trends

I Coulda Been a Contender — The Catchphrase of the ‘Next Chipotle’

The hunt for the ‘next Chipotle’ is well documented (I got 21,500,000 results from a Google search). 
And why shouldn’t restaurants aspire to attain that status? Chipotle tapped into the zeitgeist with a fast-casual model emphasizing freshness, quality, customizability, and the mantra ‘food with integrity.’ It’s a company that does good with enlightened employment practices and a commitment to sourcing humanely and sustainably-raised products. And it’s a company that does well–$1,000 invested in the company 10 years ago would now be worth more than $15 million. Crazy but true.

Thanks to Starbucks and Chipotle, customization is the new standard.  
Today’s restaurant customers expect to control portion size and toppings, bowl or bun. They need gluten-free and vegan choices, optional toppings and drizzles, and a specific number of pumps of caramel in their lattés. Even old line fast food is jumping on the customization bandwagon as McDonald’s experiments with a build-your-own-burger menu and Pizza Hut rolls out a pizza builder. The ‘next Chipotle’ will undoubtedly follow suit.

It can’t just be about the food.  
A meal at Chipotle is solid but unspectacular. What’s truly masterful is the way the company combines an unremarkable product with a socially conscious business model to forge a connection between the brand and its audience. The ‘next Chipotle’ would be well advised to seek a similarly integrated approach to cause marketing.

Here are the contenders, the startups, and the up-and-comers. Industry watchers believe that the ‘next Chipotle’ could be lurking in this list. 

BuffaloBowl
The healthier options:
Protein Bar is all about being the healthy alternative. The menu is paleo-friendly and has never met a superfood that it couldn’t wrap in a whole wheat and flax seed tortilla. Kale, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and agave all appear in the signature Protein Bar-ritos; add an avocado and green tea smoothie and you’re still safely below the typical Chipotle calorie count. Even more austere is the meat-, dairy, egg-free Veggie Grill. They call it a ‘veggie positive’ experience. The company is on an expansion tear but has yet to prove that the format can succeed away from the west coast.

lyfe-kitchen-officeThe pedigree:
LYFE Kitchen covers all the bases with its ambitions. It was founded by an alumni group of McDonald’s senior executives with a menu created by a pair of celebrity chefs. Their motto is ‘Something for everyone, from carnivores to vegans’, and indeed every contemporary food trend is represented: there’s pizza, pasta, barbecue, fish tacos, a grass-fed burger, Thai curry, and a quinoa bowl. There’s a genuine commitment to mindful, principled business practices that comes through in every choice from sourcing local ingredients to LEED certified restaurant construction and living herb walls.

Piada

The buzz:

Piada is getting a lot of love from insiders winning a slew of industry awards for its concept and branding. It’s also caught the eye of an investment partner with a history of picking winners like PF Changs and Restoration Hardware. The menu looks like an Italian-accented Chipotle with flatbread wraps standing in for burritos and follows the same formula of a simple menu with a few, freshly-made-to-order entreés.

1682164-poster-1280-sweetgreen

The lifestyle brand:

If the secret sauce is building a connection with the public, then Sweetgreen will rise to the top of the fast casual heap. The chain sells make-your-own bowls of grains and salads, and while the food gets high marks, nothing’s on the menu that doesn’t align with the founders’ values and forward their agenda. That means every element is hip and wholesome; it has to be sustainable, healthy, based in authentic relationships, and it has to make a positive difference in the community. They’ve already won the hearts of Silicon Valley tech investors who are facilitating coast-to-coast expansion.

The heir apparent:

ShopHouse is Chipotle’s Asian spin-off. It’s got the familiar production line with fresh, local, mostly organic ingredients, and naturally raised meats, but this time they’re going into noodle bowls and Vietnamese sandwiches. ShopHouse also gets to rub shoulders with the parent company’s brand equity and ‘food with integrity’ ethos, and to piggyback on existing supplier relations and cross-promotional marketing. Could Chipotle be the ‘next Chipotle’? Who better to duplicate its success?

shophouse-logo

 

Posted in food business, restaurants, trends | 1 Comment

Paid Placeholders, Virtual Queues, and Other Ways to Hack a Restaurant Line

 

cronut-lineup1cronut-lineup2-1

cronut-lineup3-1

Just another day outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the cronut.

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, they’re still lining up for cronuts.
The line is out there every morning snaking down the Soho sidewalk before the 8am bakery opening. It’s not just New York and it’s not just a mania for pastry hybrids. They’re lining up for old school barbecue in Austin, Korean fried chicken in D.C., and the latest ramen bar in Chicago.

The problem is, it’s not just hype and tourists clogging our sidewalks. Restaurants of every stripe are happily embracing the queue. It keeps down the administrative costs of doing business—there’s no salaried reservationist, reservation no-shows, or cut off the top going to a service like OpenTable. Plus a line out front is good for business. It’s like a flesh and blood Yelp review signaling quality and popularity.

