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Archive | Food Service

There are thousands of topics to discuss around food service, these are just a few that our authors have written about.

Restaurants Use Nutrition Info To Add Value For Customers

Restaurants Use Nutrition Info To Add Value For CustomersIn a world of discounts, something besides price has to get your customers in the door.  It’s the new reality facing the food service industry these days, and many restaurants have already started devising ways to go the extra mile for customers.

Soon enough restaurants will be required to post nutrition information about each item they serve.  Study after study has shown that consumers prefer to have nutritional information available about the dishes they order – whether that information is good news for their diet or not.

Some restaurants have taken the trend towards healthier menu items and nutrition labeling and used it as a way to add value for their customers.  Moon Under Water, a restaurant in St. Petersburg, FL developed a computer program that allows you to punch in your meal and get back a full report of nutritional data about your choices.

The program doesn’t mean the restaurant’s high-calorie items don’t sell anymore, or that customers have been turned off by the numbers on their favorite dishes.  Instead, putting the program together helped Moon Under Water’s owner find some particularly unhealthy ingredients, like high sodium stocks, and replace them with healthier substitutes.  Many customers were surprised by the relatively low calorie counts of the dishes they ordered.

Mod Market, an eatery located in Boulder, CO, adds nutritional information to the items customers ordered on their receipt.  The restaurant is focused on fresh, healthy offerings, and adding calorie counts to the receipt gives them an opportunity to remind customers what they’re getting (or not getting, in the case of calories) out of a Mod Market meal.

These two restaurants gain two things from making nutritional information an after-meal interactive experience for customers.  First, it’s a way to showcase the menu and reinforce your brand in the mind of the customer.  Second, it gives restaurants a fresh look on their menus.  What items are customers ordering despite the high calorie count (“indulgence” items)?  Which items are customers choosing because they work into their diets well?  This gives you a third factor besides price and taste to rate your menu.

Naturally, providing nutrition information in the way Moon Under Water and Mod Market are doing doesn’t make sense for every segment of the food service industry.  But if you serve a customer who sees a real benefit in knowing the nutritional information associated with the dishes they ordered, providing a creative, interactive way for them to access this information is a great way to  add value to every visit.

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Does The Rise of the Spanish Mean the Death Of French Cuisine?

Does The Rise of the Spanish Mean the Death Of French Cuisine?French food has always been the gold standard in fine dining.  Over the years the fusion of French cuisine with flavors from around the world has bred a culture of ingenuity and dynamism that helped perpetuate French style cooking as the center for culinary excellence.  But recently some trends have started pointing in other directions, and author Michael Steinberger even argues in a new book that the decline of French cuisine will lead to the rise of Spanish fare.

Stepping into the opening void is internationally renowned Spanish chef David Munoz, whose Asian/Spanish fusion restaurant in Madrid, Spain has earned wide accolades and remains booked months in advance.  Munoz is a devout follower of Asian style cooking, and has turned in time at prestigious Asian fusion restaurants like Nobu of London.  The result of his obsession with Asian cuisine is exciting and fresh Spanish style dishes heavily seasoned with the rich flavors of the Orient.

Spanish chefs and new Spanish-themed restaurants have been gaining notoriety in major U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles.  For David Munoz, Spanish cuisine is less about Spain and more about combining flavors from all over the world to create exciting new cuisine.  And maybe the new found trendiness of Spanish food has less to do with the decline of the French and more to do with a new willingness by diners and chefs alike to try new combinations and types of flavors and foods.  In an increasingly globalized world, it seems the domination of the French is giving way to the fusion of the rest of the world’s cooking styles.

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Menu Trends: Restaurants Are Introducing A South American Super Crop

Menu Trends: Restaurants Are Introducing A South American Super CropThis is a story about how an Incan super crop is starting to take over health food stores and trendy restaurants in the U.S.  The rest of the world is already on board with this mysterious super plant; we’re just now catching up.

What’s so great about this plant?  Well, it doesn’t rot, doesn’t need refrigeration, is a complete protein but is dairy and gluten free, and is rich in important vitamins like iron, magnesium, and riboflavin.  It’s easy to cook and also very affordable.

