Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chef Loses Sense of Taste But Still Loves To Cook

In the pint-size kitchen of his San Francisco home, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Carlo Middione hunches over a counter, methodically rolling veal meatballs as tiny as necklace beads to add to a pot of simmering chicken broth.

At the dining table, he ladles the soup into bowls, adding a shower of freshly grated Parmigiano to each. Then he digs in, lifting a spoonful to his mouth.

The soup, a favorite recipe of his mother's, is one he's made countless times. But these days, he can no longer taste it. The distinctive flavors of garlic, parsley, sage and rosemary in the meatballs are elusive. The savoriness of the broth is undetectable. If he concentrates, he can he pick up a trace of salt. That's it.

Three years ago, Middione's palate went from Technicolor to black. After a car accident in which his small sedan was rear-ended by a Toyota Tundra, Middione lost his ability to smell and taste.

For a man whose senses were once so acute he could sniff a vinaigrette and tell if it was balanced, or determine whether a pot of boiling pasta water was salted just by smelling it, the loss was devastating.
It led to him closing his 29-year-old Fillmore Street restaurant, Vivande Porta Via, on New Year's Eve 2009, and to relearning how to cook and eat when the senses he once relied on could no longer be fully trusted.

"When I see a strawberry now, I can verbally describe what it tastes like," he says. "But if I tasted it, I might not taste anything. I get phantom tastes and smells now. Some people think that's a good sign. It's like if the phone rings, and it turns out to be a wrong number. At least you know the phone is working."

Middione has some company in the professional chef world. Most notably, chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago lost his sense of taste after undergoing chemotherapy for tongue cancer. And Kirk Webber, chef-owner of Cafe Kati in San Francisco, lost his sense of taste after suffering two concussions in a mugging in 2003.

These chefs eventually regained their ability to taste, although they are considerably younger than Middione, who's in his mid-70s.

When taste disappears, it's often because of the loss of the sense of smell, says Barb Stuckey, an executive at Mattson, a large food-development firm in Foster City, who is writing a book on the subject that features Middione. Anyone who's ever tried to figure out the flavor of a jelly bean while chewing it with pinched nostrils knows that all too well.

Loss of smell, and thus taste, also occurs naturally with age, but Middione suffered head trauma. The impact not only cracked Middione's sternum, ribs and several teeth, but he says it also jostled his brain so severely that it sheared the neurons that connect to his olfactory nerve, which is instrumental in the sense of smell.
Generally, those neurons regrow and reconnect. Sometimes they reconnect perfectly; sometimes they don't ever rejoin; and other times they form wrong connections that result in phantom smells.

Read the rest of the story here .

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grocers Flocking to the Inner Cities

Wal-Mart Stores is gearing up to open small outlets next year in U.S. cities, where it hopes to sell a lot of groceries. Trouble is, at least a half-dozen others are also seeking accelerated growth in urban America. CVS Caremark, Walgreen, Supervalu, and Family Dollar Stores all are offering more fresh food at their urban outlets or opening small stores in neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious grub.

 While selling food is a mature business, 23.5 million Americans live in underserved urban areas—a market potentially worth $100 billion a year, says Jim Hertel, managing partner with retail consultant Willard Bishop. "It's easy to go into a liquor or convenience store and find potato chips," he says. "But in terms of something you would feel good serving your family, not so much."

The big grocery store chains largely abandoned the cities in the 1970s and followed their customers to the suburbs. There they found abundant, cheap land and built superstores and parking lots large enough for 1,000 cars. Now they have saturated that market and are turning their attention back to urban neighborhoods that have long been served by mom-and-pop stores—or not at all.

About five years ago, Family Dollar began selling a limited selection of mostly packaged and frozen food in New York, Chicago, and Detroit. As the concept caught on, the company began carrying staples such as bread, eggs, and milk. "We have a bulkhead in many major urban areas, and we'll continue to build on [that]," Chief Operating Officer R. James Kelly said in October.

Now other retailers that traditionally haven't carried groceries are moving in. Pharmacy chain CVS Caremark is adding fruit, salads, sandwiches, and other prepared meals at a growing number of its city locations. The second-largest U.S. drugstore chain, behind Walgreen, plans this year to remodel about 300 urban stores to carry food items in Boston, New York, Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Eventually one-fifth of its 7,000 stores could be reconfigured, CVS says.

While CVS is aiming at a cross-section of consumers, Save-A-Lot, a no-frills grocer owned by Supervalu, targets households with incomes below $45,000 in neighborhoods where supermarkets are scarce. The U.S. government is offering $400 million a year in loans and tax incentives to lure stores offering better quality food to these underserved areas by 2017, part of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

Read the complete story here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Survey Says: Diners Love Local and Hate Texting

A new Zagat survey tracks American dining out trends and behaviors
October 27, 2010 | By Bret Thorn
New Orleans diners tip the best, Hawaiians the worst, diners think that texting at the table is rude and that food should be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised.

