February 3, 2018
from Chef Kevin Wassler
Sure, there are still old-fashioned diners and coffee shops where you can get a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast for $7.99, but breakfast has taken a big turn since that was the normal thing.
Sure, there are still old-fashioned diners and coffee shops where you can get a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast for $7.99, but breakfast has taken a big turn since that was the normal thing.
As a Chef, I have seen my share of service blunders. As a consumer, I now experience these missteps in a completely different light.
Ever since local farm-to-table sourcing became more popular with so many Chefs, there have also been more ethnic twists on menus. This is more than just a trend. It’s partly the Chef’s ambition to be innovative, but it’s also being driven by the competitive need to make farm-to-table ingredients more distinctive. If everyone else in your marketplace is using the same sweet potatoes or kale or tomatoes, how can you set yours apart and stay ahead?
From the bar menu to an ideal on-the-go snack, jerky is joining the conversation as one of the biggest competitors to go against potato chips and the snacking industry. Jerky is hitting the shelves, menus, televisions and dehydrators at a notable rate, and for very good reason— it is salty, crave-able, and flavorful.
Chef Michael Solomonov has been an inspiration to me and the Philadelphia food scene for over a decade. He has a proven ability to elevate simple dishes like hummus and Laffa bread to iconic status with an almost cult-like following. Instead of researching and following the current trends, Michael and his business partner, Steve Cook, seem to instinctively know where things are going and adjust accordingly. Their organization is one that creates trends rather than follows them.
We often hear that bolder flavors are trending in the long-term care channel, but comfort food is still a staple of most senior living centers across the country. So when will the switch actually occur?
Soups have been an integral part of menus since the beginnings of the first restaurant. In fact, the word ‘restaurant’ is a derivation of the French word, ‘restaurer’ which means ‘to restore’. The original restaurants in France oftentimes were humble enterprises that served soup to restore one’s vigor and quell hunger pangs until more hardy offerings could be obtained. Today, soups are a great way to restore profitability to your bottom line.
From Maryland to California and down to Florida, I was lucky enough to stumble across some pretty interesting culinary items over the summer. Whether a chef or an artist, it’s amazing to see how people are adapting, revolutionizing, or repurposing products and ideas to make something new. Here are just a few that I saw along the way.
Capturing the taste of live-fire cooking requires chefs to take control and embrace risk. “It’s more challenging than sauté or pan frying. It’s like cooking without a net,” says Minor’s Executive Chef Brian Dragos. He’s been intrigued with live-fire cooking since working at a mesquite grill in Arizona. “With live fire there are some risks with burning hazards, overcooking and drying out food. It requires direct and indirect cooking.” But there are also rewards. “Flavor should be the top priority,” says Dragos.
Sauces and condiments add oomph to recipes, and to sales! Learn the latest variations on classics, along with new ideas to keep adventurous patrons’ palates happy.
Kitchens of the Caribbean celebrate a history of the world’s flavors and cooking styles. Recipes passed from indigenous people are infused with food influences that can be traced to Colonial, African, and Asian cultures. The islands hold a culinary tradition worth exploring.
We are pleased to announce Chef Ralph Feraco, CEC, AAC, has been named the national winner of the prestigious Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award.
Arby’s surprising announcement that it is testing a venison burger(!) in a small number of locations is proof that there’s still plenty of mileage left in the old better burger trend. Built from a steak sourced from farm-raised deer and topped with frizzled onions and a sweet-tart berry sauce reminiscent of the Cumberland sauce that’s traditionally served with game, the new specialty—whether it’s widely accepted by mainstream consumers or not—also suggests the many ways in which food service operators can build their own signature burger specialties.
Recently, I sat down and explored many of food documentaries available on Netflix. After watching a couple, I came across one which focused on the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Now I’ve never been interested in pursuing a vegetarian diet, and for me, even the thought of giving up meat seemed unnatural. That being said, I became interested in the day-to-day lives of vegetarians. I was curious how vegetarians feel about their menu options and how keeping a vegetarian diet shapes their out-of-home dining habits. I speak to a lot of operators, and to some, offering fantastic vegetarian dishes is important. For others, not so much.
Asian noodles, where do we even begin? Ramen-ya, soba, udon, rice sticks, cellophane noodles, somen, spring roll wrappers, Chinese egg noodles, rice noodles— it goes on and on. Noodles are a meal-time staple in Asian cuisines. Morning to midnight, all year round. Whatever the season, the drop-in-the-pot convenience of noodle cookery is perfect for busy American kitchens, too.
Minor’s® Flavor Expedition recipe contest returns! This year chefs will compete for a chance to win a trip to one of six top U.S. culinary destinations, where the winner and one guest will enjoy a ‘food safari’ exploring the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of one of the top food scenes in America. The prize package includes airfare, accommodations for four nights, and a curated trend spotting tour of their selected market.