You hate waiting in line (and who doesn’t?).
You can stick to restaurants that take reservations, at the risk of missing out on transcendent sushi and the best pizza in town. You can go out before the lines form and force feed yourself a Florida-style 5:30 dinner. You can brave prime time but eat before you go to keep your blood sugar from plummeting before you’re seated. Or you can avail yourself of one of these solutions to the frustrating time suck of restaurant lines.

Pay someone else to wait, so you don’t have to.
CFxlvYdUkAEb_hd13 year-old Desmond (left) is heading back to junior high so his Austin-based business BBQ Fast Pass will be on hiatus til the next school vacation. He spent his summer as a line-sitter for hire in a folding chair outside of Franklin Barbecue, a local legend known for its succulent brisket and 5 hour waits. Taskrabbit, in Austin and more than a dozen other cities, connects you with locals that you can contract with to do your waiting for a negotiable fee. Rent a Friend claims to have more than 530,000 registered service providers worldwide. The company specializes in fake wedding dates and other stand-ins, but line waiting is among the service options. Los Angeles’ Line Angels enables ‘influencers, doers, and go-getters to make the most of their time’. New York City has the similarly pitched Same Old Line Dudes with two fee schedules—one for cronuts and one for all other lines.

Take a virtual number.
According to QLess (company motto: Queue less. Live more) we spend two years of our lives waiting in lines. The mobile wait management system is making a dent in all that lost time. It allows you to take your place in line, online, merging your spot with the in-person waiting list at the hostess stand. While others are cooling their heels at the restaurant, you’re going about your business while QLess gives real time estimates and alerts. If your table is ready before you are, just give someone a virtual ‘cut.’ A running tab on the website tallies the total time savings restored to QLess users; at last check it was 1,185 years, 304 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes.

Go off-peak.
Google recently added a new feature to its search bar. Tap on the restaurant’s name in the search result and the tool displays its busiest times.

fdfdb007a5ab3d6c2c71f065a250b126Get it to go.
Hangry was just added to the Oxford Dictionary, a clear sign that waiting for a table is incompatible with contemporary culture where gratification is supposed to be just a few keystrokes away. Impatience and tech savvy join forces in the many ordering, takeout, delivery, and payment apps that let you breeze by all the analog suckers standing in line. Users appreciate the streamlined process, and the restaurants like them too. According to a MasterCard survey, customers will spend as much as 30% more when they order dinner using a cash-free mobile app. It’s a crowded field with hundreds of apps vying for different market segments. There’s Tapingo, a campus food app for college studentsthe no-smartphone-required, all-text Zinglethe coast-to-coast 600-city coverage of Seamless; and Caviar, with its stable of Michelin-starred restaurant partners.

Is it worth the wait?
Yahoo Travel
lists the top ten longest restaurant lines around the country. Huffington Post shares 19 Cult Food Destinations Worth Enduring An Insanely Long Wait In Line.

 

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Where There’s Smoke There’s…. Ice Cream?

ln2icecream

 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream has moved out of the modernist chef’s kitchen and into mall kiosks and neighborhood scoop shops.
You’ll find it in a bunch of new-fangled old-fashioned ice cream parlors with names like Chill’N, Sub Zero, and Nitrogenie. The fad is moving into high gear this summer with hundreds of new franchisees, so if you haven’t seen it yet, sit tight for a few months and you will.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is where a high school chemistry lab crosses paths with performance art and dessert.
Mixers are tricked out with gas tanks that instantly freeze the ice cream base. Steamy clouds billow about the mixing bowl as the -320°F gas hits the liquid ingredients. Oohs and aahs ensue, and in a few seconds when the vapors subside the ice cream is ready.

It’s not just schtick. 
Traditional ice cream makers use a two-step freezing processing: there’s a quick super-cooling blast freeze and then the semi-solid product is sent to a commercial freezer to harden. It’s this second step, when the water content freezes into ice crystals, that puts the ice in ice cream. The quick freeze of liquid nitrogen inhibits the formation of ice crystals. It makes the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is free of emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Additives like guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan are familiar to you if you’ve ever read the side of a commercially produced ice cream carton. These are added to improve ice cream’s structure and keep the growth rate of ice crystals to an acceptable level. And the oily extracts like monoglycerides, diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 are there to add smoothness. 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is made on the spot and meant to be eaten on the spot.
You see exactly what goes into it and usually it’s nothing more than milk, cream, and flavorings, with each serving made to order.

Kids, don’t try this at home.
Liquid nitrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and with proper handling it’s perfectly safe to eat. The ice cream makers like to remind us that it’s a natural element that makes up 75% of the air we breathe. But it’s also used for cattle branding and to freeze off warts. Stick your finger in it and it will freeze and crack off; eat some that’s not fully vaporized and your stomach can explode. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of those foods that’s best left to the professionals.

