Fermentation Fervor: How Chefs Boost Flavor And Health

There’s an explosion of interest in friendly bacteria.

Beneficial microorganisms, can help us digest food, make vitamins, and protect us against harmful pathogens.

As this idea gains traction, so too does the popularity of fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Though the science is tricky, researchers are learning more about how this ancient technique for preserving food may also help promote good health.

For instance, the bacteria in yogurt have been shown to aid digestion, and making cabbage into sauerkraut by fermenting it “increases glucosinolate compounds believed to fight cancer,” explains a Tufts University Health & Nutrition publication.

So, what’s next in fermentation? Chefs and do-it-yourself enthusiasts are using microorganisms to coax new, complex flavors out of foods.

“Cooks around the world have begun to discover (or, more accurately, to rediscover) the possibilities of using fermentation processes in the kitchen,” writes Arielle Johnson, a flavor chemist, in an article titled “Artisanal Food Microbiology” published in Nature Microbiology this spring.

Johnson works for MAD, a nonprofit food organization based in Copenhagen that was founded by Rene Redzepi, the chef-patron of the acclaimed restaurant Noma.

Fermentation, she explains, is loosely defined as the transformation of food by microorganisms.”When you ferment something, you create flavour,” Johnson writes.

From soy sauces to vinegars, breads, cheeses, and, of course, wines and beers, “fermentation processes are key to elaborate well-known delicacies,” Johnson says.
Food is biologically transformed by the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in or on it. “In general, a pool of larger-molecular-weight, and usually less flavor-active molecules …. are transformed into a more diverse group of tastier, smaller molecules, such as amino acids, organic acids, esters … and aromatic compounds,” Johnson explains.

As more chefs experiment with microorganisms “to transform ingredients and create new flavors,” fermentation has gone from preservation technique to culinary tool — one that’s “every bit as essential as a paring knife or frying pan,” Johnson argues.

In addition to the innovations at Noma in Copenhagen, Johnson points to kitchens around the world, such as Sean Brock’s restaurant Husk in Charleston, S.C., Momofuku in New York, and Bar Tartine in San Francisco, that are experimenting with these techniques.

During aging a number of chemical processes transform humble ingredients. For instance, black garlic picks up caramel notes during browning. Hints of dried fruit come out. Also, natural microbes on the garlic bulb can ferment, creating more distinct flavors.
“I’m a huge fan of black garlic,” chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill. “We serve it with vegetables mostly.” Barber says he’s made his own, but he also imports black garlic from Japan, where they’re marketed under the name Fruit Garlic of Japan. It’s “insanely good,” Barber says.

So, as chefs catch the bug, academics are elevating fermentation to a higher level, too. For instance, there’s now a fermentation certificate program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

And, at the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, N.Y., there’s a new focus on the fermented product that has perhaps the widest appeal in our culture: beer. The school now offers an elective course, the art and science of brewing, taught in the newly built brewery on campus.

Students are taught the basics of brewing, with a focus on science. “I would say the most exciting development has been the ready use of wild yeast and bacteria in beer fermentation,” says Hutch Kugeman, head brewer at the CIA.

Using wild yeast and bacteria “allows a range of really interesting flavors in beers, from the tart lemon of lactobacillus to the funky barnyard aromas of brettanomyces,” Kugeman says.

So it seems from chefs to brewers, foodies are turning to microorganisms to amp up flavor.

* Abridged from an article by Allison Aubrey, NPR Food

Ten Trends Set to Reshape the Foodservice Business

Insects and plant foods are expected to move more into the mainstream.
In the future, restaurant guests will choose a diet based on their unique microbial profile.

Proteins on restaurant menus will not necessarily mean meat, but could mean crickets or plants.

And smart phones will have sensors that will allow chefs to tell when a melon is ripe or guests to verify whether that fish on their plate is really sea bass.

That’s how William Rosenzweig, dean and executive director of the Food Business School at The Culinary Institute of America, described the food industry in the very near future. He outlined his predictions at the 20th Annual UCLA Extension Restaurant Industry Conference held in Los Angeles.

Launched last year at the CIA campus in St. Helena, CA, the school is designed to meet the needs of a growing number of students interested less in culinary careers and more in rapidly changing global food systems, as entrepreneurs or corporate innovators.

Now on the CIA’s Greystone campus, the school will soon move into the 80,000-square-foot Copia facility created by wine maker Robert Mondavi as an American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in nearby Napa. The site has been vacant for about eight years.

The Northern California facility is also at the epicenter of the increasingly integrated worlds of food, agriculture and technology, with the restaurants and wine of the Napa Valley, the farms of the Sacramento Valley and the digital startups of Silicon Valley all nearby.

Here are some of the changes Rosenzweig contends will reshape the American dining scene in the next few years:

1. Biology of food is the new digital. Scientists are just beginning to understand the world of the human microbiome, the microorganisms in the body and in our food and soil that are vital to health, said Rosenzweig.

That research will lead to a new way of thinking about food that goes beyond nutritional content.

“Food will really become medicine,” he said. “We’re going to realize that we have this other intelligence in our gut that we don’t know yet what to do with.”

Farmers will begin talking about manipulating the biome of the products they produce, said Rosenzweig.

We’ll move from nutritional recommendations for society as a whole to uniquely personalized diets that speak to individual bacterial systems, he said. And consumers will eventually have their microbiome scanned, which will produce a huge database that could play into nutrition research.

2. The quantified self. With more consumers using Fitbits and Apple Watches, devices that collect individual data will increasingly play a role in consumer food choices.

3. Precision agriculture. Farms will have robots that apply fertilizer and pesticides only where needed on the fields, creating more efficiency and a path for more sustainable practices.

Rosenzweig contends indoor agriculture will become the next boom for farmers and the movement will transform cities as growers move into facilities across the country to produce truly local fruits and vegetables.

4. Meal delivery is here to stay. The logistics of moving food from point A to point B will improve rapidly, and consumers will increasingly embrace the home delivery of all manner of meals.