It’s time again to nominate your favorite ACF Chef for the Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award, presented by Minor’s and the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
Are you a propane or natural gas griller? Do you go for the ‘slow and low’ of charcoal— natural or briquettes? Or do you prefer to stoke the flames from a good old wood burner? And let’s not forget about you smokers out there. To smoke, or not to smoke— how does that fit into your grilling experience?
Today’s consumers, especially millennials and Gen Zers, want new taste experiences. As a result, flavor enhancers are surging in popularity. These ingredients provide restaurants with a low-cost, easy-to-execute way to differentiate menus. They also make capitalizing on industry-wide trends, such as the global-flavor craze, easier than ever for chefs to manage.
Millennials have far surpassed any other living generations including baby boomers by just under 8 million (U.S. census) as the largest in our nation’s history. It should probably not come as a surprise that millennials are far more diverse than any other generation in our nation’s history. And they also eat out more.
It is amazing to see how many chefs are picking up on house-fermented foods. Whether operators are curing their own pickles or kimchi, creating savory yogurts, or experimenting with in-house vinegars and fish sauce, there is little argument that fermentation is back - and justifiably so.
California is a chef’s paradise. Just about any ingredient can be sourced locally. Imagine fresh fish purchased off a boat, year-round Farmer’s markets, the finest meats and finely crafted cheeses. A profusion of cultures, ingredients and flavors from around the world make a cuisine mosaic that at times is hard to define but easy to enjoy.
Everyone has heard the traditional wedding rhyme, “Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue…and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” Years back when I worked at sea with the Military Sealift Command as a culinary instructor, we used this rhyme to help Chief Stewards write and balance their menus. Here’s how it translates:
Chef Ralph Feraco, CEC, AAC, has been named the southeast region’s Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award winner by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) during ChefConnect: New York, Feb 27-28th. As the ACF southeast region winner, Chef Feraco is now a finalist to receive the national award.
Chef Scott Ryan, CEC, AAC, has been named the northeast region’s Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award winner from the American Culinary Federation (ACF) during ChefConnect: New York, Feb 27-28th. As the ACF northeast region winner, Chef Ryan is now a finalist to receive the national award.
What an amazing experience to be a part of— I’m not sure where to even start. The atmosphere was what I would imagine a World Cup soccer game would be like. Raucous fans with painted faces. Vuvuzelas blaring. Trumpets and drums. Thunderous cheering for their country and their Chefs.
If you haven’t been to a college campus lately, you may be surprised to see that many campus dining halls have ethnic menus that mirror those of top restaurants. Students and faculty alike are willing to try different options when ordering food on a daily basis—and like the variety to keep things interesting. Asian, Japanese, Latin, and Indian flavors are among some of the global options available today. In fact, many have been on these schools menus for a few years.
And the best operators have mastered the integration of authentic global flavors with customization and down-home comfort foods— all at once.
With that in mind, I took to Nestle Professional’s Action Stations website for a similar approach. The 7th and latest concept is a Snacking Action Station, which features easily executable concepts that allow operators to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner dayparts— or create new opportunities into the evening. Some of my favorites include the microbrew fondue, savory waffles, and okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese street food—a type of savory pancake, whose main ingredients are flour, eggs and cabbage (for extra umami). You may have seen it featured in culinary magazines lately as it has appeared in several trend reports. The name itself means “what you like” (okonomi) and “grill” (yaki)—which is very appropriate.
Traditional preparation does not use okonomiyaki flour at all, but instead uses regular wheat flour plus freshly grated nagaimo or yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam) to get the sticky glutinous texture that holds everything together. You can also use regular flour, but I recommend adding yam or potato starch— or even rice flour.
Customizing this batter is one way you can offer some dynamic flavor options, and Minor’s bases and flavor concentrates are a great solution. Bacon, mushroom, shrimp and vegetable bases can all be whisked in while mixing the batter. And Minor’s newest RTU sauces (Korean-style BBQ, Chinese Char Sui, or Pad Thai Sauce) can be used to enhance the proteins as a glaze or finishing sauce.
The foodservice directors that I shared these okonomiyaki concepts with found them intriguing— whether as themed entrée options in some outlets, or as late night offerings. All the while delivering authentic global flavors that are simple to prepare— that are so popular in today’s campus feeding programs.
Come early January, when it’s 4 degrees in Chicago, -6 in Bismarck, and mid 30’s here in Northern California (no snickering now, that’s cold for us!) it’s time to break out your stock pot and make one of my favorite menu items— soup. Certainly one of the most comforting meals you can have. Remembering those cold winter days growing up (I grew up in New Jersey) and thinking about my mom or grandmother making a big pot of chicken noodle soup, or a rich minestrone, or a pot of clam “chowda” (the New England version) and thinking there could be no other meal as satisfying as this.