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Young Men Are Digging the Dirt

image via Giddy Limits

image via Giddy Limits

 

← This is the average American gardener.
She’s over 45 years old and there is a 79% chance that she’s college educated. She spends an average of five hours a week and $70 a year on her hobby, mostly at garden centers. She almost certainly grows tomatoes.

 

This is the new American gardener. 

image via Williamsburg News

image via Williamsburg News

 

 

 

 

He’s between 18 and 34. He’s not puttering in his own backyard but in the yard of his rental or maybe a community garden. In fact he’s not puttering at all because he’s busy taking on the industrialized food system.

These new gardeners and have little in common with the ladies in floppy sun hats. They plant more intensively in much smaller spaces (96 square feet versus the typical old-school garden of 600 square feet) and spend lavishly (an average of $440), plunking down more in hardware stores than other gardeners. They pass on herbicides, pesticides, and ornamental plantings and have created a boom market for hot peppers and beer hops.

Gardening rates have exploded in the past five years with participation up from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million in 2013.
Five million of those new gardeners came from the 18-34 year old age group, with young men (6 million) quickly gaining on young women (7 million), and most of those are first-time gardeners. Fully 35% of all households in America are now growing food at home or in a community garden. Garden purchases are a top priority for discretionary spending, ranking third after Christmas and weight loss-related purchases; they’re in second place if you throw in the $7 billion spent on garden gnomes and other decorative accessories.

Read more about recent trends in the National Gardening Association’s Garden to Table report on the last five years of food gardening America.
The Art of Manliness enumerates 7 Reasons to Become a Gentleman Gardener.
Read some true life tales of gardening lads who blog:
Posted in diversions, home, trends | 1 Comment

Two New Magazines Mix Food and Fashion

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

Egg Dress designed by Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

 

You’d expect it to be the unholiest of alliances.
In the Venn diagram of life, food and fashion aren’t supposed to intersect— food is what fashionistas avoid so the fashion will fit. Isn’t hunger supposed to be the ultimate fashion accessory? As Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Two new crossover magazines are proving otherwise.
There is some common ground. Both food and fashion are seasonal and colorful. They can be stylish or trendy, and they both photograph well. Purists may grumble but the coalition gives a much-needed boost to the food publishing business. While most print media spent the last few years struggling with online challengers and a balky economy, fashion magazines have been busy breaking sales records for advertising pages. Food gets to hang onto fashion’s coattails with this new category of mashup publications.

cherry-bomb-magazine

 

 

Cherry Bombe thumbs its nose at Kate Moss with a breezy, sample-size-be-damned approach to food. The magazine’s founders have their food industry bona fides, but they also worked together at Harper’s Bazaar, and that’s what on display. Cherry Bombe has the look and feel of a traditional fashion magazine, from the cookie-baking supermodel on the inaugural cover to the glossy, stylized photography inside.

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Alla Carta’s founders say that they bring together food and fashion (and art and design) by exploring the social act of eating. The publication’s fashion-related interviews, editorial content, and photo spreads revolve around meals; good food and good design pull it all together.

There’s one more thing that ‘foodies’ and’ fashionistas’ have in common: both groups detest those fatuous and disparaging nicknames.

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Destination Dining Where the Gas Station is the Destination

Eat-Here-Get-Gas

The term destination restaurant originated with France’s Michelin Guide.
In the early days of motoring, the Michelin tire company got into the travel guide business to boost demand for cars. It assigned the top score of three stars to restaurants with cuisine so exceptional that they were worth a special trip. The restaurant was the destination and a stop at the service station was, Michelin hoped, a byproduct of the journey. 
Now it seems the service station is the destination.

The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, and other media outlets have reported on the recent popularity of gas station cuisine, some even calling it ‘the next big thing’ or ‘the new food truck.’ These are restaurants you head to even when you don’t need to fill up; maybe they’re not vaut le voyage like a Michelin three-star, but they’re not just gas station convenience markets with withered hot dogs turning on grill rollers. There’s a Shell station with pan seared diver scallops on its menu; apricot glazed pork tenderloin served with a view of the Mobil sign; and corned beef that’s slow-cured in-house by an Exxon station’s deli master.

Gas station owners are willing business partners, happy to see a rent check and the increased foot traffic that a restaurant brings. Would-be restaurateurs see relatively low start-up costs for what is typically a highly visible and accessible corner location.

Gas station dining is a long-standing tradition in southern states where picnic tables are a common sight alongside the diesel pumps and locals know that the area’s best barbecued brisket just might come out of a roadside smoker. If you’re new to the genre, it can be jarring to dine on seared ahi amid a parking lot ambience of exhaust fumes, car horns, and stacked oil cans. The intrinsic kitschy charm of the experience is not for everyone.

