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Saturday, April 30, 2011

What makes one wine great?

What makes one wine great, and another just good?

One of the aspects of the wine trade that most fascinates outsiders is the disparity in prices between ordinary and great wines. Two winegrowers, just a few miles apart, grow grapes and harvest them. They crush them, let them ferment, press them and transfer the juice to oak barrels. A couple of years later, when they are standing on the shelves of a wine shop, one is a basic claret selling for £6, the other a classed growth Médoc selling for 10 times this price, and which isn’t supposed to be drunk for another decade, at least.

Let’s take another example. We’re standing in the famous Montrachet vineyard, home to the world’s most sought after Chardonnay. Price disparities are apparent here in at least two dimensions. First, if we travel a few hundred yards down the gentle slope and cross the N74, there are vineyards that make Bourgogne Blanc to be sold well below a tenner a bottle. You don’t get Montrachet that costs less than £100 a pop. But there’s another complexion to this. The row we are standing in is owned by a grower who isn’t thought to be on top of their game. You can pick this wine up for, say £120. Two rows along, however, the vines are owned by a superstar grower and their Montrachet fetches close to £600 a bottle on release.

The first issue we need to explore, therefore, in trying to understand these price disparities is that of terroir: the influence of the place where the grapes are grown. It’s a complex, much debated topic that I could happily write 10 000 words on – let’s try to summarize the issues in a paragraph. While terroir is a French word, it’s a concept widespread in the wine world. At the most basic level, it’s immediately apparent that the same grape varieties grown in even subtly different locations will make wines that are somewhat different, even when treated the same way in the winery.

These differences are due to variations in factors such as microclimate (through differences in elevation and aspect, for example) and soil properties (certainly drainage and water availability, but possibly also chemical differences). Of course, in real life, it’s hard to dissect these out from human factors such as viticultural regimes and winery practices, which shouldn’t really be included in definitions of terroir.

While almost everyone recognizes the existence of ‘terroir’, it’s the French who make the biggest deal out of it. Indeed, the lack of a word in French for winemaker is indicative of a mindset where wine is made in the vineyard, and winemakers are relegated to the position of custodians who allow the wines to make themselves. Cynics point out a potential financial motive at play: if the vineyard is seen as the sole arbiter of wine quality, then this acts to maintain the value of prime properties. Certainly, wines from vineyards of exalted reputation, which have a track record of making great wines (that is, terroirs where grape variety and environment are perfectly matched) fetch very high prices, sometimes even irrespective of the quality of what is in the bottle.

Second, there is the issue of reputation. Reputation matters a great deal in the world of wine. Our senses of taste and smell are, it seems, easily fooled. We bring a lot of expectation to bottles of wine that are supposed to be rather grand. In a mischievous experiment, a French researcher called Brochet served the same average-quality wine to people at a week’s interval. The twist was that on the first occasion it was packaged and served to people as a Vin de Table, and on the second as a Grand Cru wine. So the subjects thought they were tasting a simple wine and then a very special wine, even though it was the same both times. We’d probably all like to think we’d not have been taken in by this ruse, but Brochet’s tasters fell for it, hook, line and sinker. He analysed the terms used in the tasting notes, and it makes telling reading. For the ‘Grand Cru’ wine versus the Vin de Table, ‘A lot’ replaces ‘a little’; ‘complex’ replaces ‘simple’; and ‘balanced’ replaces ‘unbalanced’ – all because of the sight of the label.

Brochet explains the results through a phenomenon called ‘perceptive expectation’: a subject perceives what they have pre-perceived, and then they find it difficult to back away from that. For us humans, visual information is much more important than chemosensory information, so we tend to trust vision more. Brochet uses these results to explain Peynaud’s observation that ‘Blind tasting of great wines is often disappointing’.

This is not to say, though, that great wines never deserve their reputation. There do exist many seriously great wines that merit, at least in part, the reverence accorded to them. The very top ‘trophy’ wines, though, do have a reputation that extends beyond what is in the bottle. You are paying for more than just an exceptional bottle of wine.

