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33 posts categorized "Food for Thought"

January 10, 2017

2017 Food Trends: The Flavors of Africa Part 2, North Africa

Tagine_foodcentric
Lamb tagine with chickpeas, apricots and pomegranate seeds.

By Piet E. Jones


Our journey across African cuisine continues. Next we find ourselves north of the Sahara and along the upper eastern coast. Here the cuisine is a convergence of African with Middle Eastern and Asian influences. One spice, cardamom, is used across Africa but comes into play with heavy prominence here where its earthy flavor adds to the fragrant mix of the cooking. In the United States cardamom tends to be most frequently used in desserts, but maybe it’s time to take some of it up to the main line of your kitchen.

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January 3, 2017

2017 Food Trends: The Flavors of Africa Part 1

Foodcentric_jollof_rice
Jollof Rice with fried plantains

By Piet E. Jones

Every year, the prognosticators polish off their crystal balls and try to predict what the next hot trends in dining will be. Getting ahead of the next of the next big thing in dining can be great for keeping the buzz going about your restaurant—fine tuning your dishes to perfection so you’re the one people think of when the trend peaks and every local publication is churning out “best-of” listicles for where to get that dish. Sure, not every trend will work for your restaurant, but look at how ramen, a dish that popped huge a few years ago and is still winding its way towards peak saturation, has shown up on the unlikeliest of menus. The key is identifying the key trends early and finding what techniques and ingredients can complement your dining philosophy and excite your customers.

For 2017, one trend that has been identified by those with their ears to the ground is African cuisine.  Which leads many a chef to draw a complete and total blank.  First, that’s a bit like saying the trend is European cooking and, while that might be more familiar, is equally broad and undefined. Then there’s the reality that many chefs in America are simply unfamiliar with what might constitute African cooking.  A quick look across the vast continent, though, and you’ll find an array of techniques and rich, earthy flavors that can be easily incorporated into your existing menu.  It’s just a matter of narrowing your focus and finding the right region or country for your inspiration. Let’s start with Central Africa.

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October 31, 2016

How to Open on Thanksgiving Without Making Your Entire Staff Hate You

By: Piet E. Jones

Thanksgiving_foodcentricGreat, you’ve decided to open for Thanksgiving. Now the next question, how do you pull this off without sending staff morale into the basement? Competition for both front- and back-of-house staff is fierce, especially for experienced and competent employees. Sure, you may get through the holiday without anyone actually quitting, but a month or two down the line when the new locavore bistro around the corner opens or there’s a position at a downtown high-end hot spot, your staffers may remember not being able to spend a holiday with their family and be more open to making a move. Watching that sous chef you’ve spent the last year training and grooming or the bartender who created your hot cocktail program walk out the door represents a lost investment and can be disruptive to your future earnings.

Striking a balance for both the business and your staff is key. Some restaurants, especially those in hotels or resorts, are expected to be open. Others have a long history of holiday dining. Employees recognize this but, in terms of your staff, make sure days like this aren’t taken for granted. A few relatively simple steps can go a long way toward making them feel better about missing time with their families.

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July 11, 2016

The End of the Entrée as We Know It

By: Piet E. Jones

Entree_snackChange. It keeps happening. Look at menus from a hundred years ago and you see what would be considered now to be a gluttonous number of courses with meals that started late and ran well into the evening, lasting many, many hours. Between the Great Depression and war rationing, things got a little more streamlined with but one entree course (instead of a fish and a fowl and a meat!), a reasonable number of starter courses, and maybe a dessert if the menu is really enticing. 

Over the years, restaurants and their diners fell into a fairly predictable routine that most of us recognize today. Early couples grabbing a bite to eat before a movie or a show, a main dinner hour with sets of two or three couples, and a few late couples out for a more romantic, quiet meal. Restaurant design grew to accommodate this with the right mix of four-tops and two-tops, menus and staffing to match, and a reservation book tuned to turning tables every hour and a half or so.

Change, however, is in the air again and the old paradigm is showing signs of fracturing. Some tables order a couple of appetizers and leave. Others split a side, a couple of cocktails, and stay long past closing. Deuces dominate, leaving many a four top half full with the corresponding income lost. What is driving this change and how can you cope?

Technology and the more frenetic pace of our lives are possible contributors. The Washington Post points to Tinder, the ubiquitous dating app, as one of the culprits. Ill-conceived first dates that range from public disaster to R-rated floor show playing out in the middle of the dining room. Sometimes it’s harried parents who, on a special night out, have traded in bar-hopping for restaurant-hoping—making the most of getting a babysitter by hitting four or five restaurants in a single night, ordering nothing but appetizers and top shelf cocktails. Then there’s the reserved 12 top, taking up a big chunk of dining real estate and sometimes a server’s only table for the evening that turns out to be a “girl’s night out.” That can end up being a huge check with lots of fun or a whole lot of side salads and single glasses of Pinot Grigio. 

