Archive for January, 2012

Hot Words/Products: Winter Trends

It’s that wonderful time of the year when the majority of the country is waiting for it to happen. The “it” would be record cold or snow or some major weather event. Late January and February are heavy with that level of anxiety or anticipation (if it’s for skiing conditions, I get it), and the food world is no different. This is the perfect time of the year to tease tastebuds into a new sphere as relatively short days require a little extra nourishment. We have a panoply of food terms to warm the chilly burners of these months.

Look at GINGER. Once not that long ago it was just a spice in a container. Then fresh ginger came into vogue as we learned to give our food a little boost. Now it has its own elevated position in the beverage world not just as a stand-alone ginger ale, as it seems to be a compatible, healthy flavoring for any number of drinks whether hot or cold. As for snacking, ginger and chocolate are the darling of combo treats!

A parallel is the flower, HIBISCUS. Yes, its fragrance and compatibility make it a charmer again for beverages and plenty of flavor enhancers. Look at how pomegranate drinks have become more palate pleasers with the addition of ginger and hibiscus!  Somehow dishes and beverages seem to have a more chef-fueled flavor when you add something that some would consider exotic, something such as hibiscus.

Maybe the current number one trend-setting position goes to SORGHUM. In the summertime we enjoy the bounty of color from the fields of sorghum and appreciate how farmers are turning those fields into profitability. Now we see a different side to this grain as the growing gluten-free market space has heartily embraced the flavor of sorghum beers after several early rollouts of G-F ales that were less than enticing. Not only the beverage world but the chef-driven universe has embraced this sweetener with some top-tier creative moments.

Let’s end our discussion today with two food words that are making the rounds.
-Meatballs are everywhere and seem to have found a place at every tier of dining. They can quickly be fancified or presented as the alternative to the spate of burger spots.

-Parm. Eggplant has long championed its association with parm-topped dishes and now poultry-inspired foods are grabbing plenty of menu headlines. Sure, chicken parm has been a popular dish for a long time, but it now seems to be a pervasive special!

All these words and products speak the same language: Versatility as they are compatible with a range of pairing options. Time to uncover some of these foods and avoid total food hibernation.


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Upselling is Back

In the old world, as defined as a few years ago, the economy was flush and diners happily supported the restaurant industry without a blink about fancy meals and high price tabs. It was the world, and upselling was a prevalent theme. Make that “a problem.” Yes, waiters never seemed to tire of the million strategies to drive the bill. Then the recession hit and waiters, too, were happy to serve tap water or let diners share an entree. With the first visible positive signs of economic change or potential stability, waiters have returned to the 1000 ways to enhance your dinner or drive up the tab; your call as to how to define the strategy: rhythm or an incessant drumbeat from an earlier era?

Take a recent outing where the waiter quickly moved himself into the annoying corner as he seemed to meet resistance with his every ploy. Sparkling water became a spigot that was never shut off. You know how I feel about the restaurant versions of still and sparkling without a cost to the consumer.

When the waiter moved to a more profitable part of the menu as he  tried to sell truffles a thousand ways, he lost everyone at the banquette. The group preferred a conversation rather than a lesson in pricing or slicing. He was unstoppable as he moved through menu gyrations with the almost musical tone, “we could just add a thin truffle slice to make the dish purr.” Seriously, uninterested and turned off by this overpowering display of in-your-face possibilities. Let us dine. Let us relax and chat and welcome our dining choice rather than secretly dread the restaurant decision.  Did he mention the cost? No need; there were no bites at the table. He quickly tried another approach, also an unsuccessful strategy as he encouraged additional courses. He asked, “Is that it?” Not smooth; not impressive, and not a winning tool.

Yes, dining out can be complicated and expensive with rising food costs and creative plating as chefs struggle with all matters of pricing.  Yet, the annoyingly, cloying waiter needs to remain a caricature and not make a visible presence tableside. Let the diners’ imaginations go wild and let them initiate as in, “could I have the truffle atop that salad, or…”.  You get the picture. Food is expensive enough at high-tiered restaurants without the nagging upsell that has again entered the market space.

Let’s all be hospitable and relax.

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