Thirdly, scarcity is important. ‘Great’ wines are often made in small quantities, but there are many wealthy wine lovers for whom only the best will do. The result? Lots of people chasing relatively few wines. For those wines with a reputation of being the best, there is huge demand and relatively little supply, so the result is that prices get pushed up. Couple this with the law of diminishing returns (each extra increment in quality costs proportionately more), which fits quite well to wine, and it is easy to see how prices for top wines can escalate quite rapidly. Wealthy wine nuts aren’t usually looking for value for money (although they are sensitive to being ripped off); they generally want the best, and are prepared to pay for it.

Finally, while it does actually cost more to make better wine – all the necessary care in the vineyard, the economic loss of lowering yields in pursuit of quality, and the cost of good new oak barrels ramp the price up a bit – this is generally not the reason for the high prices asked for top wines. It’s the triumvirate of terroir, reputation and scarcity that cause the startling disparity in prices between the cheapest and most expensive wines.

I’m aware that in this brief piece, I’ve hardly touched on the issue of comparative wine ‘quality’. Are some wines ‘better’ than others? If so, why? And who gets to decide? Is it possible to be objective in assessing wines? These gripping questions will have to wait for another article.

Friday, April 29, 2011

World's Best Pizza

World's Best Pizza

Here's our listing of some of the most delicious pizzas the world over.

By Jada A. Graves

What is it about pizza that makes us love it so much? Is it the savory cheeses, the pliable crust or the aromatic sauce? Perhaps it's the customizable nature of the treat. Each pizza is different; across the country -- the world, even -- foodies get to compliment their pies with the toppings they most love. You can call it an Italian creation, an American staple or even a Brazilian standby, but one thing's for sure: we all crave pizza. But where should you expect to taste the best slice? 

#6: Rome, Italy

While other cities try to entice you with the whole pie, Rome's claim to fame is offering pizza al taglio, or "by the cut." This variety has a thin crust and is normally baked on rectangular trays in a wood-burning oven. Tasty toppers include prosciutto, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and potato, but when in doubt, you can also order a traditional margherita with just tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. Vendors will allow you to determine just how big a slice you want (you'll be charged based on its weight), after which they'll cut your slice, fold it and wrap it in paper to go.

Where to Taste: Pizza al taglio is a convenient snack to have while sightseeing. You could order from Da Michele by the Trevi Fountain (opt for the kosher aliciotti e indivia with anchovies and endives), or at Da Remo by the Pantheon (try the zucca pizza with pumpkin). 

#5: Chicago, USA

The foundation of any Chicagoan's pizza is a thick, crunchy layer of crust that's been stretched up the sides of a deep-dish steel pan. That dough is then layered, starting with mozzarella cheese, followed by any preferred toppings (such as pepperoni, mushrooms or sausage) before it's coated in a layer of chunky tomato sauce. The first Chicago-style pie was served at Pizzeria Uno in 1943, and present-day diners can still frequent this Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue fountainhead to eat one of the city's most identifiable dishes. Bonus: you don't need to be in Chi-town to taste the magic; Pizzeria Uno is now a popular chain restaurant (known as Uno Chicago Grill) throughout the country.

Where to Taste: An employee at the original Pizzeria Uno, Rudy Malnati is the disputed creator of the traditional deep-dish pizza recipe. And according to many, his son Lou serves up one of the best incarnations of Chicago's "casseroles" in the entire city. You can eat at his establishment, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, in the River North area. 

#4: Osaka and Hiroshima, Japan

Sometimes called the "Japanese pancake" and at other times called the "Japanese omelette," okonomiyaki's flat shape and assorted ingredients have also earned it the nickname, "Japanese pizza." Even the phrase okonomiyaki loosely translates to "cooked as you want it," which sounds a little like what makes pizza so special in the first place. But what exactly is okonomiyaki? At its base is batter (made from flour, eggs, water, cabbage and cooking stock) paired with your desired combination of cheese, vegetables, fish and meat. In the city of Osaka, where the most popular version of the dish originated, all the ingredients are cooked together (by grilling on both sides) before the pizza is topped with a sweet brown sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and aonori (seaweed flakes). If you're dining in Hiroshima, the cook will fix your okonomiyaki batter first before layering on the other fixings.