Those were among the findings of Zagat's survey of 153,000 diners as it compiled its 2011 America’s Top Restaurants guide, which was released Wednesday.

Sixty-eight percent of participants in the survey said they thought it was important for the food they eat to be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised, and 60 percent said they would even pay more for such food. Nearly a third, 31 percent, said they sought out restaurants specializing in such “green” cuisine.

Most diners — 85 percent — said it was fine to take pictures of food and each other at restaurants, but 63 percent said texting, tweeting and talking on cell phones was rude and inappropriate. 
Diners are eating out a little less than before the recession — 3.1 times per week, compared with 3.3 percent. Thirty-nine percent said they are paying more attention to price, 33 percent said they’re eating in less expensive places, 17 percent said they were cutting back on alcohol, and 21 percent said they were ordering fewer appetizers and desserts.

Still, the national average price of a meal rose 2.2 percent in the past year to $35.37. New Orleans, where the average tip is 19.7 percent, has the lowest average meal cost among Zagat survey participants — of $28.36.

Right behind New Orleans diners in tipping are Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Ohio, where tippers leave an average gratuity of 19.6 percent

On the low end, Hawaiians tip 18.4 percent on average, and diners in Sacramento and San Francisco tip an average of 18.6 percent.

Las Vegas is the most expensive city to eat in, with an average meal price of $44.44.

Read the entire article here.

See the complete Zagat survey results here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Throwing Away Our Food

The U.S. produces about 591 billion pounds of food each year, and up to half of it goes to waste, costing farmers, consumers and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.

In his new book, "American Wasteland" (Da Capo Press, 2010), Jonathan Bloom examines the story of discarded food, from vegetables left to rot in the field to unsold hamburgers shovelled into restaurant trash bins.

He also offers potential remedies, such as taxes on landfills, expanded composting programs and incentives for farmers to harvest all that they grow and to donate what they can't sell.


Food waste begins at farms. With lettuce, for example, the average harvest rate has been estimated at 85% to 90%. The rest of the lettuce—heads that don't look or feel perfect on quick inspection—are left in the field. One cucumber grower said that at least half of the cucumbers on his farms aren't harvested,mostly because they are too curved (making them hard to pack) or have white spots or small cracks. Farm losses are generally higher for hand-picked fruit and perishable vegetables than for machine-harvested commodity crops like corn and wheat; about 9% of commodity crops planted in the U.S. aren't harvested.

Look at the rest of the cycle of food waste here.

Charities in Trouble

Donations to top charities nationwide are dropping.  Central Indiana is not escaping the trend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chefs See Double-edge Sword in Reality TV Shows

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chefs acknowledge cooking on television is an effective way to promote their restaurants and cookbooks but some of them do not savor the frenzy and demands of reality competition shows.

In the United States, cooking competition shows are part of a growing genre, which garners advertising support from the food industry.

These series, such as "Top Chef Masters" and "The Next Iron Chef," are known as much for their emotional exchanges between contestants and judges as their cooking challenges.

Some of New York's top chefs said appearing on television has become part of their job as chefs emerge from their kitchens as celebrities.

"It's a marketing tool," Jimmy Bradley, head chef and owner of the Red Cat in West Chelsea, said during the New York City Wine & Food Festival that ended on Sunday.

Many chefs who have appeared on these competition shows have become celebrities with attendees at the festival lining up to see their cooking demonstrations or to be photographed with them.

Chefs who have competed said these shows were powerful as they reached a nationwide audience of potential diners or buyers of their cookbooks.

"To win is to have a successful business," said Bradley, who sees the financial rewards stemming from appearing on these shows as possibly more important than winning the competition.

At the same time, these chefs feel the shows' grueling filming schedule, scrambling for ingredients and their use of appliances are less than ideal to showcase their talents.

"It's a bit of humiliation," said Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and proprietor of Prune in Manhattan's East Village.

Read the complete story here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oysters Rockefeller

One of my favorite (and most requested) recipes:

Oysters Rockefeller
(Serves 8)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 shallots, chopped
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup Pernod (Anise flavored liqueur)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash red pepper sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 dozen oysters, on the half shell
Rock salt
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450°F.
Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat.
Sauté the garlic for 2 minutes to infuse the butter.
Place the bread crumbs in a mixing bowl and add half the garlic butter, set aside.
To the remaining garlic butter in the sauté pan, add shallots and spinach, cook for 3 minutes until the spinach wilts.
Deglaze the pan with Pernod.   
Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper sauce. 
Allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes.
Finish the bread crumbs by mixing in olive oil, Parmesan and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the spinach mixture on each oyster, followed by a spoonful of the bread crumb mixture.
Sprinkle a baking pan liberally with rock salt and arrange the oysters in the salt to steady them. 
Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden.
Serve with lemon wedges and red pepper sauce.
Serves 8.