Already delivery has created a new meal occasion, said Rosenzweig. “It’s the ‘I don’t have time to cook, but I don’t want to go out’ meal occasion.”

5. Alternative proteins. Meat will no longer be the center of the plate, but crickets and plants will become the new protein.

“This is the biggest sea change that will come fast,” said Rosenzweig. “How long it will last and for whom remains to be seen. But we’re going to need a whole new vocabulary for these foods.”

6. Robotics. Momentum Machines later this year is scheduled to open a restaurant in San Francisco where robots cook burgers without any human intervention.

More automation is coming, said Rosenzweig, and integrating such technologies will be fraught with tough decisions for restaurant operators.

“That’s why we need the Food Business School, to better address those challenging issues,” he said.

7. The internet of food. Both residential and commercial kitchens will increasingly be connected by a network of intelligent data systems.

Already, major appliance makers are putting in sensors that will help restaurant operators manage their inventory with more precision, a trend that will significantly reduce food waste, said Rosenzweig.

9. Sensing and sensors. As soon as 2017, smart phones will be built with sensors with which people can scan food to get information. A chef could tell when a melon is ripe, for example, or a diner could identify the type of fish in their sushi. Wine makers could pinpoint the sugar content in their grapes, he said.

10. Data and personalization. Chefs will soon be able to turn to the internet to easily manipulate recipes to fit specific dietary needs. If they need a recipe for beef bourguignon, for example, that’s low in fat and uses no salt, a growing number of sources will provide that information quickly.

*Abridged from an article by Lisa Jennings: [email protected]

 

Menus Adapt to Appeal to Nation of Snackers

America is truly a nation of snackers: Adults in this country snacked on ready-to-eat foods more than 200 billion times in 2015, according to consumer research firm The NPD Group.

We snack so much that there are now three snacking dayparts in restaurants — mid-morning, late afternoon and late night — that together make up 18 percent of all restaurant dining occasions, according to NPD. That makes it one percentage point larger than breakfast in terms of number of visits. And that doesn’t count the many times when traditional meals are transformed from a sandwich at lunch or an appetizer and entrée at dinner to a flexible, sharable snack fest, or a lighter meal for the budget- or calorie-conscious.

The latter is happening at Genji Izakaya, a new restaurant serving Japanese snacks that opened on March 1 inside the Whole Foods Market at New York City’s Time Warner Center. The restaurant replaces a bar that served a meal-oriented menu of burgers, fries and the like.

Genji also operates sushi and ramen restaurants at Whole Foods Markets across the country. This is its first izakaya — a Japanese word that translates loosely as “tavern.”

The new menu includes sliders served on steamed buns for $4 apiece, filled with chashu pork, shrimp tempura, spicy chicken or tofu. It also offers quick bites for $3 to $7, including edamame, dumplings, a seared salmon “carpaccio” in ponzu, and a “taco trio” of spicy tuna, salmon and shrimp tempura served in shells of thin soy paper or nori seaweed.

Also available — and quite popular — are mini bowls of ramen for $9, which are about two-thirds the size of $11 full servings at the nearby Genji ramen and sushi restaurants.

Greg Neal, regional operations manager for parent company Genji LLC, said the Izakaya is seeing strong lunch and post-work dinner rushes.

“At lunch they usually order ramen and one other thing,” Neal said. “At dinner they’ll get a snack and a beer, and then maybe order something a little bigger as they linger, as you would at a typical izakaya [in Japan].”

Snacking revenue is on the rise at many restaurants, according to a study conducted in February by Penton Food and Restaurant Group, which includes Nation’s Restaurant News, and sponsored by Mondelez. The study found that 43 percent of restaurant operators saw an increase in revenue from snacks in the past two years, while 53 percent said snack sales were flat. Only 4 percent said snack sales “decreased somewhat,” and none said they “decreased significantly.”

Many operators have responded to the increase in snack food business.

“We take our bar food just as seriously as we do full-on menu items,” said Brian Landry, chef at Borgne, a New Orleans restaurant that is part of the Besh Restaurant Group. “We have lots of outlets where having great bar food becomes very relevant,” he said.

Bar snacks need to be quick, easy and approachable, Landry said, which at his restaurant includes catfish sliders served with a tartar sauce made with both dill pickles and bread-and-butter pickles. The sliders are topped with a green tomato chow chow, a Southern-style slaw that Landry makes by pouring a hot mixture of vinegar, pickling spices and turmeric over diced green tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and red bell peppers, and letting it chill.

He also does a take on turkey necks, a not uncommon addition to local crawfish bowls. He braises the necks in a traditional French mixture of mirepoix and red wine, chills them in the liquid, and rolls them in crab-boil spices and rice flour before flash-frying them.

“They get incredibly crispy and spicy on the outside, but they’re falling-off-the-bone tender,” Landry said.

The necks are finished with a glaze of housemade pepper jelly.

Landry also taps his bar menu, which he rotates based on what’s available, to use up trim from the dining room menu. For example, he’ll buy whole yellowfin tuna and use the loins for the restaurant.

“But there’s all this other meat on a tuna that we might not necessarily put center of the plate,” he said.

Instead, he cooks it with olive oil, garlic and bay leaves, smokes it over pecan wood, flakes the meat, and mixes it with cream cheese and capers for a spread that he serves with spiced potato chips, crackers or bruschetta.

“It’s a fun way for us to utilize the entire fish, but also to make a delicious snack that people can dig on when they’re having wine or delicious beer,” Landry said.

Dylan Fultineer agreed that snacks should be straightforward. Fultineer is the chef of Rapp Session in Richmond, Va., and its sister farm-to-table restaurant next door, Rappahannock. Both are owned by the Rappahannock Oyster Company, which farms oysters in Chesapeake Bay. The company opened Rapp Session in February to handle the overflow from its high-end neighbor, and to make that restaurant a bit more sedate.