Where to Taste: Several Japanese eateries earn a shout-out for their "Japanese pizza." Osaka's Mangetsu restaurant serves an okonomiyaki original sauce that "tingles and tantalizes your taste buds to the point you can't stop eating the food that's covered in it," according to a satiated Virtual Tourist. And foodies across the web recommend Hassho, a Japanese chain scattered through Hiroshima Prefecture, for the best sampling of that city's style of the dish. 

#3: São Paulo, Brazil

Many Paulistanos in this self-proclaimed "Pizza Capital of the World" have a ritual of eating pizza every Sunday. And it's not hard to find a place to indulge, as Reuters reports that there are more than 6,000 parlors in this city. São Paulo's obsession with pizza dates back to the early 20th century, when Italian immigrants moved to the Braz district and their culinary tastes began to infiltrate Brazilian culture. Now, city residents even celebrate "Pizza Day" on July 10. People in São Paulo barely use tomato sauce, but they practically smother their pies in mozzarella cheese; popular pizza varieties include Portuguesa (also sprinkled with ham, onion, hard-boiled eggs and black olives) and Casteloes (which adds spicy Calabrese sausage). Whatever you do, be sure to abstain from adding ketchup to your slice -- though this is a popular topping in the rest of Brazil, no self-respecting Paulistano would dare besmirch their pizza with the condiment.

Where to Taste: Casual and hard-core foodies agree that the best place to try a little São Paulo pizza is Braz, one of the city's most popular parlor chains. Pizza is served rodízio style, where you pay a fixed price for all-you-can-eat and servers mill the premises offering various types of pie. 

#2: New York City, USA

One of the more recognizable pies of the United States, New York-style pizza is characterized by a puffy outer crust that gets thinner and crispier toward the middle. Tricks of the trade include hand-tossed dough and cooking the pizza on a stone rather than in a pan. And as any New Yorker will tell you, there's another key element to the Big Apple's slices -- the city's delectable tap water. Who is to say whether the water's importance is myth or actual method (The editors of the foodie blog Serious Eats even conducted a considerably comprehensive but ultimately unsatisfactory study)? Eddie & Sam's pizzeria in Tampa, Fla. seems to think so: The owners proudly boast to importing New York tap water for the making of their dough.

Where to Taste: The hands-down favorite for New York parlors is Lombardi's Pizzeria, located in NoHo. Considered the first pizza parlor in the United States, Lombardi's also gets a shout-out from travelers for using fresh ingredients. Just come ready to chow down -- this pizzeria doesn't sell by the slice. 

#1: Naples, Italy

There's a reason the city of Naples earns the first slot on our list. It's because the Neapolitan pizza is the most enduring recipe the world over, and recipes originated in other cities are often just variations on Napoli's theme. And considering there's even an organization devoted to the upholding the authenticity of the dish -- the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana -- it's evident that this city takes dough-making and cheese-melting seriously. The wheat flour dough of a true pizza napoletana is kneaded into a pancake shape that shouldn't exceed 11 inches across, before it's smothered in fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and San Marzano tomatoes. It's then cooked in a wood-fired dome oven at approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit for no more than a minute and a half.

Where to Taste: Serious foodies disagree on where you'll find Naples' best pizzas, but there are a few favorites: Located on the city's Via Sersale, Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the more popular spots -- as evidenced by the long lines (and its cameo appearance in the movie Eat, Pray, Love). There's also Pizzeria Brandi, oftentimes credited as the place that first served pizza margherita.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Star chef, facing a suit, files for bankruptcy