So what’s the name of this super crop?  Quinoa is a grain from South America that was once cultivated by the Incas.  It’s been around in the U.S. for 20 years, but has only very recently started to gain momentum among professional chefs.

That momentum, however, has started to reach terminal velocity.  Quinoa is very versatile from a cook’s perspective, and its ability to absorb the spices with which it’s cooked means it can be prepared in an infinite number of ways.

Give a chef an opportunity to get creative with a new ingredient that’s hearty and healthy, and you won’t need a second explanation.  That’s precisely why quinoa has started popping up in restaurants across the country.

Quinoa is available in white, red, and black varieties and also comes in flour and cereal form.  I guess it’s not called a super crop for nothing.

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A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

The following is a great review of Klick Kitchen by an industry insider with a lot more personal experience in the food service industry than I have.

I came across Klick Kitchen last year and while the concept was intriguing, the price at the time was not. Since then they have apparently changed it to a free basic service to the consumer/back of the house end and also apparently a basic intro on the vendor end as well.A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

Greg from Tundra asked me what my take on KK was. As someone always on the lookout for things that can help my clients I wanted to find out a bit more about the system myself. I was going to write a comment on his recent blog post about it and it started to turn into a full fledged post. TMI.

I called Klick Kitchen and Laurie, one of their account managers, was extremely helpful and gave me a demo of both the chefs ordering end and the vendor end.

The system is interesting, from a vendors perspective it offers quite a bit that’s appealing about it, from a chef’s perspective, it has some things to consider.

For vendors, particularly small ones that don’t have a web presence and as well for some that do, but do not have online ordering as an option, this system is a great offering. It does not have any broadliners on it and most broadliners already have online ordering, so offering it would be duplicating already in existence systems.

From a Chef’s perspective, the system seems like it would be good if you were ordering from a broad variety of small vendors, i.e. more 4-5, any less then that then the convenience factor would become a bit less.

While you can request quotes for items and vendors can set up specific pricing for specific accounts, it does take out some of the “beat up the price” factor.  As a former chef I liked to hassle vendors when pricing was too high on orders and threaten to order elsewhere. Not everyone does this, but for chefs that like a haggle factor this takes out some of the fun (and potentially the bottom line on your food cost as well, if you are a good negotiator.)

It might take a bit of a steep learning curve to navigate around in the system at first. While I know many chefs are much more computer literate then they were 10 years ago, the time to do this and the availability of computers in the workplace may be an issue, as well as taking the time to learn how to get around in the program.. Many chefs (myself included) do some of their ordering from home, so if one has a home computer with fast net access this is great. Laurie says they are working on a video tutorial walk through, which I think would be extremely helpful.

Laurie had mentioned she thought the system would be convenient for many chefs, who while they may not have access to computers at work, they do have web friendly mobile devices. At the time of this post I had inquired after the fact by email, if there was a mobile friendly version of the site, and had not yet heard back. The current web version is navigable by iPhones and Blackberries but could be more user friendly, as there is a lot of touch drag on the page. If there is a mobile friendly version of the site, I will add an addendum to this.

I do think the system has a lot of potential, especially with many of the things it sounds like they are still working on and being implemented, the one major thing that I would be concerned about starting out using the system is out of stocks.

Currently its up to participating vendors to update their out of stocks. There is no date available as to when the last time a price/inventory list has been updated online as of yet (Laurie assured me that is something they will be implementing soon) As someone who orders and likes to know instantly whether something is out of stock, by phone or by live up to date access, until I knew which particular vendors I dealt with kept up to date on their online inventories, I would be reluctant to rely on the system especially for important items. Once you do know your vendor habits, I tend to think you would rely on the ones you knew kept the system up to date. Mis-picks and returns still need to be handled the old fashioned way by phone and fax.

When I was cooking the only thing I might order late night, when the odds of getting a live person on the phone were slim, was some dairy and the occasional odd case of produce. The majority of my ordering was done during regular business hours. I know some chefs do all, or most of their ordering last minute and late night and leave voicemails for vendors. My personal feeling about this is if you don’t know what your pars are supposed to be and can’t somewhat predict your restaurant’s traffic for the coming time period, then you have bigger things to worry about then having a case of pecans out of stock. For chefs that do have a good idea of their inventories and a good handle on internal trend tracking, the system would be a good time saver to use.