Fultineer creates local, approachable food that people can relate to, like his smoked bluefish dip. He brines the inexpensive fish overnight with salt, sugar, dill, garlic and other aromatics, then hot-smokes it until cooked through. He flakes it and mixes it with crème fraîche, red onion, cucumber, dill and lemon juice, and serves it with saltines. The dip is one of his most popular items, he said.
Most of the bar food is priced between $2 and $8, but Fultineer offers a more substantial $15 oyster roll, which is his take on a lobster roll. He poaches oysters in butter and serves them on a brioche bun that he tops with his own chow chow, which he describes as “sort of a sweet sauerkraut,” and a housemade, fermented, green jalapeño hot sauce.

“Shareable, snacky items” will also be the focus of Columbus Tap, a restaurant slated to open in April at the Fairmont Chicago hotel, chef Atticus Garant said.

The lineup includes trendy “toasts,” including one with crushed avocado, lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, shaved radishes, hot pepper and hydroponic watercress.

Another will be spread with smoked ranch — made by cold-smoking sour cream and folding it with herbs such as tarragon, oregano, parsley and chives into ranch dressing. The toast will be topped with pieces of rotisserie chicken, Nueske’s bacon, lettuce, cured tomatoes, lemon vinaigrette and herbs.

Garant said he is using sourdough and multigrain bread from local Publican Quality Bread for the toasts.

Other snackable items include artichokes that he treats like fried chicken — soaking them in buttermilk and then dredging them in spiced flour before frying them. He also plans to make “animal crackers,” a bowl of fried pork cracklings tossed in spice dust that reflects the flavors of Buffalo wings.

According to the Penton-Mondelez study, taste is far and away the most important quality customers are looking for in a snack: 52 percent of respondents said it was the most important characteristic, and 31 percent put it in second place.

By comparison, nutrition was only ranked the top choice by 2 percent of respondents, and 17 percent put it in second place. Most put convenience and price between taste and nutrition.

Nonetheless, Garant said variety is important, and he plans more healthful items to contrast the chicken-fried artichokes and pork cracklings.

They include a braised sunchoke salad with carrot, celery root and an olive oil vinaigrette, as well as charred broccoli with an “umami bomb” vinaigrette made of sundried tomatoes, capers, tomato powder, olive oil and lemon.

He is also planning a dish of roasted romanesco broccoli, for which he rubs the heads in compound butter, roasts them whole, slices them in half and serves three halves with preserved lemon, herbed relish and Parmesan cheese.

STK, a 13-unit steakhouse based in New York City, is taking a more indulgent route with its recently launched “Classic Hour,” which features classic cocktails and, at its downtown Manhattan location, not-so-classic sliders on weekdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Bradley Day, chef of the downtown location, said the slider fillings include crispy char siu chicken with spicy Asian slaw, barbecue pork belly with a cipollini onion applesauce, tempura sweet-and-sour shrimp, and a vegetarian slider made with grilled shiitake mushroom and garlic herb aïoli, as well as a classic with white Cheddar and special sauce.

“Here I think it’s a little bit about variety and speed,” Day said. “It’s very approachable — not too far out in left field.”

Day said the restaurant originally required customers to buy two of the same type of slider for $10, but now it lets them mix and match and add extra sliders for $5 each, although they still require a two-slider minimum.

It’s not uncommon for people to buy slider tastings, Day said, which is one of each, and share them with a group.

*Abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at [email protected]

Is Fermented Food a Recipe for Good Digestive Health?

Fermenting food is an ancient tradition which involves food being stored in airtight bottles in a salty mixture for many months. Fermentation as a way of preserving food dates back thousands of years, but it is now being held up as a potentially important source of friendly, health-giving bacteria. So should we all be eating sauerkraut and kimchi?

Allowing bacteria to form in a sealed jar of vegetables over a few months might not seem like the most appealing way to create an appetising dish, but fermentation has a lot going for it. Just ask the Koreans and Japanese, who have been fermenting vegetables, fish and beans for generations. When the Korean cabbage dish kimchi is made using traditional methods, cabbage is soaked in salt water to kill off any harmful bacteria. In the next stage, the remaining bacteria, called Lactobacillus, convert sugars and carbohydrate into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them a tangy flavour that many people love. This type of bacteria is not the enemy – it is actually good for our digestion and for our health. We need it in our guts to fight off the harmful bacteria, restore the balance of our immune system and help the body to work at its best.

These “good bacteria” are called probiotics, which literally means “for life”, because of the job they do.
But are there enough of them in fermented food to make a difference?
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and author of The Diet Myth – The Real Science Behind What We Eat, says it is a complicated picture.
“There are many fermented foods out there and not many have had formal testing so it’s difficult to know what they do,” he says. “But there’s nothing harmful about them if they are produced naturally, rather than using vinegar.” Yoghurt and cheese are the products of bacterial fermentation, while beer and wine are products of yeast fermentation Fermented food comes in many forms, for example, yoghurt, sour cream, sour dough bread, vegetables, chutneys and pickles. Often probiotics are added, in the form of live bacteria or yeast, if the foods are not made using lactic acid bacteria as in kimchi. Even wine and beer can be included on the fermented list, but they are not all beneficial to the same degree – and so they cannot all be classed as healthy. The most important consideration is whether the good bacteria can survive all the way through the gut to the bowel and the colon where they have a chance to be of benefit.

Studies suggest this is not guaranteed and that probiotics would have to be eaten regularly and in quite large numbers to survive the journey. If and when they manage to breed in the gut, scientists have a theory about the role they perform.