Star chef, facing a suit, files for bankruptcy
The Chapter 7 petition by the celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian may help him to fend off more than $1 million in legal claims from his former kitchen staff at Country. Zakarian, a judge on the cooking competition show "Chopped," faces claims that he failed to pay the workers properly for overtime, falsified pay records and deducted from paychecks for staff meals not given.
Geoffrey Zakarian has made all the right moves for a celebrity chef. He is a fixture on four Food Network programs, including "Chopped." Over the years, he has operated a number of high-profile restaurants, three of which have won three stars from The New York Times. He now has two places in fashionable New York hotels and plans to expand his portfolio to Miami Beach and Atlantic City.
But his latest step doesn't follow the script.
He has filed for personal bankruptcy, a move that could help fend off more than $1 million in legal claims from his kitchen staff at Country in the Carlton Hotel, along with a former partner in the restaurant, which closed nearly three years ago.
Of the 179 creditors listed in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition he filed on April 6 in federal court in Bridgeport, Conn., 152 are former cooks at Country. They are part of a class-action lawsuit against Zakarian, an owner of the restaurant and its chef, and his management firm that claims he failed to pay the workers time and a half for overtime, falsified pay records to shortchange them and deducted from their paychecks for staff meals they were not given. They are seeking $1 million in damages and $250,000 in penalties.
Neither legal action has been widely reported in the news media, nor has the bitterness between Zakarian and two former partners that has led those two men to take the workers' side and face off in court against him.
In a statement, the chef's publicist, Jaret T. Keller, said: "Geoffrey Zakarian filed for bankruptcy due to the enormous costs of defending a class-action lawsuit by former employees of a restaurant in which Mr. Zakarian is no longer involved. Mr. Zakarian denied the allegations in the lawsuit but it would cost him several hundred thousand dollars to defend the action." Keller said Zakarian was "sequestered" in Los Angeles taping "The Next Iron Chef" and would have no further comment.
After being sent emails detailing the allegations in the legal papers, Zakarian replied by email: "As a respectful practice, I will not comment on business partnerships or pending litigations. I realize and understand the responsibility that as a public face of a business, one can become a target. I remain focused on my craft and delivering great meals to my diners."
The bankruptcy filing, which lists assets of no more than $50,000 and liabilities of up to $1 million, automatically puts a hold on any litigation against Zakarian, including the class action lawsuit, said Scott A. Lucas, the plaintiffs' lawyer.
"Isn't it interesting that a TV celebrity chef, who opens multiple new restaurants around the country, can file for bankruptcy?" said Lucas, who said he would move to have the class action go forward.
Since Country closed in 2008, Zakarian has opened the Lambs Club restaurant in the Chatwal Hotel off Times Square and the National Bar and Dining Rooms in the Benjamin Hotel in Midtown. He oversees food and beverages at the Water Club at Borgata in Atlantic City and will soon open the Tudor House restaurant in the Chatwal group's Dream South Beach Hotel in Miami Beach. He rents a four-bedroom house in Greenwich, Conn., that is listed on the market for just under $3 million.
Chefs and restaurateurs have faced lawsuits over pay issues like overtime and distribution of tips with increasing regularity in New York, although bankruptcy does not seem to be the usual outcome.
What is striking about the suit involving Country is that a former partner in the restaurant, Adam Block, has filed an affidavit in support of the workers, and that another partner, Moshe Lax, has said in a separate suit that Zakarian violated labor laws.
