May 27th, 2015

Restaurant of the Month: New Orleans Edition – Cochon Butcher

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

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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.

ButcherCounter

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:

ButcherCase

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:

BarKnife

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.

CharcuteriePlate

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.

PorkBelly

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?

DuckPastrami

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!

LambWrap

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.

InsideOutNachos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(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.

ChurroDog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(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!

S'MoresCoveredBacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(@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.

PretzelCoatedItalianSausage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Cory Morse | MLive.com)

 

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.

ChickenWaffleCone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter.com/darrenrovell)

 

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.

 

mac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(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.

KrispyKremeHotDog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(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.

MotherFunnelBurger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(@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!

April 6th, 2015

Bufalina – Austin Restaurant of the Month

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants

BufalinaLogo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmed by Steve Dilley, Bufalina showcases the best Neapolitan Pizza that Austin has to offer. Fondly dubbed “the Aaron Franklin of Pizza”, he is a former financial trader who made the jump to pizza. His background includes a stint at the prestigious Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples in 2010, as well as a brief stint at Pizzeria D’Atitilio, which opened in 1937.

The two year project to build out Bufalina included bringing in an authentic Stefan Ferrara oven brought all the way from Italy. And it is a sure thing of beauty:

ferrarooven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The atmosphere is cozy and lit with candles. The majority of the seating is picnic-style with long communal tables. Overall, the interior, while understated, is comfortable.

panorama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pizzeria prides itself on more than just its pizza offerings though. The hand-pulled Mozzarella is made with curd from local dairies (or is brought from New Jersey when local milk is not available). Our plate featured a tomato relish with capers, fresh basil, and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Overall, the plate was well balanced.

HouseMozzarella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bufalina also offers a daily pasta special. The featured pasta was actually quite lovely. The tagliatelle was rich with egg yolks and reminded me of the pasta my grandma used to make by hand when I was little. It was topped with pulled pork and braised chard with a ladle of duck jus over the top. I rather enjoyed this dish, as it really took me back to grandma’s homemade noodle soup, where everything came from the farm. Definitely memorable, especially since it is rare to see freshly made pasta on a menu in Austin.

tagliatelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next on the menu was the Calabrese pizza, which was topped with a light tomato sauce, slightly spicy salami, roasted red peppers and fresh Mozzarella. The dough was well fermented and the pizza had the signature charred crust we come to expect from Napoletana-style pizza. Overall, this was a decent pizza, but the flavors could have been amped up a little (think Calabrian peppers instead and some intense garlic notes).

calabresepizza1 (1024x931)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brussels sprout pizza was next up. It featured sliced Brussels sprouts, serrano peppers and chopped ham. This was my favorite dish by far, but I am probably slightly biased since I happen to love Brussels sprouts. There was a nice char on the Brussels, and the touch of heat from the serrano peppers balanced the salty sweetness of the ham quite well.

brusselssproutpizza (1024x913)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dessert we chose the orange olive oil cake with coffee ice cream. The cake had a nice crumb, somewhere between a pound cake and a scone, with rich olive oil notes and a touch of orange.  The coffee ice cream played unexpectedly well with these flavors.

oliveoilcake (756x800)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And one last thing if you want to try this cozy little pizza place: get there early. They fill up fast, and they do not take reservations for parties under eight people. We dined right when they opened, and I am glad we did! The line to wait got pretty long pretty quick, with waits over two hours, and that was within 45 minutes of arriving.

February 24th, 2015

The Rise of Savory

Posted in Grocery, Healthy, New Foods and Flavors, Retail, Trends

One of the most interesting recent trends in the food industry is the use of savory ingredients in products that we traditionally consider to be sweet.  The reality is that consumers are craving traditional flavors delivered in new and interesting ways. For foodservice establishments, this new direction could drive business to the portion of the population that prefers savory and salty food items over sweet ones. Here are some trending products to fuel your imagination:

Greek Yogurt

One of the breakout stars of recent years, Greek yogurt now dominates the grocery store shelves. With its healthy reputation and convenience, it is easy to see why it is so popular. So let’s check out a few concepts/products that are capitalizing on this trend:

  1. Blue Hill Farms – specializing in a line of high quality savory yogurts for retail made with 100% grass-fed milk and local produce, with the motto “Know Thy Farmer”, they have managed to carve out a special niche on the grocery store shelves (but don’t expect that to last very long). Flavors include parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, and beet, and are sold at Whole Foods and other select gourmet retailers.
  2. Go Greek Yogurt – featuring Greek yogurt that is actually flown in from Greece, this Los Angeles based yogurt features a variety of savory yogurt toppings that are traditional in Greece, but appear novel to the American consumer. Among the more interesting flavors are the Greek Salad Yogurt (with cucumber, tomato, Kalamata olives, olive oil, oregano, sea salt, and crushed black pepper), Diokles (fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper), and the Kosmas (Kalamata olives, basil, olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper). All are served with pita for dipping. In addition, their yogurt to-go is packaged in biodegradable clay pot (yes, you heard that right) also sourced from Greece. They state you can throw it in the compost if you like and it will completely breakdown.
  3. Stonyfield – while this product isn’t yogurt technically, it sits on the shelf next to all of the Greek iterations. Made with milk and cheese cultures instead of the traditional yogurt cultures, the product is a completely new product category. Released during Fashion week in 2014 with the hashtag #CheatOnGreek, the flavor is more similar to fromage blanc. It’s less chalky, creamier, and has a mild and fresh flavor, and is attempting to go after yogurt lovers who do not like the chalky taste of Greek yogurt.

Savory Beverages

Another category to get a recent makeover is the beverage category. Consumers are asking for savory and healthy options, and several companies are catering to that demand:

  1. Numi Organics – their line of savory teas includes broccoli-cilantro, carrot-curry, and beet-cabbage. They just released a new line of superfood savory teas containing turmeric as the primary ingredient. Golden tonic features added lemon verbena and dried lime, while Three Roots features added ginger and sweet licorice. Look for more interesting flavors from Numi in the coming year….I am sure they won’t disappoint.
  2. Rus’mmm – this company’s products are based on a secret family recipe. The South Indian beverage features toor dal (yellow pigeon peas), tapioca, coriander, cumin, and turmeric among its ingredients. In original and tomato, it’s an interesting thickened beverage that is sure to satisfy when soup isn’t handy.
  3. Tio – a newcomer to retail the brand focuses on all natural, preservative-free cold gazpachos. Currently in a limited market in Miami, the 3 flavors (Gazpacho Clasico, Gazpacho Verde, and Gazpacho del Sol) are flying off the shelves. The use of HPP technology is used to extend the products shelf life while maintaining the fresh flavor.
  4. Nuwi – the first of its kind quinoa product, Nuwi quinoa drinkable snack features carrot-ginger, split pea, and tomato flavors under its savory umbrella.

Savory Snack Bars

For those consumers looking for convenient fueling options, snack bars are a no-brainer. With the multitude of sweet versions lost to the masses, it was only a matter of time before savory varieties hit the grocery shelves.

  1. Strong and Kind Bars – a recently launched savory line of nutrition bars, and boasting 10g of protein, these bars are a sweet and savory mash-up of flavors. With hickory smoked, honey smoked BBQ, Thai sweet chili, roasted jalapeno, and honey mustard among the offered flavors, there is one for everyone.
  2. Journey Bar – with flavors like coconut curry, sesame ginger, pizza marinara, and rosemary, these bars appear to be taking the global flavor route, all in a vegan-friendly format with 15 grams of whole grains.
  3. Epic – appealing to the paleo diet crowd, these bars made with 100% grass fed buffalo, uncured bacon, and tart cranberries, they contain 11g of protein.
  4. Slow – featuring Moroccan (Pistachio, Currants, Carrots, Ginger), California (Almond, Kale, Pomegranate, Quinoa), Thai (Peanut, Chili, Brown Rice, Bell Pepper), and Indian (Cashew, Cumin, Cauliflower, Coconut) flavors, these bars not only have interesting flavors, but a kale or cauliflower based bar seems intriguing and sure to appeal to the holistic food consumer.
  5. Tanka – featuring prairie raised buffalo, and based on a traditional Lakota Indian recipe for wasna, they are a powerhouse of nutrition, with 14g of protein per 140g bar.

 

Keep a lookout for these and other niche products on the grocery store shelves and let them inspire your culinary development.

January 26th, 2015

The Peached Tortilla: Austin Restaurant of the Month

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

Eric Silverstein is a man in demand and 2014 was his big year: in September, Plate magazine named him one of 30 chefs to watch. He also recently inked a deal for a book with Penumbra Literary, in which he plans to detail his leap from litigator to food truck entrepreneur. And most importantly (to me), he just opened his brick and mortar here in Austin, TX.