“We think they can allow production of chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, which improve the immune system, by keeping it balanced and stopping it over-reacting,” says Prof Spector.
A great deal of research is being carried out to find out if taking probiotics can improve the health of people with specific disorders. So far it has been suggested there could be benefits for those with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory diseases of the intestines. They may also improve allergies in babies and the health of people with weak immune systems. Lactobacillus bacteria produce lactic acid through the fermentation of carbohydrates; they are hostile to disease-causing bacteria. The very sick, the very young and the very old are mostly likely to benefit from probiotics if their guts are weakened, but as yet there is little evidence they do much for a healthy person. Instead, the key may be to focus on prebiotics, which feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts, nurturing them and helping them to grow. This is an area Dr Gemma Walton, a gut microbiologist from Reading University, has been investigating and she has found encouraging evidence that a prebiotic diet can increase the numbers of good bacteria in the gut.
Bananas are another prebiotic, but Dr Walton says: “You would need to eat 10 bananas a day to get enough of the compound.”Onions, asparagus, chicory and garlic act as prebiotics too. Sauerkraut (cabbage), yoghurt, kimchi and miso soup are just some of the fermented food products which contain the live microbes needed to keep the good bacteria alive for longer. However, Dr Walton says it is difficult to know which fermented foods will hit the spot. “All foods have a different mix of bacteria which means some will be more beneficial than others,” she says, before adding that bacterial ingredients in food products were often unclear.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables
There are trillions of bacteria living in our guts and on our bodies – more than 10 times the number of body cells in one individual.”If we can help to get more fibres down there in the gut then it’s a good thing,” she adds. The answer to all this may be found in British Gut Project, which is analysing the gut bacteria of 2,000 people. The aim is to find out which species of bacteria exist in the gut and which groups in the population have the most species in their bodies. Ultimately, researchers will be able to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as a perfectly healthy gut – and what feeds it.
Healthiest nations

The plan is then to compare national gut bacteria to find out which country has the healthiest diet.
Asian diets, which have a tradition of fermented foods, appear to lead to better gut health in countries such as China, Japan and Korea, where bowel diseases are less common.
So it would be no surprise if Western diets, which are dominated by sugar and processed food, are in need of more probiotics to top up the gut’s bacterial swamp.
In the meantime, Prof Spector suggests eating a variety of things you like.
“A bit of fruit and natural yoghurt for breakfast perhaps, try kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi…” he says.

*Abridged from an article by Philippa Roxby, Health reporter, BBC News

Trending Tables for Spring

Consider The Bellwether, a Los Angeles gastropub with food that defies categorization. On the menu, there’s tempura cauliflower with mostly Thai flavors (chile, basil, fish sauce), Italian meatballs, and Octopus from the Eastern Mediterranean (with tabbouleh and preserved lemon). The Progress in San Francisco takes a similar global approach with its duck fried rice, rabbit with prune romesco, and a sunchoke roti with ranch dressing.

Many trendy restaurants this spring reflect chefs’ and their customers’ growing comfort with food from different parts of the world. Even restaurants that appear to have a specific cuisine in mind take advantage of the increasingly global American palate to blur lines: You would expect Tredici Enoteca in Philadelphia to be straight-up Italian, but the wine bar has a Mediterranean tasting board with hummus and falafel.

Atlanta seems to be on an Asian kick this spring, with chef Ford Fry dressing his tuna crudo with Thai herbs and fried shallots and Jed Hidinger using fermented shrimp broth with her rabbit — not to mention Guy Wong’s “Vietnamese brasserie,” Le Fat.

Then there are thematic mashups that might seem surprising at first but reflect the colonial past of the cuisines they represent. Indonesia was a colony of The Netherlands for centuries, and so the Dutch-Indonesian fusion at De Quay in Chicago makes sense. The small Indian state of Goa was long occupied by Portugal, and so you have the eclectic-seeming food of Oporto Fooding House & Wine in Houston.

Of course there’s plenty of regional American fare at trendy restaurants this spring, particularly southern food, and particularly fried chicken or riffs on it, such as the fried chicken coq au vin at Little Bird Bistro in Portland, Ore., or that same restaurant’s chicken-fried trout.

Also in Portland, there’s fried chicken with steamed clams (why not?) at Taylor Railworks. Soco in Orlando, Fla., has chicken-fried New York strip. Taylor Railworks, although southern in spirit, mixes things up considerably: Its chicken and dumplings comes with lobster dumplings, edamame and soy butter.

*abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Why Chobani, Nestle, and Other Brands Are Opening Brick-and-Mortar Restaurants

Walk down the aisle of any American grocery store and scattered amongst the usual gamut of brands, you’ll find products from popular restaurants. Taco Bell bottles its famous sauce packets (minus the cheeky sayings). P.F. Chang’s boxes frozen versions of its most popular menu items, like sesame chicken and shrimp lo mein. Marie Callender’s is probably better known for its freezer aisle comfort-food meals than for its actual restaurants, and even cult-loved Texas-based chain Whataburger is now selling grocery store versions of is popular sauces.

But what happens when brands, many of which are grocery-store staples, decide to leap from the aisle to the street — in the form of a brick-and-mortar restaurant?

A number of brands — including Chobani, Nestlé, and Barilla — have made the jump from product to restaurant. Popular Greek yogurt company Chobani opened a café in New York City’s Soho neighborhood in 2012 with, unsurprisingly, its yogurt front-and-center on the menu. Nestlé Toll House Café — which has 145 locations across the United States, Canada, and the Middle East — serves cookies, smoothies, and ice cream, the majority of which are made with Nestlé products.

These branded restaurants attempt to leverage grocery-store items into luxurious, upscale entities. But is it working?

The most recent brand to make the jump is Amy’s Kitchen. The vegetarian frozen food company, best known for its microwavable burritos and rice bowls, is now selling pizzas, burgers, and chili made fresh to order at the company’s new San Francisco restaurant Amy’s Drive Thru. Amy’s director of restaurant operations Paul Schiefer reveals that while Amy’s Drive Thru “uses some of the same supplies, growers, and chefs that had made our frozen food,” the menu is “pretty much from scratch.” For the restaurant, which is completely vegetarian like the frozen food offerings, the team held “over a thousand taste tests of the veggie burger alone, just to get feedback and fine-tune what we were looking to do.”