People often ask me what my favorite type of food is, or what type of food I like to cook. The truth is, like many Chefs, it depends. It’s like trying to pick a favorite song. Food is like music, as they both give you an experience while you enjoy them. It depends on the time of day, time of year and my current mood. Some days, AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip plays on repeat, while others might be a John Fogerty or Willie Nelson kind of day. Restaurants and Chefs work very hard to give everyone a great dining experience. After all, eating out has become a form of entertainment for many. Enjoying the company you’re with, restaurant ambiance, and the proper steps of service all add to the overall dining experience.
Within the culinary lexicon we find terms like ‘adobo’ carry a variety of meanings depending on your point of reference. Different meanings are influenced by origin, usage and history. ‘Adobo’ is a term that, given the audience and/or Chef, can mean entirely different things.
Make no mistake: Mexican and other familiar Latin cuisines are hotter than ever on mainstream menus. But it’s not just familiar fan favorites like quesadillas and guacamole that have become more prevalent. As the Hispanic culture continues to grow in the United States and consumers become more comfortable with once-exotic ingredients like chiles and cilantro, Latin food is becoming more exciting. Mexican food, in particular, is undergoing a transformation, from standard Tex-Mex burritos and combo plates to more authentic regional specialties and creative, chef-driven interpretations.
My whole early career was based on ‘OTJ’—aka ‘On the Job’ training. The same kind that most people receive when they start a foodservice job. I followed a waitress when I was a busser or helped another dishwasher when I washed dishes. Later, I followed my father around as I learned my first pantry position. My introduction to culinary terms was rather helter skelter—a mix of English and French (and even at times German). I was only exposed to what was currently needed or what was used for the current position. Even at 14, I excelled in the kitchen. Looking back, I always thought it was just me and the quality of training I received from my father, American Sous Chef and French Chef mentors.
Approaching food from a nutrition, health & wellness perspective drives many to seek out ways to make food fit the evolving health expectations of our customers. Too often these strategies focused solely on subtraction: “What can I remove from my dish to meet dietary expectations?”
Regular visits with customers grants me extraordinary access into a wide spectrum of operations—and the ability to experience the diversity of foods and cooking styles they offer. Be it the complexity of a commissary kitchen, the wonderful smells that seep out of a BBQ wood smoker, or the madness of small kitchens.
One of my favorite places to go to experience a variety of great food, art, street entertainers or just a casual stroll on the boardwalk is Asbury Park New Jersey. Once a rundown town, Asbury has gone through a major renaissance and has recreated itself as a premier stop on the Jersey Shore.
The United Nations designated 2016 as the ‘International Year of Pulses’ according to a recent article on www.WTOP.com. Pulses, for the uninitiated, are the edible seeds of plants (such as dried peas, lentils and chickpeas) in the legume family. This global superfood serves many purposes. Their high fiber and protein count makes them an excellent nutritional choice; they are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve the soil and help boost the yield of other crops; and they are cheap to harvest at only pennies per serving. These reasons combined are why experts believe dried beans can bridge the gap between hunger and obesity worldwide. If ever there was a perfect food, pulses are it.
Congratulations are in order! On July 17th, Minor’s® and the American Culinary Federation (ACF) honored Chef Dominick Laudia, CEC, AAC with the national Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award. The executive chef at the Boca Grove Golf and Tennis Club in Boca Raton, Florida, Chef Laudia becomes the 27th Chef to earn this honor.
Chef George M. Sideras was recently inducted into the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, at its 54th Annual Reunion in Orlando, Florida. This international organization derives its name from the stylistic white Chef’s hat know as a toque. The Order of the Golden Toque is a group of dedicated accomplished culinarians joined together to pursue excellence in the culinary profession and to further instill in Chef peers and young culinarians the desire to excel in the Chef profession. There is no doubt that Chef Sideras deserves this award, as his service to Minor’s, Nestlé Professional, the ACF and to his profession has been exemplary for the past 10 years.
We stand there glaring at the pot, or the sauté pan, or the mixing bowl. “It’s missing something.” That ‘something’— an extra flavor component— would make this dish perfect. What if you were to combine all of those flavors into one convenient package?
The best part of my job is that I am able to talk with, learn from, and befriend chefs from all types of backgrounds and kitchens. I’m able to learn about what drives their operations and what makes them stand apart from one another. The beauty of working as a Minor’s chef is that we have ingredients which can be used in creating all cuisine types. Here in Texas, we are fortunate to have great food and great chefs from all over the world. However, one standout cooking method that Texas is famous for is Texas barbecue.