This month Bon Appetit profiles 16 gas station restaurants around the country. You’ll find reviews of food at the pump at Gas Station Gourmet and Gas Station Tacos.

 

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The Slow Web. Why Stop at Slow Food?

 

Greywell Road image via Sebastian Ballard

Greywell Road image via Sebastian Ballard

 

The Slow Food Movement taught us to reject the creep of fast food and industrial food production so that we can rediscover and reclaim the pleasures of traditional food and cooking.
The Slow Web Movement aims to do the same for the internet.

The Slow Web isn’t a longing for dial-up.
Don’t let the name fool you; nobody wants to slow down your internet connection or take away your smartphone. The movement wants to keep the speed and efficiency of technological gains but find the human rhythm within it that allows for authentic personal connections and deeper engagement with content.

Just as fast food fills us with empty calories, the Fast Web is feeding us the fat, carbs, and sugar of the internet.
It serves up clickable lists and slideshows, infographics and timelines that target our basest appetites for gossip, scandal, eye candy, and stupid pet tricks. It’s short and sweet and goes down easily but is hardly a full meal.

The Fast Web also fuels its own feeding frenzy.
Think of how a communication exchange used to work. Information was provided in something like real time by the media or shared by someone in your circle. Maybe the interaction allowed for some give-and-take—questions, clarification, and the like—but your response could usually be held until you were ready to release it. You would exit real time for an hour or a day or a week when you could reflect and reconsider before formulating a response and committing it to a letter, a conversation, a phone call, or an email.

The Fast Web shrinks the feedback loop down to a nanosecond.
Online responses follow hot on the heels of real time, and if you don’t keep up you’re out of the loop. There’s no time to ponder but who needs to when communication is reduced to smiley faces, LOLs and WTFs? Have a question? That’s what FAQs are for. Craving more interaction? Then click it, pin it, like it, tweet it, or share it.

The How Much Information? project from the Global Information Industry Center found that in 2009 we typically confronted around 100,000 words on screens and 34 gigabytes of information every day. While it’s the most recent study of its kind, it comes from a era when we still thought ‘apps’ meant cheese and crackers and the world had yet to discover Instagram, Pinterest, and the iPad; no doubt our consumption is even greater today.The abbreviated feedback loop of automated algorithms and canned responses is all we have to keep us from drowning in a sea of data.

The Slow Web Movement is concerned with the ways that this erodes our attention spans and devalues our online interactions. We consume vast quantities of information but do so in an endless stream of insubstantial snippets. It all lacks depth and heft, context and analysis. We can’t possibly devote the time to ponder and noodle; to put something down and return to it later with fresh eyes and insights. All of the clips and snippets and soundbites will always be information and never become knowledge.

The founding Manifesto of the Slow Food Movement was written as a call to “defend ourselves against the universal madness of ‘the fast life’… against those who confuse efficiency with frenzy...” It calls ‘the fast life’ a virus that “fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes.” Substitute Facebook for a McDonald’s hamburger and it’s clear that cyberculture  is infected with the same virus. It’s also easy to see why the Slow Web Movement has latched onto food as their model: just as with food, we need to restore communication and human interaction to their former positions as cornerstones of pleasure, culture, and community.

The movement is young, but there’s a groundswell of support.
The Slow Web Movement is explained more fully in the classic TED Talk In Praise of Slowness; it was a featured topic at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival; and even one of the Fast Web’s big winners, Arianna Huffington, has been stumping for the movement, advocating for a slower, more substantive news cycle.

Does this whet your appetite for more than the junk food diet of internet memes and viral videos?
You can get a taste of the Slow Web by downloading the Instapaper app and installing a read-it-later bookmark, and then loading it up with articles from Longreads, a collection of the best longform writing from current issues of publications like The New Yorker, GQ, The New York Times, Gawker, The Believer, Vanity Fair, and anything else that catches the editor’s eye.

 

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America Has Spoken: These Are Our Most Patriotic Foods

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

 

The Fourth is Number One.
Memorial Day and Labor get their own weekends, but we still manage to squeeze in more classic American eating on the 4th of July.

According to data from the top online ordering service Seamless, hamburgers are America’s most-ordered Independence Day restaurant dish. They hold down the number one spot on all three summer holidays, but spike dramatically on July 4th, nearly doubling the orders placed on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Fourth also leads restaurant orders for corn on the cob, hot dogs, and apple pie.

When it comes to backyard barbecues, hot dogs still rule. 
According to the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs over the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The 4th of July is the single biggest hot dog day of the season with 150 million served. Add to it the 750 million pounds of barbecued chickens  we’ll go through and there’s a 1 in 4 chance that you’ll be eating one of those two grilled foods.

Beer is in a class all its own. 
The 4th of July is the biggest beer drinking day of the year accounting for 5% of the nation’s annual beer consumption. It’s a billion dollar sales day that the Beer Institute ranks ahead of Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and even Super Bowl Sunday. Last year beer was the largest selling category of all food and beverage categories for the two weeks leading up to the July 4th holiday.