While restaurants offering grocery-store products is a way to make brands more accessible, these branded restaurants attempt to leverage basic grocery-store items — which are often not considered to be very chic — into luxurious, upscale entities. But it is working? Are these restaurants actually just one big, ongoing marketing stunt? Or are they viable concepts on their own? The answer falls somewhere in between the two.
First and foremost, these branded stores are another outlet for the companies to showcase their products. Shawnon Bellah, the COO of the Nestlé Toll House Café, says that nearly 60 percent of ingredients used — from La Lechera condensed milk to branded water — are Nestlé’s. At any given moment at Chobani’s cafe, there are at least 12 yogurt-based creations — both sweet and savory — on offer. Amy’s Drive Thru sells its popular burritos using the familiar Amy’s recipe, only freshly made. Nestlé’s high-end coffee-pod Nespresso has nine self-described “boutiques” across the U.S. that serve a range of coffee drinks, alcohol, and food. According to Nespresso vice president of marketing Davide Moro, the main focus of the boutiques (a word usually used to denote high-end, exclusive product) are the coffee pods, many of which are the same as what customers can purchase in stores and online. (Unlike Nestlé coffee, Nespresso pods can usually be purchased in “select fine retailers” as opposed to traditional groceries.)

“Anybody who walks by one of our cafés may not be 100 percent aware of the café concept, but there’s a trust factor in the Nestle brand,” says Nestle Cafe’s Bellah. Unsurprisingly, brands then use that trust factor to demonstrate, in-store, different ways the product can be used. While Chobani SoHo’s yogurt bowls feature the same product that consumers can purchase in stores, the café offers a number of yogurt bowls, like the Fig + Walnut (dried figs, walnuts, and a drizzle of clover honey) and savory takes like the Mango + Avocado (mango, avocado, olive oil, sea salt cilantro, and lime juice). Michael Gonda, Chobani’s vice president of corporate communications, also points out that “everything you see has our yogurt incorporated, from the spreads on our sandwiches to our baked goods.” The Mediterranean-influenced restaurant sells a number of sandwiches made on simit, a Turkish bagel-like bread, all come topped with labne — strained yogurt cheese — made in-house from Chobani yogurt. The yogurt is even found in the café’s dessert options, like a rice pudding.

The same goes for both of Nestlé’s restaurants. Moro notes Nespresso uses its boutiques — which can be found in cities like New York City, Miami, and San Francisco — to showcase how its coffees can be transformed into other drinks (the boutiques recently offered a peanut butter-and-jelly coffee milkshake). “You can try the drink in stores… and then we teach you how to do it, so you can do it at home.” Nestlé Toll House Cafés also makes a number of items recombining well-known products: Bellah points to the chain’s Nestle Toll House Frappé, which blends coffee with its popular Toll House cookies. However, while Nestlé Toll House Cafés share the same parent company as Nespresso, it uses Nestlé’s lower-end coffee line, Nescafé instead.

When asked why the companies created each restaurant, the spokesperson for each brand could not stop iterating — in terms loaded with brand speak — that the restaurants are meant to bring a “new experience” to customers already familiar with the brands. When a customer walks into one of the restaurants, the product is whisked away from the context of a grocery store, a place that people typically visit during the humdrum of their daily lives. Instead, they eat the product in a way that’s elevated — in the case of Chobani yogurt, it’s served a heavy glass jar, topped with “chef-created” fresh toppings, and covered with a rustic cheesecloth — and all of a sudden, it’s now an experience worth talking about. Essentially, the restaurants are attempting to craft a Pinterest-friendly aspirational lifestyle brand, through a mix of healthy and fresh-looking recipes, well-thought-out design, and luxurious ingredients.

The majority of the branded restaurants feature distinct design that help set them apart from the grocery store. For the most part, the spaces and packaging are Instagram-friendly in the way that their grocery counterparts are not. Chobani SoHo features a large glass windows, rich dark wood, and the yogurts are served in glass containers. Nepresso’s boutiques often feature wall art crafted from the colorful coffee pods and plush leather furniture. Amy’s has managed to give itself a modern and cheery makeover at the Drive Thru. Schiefer explains that the restaurant is contained within a “physically unique building,” which features a solar-panel roof, a water tower replica with the logo in bright blue letters, plenty of light wood, and large sunny windows. While the frozen meal packaging is quite dated — its more likely to appeal to those who love burnt orange and a ’70s aesthetic — the restaurant packaging is rife with bright colors and a bevy of stripes.

The lifestyle angle also allows brands to create and sell items that they can’t necessarily package and put in stores. Chobani created the simit sandwiches for its café, as well as yogurt cups with fresh toppings. Amy’s Drive Thru has a number of restaurant-only dishes, like fresh salads, milkshakes, and fries, none of which have previously been available as a frozen options. And in addition to monthly coffee drink creations, certain Nespresso boutiques also serve wine, and sparkling water, the ultimate benchmark of luxury.

However, just because the item was created for the restaurant doesn’t mean that it can’t end up on store shelves. Chobani uses its SoHo cafê as a test kitchen and “incubation and innovation hub,” as Gonda likes to say. He tells Eater that the company takes advantage of being able to directly interact with customers, testing new ways to serve the yogurt. If the recipe proves popular, it often “ends up on supermarket shelves.” One such item is the Chobani Flip, which is a container of sweetened yogurt, packaged with a combination of “crunchy” toppings that customers “flip” into the yogurt. Gonda notes, that “most of our Flips are inspired by creations at the café.”

Even though Amy’s Drive Thru has only been open less than a month, it has already inspired a new frozen item. Inspired by a customer that would top macaroni and cheese with the brand’s canned chili, Amy’s decided to add a chili-topped macaroni and cheese to its not-so-secret secret menu. While the chili mac “is not an ‘official’ restaurant menu item, it became a popular special request.” So much so that the Amy’s decided “to make a Chili Mac as part of our Amy’s Kitchen range that we are launching soon.”

So are these restaurants actually just one big ongoing marketing stunt? While the companies will say no, the restaurants provide a brick-and-mortar counterpart to a brand’s social media profile — edited, filtered, and presented at just the right angle. It is a version of the brand that really only exists in that one, heavily curated, place. And that’s just how the brands like it — so much so that the companies will continue to open restaurants. Chobani “definitely” wants to build more cafés, Schiefer admits that Amy’s Drive Thru is a concept the company wants to “take further,” Nespresso plans to “continue to open [boutiques] in major cities,” and Bellah reveals that Nestlê Toll House Café is “on track” to open 43 new locations this year.