I have eaten at his truck Yume Burger in the past, so I knew what to expect, but for those of you unfamiliar with his cuisine, it is best described as Southern-Asian Fusion. Born in Tokyo, he was exposed to Japanese, Malaysian, and Chinese cuisine at an early age. He was then introduced to traditional Southern cuisine at the age of 10. These divergent cuisines come together to tell his personal food story, and it’s a colorful one.

On Burnet Road in the Allandale residential area, the modest storefront gives way to a modern “picnic” décor featuring white wooden slat benches and retro accents in yellow and orange. Overall the space is cozy and the service was very efficient. We arrived right when the restaurant opened and were greeted promptly by our server, Thuy, who was very friendly and approachable.

We perused the menu and made our selections rather quickly, which you can view here: http://www.thepeachedtortilla.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/peached-dinner-menu.pdf

For our starter, we selected the kimchi arancini. Made with rice and pureed kimchi and coated in panko, they were served with Sriracha and wasabi aiolis with a sprinkle of minced nori. The sauces were spicy but balanced and complemented the arancini very nicely. A rather tasty little morsel, I must say!

KimchiArancini

Next up were the bacon jam fries with green onions, sharp Cheddar, a fried egg and chili aioli. I am a huge bacon fan, and while I did like the flavor, I craved more bacon flavor. Overall, the dish was well executed with a beautifully cooked fried egg and crispy fries.

BaconJamFries

 

For our next course, we decided on the Tres Cauliflower, featuring cauliflower done 3 ways, hence the name. While cauliflower is typically cast in a supporting role, this dish was the absolute shining star of the evening. The nori cauliflower puree was very silky and packed a big hit of umami. Nestled atop the puree, grilled cauliflower was slightly charred and finished with nori butter and caramelized onions. The perfect counterpoint in the peach pickled cauliflower was a surprising sweet addition. Curiosity confirmed that the pickled cauliflower was brined in peach tea and rice wine vinegar. The hands down favorite of the night, this is the dish I would recommend to friends as a must not miss.

TresCauliflower

Since I had lived in Japan for several years, I had to try the blistered catfish bowl.  I absolutely love unagi (eel) sushi, so the fact that the catfish was prepared in the same style sold me on this dish. Unagi sushi is typically served with a Japanese style BBQ sauce, which is typically made with soy sauce, sugar and mirin, giving it a salty-sweet flavor profile.  Again, the presentation was beautiful. It was served over rice with charred wasabi Napa, Japanese pickles (even the pickle-hater at the table loved them), and a beautiful 45 minute egg, all finished with sesame seeds and crumbled nori. The fish was cooked perfectly, and this dish was as healthy as it was tasty.

BlisteredCatfishBowl

 

Our last dish was Silverstein’s nod to delicious meat synonymous with Texas: smoked brisket. Playfully titled “Brisket Fun”, it is a stir-fried dish with wide rice noodles, bean sprouts and kale. Slightly spicy and well-balanced,  it was the most outright fusion dish of the evening. And yes it was fun.

BrisketFun

 

Chalk up another score for Austin, TX with the creative, delicious, and beautiful food at the Peached Tortilla. And watch closely this year to see what Mr. Silverstein is up to next!

 

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January 15th, 2015

Environmental Sustainability

Posted in Packaging, Restaurants, Trends

One of the top trends for 2015, according to NRA’s Culinary Forecast, is environmental sustainability. With increasing concerns for our food supply in an ever shrinking world, restaurants are employing some rather creative methods for reducing food waste, improving recycling practices, and increasing resource efficiency.

Packaging

For Larkburger, a fresh burger concept based in Vail, Colorado, the foundation of their business is sustainability. With 100% biodegradable containers and utensils made from potato and corn starch that they compost on-site, unbleached paper packaging, and the reuse of used cooking oil in their vehicles, they have managed a certified green status for all 4 of their Denver locations.

Snappy Salads, a Texas-based chain with 7 Dallas-area locations recently switched from plastic to premium paper straws as part of their goal to become more sustainable. The chain features tables and counters made from recycled or reclaimed materials. All of their containers are sustainable and compostable. A biannual electronics recycling roundup is also hosted by the chain. So why paper straws? For one, while they are slightly more expensive, they are 100% degradable. The average straw is estimated to be used for 30 seconds. A plastic straw that we use for 30 seconds takes anywhere from 75-450 years by various estimates to decompose, so paper straws just seem to make sense.

Boloco, the home of globally inspired burritos, uses corn fiber cups and bamboo bowls in their 22 locations. (They also use low-flow water heads and Paperstone table tops.) While they do this quietly, they are setting a great example with their efforts.