Oysters Come Back in Vogue

In Falmouth, October marks the beginning of the oyster season. For centuries, this small fishing village on the southwest coast of England has welcomed seafarers and fisherman to dredge its wild oyster beds, which lay dotted along the silt flats of the Fal estuary. Their prize is the native or flat oyster—a sweet, delicate, saucer-shaped mollusk much sought after by the Romans, whose historian Pliny the Elder recommended them for improving the complexion.

Today, it is their taste—an experience that lays somewhere between the sea bed and the salty water—that attracts thousands of visitors to the Cornish village of Falmouth. 

Next weekend, the rivers around the Fal estuary will be flooded with small oyster boats, known as Falmouth working boats, powered by sail or hand-pulled, looking to dredge the many oyster beds that lie beneath the waters. (For oystermen fishing in the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery, engines are prohibited, by decree of ancient laws put in place to protect the natural ecology of the river beds and the oysters.) Once the fishermen have collected their haul, the oysters will be purified for 36 hours before they are sold to customers across Europe, a practice that will continue until the end of the season in March.

It is part of a renaissance of the British oyster, says Nick Hodges, executive head chef at the Flying Fish restaurant at St. Michaels Hotel in Falmouth. "Oysters are back in vogue. We've gone through times when their popularity has dwindled, but now they are very much a prize possession again," says Mr. Hodges, whose grandparents farmed oysters. "Even on a local basis, they are on a lot more Cornish menus now. We now export much more to the European market, something we were not doing a few years ago."

There are two main kinds of oysters found in the British Isles: the flat, or native, oyster (Ostrea edulis), most famously grown among the beds in Whitstable, Colchester and Helford; and the rock, or Pacific, oyster (Crassostrea gigas), which was introduced commercially into Britain in the 1960s.

Although they are smaller, the native oysters are widely regarded as tasting superior, with a more delicate, metallic note. Rock oysters, meanwhile, are characterized as having a rough shell and a tear-dropped shaped. They tend to have a sweeter, more salty flavor and are meatier in texture. According to Drew Smith, author of "Oyster: A World History," oyster fossils can be found in England's Portland stone, which dates back to the Jurassic period, making them one of the oldest foodstuffs in the world.

Read the rest of the story here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Irvington Bakery Started With Just a Little Dough

Corey Rutland is a graduate of Second Helpings culinary Job Training Class #14.

Last fall, Corey Rutland and Tess Ireland started out with just $400 and a dream.

Now, they own the bustling Roll With It Bakery at 5539 E. Washington St., one of the latest additions to Irvington's up-and-coming streetscape.

Although the couple -- who met while working as chefs at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown -- didn't have much money, Rutland tapped into an Individual Development Account program he learned about while earning his general educational development certificate at John H. Boner Community Center on the Near Eastside.

Under the program, the Boner Center agrees to a match of 3-to-1 for every dollar that individuals who can meet certain income guidelines invest toward their education, home or business ownership. The program is a joint venture of the Boner Center and Community Choice Federal Credit Union.

"We always wanted our own place," Rutland said. "(Tess) pushed me, and then everything just started falling into place."

Rutland put $400 into an IDA and walked away with $2,000, which the couple immediately invested in kitchen equipment.

After noticing a "for rent" sign at a Washington Street retail space, Rutland and Ireland approached the owners, who agreed to let them set up shop rent-free until Jan. 1. They signed the lease by October and were in business by December.

They've added lunch items to their bakery menu, hired three staff members, and watched their business grow to 70 or 80 customers per day.

Amandula Henry, director of the Irvington Development Organization, said Roll With It is one of the more successful storefronts to enter the Irvington business district.

"They're finally starting to pay themselves, which is really nice for a small business, because it's almost unheard of in the food-service industry," she said.

Read the complete story here.

Congratulations to Class 60!!

Congratulations to Class #60 of the Second Helpings Culinary Job Training Program who graduated on Friday, October 01, 2010.

Pictured above (Front row, left to right): Vincent R. Layne, Andrea M. Moore, Lorraine Stout (Case Manager), Jennifer Elizabeth Lloyd, Kevin Keith Chapman, (Back row, left to right): Chef Carl G. Conway, Donovan Eugene Gehle, Jesse B. Hendricks III, Aubrey Dale Smith, Stephen N. Deputy, Anthony W. Perry, and Kent Bledsoe.