Some food and beverage marketers will drape themselves in stars and stripes to capture a piece of the holiday action.
That’s how we end up with Benjamin Franklin selling discount mattresses for a TV commercial and Oreos stuffed with limited edition blue filling.

The market researchers at Brand Keys looked at the business of marketing patriotism.
They surveyed thousands of consumers from every region of the country, gathering opinions on 197 brands in 35 categories. The brands that are broadly recognized as most patriotic are not necessarily the ones that engage in the flag-waving call-to-emotion. Some, like Budweiser beer, aren’t even American-owned. But they are all American icons. Their values represent a notion or aspect of America, and those values are deeply ingrained in the brand’s equity. We need to see that a brand’s engagement is genuine and credible if we’re going to engage emotionally with it ourselves.

Three iconic food brands were among the top 10 drawn from all categories: Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, and Wrigley’s. Other food and beverage brands that made the top 50 include McDonalds, Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, and Budweiser.

 

 

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Gay-Friendly Wines

SSMBottleshot

Same Sex Meritage from Stein Family Wines

 

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule on the Defense of Marriage Act, but the wineries have already spoken.
Many in the industry have been coming out loud and proud on the side of same sex marriage. They’re contributing to LGBTQ advocacy groups, hosting same sex wedding parties in their vineyards, and even putting their politics on the label.

Some of the recent gay-friendly bottlings:

  • Same Sex Meritageas the winemakers say, “United States citizens should have two irrevocable freedoms– to marry the person they love and to purchase an awesome wine at a reasonable price.”
  • Égalité : “A toast to equality.”
  • A reference to the genetic origins of sexual orientation, Genetic Pinot Noir comes from the LGBTQ wine label Stand Tall Wine Co.

One part social statement, one part savvy sales strategy.
When they broadcast their pride-friendly slogans and messages, the winemakers conveniently tap into a large and growing consumer segment that is more affluent and consumer driven than the average. It’s the so-called ‘pink dollar,’ the $790 billion U.S. LGBTQ market that’s heavy on the DINKs (Double Income No Kids) with a powerful inclination to favor businesses that favor them.

Raise a glass to the newlyweds.
A few years ago Forbes speculated that if marriage laws change nationally, the potential market for same sex weddings could be $16.8 billion annually. Imagine the windfall to a company like Stein Family Wines with its Same Sex Meritage— tailor-made for toasting the happy couples.

There will undoubtedly be some pandering as the barriers to marriage fall and the LGBTQ celebrations market picks up steam. But for the most part the early wine entrants have demonstrated a genuine commitment to the struggle for gay rights. For every bottle of Same Sex Meritage sold, Stein Family Wines donates $1 to the advocacy group Freedom to Marry; Égalité gives a portion to organizations benefiting LGBTQ youth; and Genetic Pinot Noir’s maker is aligned with Napa Valley’s LGBTQ Connection.

And it’s not just new bottlings with their message-specific labels. Plenty of heritage winemakers, especially in California’s gay-friendly wine country, have quietly supported the LGBTQ movement for years, even decades.

Find the wine.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation rates corporate policies and practices as they relate to the LGBT community. Its 2013 Buyer’s Guide gives highest marks to dozens of wineries.

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Cronuttiness

cronuts-18

If he ran for mayor he’d probably win

Is this is the most powerful man in New York?
He’s not a movie star or a rapper, he didn’t start a tech company and he’s not looking to be the city’s next mayor. His name is Dominique Ansel, and he’s a pastry chef.

You’re forgiven if you haven’t been following the craziness surrounding the cronut, but trust me, in certain quarters it’s been a very big deal. Right now in New York it’s easier to score a pair of orchestra seats to Broadway’s Matilda than a couple of cronuts. Pastry fans are lining up two hours ahead of Ansel’s bakery’s 8AM opening—the sole source of the world’s cronut supply since the baker trademarked his creation. The 700% black market premium for a cronut is stiffer than the markup you’d pay to a Times Square ticket scalper. Time Magazine covered the phenomenon, The New Yorker speculated about peak cronut,’ and global pastry lovers salivate as the foreign press anticipates the cronut’s arrival on their shores.

cronut

pastry nirvana, calorie count unknown

The eye of the storm. 
The cronut is a croissant-doughnut hybrid that’s made with a croissant-like dough that’s shaped and fried like a donut. It’s rolled in sugar, filled with vanilla cream, and glazed.

rain or shine, the cronut line

rain or shine, the cronut line

Cronut-making is a labor intensive, 3 hour process, limiting the output to about 200 or so each day, and a single flavor (currently lemon-maple) each month. Even with a newly instituted 2-cronut limit per customer, they’re all gone before the back of the line can make it through the door. The bakery sells them for $5 apiece, but some are flipped on the spot or pop up on Craigslist at crazily inflated prices.