Grocery-brand restaurants are clearly a financially viable concept and here to stay.

*Abridged from an article by Khushbu Shah, www.eater.com

Bison Is the New Beef as More Diners Choose It Over Steak

At $47, the bison filet at Eddie Merlot’s steakhouse is just as expensive as the New York strip steak. It’s also half the size. The grass-fed meat has fewer calories, less cholesterol or fat than beef, and consumers can’t seem to get enough.

Restaurants are raising prices while the meat — once a niche item — is now stocked by retailers including Whole Foods Market Inc., The Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. The growing appetite for bison is part of a wider trend toward organic foods, a small but expanding part of the food industry. Aside from the perceived health benefits, demand for such meat signals a rejection of factory-farming methods that account for most protein eaten in the U.S.

“The consumer today doesn’t trust the food industry,” said Roger Gerber, chief executive officer of Blackwing Quality Meats, a U.S. distributor of bison meat. “They can feel comfortable to know it doesn’t have hormones, it doesn’t have antibiotics.” Dining on bison isn’t entirely new. Cable News Network founder Ted Turner, owner of the world’s largest private herd, opened the first of a series of restaurants in 2002 to serve dishes such as bison short ribs and bison meatloaf.

Bison are considered a conservation success story. There are more than 500,000 in North America, according to Colorado processor Great Range Brand Bison, following the efforts of private ranchers. They were almost hunted to extinction in late 1800s, their numbers dwindling to less than 1,000. By the 1970s, the increase in herd size meant they started to be sold for meat.

What prompted Eddie Merlot’s to introduce bison five years ago was demand for healthier options, particularly from women, said Geoffrey Stiles, president of the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based restaurant chain. Its 6-ounce (170-gram) filet, for example, has fewer than 200 calories. Bison has one-third less fat than beef and the animals are raised without steroids or chemical residue, according to the Canadian Bison Association.

The animals spend most of their time grazing on forage. Low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol bison is the right choice when looking for a healthy red meat to serve.

While prices have almost doubled in the last five years, consumer demand hasn’t waned because the cost of other forms of protein — notably pork and beef — has also surged, said Tom Riemann, president of the North American Bison Cooperative, a North Dakota-based processor. “People have kind of gotten used to the prices and are willing to pay a little bit more,” Dave Carter, executive director of the Westminster, Colorado-based National Bison Association, said in an interview.

That’s just as well, because by any reasonable measure, bison is expensive. Ribeye bison steaks rose 17 percent to an average of $31.76 a pound in August compared with a month earlier, more than three times the retail price of a boneless beef ribeye, U.S. government data show. In contrast, cattle futures are down 11 percent this year in Chicago. To keep up with bison inflation, Eddie Merlot’s is raising menu prices as much as 3 percent a year. A life on the prairie has its risks, and the drought conditions that have crimped U.S. cattle supply also affected bison. Ranchers in the U.S., collectively the world’s largest source of bison meat, held 162,110 head in 2012, down 18 percent from 2007, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. imports of boneless bison meat from Canada have doubled in the past year, USDA figures also show.

But in Canada, too, availability has been constrained, with dry conditions in Alberta and a decline in the number of ranchers, according to the National Bison Association.

Supplies will probably remain tight until 2017, because it can take five years to increase herd sizes, according to Carter. Still, that supply response is already stirring. Ken Overby, a 61-year-old rancher in Manitoba, is considering expanding production after prices increased.
“All indicators are that this will probably continue for a while,” Overby said in an interview.

*Abridged from an article by Jen Skerritt, Blomberg.com

Sophisticated Breads Rise On Menus

With many Americans now avoiding gluten, and a growing number of people eschewing most carbohydrates as they follow the paleo diet, bread is less of a meal staple and more of an indulgence. Consumers are also more sophisticated and discriminating, so when they do decide to have bread, they want it to be something special.

Jana Mann, senior director of menu research firm Datassential, said she’s seeing consumers gravitate toward breads that evoke a sense of freshness, that seem premium or are ethnically inspired.

Variety and choices are also important, observed Mark Mears, chief marketing officer of Schlotzsky’s Franchise LLC, which continues to expand beyond its classic sourdough bread to offer other varieties as well.

“Bread is the undisputed foundation of every great sandwich,” Mears said. “Guests are more discriminating than ever before. They know more about food and want to explore new flavor options.”

Apart from adding gluten-free rolls to the menu, Schlotzsky’s has added ciabatta, which Mears said is more suitable than sourdough for cold sandwiches, and thus appeals to some customers who order catering.

The 337-unit Schlotzsky’s, a subsidiary of Focus Brands, also is experimenting with focaccia, flatbreads and pretzel rolls which have enjoyed a rise in popularity in recent years.

Here’s a look at how restaurants are incorporating pretzel breads and four other fast-growing bread types onto menus:

Pretzel rolls:

Other than the catchall term “artisan,” “pretzel” is a fast growing bread descriptor on menus. Pretzel bread not only has an ethnic heritage that appeals to diners; it also has a nice combination of salty flavor offset by mild sweetness that can work across proteins.

Pretzels are traditionally dipped in a lye solution that causes the outside to brown deeply and more quickly while leaving the inside soft, moist and chewy.

Talera Rolls:

The appeal of ethnic fare also appears to be at the core of the recent growth of telera rolls, the soft, thick carrier for Mexican sandwiches called tortas. Telera rolls are on 245 percent more menus now compared with four years ago — the fastest growing bread in that time period — and 17 percent more menus in the past year, according to Datassential.

Chef Torano of CBD Provisions in Dallas says telera rolls classify as comfort food among Dallas’ large Mexican-American population.“Telera rolls are used here a lot in Dallas because of the demographic,” he said. “It’s very simple to create, but on top of that I think everyone is looking for something they grew up with, something that’s easily approachable and recognizable, and telera is one of the prime examples of that.”