I think overall Klick Kitchen has a lot of potential, Laurie and I briefly touched on, but did not go into the preferred system for chefs and vendors (for which they do charge for) that has additional options available and apparently custom reports can be run. This is something I would suggest individuals investigating the system look into, for smaller restaurants that do not have POS systems, I suspect that many of the run reports would be advantageous for them to have access to.

I will be recommending it to clients in the NY metro area as something for their chefs to investigate. I look forward to seeing what future developments bring to the system.

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Asian Carp Have Only One Predator: Restaurants

Asian Carp Have Only One Predator: RestaurantsInvasive species take over new habitats so quickly because they usually have no natural predators in their new home, allowing them to reproduce quickly and overwhelm native populations competing for the same food.  The latest foreign invader to make headlines in the U.S. is Asian Carp, a fast-moving, quick-breeding intruder that has taken over the Mississippi and Ohio watersheds with amazing speed.

The carp was originally brought to the U.S. by catfish farmers in southern states to control plant growth in stock ponds.  Unfortunately, they escaped during seasonal flooding and ended up in the lower Mississippi.  Within a few years Asian Carp were being discovered all over the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  Now many conservationists fear the carp will end up in the Great Lakes, placing that entire ecosystem at risk.

The problem with Asian Carp is they don’t have any natural predators in American waters.  Some restaurateurs on the Upper Mississippi near Minnesota’s Twin Cities are looking to change that.

They’ve proposed placing Asian Carp on menus along the entire Mississippi and Ohio watershed in order to encourage a fishing industry that could lead to the decimation of the invader’s population.  Apparently, Asian Carp has a mild white meat with relatively few bones, which appeals perfectly to American palates.

The main obstacle in the way of successfully marketing Asian Carp on menus across the midsection of the U.S. is the name Asian Carp itself.  Nobody wants to eat a carp.  Some have suggested renaming the fish “Silverfin” to make it sound more appealing to hungry restaurant patrons.

Renaming worked for Chilean Seabass and Orange Roughy, both restaurant staples with previously unappealing names (“Patagonian toothfish” and “slimehead,” respectively).  Marketing silverfin has yet to find any serious traction, but it seems like it would take a relatively small amount of seed money to make it popular on menus from Minnesota to New Orleans.

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Tonight’s Special: Pork a la Petri

Late last month it was announced that scientists in Holland have successfully grown pork meat in a petri dish.  The meat was developed from special cells called myoblasts that are specifically programmed to repair muscles in a live animal.  If they are left in a super rich broth of nutrients, as the experiment in Holland shows, they will grow indefinitely, creating a possibly endless supply of synthetically grown, but otherwise identical meat for human consumption.

Proponents of the Dutch project say meat produced in this manner can save millions of tons of greenhouse gases each year by making the production of meat much more efficient.  There are also real concerns that as global populations grow, arable land will not be able to produce enough protein to keep up with demand.  Synthetically produced meats represent a solution to this problem.

Tonights Special: Pork a la PetriThe meat produced in this experiment was soggy and soft because it never exercised enough to give it firmness.  Scientists involved with the project said they are developing ways to stretch and work the meat so that it takes on the same consistency as natural meat.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how the meat actually tastes.  Laboratory rules forbid employees from tasting the experiment.

So will your restaurant be serving boneless pork chops grown in a lab sometime in the future?  Dutch scientists definitely think so, but they realize that if this meat doesn’t look, taste, and smell exactly like natural pork, there’s no way it can ever be marketed.

So would you ever eat pork, beef, lamb, or even fish grown in a lab if you couldn’t tell the difference between the synthetic and natural version?  Leave a comment below….

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Identifying Commercial Refrigeration Thermostats

There are two types of temperature controls used in commercial refrigeration:

1. Thermostatic: either an Air Sensing type or Evaporator Coil Sensing type
2. Low pressure controlIdentifying Commercial Refrigeration Thermostats

Let’s start with thermostatic type controls.  An air-sensing thermostat does just that: it senses air temperature.  The control sensor tube is usually mounted in the evaporator housing.  The evaporator is located inside the unit, usually at the top where the fan motor is mounted.  The thermostat has a straight capillary or sensor.  The capillary tube is mounted on the outside of the evaporator coil usually pushed into a tube that is mounted in the front of the evaporator.