Cosmopolitan-001-de1rubikscube1-w-150x150    cabbagepatchkids2-w-150x150  space food stick3dglasses2-w-150x150

Is the cronut the pet rock of the food world?
When was the last time you blackened something or sprinkled on the oat bran? Americans are notoriously promiscuous eaters, always eager to jump on the latest food trend. In just the past few months we’ve been cycling through cake pops, Sriracha, kale, Greek yogurt, and anything sold from a truck. Vogue has proclaimed this summer ‘The Season of the Cronut,’ but let’s not forget that 2010 was supposed to be ‘The Year of the Korean Taco.’

Cronuts could have the staying power of cupcakes or the shelf-life of a mid-century baked Alaska. Only time will tell.

 

Bummer!

Bummer!

 

 

 

 

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We Want Meatballs

 

meatball recipe

 

What we want: meatballs.
What we don’t want: a meatball trend.

Try as they might, the food press could not shoehorn meatballs into the latest food fad.
Bon Appetit dubbed 2010 The Year of the Meatball; People Magazine went with 2011 for Meatball Mania, and The Food Channel tried again in 2012. But for all the meatball-only boutiques and roving meatball food trucks in all the right neighborhoods, meatballs are not now— and will never be— the new cupcake.

Meatballs are universally and perennially loved; so much so that they are trend-proofed and fad-resistant. They never fall out of fashion or favor. They are rarely stylish but always in style.

That’s not to say that meatballs can’t have their moment.
In fact the added attention meatballs have received makes this an excellent moment. They’re more popular than ever in restaurants where they seem to anchor every small-plates menu ever printed. Meatballs can be Indian (köfta), Italian (polpette), Greek (keftedes), or Mexican (albóndigas), and they speak comfort in any language.

Chefs might want to reinvent meatballs with luxe and modern ingredients, but the best are those that barely tweak the classic recipes and humble traditions. They’re not a vehicle for expensive cuts of meat, but benefit from cheap and fatty grindings. They cry out for filler to add flavor and moisture, and are a perfect landing spot for stale bread and cheese rinds.

Meatballs are simple and inexpensive to prepare at home, and are nearly always a bargain on restaurant menus. They are at home in soup, on a sandwich, atop pasta, or stuffed in rice paper, grape leaves, or  dumpling wrappers. They make a fine appetizer, a winning lunch, and soothe our frazzled, modern souls in a satisfying dinner.

Who needs trendy when we can have meatballs?

 

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We Can Pickle That!

image via IFC

 

Spoofed on TV: It’s a sure sign that pickles have crossed from alternative to mainstream.
The oft-brilliant sketch comedians of Portlandia love to give a ribbing to studiously trendy foods. They skewered the pretensions of mixology with a cocktail of ginger-based bourbon infused with ingredients like charred ice, egg shells, bitters, and rotten banana; ‘green’ carnivores brought us Colin, a restaurant chicken dish served with his local, free-range, heritage breed, woodland-raised pedigree; and the Allergy-Pride Parade celebrated a lactose- and wheat-free world. Now we have the overzealous briners of We Can Pickle That! who enthusiastically pickle and eat all manner of brined matter. “Too many eggs? We can pickle that! Dropped your ice cream cone? We can pickle that! Broke a heel on your shoe? We can pickle that!” Before the opening credits had rolled for the latest Portlandia season, they had pickled an old CD jewel box case, Band-Aids, a parking ticket, and a dead bird.

Can you call a process that’s been with us for thousands of years a trend?
Pickling began as a food preservation technique in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s now practiced globally in a multitude of forms: Indian chutneys, Irish corned beef, herring in Scandinavia, Germany’s sauerkraut, Chinese duck eggs, and Korean kimchi are all regional adaptations of the culinary art. Here in the U.S. the cucumber is king, and the average American eats 8½ pickled pounds of them a year: sweet pickles in the South, where you can get them brined in Kool-Aid; bread-and-butter slices in the Midwest; refrigerated for Northeasterners; and kosher dills for everyone.

What’s new is the way pickles are being reinvented in every color, shape, size, and texture. Chefs are experimenting with everything from apples to sea beans in brines both sweet and savory. They’re adding them to salads, soufflés, seafood, and desserts, and even giving them center stage with entire pickle plates.

The new pickle renaissance was disconcerting to top pickle-maker Vlasic. 
As supermarket pickles go, they hold their own with a nice vinegar zip, a touch of peppery heat, and their famous crunch, but with an ingredient list that’s as much laboratory as grandma’s kitchen and an alarmingly fluorescent yellow hue (thank you, Artificial Yellow #5), they were turning off the new breed of pickle buyer. Vlasic recently introduced its new ‘artisanal’ pickle line to compete with jarred upstarts like McClure’s and Brooklyn Brine. Farmer’s Garden™ by Vlasic® eschews Mexican imports for most of the year using Michigan cucumbers in season, and adds whole garlic cloves, pepper strips, whole peppercorns, and carrot slices. With no artificial coloring, they look less like Mountain Dew than Vlasic’s traditional varieties, and you can buy them at Walmart for about half the price of their trendy competitors’ pickles. Indeed, the pickle renaissance has gone mainstream.