The straightforward roll is made simply with flour, yeast, water and a little sugar and salt, although Torano adds some shortening to his for a softer crust.“It’s great on the griddle, too,” he said.

Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery has seen so much demand for its telera rolls that it recently introduced a miniature one-ounce version.

Datassential’s Mann said other ethnic breads, from bao buns to Indian breads such as roti and naan, are being used to add slightly exotic character to familiar foods.

“Consumers can’t eat two things they don’t know, but pairing something unfamiliar with something familiar grounds it,” she said.

Conversely, she said some restaurants take familiar breads, like pizza dough, and top them with “all types of crazy ingredients,” whether it’s cheeses or veggies or sauces.

Brioche:

When it comes to premium bread, brioche rules the roost.

This rich, buttery egg bread from France is sprouting up with increasing frequency as a burger bun. But it’s traditionally a breakfast bread in France, according to Lionel Vatinet, chef of La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C.

He said that although he used to only make this bread — which typically has a minimum butter-to-flour ratio of 50 percent — on special occasions, demand is now so high that he keeps it on the menu regularly.

Doug Taylor, the new corporate pastry chef of three-unit Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grills, with locations in the Seattle area and in Portland, Ore., said he was hired in part so the restaurants could start baking its own bread.

Taylor said that although brioche is expensive to make because of the high butter content, it’s relatively easy to make and also easy to switch up its flavors. Most bread develops its flavor through slowly rising and fermenting, Taylor explained. But brioche is flavored directly by the fat, and since many flavor components are fat-soluble, brioche absorbs them easily.

Vatinet of La Farm normally flavors his with lemon zest, although for Mother’s Day he also adds dark chocolate and white chocolate. For savory brioche, he often adds thyme, rosemary or puréed garlic.

Lavash – Flatbread:

Relatively new to the trendy bread scene is the Middle Eastern flatbread lavash, which was on 20 percent more menus at the end of 2014 than at the beginning of the year, based on Datassential figures.

Although the term can refer to a variety of different breads, including soft, pliable ones, the type that seems to be catching on is more cracker-like.

Lavash was one of the first bread types Taylor began baking for Salty’s, along with brioche and multiseed, because it can be adapted easily.

“It’s an easy thing to change flavors,” he said. “You roll the dough out paper thin, which gives you a high yield. You can put sesame seed on one, peppers on another, different kinds of salt, poppy seeds [and] mustard seed,” he said. He bakes it in a 24-inch by 12-inch baking pan and then tears it into shards.

CBD Provisions’ Torano also makes lavash, but said that rolling it out is an arduous, labor-intensive process. Instead of including it in the restaurant’s tableside bread offerings, he has relegated it to his charcuterie board.

Rebecca Isbell, pastry chef of Betony in New York City, puts a fusion-style twist on the item, with her pretzel lavash.

“I wanted to give our guests something super delicious — crunchy, salty, kind of sweet and a little bitter, and earthy from a quick spray of lye,” she said.

She uses regular pretzel dough, lets it rise until it doubles in size, then rolls it out on sheet trays flipped upside down. She lets it proof until it triples in size, stretches it paper thin, allows it to dry a bit and sprays it with a 4-percent lye solution. She sprinkles it with fleur de sel and bakes it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it’s golden brown and crispy.

“They are pretty epic,” she said.

Walnut bread:

Walnut bread is spreading fast, too: Its menu presence has risen 92 percent in the past four years, according to Datassential.

Part of that spread might be due to the growing popularity of cheese and charcuterie boards. That’s where Florian Wehrli, chef of Triomphe at the Iroquois hotel in New York City, uses it. Triomphe makes a dense rye bread studded with walnuts.

He makes a dense rye bread from the Swiss canton of Valais, for which he uses his own starter and no other yeast. He uses 100-percent rye flour with no wheat added. He kneads it briefly and then adds walnut halves, forms it into loaves and bakes it. He serves it thinly sliced.

“I like it with a little plain butter on top, but with cheese or some charcuterie, with some fat content on top, it’s also good. In Switzerland, we have a lot of good cheese, so it’s perfect.”

Rabii Saber, executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando in Orlando, Fla., makes a cranberry-walnut bread for his cheese plates. He makes dense bread out of whole-wheat flour and cracked oats, sweetened with a little honey. “It’s a very rustic, country-style loaf of bread,” he said.

“Walnuts are a little bit different than other nuts because they have a little more fat content, so when you mix them in the dough they give it a rich flavor,” Saber said. Like most chefs who add fruit or nuts to their dough, Saber adds the walnuts and cranberries after the bread has risen, so it doesn’t affect the bread’s development.

* Abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at [email protected] , Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Bowls Are Booming

Kale recently claimed a spot on McDonald’s menu as an ingredient in a line of high-protein breakfast bowls the chain began testing in Southern California restaurants. One bowl features turkey sausage, egg whites, kale, spinach, bruschetta and cheddar jack cheese. Another includes chorizo and egg on a hash brown with shredded cheddar jack cheese and pico de gallo.

The items underscore a larger trend in the restaurant industry. Bowls are booming.

Counter to increased demand for handheld and sippable meals, a number of national chains have favored the format in recent launches. Earlier this year, Panera Bread introduced a line of broth bowls, including a soba noodle bowl with chicken and a lentil quinoa bowl. KFC rolled out a line of rice bowls in spicy barbecue and Tex-Mex varieties for a limited time. And Noodles & Co. unveiled its Buff Bowls, which substitute spinach for the fast-casual chain’s typical pasta and double the vegetables. Varieties include Japanese Pan with marinated steak, Tuscan Fresca with grilled chicken breast, Bangkok Curry with organic tofu, and Pesto with pork.

What’s so super about bowls?

“Customization is a growing trend, and many bowl options allow consumers to pick and choose the ingredients,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic Inc., Chicago. “Bowls also allow consumers to try new ingredients without ordering a completely foreign dish. The ability to add a new ingredient to a familiar bowl of food is a great way for a consumer to experiment without leaving their comfort zone.”