The Post reports that some restaurants are dealing with this by rethinking their dining space. Adding more two-top tables, creating private nooks with a little privacy to encourage more romance, even expanding foodservice and space in the bar areas to shift some people away from the dining room. Of course, not everyone can afford costly overhauls or even shutting down while they occur. You can, however, make some tweaks to your existing operation to better accommodate the new reality.

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June 13, 2016

Step Outside the Box and Inspire Summer Sales

EggsBy: Piet E. Jones

Summer is here. Warm days and long evenings. Extended weekends full of holiday cookouts, grilling with friends and unless you’re lucky enough to be a tourist destination, empty tables. What can be done to keep that revenue flowing during the off season?

You could start by thinking outside the box. The box being your restaurant. And outside being, well, outside. In today’s busy world, people love weekend cookouts and holiday barbecues, but many don’t have time to make a dish to bring. Add to that the increasing sophistication of people’s palates, along with a desire to show off to friends, and suddenly that quart of three-bean salad from the grocery store just doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

Why not take advantage of the season and offer your menu as an alternative for all these needs? Look to your side and appetizer menu, even your dessert list, and let your imagination run. Got garlic mashed potatoes as a side? Maybe you’re well known for your gruyere mac-n-cheese. You probably already make these items in bulk—why not offer them in portion sizes perfect for picnic tables? Some items might not even require reheating. Your green bean and bacon side with a mustard vinaigrette? It’s just as good served cold as it is hot.

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July 14, 2015

News You Can Use to Plan Your Next Move

Crepes_sizedWhen we see an important trend or two or three or four we just gotta weigh in, you know, before the trend is passé and everyone’s on to the next big thing. Last year, we were writing about food trucks and how they rolled into towns giving restaurateurs a venue to try out a new concept without major expense. Now we look at the next evolution in the process, along with some other noteworthy game changers.

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June 16, 2015

Fast Casual Foods of India: Who Will Wrap It Up in America?


Fast_Casual_IndianThe cuisine of India has always been somewhat of a tough sell to American consumers, who seem to either love it or hate it without much in-between. For those who love it, especially vegetarians, the combination of spices, often with a little heat from chilies, presents a bonanza of choices. For those on the other end of the spectrum, the extensive menus, unfamiliar spices and flavors, and yes, murky food colors, are too daunting to try. Yet slowly but surely, Indian foods are making mainstream inroads. Naan, for example, has become as ubiquitous as pita bread even at the big box groceries. And then there’s curry. Sure, everyone knows what it is. It’s something and something, with some sort of spices and sometimes sauce.  Or, it’s that powder on the spice shelf with a label that says—wait for it—curry.   

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April 6, 2015

Top Trends from the International Pizza Expo

Expo Booth FoodcentricWe just got back from the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. Yes, it was a tough task stuffing our faces at the largest pizza show in the world, but someone had to do it. While our Roma Italian brand celebrated its 60th anniversary, we scouted out new trends to complement our Old World-inspired collection. Here’s a roundup of what we came back with.

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January 19, 2015

Staying Up-to-Date with Consumers’ Conflicting Needs

Caviar deviled eggConsumer food demands are all over the map these days. A curious mixture of health-driven, convenience-driven, and taste-driven, diners want it all at a restaurant. They want to veer from something comforting, to something healthy, to something decadent—and back again.

No one can cater to everyone, but restaurateurs can check out these possibilities if they want to satisfy those wacky needs.

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December 30, 2014

What's On The Menu: 2015

Grasshoppers
Will we see you eating bugs in 2015?

This is the time of year when everyone looks into their crystal bowl for restaurant trends in 2015. Some of them are obvious—the increased use of technology-at-the-table for instance, so that customers can order, entertain themselves and pay their bills on a restaurant-supplied tablet—all without ever making eye contact.

Then there are those calorie counts that must be included on menus in restaurants with 20 or more outlets, movie popcorn, vending machine foods and alcoholic beverages. This one is interesting because it may—or may not—lead to consumers making more informed choices. Or it might scare them away altogether, like drinking that morning coffee without that morning pastry (sigh!). Restaurateurs are already offering smaller portion sizes (mini scones, two-bite desserts) and reconfigured menu items to make dishes lower in fat and calories.

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