this one concept to watch.

Mendocino Farms: based out of the Los Angeles, CA area, Mendocino Farms is a concept that sources local quality ingredients and combines them into imaginative sandwich combinations. One of the summer sandwiches is the K-Town Bulgogi Ribeye Roll. It features house marinated Bulgogi beef, a spicy Gochujang sauce, a rice vinaigrette slaw and chili aioli, all pressed on a Panini grill. They also feature the V7 (a seven vegetable patty made in house) and cashew feta sandwich called Molly’s Greek Vacation to capture the attention of the vegetarian/vegan demographic.

This list is far from complete, but it clearly illustrates the direction that healthy good-for-you concepts are taking. Be sure to pay extra attention over the coming year as these concepts continue to grow and attract a customer base committed to a healthy lifestyle full of flavor.

July 20th, 2015

Austin Food Trailer Of The Month: Thai-Kun

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

Thai Changthong has worked in some interesting places, among them Uchiko Austin under the tutelage of Paul Qui. After working there he opened a restaurant in North Austin with Ek Timrerk (You may remember him from our piece on Kin and Comfort, a modern Southern-Thai fusion concept in North Austin) called Spin Modern Thai. While the restaurant was short lived, due to issues with the ventilation system, the food there was amazingly well executed and flavorful.

Thai-Kun, Changthong’s next foray into the culinary world, with his partner Paul Qui, opened in April of 2014 and quickly made the top 10 in Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America. That’s quite an accomplishment for a humble food trailer that now sits on the back patio at Whisler’s, an ultra-hip, yet unpretentious bar on Austin’s East Side.










Thai-Kun is part of the Qui Empire for sure, but where Qui focuses on predominantly Filipino food, Chef Changthong focuses on what is affectionately referred to as the “O.G. Thai” (Original Gangster Authentic Thai). This is spicy, no sugar added Thai food that will make your mouth water and your lips burn.

Our first taste was waterfall pork, the spiciest dish on the menu. The dish was full of flavor and heat. The grilled pork shoulder was very tender. It was drizzled with Tiger Cry sauce and sprinkled with toasted rice powder. Cilantro and red onions are bright and clean counterpoints to the spice of the pork. It was served with pickled cabbage and sticky rice to cool and temper the heat. This was a truly addicting dish that I just could not stop eating.











Next up were the black noodles, which were rice noodles cooked in soy sauce and garlic oil. They were then mixed with romaine lettuce, croutons, bean sprouts, celery, croutons and green onions. This was the perfect dish to serve with the waterfall pork due to its cooling nature.











The Issan sausage with distinctly fermented notes was  perfectly ground and had a crispy snap. It was served with ginger, fresh herbs and cabbage. While it was tasty, it needed a little more punch besides the fresh herbs and ginger. I can’t help thinking that glazing in a spicy sauce would have done the trick.










After that we sampled the caramelized pork belly served over jasmine rice with cilantro, red onions and cucumber. The pork belly was a little on the sweet side and could have been slightly more tangy with larger pieces of pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork belly, but going a little easier on the sweetness and cutting the pork belly into larger pieces would have done the trick.










Our last taste at Thai-Kun was the Thai-Kun fried chicken, which was made with soy sauce marinated chicken. From what I can guess, it was a rice flour coating, since the breading was super light and crispy. It was served with chicken fat rice and Boom sauce (a slightly sweet but intensely spicy chili sauce with a touch of fish sauce). This was a very different interpretation of fried chicken compared to what I am used to but I really loved the play among the flavors.











I have to admit, that the food at this trailer was overall some of the best food I have had at a trailer here in Austin in a long time. With the popularity of food trucks here in the ATX, that’s saying something. From the execution of the dishes to the quality of ingredients, it shows in the end product, and I can see why the trailer made Bon Appetit’s list.

And the best part? The trailer is so popular that the owners are currently in the hiring process for the new brick and mortar at the Domain in North Austin. Look for the opening early this fall in addition to a 2nd Thai-Kun trailer slated to open at Steampunk Saloon on West 6th Street next month.

It is only a matter of time before the waterfall pork calls to me again. Try it, you don’t know what you are missing!