Other Packaging Trends, in addition to restaurants looking for food container and takeout alternatives that promote sustainability efforts, they are also looking back-of-the- house. One big trend that has been growing is the use of #10 pouches vs. #10 cans for sauces. Pouches offer environmentally friendly benefits in many ways – to get an idea, check out this link: http://www.paradisetomato.com/environmental-impact-calculator.html

 

Building Certifications

Dunkin’ Donuts recently launched a green building certification program with the purpose of assisting their franchisees in building energy-conscious and sustainable restaurants. The goal is to open 100 “DD Green” restaurants before the end of 2016. With two levels of certification including “DD Green” (the restaurants meet the minimum requirements) and “DD Elite” (restaurants exceed the minimum requirements).
Read more: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/12/10/dunkin-donuts-launches-green-building-certification-for-restaurants/#ixzz3MktNXuR7

Many chains are taking similar steps.

 

Other Efforts

For interesting non-profit business models look to Food Recovery Network. Founded in 2011, the company launched a program in April 2014 it deemed “Food Recovery Certified”. The company’s primary desire is to reduce food waste by donation of surplus food to local charities and non-profits. Restaurants that donate at least once a month get a sticker in their window designating them with the certification. Since the program is relatively new, it is just starting to gain traction.

 

And if you are looking for a green destination, Asheville, NC may just be the place. With 15 restaurants across the city, including one at the Biltmore Estate, the Green Restaurant Association has dubbed Asheville as “America’s First Green Dining Destination”.

 

December 23rd, 2014

Trends in Bakery Foods: Beyond the Cronut

Posted in About Allison, New Foods and Flavors, Trends

With the phenomenon of the Cronut last year, bakery products are becoming more inventive and just plain more fun. Chefs across the country are looking for ways to set themselves apart from the competition, and hybrid bakery items are the hot ticket item. Some of the best are inspired by the Cronut master, and others are a simple fusion of bakery items from different cultures, resulting in something entirely new and unique. Let’s look at some of the most recent and popular treats according to the internet:

Alfred Coffee – a coffee shop and kitchen in Los Angeles, they have a really interesting item on their secret menu: the edible espresso cup. Most likely inspired by “Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots” of Ansel fame, the cup is a waffle cone, lined with chocolate and served with your choice of espresso or machiatto.  (Twitter: #AlfredCone)

Afters Ice Cream – The brainchild of Scott Nghiem, Afters Ice Cream features a culinary creation said to rival the Cronut, and it’s called the Milky Bun. Essentially it’s ice cream encapsulated by a donut that is made to order. In flavors like jasmine milk tea, churro, and almond cookie, the bun has taken the West Coast by Storm. http://aftersicecream.com/

Creffle Café – Take a crepe and cross it with a Belgian waffle and an eggette (a Cantonese egg-fortified bubble waffle), and you get the Creffle. It is crispy on the outside and has a soft fluffy center and can be served with sweet or savory fillings. One of the house specialties is a coffee marinated meatball that you can tuck up inside your Creffle. http://creffle.com/about.html

The Bruffin Café – essentially the Bruffin is a pastry similar to Brioche that is layered with toppings from around the world, then rolled up and baked in a muffin tin. The flavors lean more to the savory side and include the Indian (Masala Curried Chicken, Chick Peas and Paneer Cheese) and the Spanish (Chorizo, Manchego Cheese and Ancho Chile) among its 12 savory flavors. Sweet versions include blueberry mascarpone and vanilla apple almond. http://www.thebruffin.com

Church’s Chicken – the Oreo biscuit is a thing, and Church’s just rolled them out on December 1st as an LTO through December 28. It is biscuit dough stuffed with Oreos, and once it is baked, it is drizzled with a sweet vanilla icing.

Frangelli’s Bakery – a hybrid cannoli and donut pastry, called appropriately the “Donnoli”. Cut open a fresh made donut and fill it with chocolate chip cannoli filling, and you have one tasty dessert.  You’ll have to fly to Philly for this one though.

Leadbelly’s/Eli’s Cheesecakes – Cheesecake Beignets are a collaboration between Leadbelly’s and Eli’s cheesecakes and consist of Eli’s Cheesecake tucked inside Leadbelly’s burger bun dough. It is fried and then dusted with powdered sugar.

