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Time To Move the Beef!

Time To Move the Beef!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

Some restaurateurs are taking advantage of a 7 year low in choice and prime beef to offer their customers some great values on more expensive beef cuts like sirloin, T-bones, and ribeyes.

As consumer spending has ground to a halt, expensive cuts of beef have languished while affordable options like hamburger have continued to sell at a brisk pace.  Hamburger prices remain the same, but the oversupply of prime cuts has driven their price down.

Adding to the oversupply is the increased quality of cattle coming to market.  This is because prices on the hoof have stagnated, so ranchers tend to keep cattle longer hoping for a better price, and the older the cow, the more likely it is to qualify as choice or prime.

With top cuts selling at 2002 prices, restaurants have a unique window of opportunity to draw customers in with a great value on prime beef.  Beef prices typically tend to rise in the spring as supply falls, and then again as the residential grilling season heats up.

Still, prices on prime cuts of beef should stay relatively low for about another six months as consumers continue to avoid more expensive meats.

This means restaurants can continue to take advantage of good prices and move some quality beef.

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Insects: Cuisine of the Future?

Entomophagy is the human consumption of insects of any kind.  Before you recoil in horror, consider a few interesting facts about eating insects:

1,700 different insect species are eaten in 113 countries across the globe.  Scientists note that insects are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats as well as other key vitamins and minerals.

In fact, there is significant evidence that early humans relied on insects as a major part of their diet, since hunting larger mammals was very difficult and could not be relied on as a consistent food source.  It appears early humans ate ants, bee and silkworm larvae, and even lice.

Some have even suggested that entomophagy be reintroduced to Western culture.  Insects are much more efficient to produce in large numbers than traditional protein sources like cattle, pigs, and poultry, and in many cases the nutritional value of insects is far better.

From a sustainability standpoint, it can be argued that as climate change starts affecting human agricultural capabilities, particularly in world breadbaskets like the midwestern United States and continental Europe, raising insects for food might become an unavoidable reality.

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to prepare insects that don’t force the people eating them to deal with buggy eyes, spindly legs, and hairy antennae.

Some pretty tasty recipes (well, depending on your perspective) can be found on the Clemson entomology department’s website, including mealworm spaghetti, bee grubs in coconut cream, and grasshopper fritters.

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Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Any restaurateur interested in making their restaurant more green has encountered these terms before.  The problem is, just because a product claims it is compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable doesn’t make it so.

Making the right decisions to green your restaurant in a way that makes sense for your business means you need to know the difference between these terms and the impact they can have on your buying decisions.

The most common product used in restaurants that uses all three of these terms is plastics.  More than likely your restaurant uses small wares like cups and utensils, and many products your kitchen uses are packaged using plastics like condiments and other food products.

Here are some tips to understanding your options when it comes to plastic products:

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableCompostable

Compostable plastic products have the highest green threshold to reach.  This means any product claiming to be compostable should be viewed with a certain skepticism because it really is hard to make a plastic that conforms to the definition of compostable.

Compostable products break down naturally into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose or paper (usually about 180 days) in an industrial or municipal composting facility.  Compostable materials do not leave a toxic residue and cannot be distinguished from the rest of the compost after full degradation.

The most important issues in this definition are where the plastic is put to compost and whether any toxic residue is left after degradation.

A municipal or industrial composting facility breaks down composting materials differently than a farm or in-house composting unit.  Plastics are given a compostable designation based on how they degrade in a larger industrial facility, which means they may not be compostable using other methods.

Since the availability of large scale composting facilities is limited, it’s important to know that a compostable plastic may degrade more slowly before deciding if it can be used in a smaller scale compost facility.

PLA and Master-Bi corn starch based plastics like corn cups are the two most common types of compostable plastics.  However, these resins are also sometimes mixed with inorganic substances to make them more heat resistant or for other purposes, meaning they do not always qualify as compostable.