 

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IV Drip Vitamins: The new health cocktail

Mainline your multi
Instead of popping a multivitamin, a growing number of healthy individuals are opting for an intravenous fix.
The treatment is available to anyone looking for a little extra pep in their step, and ardent wellness fans, over-stressed executives, nightlife mavens, and elite athletes have all jumped on the trend. In Las Vegas, an anesthesiologist cruises the Strip in the custom-fitted Hangover Heaven bus offering on-the-spot infusions touted for their hangover-soothing qualities. In Los Angeles, where there are plenty of celebrity practitioners raising the treatment’s profile (Rhianna even tweeted pictures of herself with the needle in her arm), it’s become so commonplace among the beautiful people that the prodigious community of cosmetic surgeons has adopted it as a service add-on.

Not sick, just kind of meh
The patients are typically looking for a little boost to their energy. They feel run down or they’re not sleeping well or maybe they’re catching a lot of colds. The infusion can be tweaked to address their particular brand of the blahs. Florida-based DefyMedical is trying to establish a national brand and has created a menu of pre-mixed vitamin cocktails for the most common complaints, and it ships them out to be administered at medical offices and clinics around the country. Proprietary blends include an infusion that claims to improve athletic performance, the ‘Alpha’ blend (Replenish, Restore, and Revitalize), and the toxin-removing AfterParty.

Is more necessarily better?
The ‘drippers’ swear that the effects of IV vitamin therapy are vastly different from the results you get from oral supplements. They report feeling a significant sense of well-being within hours or even minutes of the infusion. The clinical evidence is less clear.

Intravenous vitamins are absorbed more quickly and fully than pills, and can kick-start energy production at a cellular level. That’s the reason that for decades the medical community has prescribed intravenous vitamins as a standard medical treatment for a variety of digestive and immune system ailments that can interfere with the body’s natural ability to absorb nutrients from food or oral compounds. But most scientists doubt that they can have much effect on a healthy system with blood nutrient levels already in a relatively normal range.

An IV vitamin treatment usually costs between $50 and $250. Some people choose to have them weekly. There’s a small chance that the cocktail can cause an electrolyte  imbalance, and as with any IV drip there is some risk of infection. All factors to consider before you elect to flood your veins with vitamins.

For a needle-free hang over cure, read Gigabiting’s Hung Over? You Need Food!

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Child Foodies: Even more obnoxious than the grown-ups

 

image via Supermarket Guru

 

It seems that kids don’t want to eat like kids; or at least a certain sort of parent doesn’t want them to.

The Prepubescent Epicure as Ultimate Foodie Accessory
It goes beyond the desire of parents to raise an adventurous eater or to share a love of food with their children. It’s a badge of honor for the urban sophisticate; instead of comparing notes on traditional childhood milestones like first steps and shoe-tying, parents claim bragging rights to the child that can handle an escargot fork or requests duck confit in their lunch box. A new tooth is cause for celebration because now the little one can finally have his own artichoke.

Into and Out of the Mouths of Babes
Here are select outtakes from the haute world of kid cuisine:

  • The Brooklyn Paper explores the coffee culture of the borough’s youngest cafe habitués, ‘tots ditching their bottles and juice boxes in favor of “babyccinos” — mini decaf cappuccinos.
  • ‘Down from heaven came the crab. It was enclosed in the zucchini flower, doused with black truffle sauce, topped with shaved truffles…’
    –from the blog of 12 year-old David Fishman, aka the Middle School Food Critic, whose reviews have appeared in GQ Magazine.
  • Birthday Cake Two Ways in which a food blogger tells of serving a wheel of truffle-infused aged goat cheese ‘with three white candles plunged into its earthy skin‘ in lieu of a cake to celebrate her daughter’s 3rd birthday
  • C is for Chanterelle, K is for Kobe Beef in My Foodie ABC, a bestselling alphabet primer
  • A New York Times roundup of kid-friendly meals includes a $32 child-sized serving of spaghetti with butter at the Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Of course there’s nothing wrong with teaching kids about good food. Their young immune systems can’t handle certain raw foods; otherwise, let them experiment. But the notion of tiny, discriminating epicures is a figment of the narcissistic parent’s imagination.