The two men agreed to a $200,000 settlement with the cooks in December. But Block, a restaurant developer who helped bring Per Se and Masa to the Time Warner Center, said in a legal filing on behalf of the plaintiffs last November that the settlement was not the reason he was speaking against his former partner. It was, he said, "because I know that Geoffrey Zakarian's narcissistic behavior and arrogance caused Country to fail and inevitably allowed whatever wage and hour violations occurred while he was Country's operator."
The workers say in their lawsuit that they were underpaid in a variety of ways. The suit says that when one worker asked when he would get the overtime pay, Zakarian's response was, "Go peel some asparagus."
The chief plaintiff, Prince Breland, said in legal papers that line cooks like himself were generally short-changed on lunch and dinner duty by two to three hours a shift. After Country started paying by the hour, he said, when he worked long shifts he would get $7.50 an hour rather than the $12 an hour he was due. (Breland, a 44-year-old Bronx resident who has worked in restaurants and catering for years, said in an interview that even when he became a salaried sous-chef at Country, he earned no more than $33,000 a year.)
He said he told Country's bookkeeper: "'You're ripping everyone off with the hours. You'll feel better if you just quit."' He said the bookkeeper began crying and said, "They're making me do this all the time."
Breland also said in the suit that in Country's first year or so, the restaurant was so busy that "lunch and dinner shift cooks had to stuff food (usually a piece of bread or a leftover scrap of food) in their mouths while standing." Nevertheless, he said, $2 a day was deducted from the cooks' pay for staff meals.
The end came for Country in the summer of 2008, sooner than might have been expected considering that it won three stars from Frank Bruni in The New York Times in April 2006. The closing seems to have stirred up more animosity in what was already a rocky relationship between Zakarian and his two main partners, Block and Lax. Their partnership was dissolved in April 2008, with an agreement that called for Zakarian to be paid $380,000 and for him to leave soon after that.
But on July 3 of that year, the workers filed suit. And two weeks later the city health department shut down Country for several days, largely because of problems with sous-vide procedures that the department had brought to Zakarian's attention more than two years earlier.
These difficulties do not seem to have sat well with Lax, who had guaranteed the $380,000. He apparently did not make scheduled payments and in March of last year, Zakarian sued him for the sum. Last month, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich in State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled that Zakarian must be paid.
But by then Lax had filed his own suit against Zakarian seeking more than $2 million in damages, charging "breaches of fiduciary duties and misappropriation of funds." Because Zakarian had "ignored applicable labor laws," the suit says, Lax "was dragged through the proverbial mud in the class action." Country grossed about $9 million a year at its best, but never made a profit, according to the lawsuit, which said that Zakarian received a management fee of 4 percent off the top, and paid his wife a $70,000 salary for marketing services. The suit also accuses Zakarian of failing to make payments for rent and sales tax. (There is a $51,318.40 state tax warrant against Country on sales from Sept. 1, 2005, to Aug. 31, 2008.)
Zakarian, in a legal response to Lax's lawsuit, said he committed no wrongdoing, was paid what he was owed and was not legally responsible for some of the problems cited in the case.
Lax's accusations were amplified by Block. In his declaration in support of the workers' lawsuit, Block said Zakarian gave away about 10 percent of the restaurant's revenue in free meals to friends, family and associates. "I also learned that Mr. Zakarian was dining out at other restaurants on the company's credit card," Block said, "and had reimbursed himself monthly for thousands of dollars in expenses unrelated to Country."
Within months after Country opened, Block said, "I had come to realize that Geoffrey Zakarian was using Country as something of a personal fiefdom."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is Sushi Safe After Japan's Quake?