Sandwiches have always been, and continue to be, one of the most popular items on most any menu in the western world. Sandwiches cross every time zone and every day-part— from a Croque Monsieur or soft-shell crab po’ boy, to a lamb gyro or late night PB & J— anything you can pick up that resembles a sandwich has the potential to be a winning menu addition.
The time is here! It’s time to nominate your friends and colleagues for the 2017 Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award presented in conjunction with the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
Growing up around New York and being a Chef in New York City— only to relocate to San Francisco for a Chef position opening restaurants—has left a heavy influence of Asian and Hispanic culture in my cooking. So many great ingredients to use; so many versatile cooking techniques and varied cooking apparatus; so many great aromas and tastes!
Steamed buns, in any form, are a versatile and very interesting food item. In Asia, steamed buns are filled with a variety of seasoned meat and other foods— all of which are designed to give big flavor. They’re seen on almost every street corner in the East and are a popular item on every dim sum menu. Most traditional dim sum steamed buns feature a filling that is completely enveloped by the bun, but “butterfly style buns” are gaining in popularity. Butterfly buns are folded and are more easily adapted to our Western tastes because they accept many of the foods that our diners already know and love.
While toasting marshmallows over a fire during a recent snow storm, I was reminded of an amazing lecture I saw online by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist in Rio de Janeiro, a few years ago. She described how fire, and more importantly, cooking with fire, has allowed the human brain to evolve over any other species in the animal world.
In my travels I see a mix of fusion-style menus in causal and fast casual restaurants. Often the menus lack the skill of classical cuts and sauces. Other than the occasional Eggs Benedict (which are now being cooked in the shell in a 64c water bath), where are the rest of the classic sauces and dishes? Sole Veronique, Steak Oscar, Beef Wellington, Bordelaise Sauce, Bechamel Sauce?
While working recently with a group Chefs we developed a simple, yet very flavorful chimichurri butter that has the flavor of both traditional herbs and roasted beef. Roasted beef? That’s right. And it is stable enough to perform throughout service without separating. Here’s how we did it.
As a Chef, one of my greatest pleasures is to cook with passion and energy, making diners smile, and satisfying all of their senses. Why else would we spend our careers working long hours over hot stoves with clamor and chaos all around us?
The Pour House in Westmont, New Jersey, captures most trends in today’s culinary charge and executes flawlessly! I recently went on a culinary journey around my home state of New Jersey and came across this great restaurant & bar.
I first heard the term ‘sous vide’ back in the late 1970’s; some kind of European boil in the bag technology that was going to change cooking as we knew it. As a classically trained chef, I waited and waited here in Arizona but nothing happened. I locked the term in my brain until just a few years ago as similar news started coming around. However, this time around I heard it being discussed by Chefs I knew.
I would like to say that all the points my learned associates have shared are strong and well-reasoned. My main point against marinades is that they do not impart much flavor without the use of phosphates and vacuum tumbling.
Tough call on this one, I could play both sides of the fence. In my opinion it really depends on the cut used and application.
I ran across an article by Russ Parsons, food writer for the LA Times. He’s a very knowledgeable writer and I found his piece, “The truth about marinades: Most are a waste of your time”, particularly interesting. What it says, in summation, is that marinades don’t contribute to the overall flavors of food and can be harmful to the texture.
Sitting next to a fellow “out of towner” at a local tavern in Minneapolis recently, I questioned his order for dinner of “just” a bacon cheeseburger. With a menu full of unique options, why the old American stand-by? We discussed the different options available as a consumer— the blends of beef (let alone the specialty options of turkey, bison or Kobe); the variety of breads and buns; the distinctive list of toppings, cheeses and sauces. You’ll spend 20 minutes just trying to create your very own unique burger.
I read recently that Americans waste 31-40% of the annual post-harvest food supply. As of 2010, Share our Strength reports that 16.2 million children (1 in 5 households) lack the means to get nutritious meals on a regular basis. In other words, we waste more food and have a greater hunger problem than most developed countries. How do we bridge the gap between food waste and hunger to turn one problem into a benefit for the other? Here are a few suggestions for chefs and operators to consider:
As anyone who travels extensively can tell you, New Orleans is one of the culinary meccas for culinary professionals and foodies alike. Recently I attended the annual Research Chefs Association (RCA) conference, which was hosted in New Orleans. Just in case my boss is reading this, yes, I did go to the conference and attend all the sessions— it wasn’t just about eating. Well it really is about eating, but gaining knowledge is important too.
I recently attended the annual Research Chefs Association (RCA) conference in New Orleans. I know many of you are wondering, “how could you deal with such hardship?” Well, this is one cross I am willing to bear.
In our overly connected world, travel serves more purposes than just a break from work and sightseeing. Vacations aren’t just for relaxing or sightseeing. Today, travel is more about experiences. Experiential travelers, like experiential diners, want to venture beyond the beaten paths and dive deeper into authentic local culture, connecting with people other cultures in ways that enrich their lives and create lasting memories.