December 3rd, 2014

New Technologies: Coming to a Store Near You

Posted in About Allison, Restaurants, Trends

An aspect of the food industry that cannot be ignored is the pull of technology for consumers. With younger generations becoming more and more technically savvy, adding innovative technologies to the mix in your establishment will draw in those customers that desire convenience, ease of use, and technologies that make their dining experiences more fun and interactive.

National Restaurant News did a recent survey that showed that one third of consumers are paying their bill on a payment app, such as ApplePay, Tabbed Out or Open Table.  Among restaurants in the casual sector, TGIFriday’s was the first to partner with a mobile payment company in 2012 (Tabbed Out). Since then, McDonald’s, Subway, Chipotle and many others have implemented mobile ordering and payment options as time-saving devices for their consumers.

New to the delivery scene, Starbucks will be offering the service starting in 2015, which gives the consumer the ability to place a standing order to be delivered at their convenience. The program is being rolled out with hopes to increase customer loyalty as well as opening up previously neglected revenue channels. They have also made a recent announcement that they are rolling out charging mats in their stores. With the increase in smartphone usage among U.S. consumers, the ability to lay your phone on the table and get an instant charge is an additional draw for techie customers. It seems the company is pulling out all of the stops in the technology area to increase their customer base.

Another interesting technology app, called Venue Vibes, allows the consumer to determine wait times before they ever set foot in the restaurant. The app is integrated with the restaurant POS and tracks the number of open tabs versus the venue capacity to determine the mood, with 4 categories: lively, active, relaxed and quiet. So whether you are looking to hang out in the hippest joint in town or are craving a quiet romantic dinner, the app can find the perfect place for you. It’s available for Android and IOS: http://paywithdash.com/vibes/ .

And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be cool to order your next pizza with your eyes? Pizza Hut is developing technology to do just that. In a partnership with Tobii Technology, a Swedish firm that specializes in the development of retina-scanning technology, Pizza Hut hopes to be able to simplify the ordering process. By tracking where your eyes linger the longest, the technology hopes to help you build the pizza of your dreams.

If ordering with your eyes isn’t your thing, what about letting a robotic bartender make your next drink? On the new “smart ship” Quantam of The Seas, Royal Caribbean brings you B1-O and N1-C, two robots from Makr Shakr (http://www.makrshakr.com ). The robots are capable of using 30 different alcohols and 21 mixers, with an output of 2 drinks per minute.

The future of foodservice is an exciting frontier and as new technologies emerge, it only promises to become more dynamic. Who knows what innovations will come in the next year, and I cannot wait to find out.

November 19th, 2014

The Food Hall and the Social Club: Trend to Watch?

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

FOOD HALLS:

Food halls are becoming more and more popular and it’s no wonder. With the convenience of multiple restaurants and specialty shops all in one place, it is easy to see the appeal.  Typically, the food hall is set apart from a typical food court or restaurant by the fact that each stall may serve one or two items and do them very well. The mix of artisan packaged goods and tantalizing smells can lead the consumer on a multi-cultural gastronomic adventure.

The food hall is making a splash, and a big one at that, with the much anticipated opening of Anthony Bourdain’s food hall. At this time it is touting up to 50 restaurant stands. The location and stalls are being kept under wraps with an anticipated opening in 2016. And let’s not forget about the recent opening of the Chicago outpost of Mario Batali’s Eataly, an homage to all products Italian (the cheese section alone is worth the visit).

Here are a few food halls that are worth a mention:

Gotham West Market: Located in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the market features 8 stalls featuring products from the likes of Jeni’s Ice Cream, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Ivan’s Slurp Shop. Opening last fall, the market takes up 10,000 square feet on the bottom floor of a 554 unit luxury apartment building.

Website: http://gothamwestmarket.com/

Stir Market:  In a slightly different format, Stir Market offers “a modern California take on the classic European food hall experience, offering a variety of culinary choices where you can meet, dine and shop in an intimate setting. The market hall mixes epicurean retail space and a casual restaurant represented by distinctive specialty food stalls” (Website). Located in Los Angeles, it includes an espresso bar, a European rotisserie, and a craft beer and wine bar.

Website: http://stirmarket.com

Gansevoort Market: Just opened on October 14th of this year, the market is in a historic building in New York’s Meatpacker’s District and features a salumeria, sushi, creperie and lobster bar among its offerings.