Raw Deal? Slicing and Dicing Safe Sushi Eating in the U.S.
Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D.

Should sushi worries stemming from the nuclear disaster in Japan deep six Americans' enjoyment of a culinary favorite?
Adding to the list of radiation fears shared in the United States, are growing questions about the safety of the Japanese delicacy, served up not only with exquisite style in fancy Los Angeles sushi bars, but also in cold cases at the grocery store and through the windows of increasingly popular food trucks. Journalists report restaurants dropping Japanese fish from their menus and sales plunging at Tokyo's normally bustling Tsukiji market.
The good news is that, in terms of radiation emitted as part of the catastrophe at the nuclear power plants in Northern Japan, there's little to fear. The vastness and constant motion of the Pacific waters quickly and effectively dilute radioactive material. That makes it unlikely that any fish or other ocean edibles affected might end up on American tables. Fish frequenting the waters near the Fukushima plant are in the most danger of potential contamination, but fishing vessels aren't harvesting in those waters now. The main contaminant there is iodine-131, which has a half life of eight days - meaning every eight days, half of the material dissipates.
The Food and Drug Administration says, still, it is carefully monitoring Japanese imports. After the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine in dairy products, fresh produce and infant formula products, the FDA issued an import alert. Products from Kawamata town, and the prefectures of Fukushima and Ibaraki - all near the calamitous nuclear plant - were found to have more than five times the acceptable level of iodine. While the iodine decays naturally within weeks, it can still cause damage to the thyroid if ingested.
While seafood isn't a food covered by the import alert, officials also are handling it carefully and inspecting it for radiation contamination before it can enter the U.S. food supply. Thus far, they have not detected radioactive iodine in fish imported from Japan.
Source of the Matter
Of equal importance, much of the seafood sold in Southern California, and nationwide, is sourced from waters across the world and far from Japan. Sue Watson, an inside sales manager at Santa Monica Seafood who has been in the business for more than a decade, said her company - with retail outlets locally and wholesale product in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada - now imports only hamachi (yellowtail tuna) from Japan. That fish comes from the west coast of Japan - far from the Fukushima plant.
Like other wholesalers, her firm imports seafood from across the globe, with the bulk of it coming from waters off the U.S. Pacific Coast and down to Mexico. Sourcing food locally has many benefits, not the least of which is that it's just plain cheaper; shipping seafood long distances is expensive, Watson says.
Unfounded as the latest radiation fears may be about fish, it's another blow to the sushi brand. There have been health scares about it before, as well as growing concerns over whether sushi is ecologically sustainable. Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a sushi guide on which seafood varieties it calls environmentally sound and which may be perilously over-fished.
And What About Mercury?
Concerns about mercury levels in fish have made recent headlines, too. While mercury in fish isn't a major concern for most people - and fish is an important part of a well-balanced diet - all seafood contains mercury traces. The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency recommend that women who may become pregnant, those pregnant, nursing mothers and young children choose seafood lower in mercury; these include edibles like shrimp, salmon, catfish and canned light tuna. Officials recommend against shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. The guideline is 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week.
If you're a fish fancier, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the EPA advisories for what waters near you are the safest sources for a fresh catch of the day.
Pregnant women, of course, should avoid raw sushi and all other under- or uncooked meats, poultry, seafood and eggs to avoid bacteria and parasites that can harm the baby. Most Japanese restaurants offer cooked rolls and other Japanese prepared delights that are fine for pregnant women; be sure that the fish or shellfish has been cooked through and not just seared.
In fact, sticking to cooked rolls may be a way to chow down for less adventuresome eaters who want to ensure they don't contract food-borne illnesses, the causes of which (bacteria or parasites) mostly are killed off by high-heat preparation.
But de gustibus non est disputandum, as they say: If you acquired a taste for an extraordinary cross-culture foodstuff, like sushi, go ahead and enjoy it in a great place that knows how to handle, prepare and serve it well. And know that the only glow about your meal will not be because of radiation but the flush you may feel when getting that big bill.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chefs Ready for Las Vegas Cooking Battle

Chefs Ready for Las Vegas Cooking Battle

LAS VEGAS (TheStreet) -- Chef battles such as the Food Network's(SNI_) Next Iron Chefand Bravo's multiple Top Chefs are all the rage these days, and TravelsinTaste talked to some top chefs about what goes through their heads during such contests.

"You know, it's like going to battle, or getting in a sports game. You can be prepared, you can have a game plan, and you can have a battle plan -- all that kind of stuff -- but once the whistle blows and the game starts, anything can happen and you have to adjust," says Marc Forgione, chef at an eponymous restaurant.

Chef battles such as the Food Network's Next Iron Chef and Bravo's multiple Top Chefs are all the rage. On Friday things heat up in Las Vegas with a Chef Showdown between Akira Back of Yellowtail and Martin Heierling of Sensi and Silk Road.
"Chefs are absolutely competitive, but we collaborate an awful lot," notes Rick Moonen, of rm Seafood and a contestant in season 2 of Top Chef Masters. "We all share in our passion for cooking. It's not like two warriors going to war. We are all striving for the same results. We are just from different neighborhoods."
And what goes through his mind during the competition? "The amount of adrenaline that goes through your body cannot be equaled," Moonen says. "Just do what you know and that's it."
On Friday things heat up in Las Vegas when the Tuscan Kitchen in the Bellagio(MGM_)hosts an untelevised Chef Showdown between chefs Akira Back of Yellowtail and Martin Heierling of Sensi and Silk Road. Audience members will taste dishes and help decide the winner.
"My style is a melting pot of American influences. A lot of Korean and Japanese influence, but I like to incorporate many philosophies and facets of my experiences throughout my career," Back says of what tasters and watchers can expect.
"My style is authentic but contemporary. I like to do proven things that people like but put my own spin on it. I'm heavily influenced by Southeast Asia and from my experiences there. I also like to work with texture balances. All my food has to pop and explode," Heierling says.
What are the dishes? "I don't have all the dishes finalized yet. Part of the excitement is going in there and putting the pieces together on the spot. I'm going to stick to my roots and focus on seasonal, ingredient-driven food. I like to think that every dish I prepare is a challenge. Even simple food can be challenging to execute perfectly, and they usually are the most difficult," Back says.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dining Out for Life to benefit Vegetable Garden