Taste and flavor have a complex and dynamic interrelation. On one hand, we can view it as a mere chemical reaction, yet it’s so much more than this. We can understand the biological functions of the tasting mechanism but flavor is a complex interaction of social, emotional, and cultural experiences.
Before I left New Orleans I asked the valet at my hotel where the locals go for a good breakfast. Without a minute’s hesitation he gave me the name of what turned out to be my favorite restaurant of the whole trip, The Ruby Slipper Cafe.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to compete in a culinary event. Like any chef visiting New Orleans I was looking forward to trying out some of the local restaurants— perhaps one of those hidden gems that the locals all know about but never seem to make it onto the main travel guides. I was fortunate in that I had other foodies along who knew the local haunts and had made reservations in advance with some of the well-known chefs in the area. When I looked back on this trip, there was one common thread throughout the competition and my restaurant excursions: Hollandaise Sauce is hot and on everyone’s menu as much today as it ever was.
Foodscaping is not a word you hear every day. It’s the practice of incorporating edibles into your decorative landscaping—and we’re not just talking for the deer. The concept harkens back to the early 1980’s, but has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years thanks to a downturn in the economy and growing trends of farm-to-table and urban farming.
You may be feeling the urge to say close the book on those hearty winter stews, but you don’t have to cut out soup altogether from your menu. Just because warmer days ahead doesn’t mean you can’t make some delicious soups. Take advantage of the season’s fresh bounty to make light, healthy soups that celebrate the flavors of summer.
You can hardly pick up a food blog or an article today without reading about the new, wondrous miracle cure—bone broth. As this trend gains strength and popularity, many sweeping claims of medical miracles and access to micronutrients run rampant. Looking past these claims (real or perceived), I believe that there is a more fundamentally sound reason as to why this trend has become so popular.
The Culinary Institute of America holds a number of events to support the development of our young culinarians. A recent event was called “Run for Your Knives.” It was a 5K run for current students and alumni held in conjunction with the CIA’s homecoming weekend that featured a number of other events.
I’ve spent some time lately—at home and on the job—cooking with our newest Latin Flavor Concentrates. As you can imagine, I’ve become pretty familiar with what they can do and how easily they can crank up the flavor in many dishes. But it sometimes takes more than my word to convince others of everything Minor’s® Flavor Concentrates can do. It’s hard for them to understand how such big flavor can come from such a small amount of product—not to mention with such little effort.
As I was setting up for an ACF meeting, Carlton Brooks, CEPC, CCE, ACE and Pastry Instructor for EVIT, told me he had begun experimenting with adding Minor’s® to his bread recipes to kick up the flavor component. In one recipe he added Minor’s Lobster Base to rich, buttery classic brioche bread, and in another he added Minor’s Red Chili Adobo Flavor Concentrate. He wondered if I had ever added a Minor’s Base or Flavor Concentrate to one of my bread recipes.
On November 8th, the 2nd annual Minor’s ACF Colorado Chefs and Cooks Association contest was held at the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. The Cook Street School has a lot of charm, including a unique stadium-like kitchen. I had a great time networking with all of the chefs while I facilitated the event.
I had the honor of attending and presenting for Minor’s® at the 2014 Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Conference. It was held at the perfect location—The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in San Antonio, Texas. The school is on the grounds of the Pearl Brewery, one of the oldest breweries in Texas that opened in 1881.
Last month I had the honor of receiving the 2014 Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award. Today I’d like to invite you, my fellow chefs, to nominate someone you think embodies the spirit of the American Chef for the 2015 Chef Professionalism award.
Have you challenged one of my soups for the MINOR’S® Soup Recipe Contest? If not, take a look at how I used butternut squash and banana to get my bisque ready for battle. Enter your recipe before September 1st for a chance to win a trip to Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France.
Behind the Battle: Have you braved the battle? If not, there’s still time to challenge one of my recipes for the chance to win a trip to watch the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyon, France. Simply enter your own soup creation into the MINOR’S® Soup Recipe Contest by September 1, 2014.
MINOR’S® Chef Steve Skomski knows how to get creative in the kitchen—especially when it comes to soup. For the MINOR’S Soup Recipe Contest he developed ten surprising soup recipes, each with a twist on the traditional. Think you can take them on? Challenge Chef Steve by creating your own soup recipes and you could win a trip to the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyon, France.
As the summer season starts so do my cravings for the local farmer’s fresh, sweet corn. Florida corn has already hit grocers’ shelves but I’ll hold off until early August for the sweetest, crispest ears straight from the wagon on the side of the road.
