Tag Archives: What’s For Dinner?

A Top NYC Chef Trades Down (To Veggie Burgers!) And Is Happy As Could Be

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Brooks Headley said sayonara to fancy restaurants. Photo: Noah Fecks

Brooks Headley. a famed pastry chef before shifting – “because it was fun” – to some of the most attention-getting (and best) restaurants in New York City . . . then threw it all in to make and sell veggie burgers. Why?

In an interview with Lucky Peach’s Peter Meehan, Headley explained why he traded in white table cloths for disposable plates and isn’t looking back.

The tension between staff and diners bugged him: “I’m guilty of saying, ‘Only rich people eat at fancy restaurants,’ which isn’t true … But while it isn’t necessarily all hedge fund guys, fine dining is for very wealthy people and for normal people pretending to be rich for the night … Either way, a $400 meal for two is pretty grotesque. And the whole ‘we just want to pamper you and pretend to care about you while seething and hating you behind the scenes’ service style is the worst.”

He hates the awards circuit: “I think Michelin is the biggest crock of complete fucking bullshit — and please quote me exactly on this — especially in New York City. They lied about stuff they ate at Del Posto [a reinvention of Italian cuisine by co-owner Mario Bateli]. But when you’re in that world, it becomes something you strive for: lists and awards. It’s part of the deal. Awards and lists are only really good for the second they’re accepted, and then everything changes.”

He can serve the same great ingredients for much less money: “That’s one of the things that always bummed me out about working in fancy restaurants: the cost … We’ve figured out a way where I can go to the market and buy a bunch of ramps from Rick Bishop and a bunch of sunchokes from Franca Tantillo and asparagus from Stokes Farm, package that, and sell it for five bucks. I’m buying the same stuff as all the fancy restaurants in town. They’re selling it within the context of a tasting menu or a $35 entrée. We’re selling it in a little paper boat for $5.”

The best part of fancy restaurants was buying great stuff and watching people enjoy it, which Headley can still do: “I never planned to work in fine dining restaurants; I went with it because it was fun. I got psyched the more I did it. I could go to the market and buy four flats of the greatest peaches in Washington, D.C., make food with them, and serve it to people. That part has always been exciting, and I still get to do it.”

A cheaper restaurant is just way more accessible: “People can visit New York for fancy restaurants, but a twenty-year-old is not going to pop in to Le Bernardin. But they can come here and spend ten bucks on lunch and twenty on a record — it’s more important for me to be part of that New York City.”

 

 

Hospitals Serving Alligator? Or Crawfish Pie? Not Yet – But . . .

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Here’s a story with disturbing implications. In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, there is a 167-bed medical facility call the Alaska Native Medical Center – ANMC, for short. It serves Alaska Native and American Indian people from all walks of life, from all parts of that huge, far-flung state. Many of this hospital’s ‘clients’, it was reported recently in a special feature in the Alaska Dispatch News, “bring appetites for subsistence foods.” Foods such as caribou stew, seal, moose, herring eggs and tundra greens – foods, in other words, far from the routine and highly-regulated diets served to patients in nearly every other American medical facility.

But a few years ago, under pressure from the likes of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the federal government passed what’s known as the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act. It paved the way for the regular provision of subsistence foods at public and nonprofit facilities.

For the traditionalist patients at the ANMC, this meant that, as well as being able to get the ‘comfort foods’ they are used to, the comfort such foods provide actually serve to aid in their recoveries, sometimes enabling them to leave hospital earlier than might otherwise – on ordinary hospital diets – be the case.

That’s good news for the patients, for hospitals offering ‘traditional’ as well as ‘traditional hospital’ food, and for insurers of affected patients. And that often includes the federal government, because, it’s fair to assume, a good share of those preferring ‘traditional’ foods are on Medicare or Medicaid.

But what if – if the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act allows for it – the likes of, say, Cajuns, descendants of early French settlers of Louisiana, started asking for some of their ‘traditional foods’, such as alligator, crawfish pie, jambalaya, fried okra, Andouille and/or Boudin sausages and so forth, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans hospitals? (These people were, to paraphrase Loretta Lynn, Cajun when Cajun wasn’t cool!)