June 30th, 2015

The Menus of Summer – How QSRs Beat the Heat

Posted in About Allison

The warm sunny days and long evenings of summer coming up mean more outdoor activities, and less time in the kitchen. Consumers crave grilled foods, light dishes and refreshing drinks at home and in restaurants alike. QSR’s are releasing LTO and new menu items with this in mind. Here are a few off the more notable “new releases”:

Taco Bell – the king of the taco mash-up is at it again with the testing of their latest creation:

Collider Tacos – in test in Southern California, the tacos feature a flour tortilla spread with cheese sauce and shredded cheese, then wrapped around a hard shell taco. There is also a spicy version that features chipotle sauce and shredded cheese.

Starbucks – since they acquired La Boulange Bakery in 2013, Starbucks has been adding new menu items rather regularly. For summer 2015, they have added 8 new items, including 3 savory breakfast fold-overs, a new Panini, and 5 LTO sweet bakery items meant to pair with tea or coffee.

Here are a few of the offerings:

Chicken Artichoke Panini – a Mediterranean inspired sandwich on flatbread with grilled chicken breast, roasted artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato pesto, and Provolone cheese

Pepperoni and Tomato Foldover – La Boulange croissant dough wrapped around fillings including pepperoni, zesty tomatoes, and cheese

Frappuccino® Cookie – a buttery sugar cookie topped with chocolate and white confectionary icings

Corner Bakery – just in time for summer, Corner Bakery had debuted 4 new salads with healthy cues and inspired flavors.

Kale Caesar  kale and romaine tossed with Caesar dressing and finished with house made spicy croutons, Parmesan and Romano

Southwest Salad – greens mixed with slaw and topped with quinoa, black beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, with tortilla strips and avocado ranch

Southwest Avocado – a creamy avocado half served with roasted corn and tomato salsa, and finished with tortilla strips

4-Grain Tabbouleh – a mix of quinoa, wheat berries, red rice, and farro with tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and a light lemon dressing

Hardee’s – focusing on the backyard grilling season, Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. just released a picnic inspired burger:

The Most American Burger is here just in time for summer. It features a Black Angus patty topped with American cheese, tomato, a split hot dog, and kettle-cooked potato chips for the ultimate picnic mash-up

Taco John’s – the chain is hitting the summer in stride with a couple of new additions to its menu:

Street Tacos Trio  the trio features 3 tacos in chicken or beef with a cooling garlic-lime sauce and Mexican cheese in a soft corn and flour tortilla.

 Summer Drinks – featured for summer: Mango Citrus Rush and Strawberry Citrus Rush made with Sierra Mist, as well as a French Vanilla or Café Mocha Iced coffees

El Pollo Loco – just released new hand carved chicken salads contain 50% more meat than their regular salads. Here are a few of the new salads available for a limited time:

The Southwest Bacon is loaded with hand-carved chicken breast, bacon, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, onions strings, corn, and BBQ Ranch dressing

The Mango Avocado is topped with sweet mango salsa and creamy avocado pair with chicken, crumbled cotija, pepitas, and sweet roasted red peppers, all tossed with a tangy citrus vinaigrette.

What do you crave when the heat is turned up?

May 27th, 2015

Restaurant of the Month: New Orleans Edition – Cochon Butcher

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends


On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was lucky enough to take a side trip to Cochon Butcher, a collaboration between James Beard award winning chefs Donald Link and Steven Stryjewski. The partners have won in the past for Best Chef South for Herbsaint as well as Best New Restaurant and Best American cookbook. More recently, in 2014, the Link Restaurant Group won Best New Restaurant for Peche. With such a pedigree, it is easy to see why a trip to one of their restaurants is more than a little special.

Located right behind Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street, the restaurant follows a casual model that requires no reservations.  It features a butcher counter on one side of the restaurant and a recent expansion that includes seating and a bar.


The business model really makes sense if you think about the business recaptured by offering a more casual walk-up setting with the same great quality charcuterie as the restaurant next door.

You can purchase charcuterie by the pound at the butcher counter:


Selections include venison sausage, duck pastrami, and pork rillon to name a few.

As well, you can purchase branded swag, including this cool bar knife custom made for the establishment:


Cochon Butcher likes to keep its artisan-focused menu simple. Showcasing an array of simple sandwich preparations, with the emphasis on quality along with an assortment of side and a la carte items, the menu covers all the bases when it comes to delicious and well curated meats.

Our first course was the charcuterie plate, featuring coppa, coppa de testa, Genoa, and my personal favorite pork rillon (made with pork belly and herbs, it’s spreadable heaven). Accompaniments include house-made broken crackers, quick pickles, fresh chow chow and a spicy whole grain mustard. The rillon was so good that I actually took some for the road.