Behind the Battle: Are you battling for Bocuse d’Or? If you plan on entering the MINOR’S® Soup Recipe Contest with a chance to win a trip to watch the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyon, France, you might be interested to know my inspiration for the Clam Chowder with Miso.
Flavor is near and dear the hearts of every chef. So when someone declares a war on flavor, as one student did during our Latin Flavors presentation at Georgia Southern, it’s time to fight back the only way we know how.
One of the great rewards of being part of the MINOR’S® chef team is the ability to travel and meet our loyal and talented operators. Call it “culinary physics,” but there’s no denying the creative dynamics you can achieve when you get a group of passionate people together to discuss their theories on food, business and their latest inspirations for the kitchen.
Earlier in my career I was fortunate to live in Germany and at this time of year I fondly reminisce of that experience. I lived near the town of Spyer, reputed to be the “Spargel Kapital Das Welt”. In Germany, “Spargel” means asparagus, and that always means white asparagus. Green asparagus (known locally as “gruner Spargel”) is much less popular. Every spring the whole town, like many towns in that region, hosts a Spargelfest, or white asparagus festival. During this time just about every restaurant in town, for the whole week and some beyond, will offer a special “spargelkarte” or asparagus menu in addition to their regular menu.
As Spring warms up the soil (finally!!) and the trees throw out their leaves a marvelous event takes place as the first spears of asparagus spring from the surface. So sure a sign of spring and a return to all things gastronomically wonderful and restorative are those first shoots that Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, both avid farmers, used to have a friendly competition as to who would see the season’s first asparagus make it to the dinner table each spring. Jefferson liked nothing better that to have his friend over to dinner and surprise him with a tender, early crop of that vegetable that he so learned to love during his years in France. So it has always been for that most noble of vegetables!! King Louis XIV famously asked the royal gardener La Quintinie to provide him with fresh asparagus even in December; forcing the great gardener to design indoor hot beds to provide the royal table year round with the King’s favorite go-to vegetable. And so it goes even today….
As the snow melts and the studded tires get put away, the at-home gourmets dust off their BBQs and brace themselves for that special time of year. The time of year when all bets are off and the race for the freshest, most flavorful ingredients is on. Spring. From Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon the food scene is flooded with new dishes, recipes and concepts that are showcased with passion.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach a CEU accreditation class at the ACF of Arizona’s Advantage Waypoint. I shared a few trade secrets and wise words, and decided to share some of the highlights with you.
On January 10th, 2014, a unique showdown concluded the 3rd Annual Skidmore College Culinary Conference and Competition in the stunning exhibition kitchens of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. In this culinary competition, Chef teams of four, many representing top Northeast colleges and universities, sought after the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals awarded by the American Culinary Federation panel of Master Chefs in addition to the top prize for the Most Creative Latin Dish, which I had the honor to present. For the third year in a row, I judged each member of the winning four-person team in much the same way as the ACF judges, but with one interesting twist that considered the level of creativity displayed in their menu. The way the four winners built flavors and achieved extraordinary results while using the selected MINOR’S® flavors earned them the sought-after annual prize of a brand new matching 10-piece professional knife set. The MINOR’S brand was proud to award the knives to each deserving chef just for doing what they love—cooking good food with great flavor!
The First Annual ACF Colorado Chef’s MINOR’S Culinary Challenge was held on December 7th at the Arts Institute in Denver. I had the pleasure of facilitating the event and extend thanks to all who helped make it a success!
I will admit that I am tired of the heavy focus on “food fusion” these days. Why can’t we just cook food how it was intended to be prepared, and keep our focus on proper cooking techniques? Well, I decided to try something against my own beliefs, and before I knew it Italian met Latin. I was experimenting with traditional crêpe Manicotti and ended up with Three-Cheese Jalapeno Crepes with Smoked Tomato Poblano Coulis. It turned out to be incredibly flavorful as well as extremely versatile because, ultimately, you can stuff the crêpes with anything you’d like. I was so thrilled with the results that I had to share my discovery with you. Enjoy!
As skiers and boarders return to the slopes this season, with visions of white powder and untracked runs, they also return to the lodge with a renewed hunger for bold flavors. Tired of the same old selections, resort operators are searching for ways to inspire guests to dine at their restaurants and cafés.
Taco trucks/shops are becoming the brick and mortar of every street corner in America these days. Why, you ask? Chefs and culinarians are making their dreams and inspiration come alive with amazing culinary masterpieces.
I spent the day at a food show revealing our new Latin Flavor Concentrates. Two very simple dishes of note were Adobo-rubbed Pork Carnitas with Poblano Slaw, and Shrimp Ceviche. Our customers were amazed at how much flavor could be extracted from two dishes that took less than 30 minutes of actual prep time. The pork shoulder was rubbed with our Red Chile Adobo Concentrate and No Added MSG Chicken Base, stewed in a slow cooker for 5-hours, picked and reheated with more Adobo and the remaining stock. It was then topped with a retail-ready, shredded slaw mix infused with our Fire-Roasted Poblano Concentrate. The Ceviche utilized 51-60 cooked shrimp, fresh-packed salsa from the grocers produce department, fresh-squeezed lime juice, a touch of the No Added MSG Shrimp Base and our Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Concentrate.