Identifying Commercial Refrigeration ThermostatsAn evaporator-sensing thermostat has a coiled capillary tube attached to it, which you can see pictured as a tight spiral to the left.  The evaporative sensing capillary or coiled tube end push into a hole that is in the evaporator.  It senses the temperature of the evaporator coil rather than air temperature.

These two controls are not interchangeable. If you put an air sensing control in place of an evaporative sensing control, the evaporator unit will shut off permanently, causing the temperature to rise.  If you put an evaporative sensing control in place of an air sensing control the unit will continue to run, causing the evaporator to freeze up.  If this happens there will be very little airflow, causing the temperature to rise.

The other type of control is a low-pressure control.  These are usually located in the compressor compartment.

A low-pressure control is connected into the refrigeration lines and controls the temperature by using the pressure of refrigerant flowing through the line.  This type of control requires a service technician to replace.

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Boulder Restaurants Getting Some National Respect

Boulder Restaurants Getting Some National RespectBoulder area restaurants are garnering some respect on the national scene, including a write-up in the Wall Street Journal.  As you may know, The Back Burner is based in Boulder, so we took it as a great sign that some of our favorite restaurants in our own backyard have been recognized on the national scene.

Between well-known chef Radek Cerny’s French fusion cuisine at L’Atelier, The Kitchen’s gourmet sustainable fare, and Black Cat’s chef Eric Skokan’s recent appearance at the famed James Beard house in New York City, Boulder’s restaurant scene seems to be maturing very nicely.

Boulder’s restaurant scene is home to a great concentration of highly diverse, sustainably driven, and ultimately very high quality menus, and if you’re visiting the area any time in the future, we encourage you to take the time to enjoy this vibrant local scene as much as we do.

Check out all of Boulder’s offerings here.

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Fixing Commercial Gas Equipment: No Gas To The Burner

If you’re not getting gas to the burner on gas equipment, you can check several things in a process of elimination to determine what the problem is.  First things first: check the gas regulator.  Gas regulators are directional, which means gas will not flow if they are installed backwards.  Check the arrow on the regulator and make sure it’s installed properly!

More often than not, the problem is the safety valve.  Check out this Tech Talk post to learn how to identify and replace safety valves.  Before you replace the safety valve, however, try

Fixing Commercial Gas Equipment: No Gas To The Burner

tapping on the valve and see if that gets gas to flow.  Sometimes the plunger that blocks gas flow in the safety valve sticks and tapping on it will get it to move.  This is an indication that your safety valve is going bad however, and will probably need to be replaced to soon.

Another possibility is that your thermostat is bad.  There are two types of gas thermostats: BJWA and FDO type thermostats.  BJWA thermostats are the most common type and older ones can be identified by the nickel sized hole on the front where the knob attaches.  However, newer BJWA thermostats may not have that hole.  FDO thermostats are usually found on pizza ovens and can be identified by the disc with numbers on it that sits behing the knob stem.

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Fixing Commercial Ovens: Not Cooking Evenly

All the thermostats have a capillary tube with a bulb attached to the end of it.  This is the part that senses the temperature in the oven.  The bulb is attached to clips inside the oven.  If the bulb is not put back in the same place, i.e. it’s just stuck in the oven cavity and left hanging, then the thermostat will run “wild,” meaning the oven cooks unevenly.  Fixing Commercial Ovens: Not Cooking Evenly

Remember to get that bulb back into those clips no matter how hard it may be. 

If your oven is running wild check and make sure the bulb is installed properly.  Another reason for the oven running wild is that the thermostat is totally defective and in this case must be replaced.

There are two types of gas thermostats: BJWA and FDO type thermostats.  BJWA thermostats are the most common type and older ones can be identified by the nickel sized hole on the front where the knob attaches.  (See picture above)  However, newer BJWA thermostats may not have that hole.  FDO thermostats are usually found on pizza ovens and can be identified by the disc with numbers on it that sits behing the knob stem.

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