Or descendents of stolen-from-Africa former slaves in the American south, many of who still have a taste for foods once eaten out of desperation and long-since mainstays in their ‘traditional’ diets? (Imagine a hospital’s patients’ menu offering pigs feet, pork belly, pigs ears, catfish fritters, and chicken gizzards, etc.!!)

And if that law does not allow those other ‘native groups’, such as they are, to demand their own ‘traditional’ foods in hospitals and other government-run facilities, are their likely to be legal challenges demanding, in effect, ‘equal rights’?

The simple answer to that is ‘no’, because unlike the Alaska natives and Native Americans in Alaska, the latter ‘groups’ don’t have anything like the lobbying power of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

But one has to wonder how much clout it would take to successfully push that ‘equal rights’ button!

 

3-D Food Printing: Coming Soon to . . . YOUR Area?

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A necessary aside: I am 73 years old. I am finding it increasingly more difficult, recently, to get my head around some of the totally mind-boggling technological developments smiling, hard-working 20-somethings are coming up with these days.

I ‘get’ that the cloud doesn’t mean data is likely to come pouring out of the sky on heavily overcast days. But the concept of 3-D printing of parts for this and that has caused me to scratch a new, hair-free hole in my head. Now I learn that, not just ‘on the horizon’ but already it is possible to 3-D print food!   

I’ve read about it; I’ve watched the video linked to below. I still feel that I barely grasp what in the world these people are doing, and what it suggests for the future!

But this is a ‘trends’-oriented blog, and this is, hard as it may be to imagine, a trend. I don’t expect I’ll ever be ‘printing’ any of my food, but many born much more recently more than likely will – probably sooner than you’d think!

In Sweden, a company named VTT says on its website it uses “4,000,000 hours of brainpower a year to develop new technological solutions.”

Among them – in a world where some solutions are chasing and anticipating problems – is a way to create interesting new food products employing 3-D printing – where, in this case, raw materials, actual edible ingredients, are combined in unique ways and either printed or extruded into interesting, imaginative shapes, familiar and even exciting new flavors in the forms of ‘foods’ the world’s never seen before. Foods well beyond, in short, what nature has created – but ‘good’ enough, in their own right, to attract – or so the imaginers say – commercial audiences of various sorts.

As recently as a decade ago, most scientists, even, would have declared this to be a fantasy – something that could never be done. But it is being done, today, by no less a name brand than Barilla, which is employing printing technology to generate pasta in both traditional and highly imaginative shapes. And Italy-based Barilla is far from alone in exploring this new frontier.

This video points to five companies creating means for manufacturers, and even families at home, to generate unique foodstuffs they’ve designed themselves, using either pre-packaged or ready-to-hand ingredients. (The latter, I gather, is more a hope than a reality.)

The imaginations of those creating products likely to become, within a short few years, as ubiquitous as the home microwave seem to have no limits. One company/research lab involved in such developments even has a slogan something like “If you can imagine it, we can create it”! And I don’t doubt for a minute that they can.

In the above-cited video, you see a room occupied by a number of people at computer terminals. Collectively – no, individually – they have access to more computing power than it took to put a man on the moon. The amount of computing capacity of such a research room is, today, almost impossible to calculate.

By comparison, the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the first atomic bomb (and, ultimately, the end of World War II), involved more than 130,000 people and cost the U.S. nearly $2 billion, in 1940’s dollars – about $26 billion today. They didn’t have a lot of computing power to work with – and that’s an overstatement.

Today’s whiz kids – that was the name of a 1980’s TV series – are seeing the technology available to them expanding so fast it must be hard for even these hard-wired kids to keep up!

One of my sources for this post was the U.K.’s New Food magazine. You can subscribe free at their website. But you don’t really need to: I’m pretty on top of what they say that should – really should – interest you.

One of the aims of this blog is to stretch your horizon – to take you places, in terms of countries, developments, and concepts – your schedule keeps you from keeping up with in the way I do.

I will be highly appreciative if you will get others in your organization to ‘follow’ me. I make no money from this blog, but I hope to do so – sooner than later.

(I’m getting on, and I have a 23-years-younger wife I hope to take places I’ve been. One year, 20 some years back, I saw Christmas decorations in New York City, London and Paris in the same season. It would be nice to do that again with someone who’s never seen either of the latter two cities! Social Security – plus her way-too-low salary – doesn’t allow for it. But support for this blog – and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info – could help do so!)