Oliver Stern, 3, who lives on the Upper East Side and attends a private nursery school there, won’t eat Chinese unless it’s the $33 crispy beef from Mr. Chow
–from Twee-sine, the New York Posts’ look at the twee cuisine phenomenon, as proudly reported by his mother

According to the Monell Chemical Senses Center children have childish tastes that serve an evolutionary function by helping them get appropriate nutrition. They prefer sweet to savory, need higher levels of salt, react powerfully to strong odors, and are more drawn to textures than taste.

A child’s tastebuds are immature. Their palates are just plain unrefined, physically incapable of truly rarefied discernment. There have always been picky eaters and kids who throw temper tantrums over Happy Meals. Thanks to indulgent parenting, now they’re stamping their little feet over a $32 plate of Mr. Chow’s crispy beef.

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Tap Water: Cheap, Environmentally Sound, and Now Trendy?

[image via Pur]

Remember the aha moment when you realized that Evian is ‘naive’ spelled backwards?
It was a moment of clarity, of sanity. You wouldn’t be duped. You wouldn’t be one of those status-seeking suckers out there who were buying into baseless health claims and slick marketing. You knew that the Emperor was just plain naked.

So what happened?
You did become one of them. We all did.
We’re drinking more bottle water than ever—85 million bottles every single day. But there is one bright spot; one place where we have curbed the habit and are going out of our way to specify tap: tap water orders are way up in restaurants. According to the consumer research group NPD, restaurant tap water is one of the fastest-growing beverage orders, increasing annually by nearly a billion servings.

Economic conditions are clearly behind the trend. In the current recession, we’ve barely cut back on the frequency of dining out—just one percent in the past 5 years—but we’re looking for ways to trim the tab. We’re keeping dessert and dumping the bottled water.

Tap water also has a kind of reverse status for the restaurants.
For three decades, beginning with the Perrier days of the 1970s, restaurants were guilty of promoting water elitism. They sent their waiters out to push high mark-up/high margin bottled water menus, and made us feel like cheapskates when we chose the tap. Now they’re shunning bottled water to demonstrate their locavore and sustainability bonafides, and frankly, they owe us this one.

There’s an environmental upside to the down economy. Since 2006, just this little switch to tap water in restaurants has already saved 8.75 billion gallons of water, and all the associated packaging, transportation, recycling, and landfill waste. The challenge is to make this change permanent, and not lapse into our old water habits when the economy turns around.

 

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Iced Coffee is Hot Hot Hot!

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Iced coffee is expected to rack up yet another season of double-digit sales increases.

The big boys are tripping over each other with new product launches as each tries to cash in on our growing affinity for iced versions of our favorite beverage. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and McDonalds will be going head-to-head this summer, each with its own frozen-dark-roasted-choice-of-flavored-syrup-blended-ginormous renditions. […]

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Raise Your Hand if You’re Sick of the Bacon Hype

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Let me start by saying I like bacon as much as the next gal.

I get the allure. It’s sweet and smoky and salty and meaty. There is no smell more intoxicating than that of bacon cooking. It is understandably the gateway meat that brings vegetarians back in the fold.

But come on people. Enough with the silly bacon love. […]

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Is That for Here or To Go: coffee in motion

Four Seasons Hotels announced that it will begin offering to go cups with its morning coffee service.

If there is anywhere that cups and saucers should be right at home it’s Four Seasons. The hotels are bastions of luxury and elegance, where mornings have been a time for the genteel hush of dining rooms and lobbies broken only by the sounds of crisp newspapers and the ring of spoons against fine china.

The rest of the world has always considered the to go cup to be a somewhat uncouth symbol of America’s go-go culture. Order a coffee in virtually any cafe in Europe and it is sure to be delivered in a proper cup, frequently on a tray with niceties like a glass of water and maybe a little cookie or chocolate. To go isn’t even an option for most of the world’s coffee drinkers. […]

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Real Men Eat Cupcakes: Dude Food

Men are taking back the kitchen..

Of course plenty of men have always enjoyed cooking. What’s different now is that so many of them aren’t just men— they’re guys, they’re dudes, they’re bros.

The bros are a subculture that’s been closely associated with take out pizza and happy hour chicken wings. When they venture into their man-cave kitchens, they’ve been best known for barbeque skills and beer can chicken, eschewing anything as wussy-ass as salads and vegetables and any dish that requires a recipe. But this new breed of food dudes is stretching its culinary muscles. […]

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Putting your money where your mouth is

cheap-eats

image courtesy of Saving with Shellie

Blame Thoreau.

In the mid 1800’s he engaged in an experiment in simple living and self-reliance, moving into a small, self-built cabin on an isolated piece of land outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Lacking a blog, Thoreau documented his experiences in the American classic Walden; or Life in the Woods.

The present-day conceit of this form of social experimentation has become all too familiar. Temporarily adopting some nouveau-Thoreauvian form of deprivation (the minimalism of No Impact Man or the stringency of the 100 Mile Diet), the blogger is able to transcend the wasteful, destructive consumerism that is the lot of so many of us. […]

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