Dining Out for Life to benefit vegetable garden
By Joyce Kryszak

The ninth annual Dining Out for Life is being held Tuesday in Buffalo and around the country. Nearly one hundred restaurants across Western New York will donate a portion of the proceeds they take in tomorrow.

This year the money will help improve nutrition for people with HIV-AIDS in Western New York.

Thanks to last year's Dining Out for Life, which raised nearly $90,000, there is a beautiful new Wellness Center at AIDS Community Services in Buffalo. The center provides counseling and a host of support services for people living with HIV-AIDS.

Now, ACS will be able to add another wellness program - vegetable gardening.

Workshops on herb gardening are already underway at the Wellness Center. And soon the staff will be working with clients to put in their own vegetable garden along a vacant strip of land out back.

Christopher Voltz is Director of Communications and Special Projects for ACS. He is also an avid gardener. It was his idea to put in the Hope flower garden at ACS. Now, he said they are expanding the therapeutic concept with a garden that will also improve clients' nutrition. He said HIV is a very nutrition-dependent disease.

"So, building on that whole gardening thats' beautification that makes people feel better - now we're taking that whole gardening component a step further and really teaching people important life skills," said Voltz.

He said because 90 percent of their clients live in poverty, most have never had a vegetable garden. Many living in the city have only limited access to fresh produce.

So, ACS also will teach them how to prepare the vegetables they grow. Lindsay Zasada is an administrative assistant at ACS and is one of the coordinators for the vegetable garden program. She said it will be very comprehensive.

"When the garden coqmes to fruit later in the summer, we're going to be having clients go out there, tending to it, watering it, but also picking the fruits and vegetables and rbinging them into the Wellness Center and preparing them for lunch," said Zasada.

And, if the harvest is bountiful, she said they will also send produce home with their clients. All proceeds raised in Western New York from Dining Out for Life benefit ACS.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What happens to all the food that ends up uneaten at the table?

Companies remove restaurants' food waste by composting it

By Kelly DiNardo

Much has been made of the farm-to-table restaurant movement. But what happens to all the food that ends up uneaten at the table?

In what you might call a burgeoning table-to-farm movement, a small but growing number of companies are being launched around the country to answer that question, to help restaurants deal with the ecologically and economically expensive problem of food waste by composting it.

“The restaurant business is an incredibly wasteful business,” says Peter Egelston, owner of PortsmouthBrewery restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. “We generally put more food in front of people than they can eat in one sitting. If it’s not going home in a doggie bag, it seems like we should send it where it will have new life.”

Two years ago Egelston’s brewery began composting with the help of EcoMovement, a company that hauls food waste from about 40 restaurants in the region and takes it to be composted.

Composting — a natural process in which food and other organic scraps are decomposed into fertile soil — has long been a mainstay of farms and backyards. But few restaurants have the space or time to compost their own waste. They typically pay to have it disposed of in landfills along with the rest of their trash.

But as communities have struggled to reduce their waste, pressure has mounted on the restaurant industry to do its part.

“A few things changed,” says Michael Oshman, CEO of the Green Restaurant Association. “Cities in California passed laws requiring some level of waste reduction. To attack waste reduction without looking at food is like having a heart patient come in to the doctor and not talk to them about exercise and diet. So cities like San Francisco begin composting. They demonstrate it’s doable and others follow their lead.”

San Francisco began a pilot composting program in 1996, which quickly expanded. In 2001, officials made composting available city-wide on a voluntary basis; it became mandatory in 2009, including for the city’s more than 5,000 restaurants. Since 1996, the city has composted more than 835,000 tons of food scraps.