The next bites were of braised pork belly with mint and cucumbers sandwiched between toasted soft white bread. It was a little messy, and the flavor contrast between the mint and the salted pork belly was unexpected. While it was my least favorite flavor combination, let’s remember that this is Cochon, so all comparisons should be left at the door.


As a follow up, we ordered the duck pastrami sliders. Now, I have to admit, I love duck pastrami, so I was a little sad that there was not more of it in these sliders. There was a competition between the flavors in the duck pastrami and an exceptionally rich Gruyere cheese sauce. But it’s duck, so really what’s not to like?


The final bite of the night was a Moroccan spiced lamb on flatbread and the unexpected favorite. Notes of cumin, coriander and curry showcased fork-tender pieces of braised lamb. The lamb was tucked into bed with a very chunky Tzatziki by the softest pillowy flatbread. Sweet dreams little lamb!


I have to say that Cochon Butcher is the one restaurant I must visit while in New Orleans, and with all that the Big Easy has to offer, that is saying a lot. Don’t just take my word for it, head on over yourself!


April 22nd, 2015

Food Mash-Up: Ballpark Edition

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Trends

With the recent opener for the baseball season, ball parks around the country are debuting new food items to entice game goers to their stands. Many baseball parks take inspiration from the food at state fairs, often a great source of trending ideas for development chefs. In an anything goes climate, it pays to take note of the food being served in these venues as they appeal to the mainstream flavor-wise with fun and interesting forms.

Miller’s Park: Inside the Park Nachos

Miller’s Park is the home to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Inside the Park Nachos is perfectly named. Not only does it have a catchy tag, it’s an innovative twist on the classic Nachos. Start with a taco meat burger link crusted with Doritos and drizzled with cheese sauce and sour cream. It’s served with a side of salsa. Easy to eat and portable, the dish made its debut this year.











(Photo: Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)


Chase Field: Churro Dog

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, announced it would start selling this dessert mash-up at the beginning of the 2015 season. For the mere calorie count of 1,117 calories you, too, can enjoy this decadent and over the top dessert. It features a cinnamon churro nestled inside a chocolate glazed Long John. From there, it’s loaded with toppings, including frozen yogurt, caramel and chocolate sauce. It just may be the craziest dessert to show up at a ball park yet.











(Arizona Diamondbacks photo, via Twitter)


 New York’s Citi Field: S’Mores Bacon

The New York Mets are serving a mash-up on a stick, consisting of bacon that is coated in chocolate, graham cracker coating and marshmallows. All my favorite foods in one place, I say let me at it!
















(@AramarkSports, Twitter)


Fifth Third Ball Park: Pretzel-Breaded Italian Sausage

I can’t help but think this one would be perfect on a stick with some whole-grain mustard.  I have to admit, the idea of a pretzel coated sausage excites me. It’s served on a submarine roll and is definitely a new twist on the sausage and hot dog items you typically see at a ballpark.









(Cory Morse |


Houston’s Minute Maid Park: Chicken and Waffle Cone

Houston Astros’ fans can treat themselves to classic chicken and waffles in a convenient cone form. Filled with creamy mashed potatoes and fried chicken, the waffle cone is drizzled with honey mustard.










(Photo Credit:


Tampa Bay Tropicana Field: Mac Bat

Here’s another cone idea, but this time it’s a bread cone.  Portable and comforting, it combines ground beef, bacon, jalapenos, and creamy mac n’ cheese. I just hope I don’t fall asleep after I eat it.










(Photos courtesy Tampa Bay Rays)


Frawley Stadium:  Krispy Kreme Doughnut Hot Dog

At The Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Krispy Kreme Hot Dog is an exclusive. You won’t see it at a Krispy Kreme near you! It’s a Krispy Kreme Bun split, and stuffed with a hot dog, bacon and raspberry jelly.










(Photo courtesy Wilmington Blue Rocks))


Fox Cities Stadium: The Big Mother Funnel Burger

Minor league team, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, has big league taste! Two powdered-sugar dusted funnel cakes sandwich a bacon cheeseburger with all of the fixings. Its dinner and dessert all in one.










(@ChefTimHansen, Twitter)


Well, I think it’s time to get in the kitchen and whip up some crazy mash-up for dinner. I know I am inspired by these over the top but fun dishes. I hope you are too!