Fresh Mex bowls at Chili’s Bar & Grill, for example, offer a choice of grilled chicken, pork carnitas, seared shrimp or grilled steak, plus house-made corn, black bean salsa and pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, sliced avocado, rice, field greens, and tortilla strips, plus chipotle pesto and cumin-lime sour cream or margarita sauce.

Consumers may also view bowls as a healthy, creative and more filling alternative to salads and soups, Ms. Weikel said. A bowl containing the deconstructed ingredients of a sandwich or burrito may be perceived as a better-for-you option with fewer carbs and calories. On the Border has unveiled a new line of Border Bowls, prepared-to-order dishes made with cilantro lime rice, black beans, bell peppers, queso fresco, lettuce, pico de gallo and avocado.

Bowls also cross day parts. The breakfast menu at First Watch includes a pair of Power Bowls, which combine quinoa with chicken breast, roasted vegetables and fresh herbs.

The Energy Bowls at Jamba Juice swap the straw for a spoon. The Acai Primo Bowl combines acai juice, soymilk, blueberries, strawberries and bananas, topped with organic granola, fresh bananas and blueberries, coconut and a drizzle of honey. The Chunky Strawberry Bowl contains a blend of Greek yogurt and strawberries, bananas, peanut butter and soymilk, all topped with organic granola, bananas and strawberries. The Fruit and Greek Yogurt Bowl features nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries and bananas, organic granola and a drizzle of honey.

*Abridged from an article by Monica Watrous, Food Business News

 

Broth Is Hot – No Bones About It

There’s nothing new about bone broth except for its newfound fame. The trendy beverage has been considered a warming, satisfying food around the world for centuries, from chicken soup embellished with matzo balls to Korean ox bone soup, but it is gaining momentum with a health-conscious crowd that puts the meaty elixir on par with coconut water and green juice.

“This is essentially grandma’s remedy for everything — from a broken heart to a broken bone,” said Katherine Harvey, co-founder of Bare Bones Broth, Medford, Ore.

Analogous to soup stock, bone broths are made from roasted animal bones that are simmered for extended periods, from about 12 to 48 hours, with the goal of extracting the nutrients, minerals, gelatin, collagen and amino acids. What was once considered just a base for stews, soups and gravies has become the drink of 2015, now widely viewed as a healing, nutritional champion.

“It’s a health beverage,” Ms. Harvey said. “That’s how people are viewing it now.”

“Broth is part of the real foods, whole foods and slow foods movements, and also of nose-to-tail eating,” said Kaayla T. Daniel, co-author with Sally Fallon Morell of “Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World.” “Science supports chicken soup’s reputation as Jewish Penicillin and healers have known for thousands of years that it can help us recover from colds, flu and other acute illnesses.”

Less well known, she asserted, is that cartilage and other components found in homemade bone broth may help prevent and even reverse a range of chronic illnesses. Such beliefs, many of which are not yet supported by the medical establishment, are the foundation for bone broth’s renewed reputation as liquid gold that is a cure all for ailments, including gut wellness and joint health.

Though nutritionists don’t agree about the many health claims surrounding broth, many in the food industry agree this is more than a passing fad as consumers look to the past for answers to today’s health issues. As one of the few manufacturers of broth that’s shipped direct to consumers, the co-founders at Bare Bones Broth quickly realized there was a consumer desire for traditional sipping broths, as they are called.

Soon after Chef Marco Canora opened Brodo (Italian for broth) in New York City last year to much fanfare, Bare Bones was ushered into a period of steep growth, outgrowing their manufacturing plant and experiencing a 1,600% increase in sales in just over six months, Ms. Harvey said.

Inspired by the Paleo diet and boosted by celebrity and athlete endorsements — it’s Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant’s pregame meal and part of Gwenyth Paltrow’s winter detox menu — the sipping broth trend has hit the mainstream. Brodo sells artisanal broth from its East Village walk-up window in to-go coffee cups priced from $4 for a small chicken broth to $9 for a large beef broth, dressed up with flavorful add-ins like ginger juice, freshly grated turmeric, bone marrow and Calabrian chile oil.

Fresh Thymes Eatery in Boulder has added a broth bar. Others, like JoLa Café in Portland, Ore., and the Belcampo Meat Co. butcher shop in San Francisco, are now serving freshly made broths by the cup to customers wanting in on the trend that’s turned soup stock into a daily staple for some.

“While coffee and tea will always be king and queen of savory hot beverages, the market has a thirst for something new and interesting,” said Gerrie Bouchard, marketing manager for Eatem Foods Co., Vineland, N.J.

The manufacturer of flavor systems debuted new chicken, beef and pork bone stock concentrates at the Research Chefs Association’s annual convention and tradeshow held in late March in New Orleans, served as sipping broths in which herbs, vegetables and spices were added to create French, Thai and Latin-flavored savory “teas.”

Ms. Bouchard said the trend has staying power in part because the rich, satiating profile is highly craveable.

“The health aspect is an added bonus as people are becoming more and more cautious about their health and wellness,” she said.

Commercially prepared bone broths that focus on sipping hit retail shelves in 2014 with Pacific Foods’ new Organic Bone Broth line, which includes five shippable flavors in 8-oz cartons and two 32-oz options for cooking applications. The five flavors include: chicken, chicken with lemongrass, chicken with ginger, turkey, and turkey with rosemary, sage and thyme.

“As a bone broth, we didn’t attempt to make this product different from other sipping bone broths, as we wanted to keep it as true to traditional recipes as possible,” said Ben Hummel, brand manager for Pacific Foods.

However, compared to other commercial products Pacific’s features far more protein than traditional broths, roughly 9 grams compared to the average 1 to 2 grams, and the large size has no added salt.

Mr. Hummel said the response from bone broth-loving customers has been nothing short of outstanding.

“We’ve witnessed some consumers literally clear out shelves of our bone broth in grocery stores, and the sales to date have far exceeded expectation.”

*Abridged from an article by Anna Klainbaum, Food Business News