Since then, other cities — including Seattle — have passed similar laws that mandate composting. But desire isn’t enough. To compost, you either need to have a place to put food waste — and the time to tend to it — or arrange for it to be taken to a farm or composting facility.

And that’s where companies like EcoMovement come in. Rian Bedard was inspired to start the company when he moved from San Francisco to New Hampshire and realized no one was offering compost pickup. They began hauling food waste in November 2009.

Food-waste hauling remains a small industry, in part because the companies struggle with where to bring the waste. Few actually handle the composting themselves, instead serving as an intermediary.

Some, like Compost Cab in Washington, D.C., work with area farms. But that also can limit the volume and content of what can be picked up.

“There are two main constraints on a farm that you don’t have on an industrial facility,” says Jeremy Brosowsky, who started the company almost a year ago.

“When you’re managing a small-scale operation on a farm in an urban environment you want to be respectful to your neighbors. People worry about smell and rodents. We ameliorate that by not being too big. The second constraint is just volume. Urban farms tend to be less than two acres. Composting takes about a half acre. You can’t overwhelm them with volume because that takes attention away from the farming,” he said.

Which is why most compost hauling companies work with commercial composting facilities, of which there are about 300 around the country.

San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurant Group has encouraged all of their 53 restaurants — including those outside the Bay Area — to compost. It isn’t always possible. Only 35 of their properties have programs at this time.

“The biggest challenge is finding someone who can haul it away,” says Frank Kawecki, senior director of operations for Kimpton. “It’s usually some guy in a truck. It’s very grassroots and local.”

The company’s 10 restaurants in Washington use EnviRelation, a 12-person company that hauls food waste from nearly 200 offices, hotels and restaurants. Last year, the city’s Kimpton properties alone composted more than 408,000 pounds of food scrap.

Despite trepidations about smell, staff training and pest nuisance, when composting is available most restaurants find that it is simple.

“It’s the same waste we were putting in a dumpster,” says Egelston. “It just goes in a different color bin. We’ve reduced our waste stream so dramatically we renegotiated our trash pickup and that offset all of the costs of the compost program. And our customers really appreciate it and that’s good for business. It’s not just this woolly-headed, tree-hugging idea. There’s a practical use to this.”

Brosowsky believes this move to compost is similar to the start of the recycling movement. In twenty years, he suspects everyone will be composting.

“Municipal composting is coming,” says Brosowsky. “Farm to table is good. Farm to table back to farm is even better.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Not Sure What to Make for Easter?

Easter Dinner Menu

By Melissa Clark

Warm Rice Salad with Peas and Mint
Lara Ferroni
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Warm Rice Salad with Peas and Mint
With plenty of green peas and fresh mint, this rice salad is bright tasting and extremely pretty. If you can get them, crisp sugar snap peas, trimmed and thinly sliced, make an even sweeter substitute for the green peas.
Honey and Chile Glazed Carrots
Lara Ferroni
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Honey and Chile Glazed Carrots
Caramelized carrots, glazed with honey and spiked with a little chili, are a sweet and spicy change from the usual buttered rounds.
Spring Herb Salad with Radish and Parsley
Lara Ferroni
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Spring Herb Salad with Radish and Parsley
Herbs, tangy radishes, and soft butter lettuce make this salad seem like the essence of spring. It wilts pretty quickly after it's dressed, however, so make sure everyone is at the table before you toss.
Brown Sugar and Spice Baked Ham
Lara Ferroni
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Brown Sugar and Spice Baked Ham
A gorgeous, glistening centerpiece to an Easter meal, glazed baked ham is perfect for a crowd. This makes a lot of ham, but leftovers will disappear in a flash, and you can even use the bone to add flavor to bean soups.
Buttery Easter Layer Cake with Lemon Curd
Lara Ferroni
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Buttery Easter Layer Cake with Lemon Curd
In this festive cake, velvety cake layers sandwich a sweet-tart curd citrus filling and are topped with plenty of billowing buttercream frosting. If you don't have time to make the buttercream, you can frost the cake with sweetened whipped cream instead. It makes a lighter, more cloudlike frosting that's just as satisfying.