It’s essential to “mise en place,” French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking. Kitchens today need to provide speed of service. What better way than having all the ingredients ready before your guests arrive?
Tapas restaurants and menus have been exploding all over the country lately, so I decided to visit a couple in my own backyard. I ranged from high-end restaurants such as Opa! and Jose Garces’ Amada in Philadelphia, to a more down scale, surfer-vibe restaurant called Surf Taco right here in Toms River, NJ. I saw that tapas doesn’t just describe Latin Cuisine any more. I found “small plates” in Greek, American and Italian restaurants as well. Items ranged from small fish tacos with a poblano aioli served in a plastic basket lined with parchment paper, to Feta Steak Fries, Grilled Octopus, Mini Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Pesto, and Crab Stuffed Piquillo Peppers baked in a clay dish. Each place was unique and had its own flare to it, which made each experience an adventure. What was common among all the restaurants was that it seemed like the Tapas brought fun into food. There was nothing pretentious about it. There were big, bold flavors incorporated in so many ways, representing so many international cuisines, with moderate to low prices, that they allowed everyone to enjoy many dishes. Tapas, Tapas, Tapas!!!
I was in Las Vegas for almost a week attending the recent ACF National Convention, and while I was there I had a few meals from a few restaurants, perhaps a bit more than a few, including some fine restaurants with celebrity chefs. One meal in particular cost more than 2 car payments and it only fed 3 of us! But the most memorable dish, the item that was lip-smacking good and really knocked me back was also the most simple. I wanted to replicate it right away.
Every organization has one and if it is lucky, several. You know them not because they are out front, grabbing the limelight but in the background, quiet, steady, meticulous. These are the people that make the magic happen day in and day out. These are the Ricky Perezes of the world.
Adobo is a savory, all-purpose seasoning that imparts chiles, herbs and garlic flavor and is normally used to season and/or marinate meat, chicken, or fish. It’s an essential seasoning in Latin American kitchens. It is so fundamental in Latin Cuisines that adobado means “marinated and cooked in adobo sauce”.
In 1969, at age 11, I started in the restaurant business working for my father Irwin (Red) Dragos, who was a huge MINOR’S fan! In 1971, I got my first big promotion from dishwasher to pantry boy (that was a big deal for a thirteen year old). One thing my father taught me was how to make all of the basic soups. One of my favorites is Cream of Mushroom soup. He taught me to use half MINOR’S Chicken base and half MINOR’S Beef base for the stock. To this day, I still use this short-cut. In the late 90’s, I owned a namesake restaurant called Brian’s in Chandler, Arizona. The Cream of Mushroom soup was such a hit among customers that they would call to make sure we would have it available as the Wednesday Soup of the Day before flocking to eat there!
On a recent trip to Key Largo I had a chance to drop into Tasters Restaurant to try what the locals called “cutting edge cuisine”. After passing the strip mall location twice, I eventually found the inconspicuous restaurant and began to question our decision. However, what you couldn’t see from the road was the restaurant’s back deck that overlooks the tarpon-filled bay and vast mangroves.
Spring is finally here! Here in the Pacific Northwest local restaurants are shaking off the Winter blues as they anticipate the bounty of the Willamette Valley and all the fresh produce, mushrooms, local troll caught Salmon and game birds.
We are all aware of the five basic tastes: sour, bitter, salty, sweet and umami. But, what does taste really mean for your diners and menu planning? Have you ever thought about how we taste and experience flavor? Or how to create big and bold flavor components of various world cuisines? Have you ever discussed the building blocks of flavor?
For more than 60 years, MINOR’S has been committed to helping chefs grow in and out of the kitchen. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to send Chef Aran Essig, of the University of Northern Colorado, to the world’s most prestigious culinary competition, Bocuse d’Or. Chef Aran describes his recent trip to the international Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France as “mind and palate blowing.” He is off the heels of an amazing culinary excursion which he calls the “Great Gastronomic European Experience.”
Chefs are constantly challenged with coming up with new ways to make great tasting food. In this pursuit, many chefs incorporate a myriad of ingredients and techniques to achieve this goal. As chefs, we usually approach our work from a taste standpoint. With diners’ rising concern for varied nutritional options, such as low sodium menu items, chefs are challenged to create dishes without salt. We have to look at options to replace sodium with other flavors. As simple as this might sound, there can be negative effects on the dining experience by removing salt. Replacing sodium with different ingredients, such as rubs, sauces, and breadings, can enhance flavor when sodium is reduced.