Website: http://gansmarket.com/

The Hall: Dubbed a “super pop-up” that opened at the end of September in San Francisco, the Hall is equipped with a large prep kitchen and a stall for each vendor. Community picnic tables abound inside and out. Look for vendors “including an Anchor Steam bar, a fish market, a wine shop, and restaurants offering Moroccan-Peruvian fusion, Vietnamese pho, barbecue, cold-brewed coffee and pastries”. The “super pop-up” will be torn down in two years as it was built as a solution to delayed permitting issues which were preventing businesses from moving forward with construction.

Website: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Super-pop-up-food-hall-feeds-into-plans-for-5729488.php

 

Oxbow Public Market: With over 30 restaurants and specialty shops, the Oxbow Market occupies 40,000 sq. ft. of market space in the Oxbow district of Napa Valley. Expect charcuterie from the Fatted Calf and burgers from iconic road stand Gott’s Roadside.

Website: http://oxbowpublicmarket.com/

 

SOCIAL CLUBS:

Social clubs follow a slightly different format. Instead of focusing on strictly food-related experiences, these venues seek to provide complete entertainment, often including bowling alleys, bocce, swimming pools, and other sports-minded activities intermixed with quality food and cocktail programs.

Pinewood Social: This is a social club in Nashville that includes a coffee bar, dining, an outdoor pool area complete with an airstream bar, bowling alleys, a bocce ball court and living room. The kitchen is helmed by Chef Josh Harbiger, formerly of The Catbird Seat, and features food in the sharing format with whole fried chicken or pot roast to serve 4-6 with accompanying sides.

Punch Bowl Social: With locations in Austin, TX, Portland, OR, and Denver, CO, Punchbowl Social showcases gastro-pub food and an artisan cocktail program. Activities include shuffleboard, bowling, private karaoke and darts among its varied activities.

 

So, what do you think? Will food and entertainment hybrid concepts be the future of foodservice?

 

October 30th, 2014

Focus on Fall Flavors: Get Your Pumpkin On!

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

It’s that time of year! Time to roll out the pumpkin flavored products. Pumpkin has become so popular that a certain drink at Starbucks goes by the shorthand of PSL. Just search on Twitter for the hashtag #PSL and you will see what I mean. The PSL has even spawned a video parody to the song “Shake It Off”.

So what is the allure of the pumpkin? For some it can be the nostalgia of the fall season, and for others it answers to a deep-seated need for rituals. Pumpkins are associated with the fall season, so it just makes sense that consumers ring in the season with pumpkin-flavored products.

While some people do not understand the allure of pumpkin flavor others live in obsession over this humble squash. According to an article written for CNN, pumpkin’s popularity increased 14% over the past year, and 34% over the past 5 years. This translates to more and more farmland being dedicated to growing pumpkins.  Other articles call for an end to the pumpkin madness, stating that the market is over-saturated by pumpkin products.

Restaurants, including QSRs and Fast Casual alike, have definitely embraced this mega-trend for fall, so let’s take a quick peek at some of the latest products created to rival the ubiquitous PSL and a few other goodies designed to complement these pumpkin offerings.

Tropical Smoothie Café: their ‘Naughty or Nice’ seasonal promotion showcases interesting smoothies in unique flavors (Cranberry Truffle, Peaches N’ Pumpkin Spice, and Very Berry Cranberry) to complement their Pumpkin Pie smoothie. In addition, they are featuring 2 new sandwich combinations just in time for the holidays: the Chipotle Cranberry Turkey Club and the Rustic Turkey Apple Club.

Dunkin Donuts: the new Pumpkin Crème Brulee Latte and the Croissant Donut (which is set to release on Nov. 3) are featured items on the Dunkin Donuts menu. And for Halloween, they featured a pumpkin pie donut in the shape of a jack-o’-lantern as well as the Boston Scream donut filled with vanilla custard.

Quizno’s: New Pumpkin White Chip bars were released just in time for Halloween and are available for a limited time. Basically a pumpkin-flavored blondie, they are sure to be tasty.

Panera: the Turkey Cranberry Flatbread Sandwich and the Butternut Squash Ravioli are newly released items. Finish your meal with the new Caramel Apple Scone. While there are no pumpkin flavored offerings in their new menu items, they feature other traditional fall flavors.

Stevi B’s: by popular demand, they are bringing back their Pumpkin Pie Pizza, a limited-time dessert pizza with pumpkin pie filling and sweet icing.

Pie Five Pizza: also coming back for the fall season is Pie Five’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cake with warm spice notes, pumpkin pie filling, and spiced pumpkin frosting.

Regardless of whether you are firmly seated on the pumpkin bandwagon or you do not care for pumpkin flavors, you cannot deny the consumer draw of including pumpkin on your menu.