No matter what you plan on cooking over the holidays; turkey, beef, lamb, goose or just plain chicken, the best part of any holiday meal is, for most people, the side dishes. The more the merrier I always say. Although most people would rank stuffing at the top of any list (with mashed potatoes a close second), it is always a creamy, cheesy, bubbly and crispy-on-the-top dish of scalloped potatoes that make people sit up and mention how long its been since they’ve had that 50’s culinary icon, au gratin potatoes. So here’s a great, simple recipe that never fails to please and goes with just about everything.
I come from a long line of hospitality workers .My grandfather, a native of Greece, came to the United States and found employment as a bus boy, waiter and finally learned the trade of being a Confectionary. My earliest memories of him were visiting him at his candy store in Cleveland. I can assure you that I was able to acquire a more than healthy appreciation for chocolate which continues to this day. His brother, my Uncle Ted, chose a different route in the industry. He started working in kitchens eventually rising to the role of chef. While I did not know each of my elders all that well (they passed on while I was a small child) I have been blessed with some relics of their careers. I have three pieces that I am incredibly lucky to have in my possession, a photo of my grandfather holding court in his Candy Store, a photo of my uncle in a small restaurant kitchen in South Dakota during the Great Depression (family lore has them even making their own soap) and a menu from when my Uncle Ted was chef at The Northern Grill in Butte, Montana.
Pad Thai is one of the best dishes ever created! In fact, Pad Thai has been considered one of the most delicious dishes in the world. So how does one go about making a dish that is native to Thailand and calls for things like galangal, kaffir lime leaves, red curry paste and fermented anchovy essence? To be honest, until now it was never easy. I’ve made Pad Thai the hard way for years, but with the new MINOR’S® Thai Red Curry Sauce, it couldn’t be any easier! MINOR’S Thai Red Curry Sauce has all the complex, hard to find flavors in it. All you need to do is toss it with the prepared rice noodles and finish it with a squeeze of fresh lime, some fresh mung bean sprouts and chopped peanuts – that’s it! If you really want to spice it up, add vegetables, chilies, chicken or shrimp. The hard work of getting the sauce right has already been done for you.
Rarely would you say that creating a great dish is as easy as boiling water, but sometimes, with a MINOR’S® product in the kitchen, it’s really that simple. One of my go-to kitchen staples that helps me deliver great flavor is MINOR’S Herb de Provence Flavor Concentrate. Never does a week go by when I don’t find myself pressed for time and in the kitchen trying to make a quick pasta dish for the family.
Do you like moist, flavorful poultry? How about moist, flavorful beef brisket? Or extra, flavorful shrimp? All of these and so much more can be achieved through the process of brining. Brining proteins results in juicy, full flavored product with just a few easy steps.
Making customers happy means many things to many people. It can suggest giving them exactly what they’re asking for or allowing them to customize their dish. However you look at it, all chefs have the same goal in mind – provide great tasting food while delighting the customer. One innovative way to keep customers blissful is to help them explore exotic flavors through an International Soup Station.
The memory of flavor is like a Polaroid snap shot. It is a frozen moment in time, slightly faded around the edges, blurry and soft focused. But as soon as you taste or smell that flavor or even the slightest notion of that flavor, the memory comes back, in sharp focus, fresh and glossy. Flavor, that combination of all our senses, creates memories for good or bad that cannot be easily forgotten. Its psychological, emotional and physical connections to our brains imprints our most powerful memories. Such is the memory of the best breakfast I have ever experienced.
Every once in a while a chef hits upon a dish that takes on a life of its own. A dish, be it soup, salad, entree or dessert, that orbits the kitchen without any effort on the part of the chef. That’s what I experienced with my Vermont Cheddar and Ale Soup.
In 1996 I started working as a Kitchen Manager for a full service rib restaurant that had a massive salad bar. This massive salad bar had some of the usual items of the day: potato salad, hearts of palm, chocolate pudding, mixed greens, and to my surprise grilled broccoli! I thought I had seen everything grilled or BBQ but I was wrong. I watched the broiler cook perform afternoon prep as he pulled large broccoli spears out of a bus tray. The spears had been doused and tossed with Italian dressing and then drained off and put onto the broiler to char.
As consumers move away from traditional day-parts in favor of quick meals, periodic snacking, and on-the-go options, soups are filling a need for more substantial nourishment. And items like broth bowls are keying into the growing trend of meals with health benefits. As a growing number of consumers look for foods that provide functional benefits, or those that align with particular health and vitality concerns, (i.e. sustained energy, cancer-fighting superfoods, fiber to maintain satiety, and plant-based proteins), items like bone broths and nutrient-rich vegetable broths are growing in popularity.