Plant-based plastics have the added benefit of being “carbon neutral,” meaning that the carbon dioxide emitted to produce them is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants used to make the plastic.

Any plastic that leaves a toxic residue after degrading is not compostable but can be designated biodegradable.

BiodegradableUnderstanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Biodegradable products break down over time into smaller and smaller chunks as a result of the action of agent enzymes produced by bacteria or fungi.  This process can leave behind toxic chemicals and still be designated as biodegradable.

The problem is, no standard exists for the amount of time a product takes to biodegrade.  And no requirement exists for the addition of agents like bacteria to aid the degradation process.

This means that most products are labeled “biodegradable” as a way to promote their supposed environmentally friendly capabilities when in fact most of these products do nothing to help reduce waste or emissions.  Biodegradable sounds good to the consumer but really doesn’t help green your restaurant at all.

If you are looking to improve the green practices of your restaurant, go for compostable products over biodegradable ones whenever you can.

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableRecyclable

The truth is, just about anything can be recycled, and surely you have seen the little triangle with a number inside it on most plastic products claiming it’s recyclable.

The problem?  The company or local government agency that does your recycling limits what they recycle.

Check with your recycler to verify which types of plastics they accept.  Training staff and getting customers to recycle the right products can be very difficult, but many restaurants have had success with comprehensive recycling programs.

The main ingredient to success is creating a clear set of guidelines and communicating those guidelines to your staff and customers.

What Should Your Restaurant Do?

Compostable products are more expensive to buy.  But in many cases the extra expense can be at least partially recouped through reduced waste disposal.

Leftover food makes up 50% of the waste produced by a typical restaurant.  If this plus compostable plastics like cups were removed from the waste you produce and composted instead, significant savings can be realized.

Perhaps more importantly, a majority of consumers respond favorably to restaurants that engage in green practices.

Get feedback from customers before investing in more expensive compostable products.  If it looks like you can improve customer loyalty and branding by doing so, and the additional expense makes sense after accounting for marketing benefits and waste disposal savings, then there’s no reason why your business shouldn’t invest.

Chances are the products you use now are biodegradable, so there’s no real benefit in pursuing products that market this designation.  And as long as you’re reducing waste costs, implement a recycling program that saves the types of plastics local recyclers accept and gives you some real credibility when you say “green restaurant.”

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Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Sake is usually associated with sushi, but not anymore

Sake is fermented from rice and lies somewhere between beer and wine as an alcoholic beverage.  It’s popularity has grown in the U.S., and this has mostly been the result of the growth of sushi in popularity.

In fact, most people would never think about ordering sake if they weren’t eating Japanese cuisine.

Well, that’s changing, and fast.  The introduction of premium sakes into the American market has given birth to a group of sake connoisseurs across the U.S., and as more people learn about sake, the more this trend is going to grow.

The heated sake you’re used to having at your favorite Asian restaurant is actually the bottom of the barrel in the sake world, like ordering one of those gallon jugs of E&J Gallo wine.  Sake is heated to mask impurities and poor flavor.

Good sake should be served at room temperature or even slightly chilled, depending on the brewer’s recommendation.

Premium sake also varies widely in taste, and like wine, ranges from sweet to dry.  And more and more Americans are discovering that good sake can be enjoyed with a variety of cuisine, not just Asian food.

It’s become a hot trend in fine dining restaurants from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York, and as consumers become more educated, the market for premium sake is going to continue to grow.

Sake Not Just For Sushi Anymore

Premium sake is like a fine wine and there are even different types of sake associated with different regions in Japan!

Sake has been around for thousands of years, but the brewing process for premium sake was only developed about 30 years ago, when technological advances allowed Japanese brewers to achieve new purity levels in the milled rice, water, and other ingredients of sake.

This, combined with an advanced brewing process, led to a blossoming of complex flavors in the new generation of sake.  This range of flavors means that sake can now be enjoyed with a variety of foods, just like wine.  And, like wine, different regions produce different types of sake, from light, dry offerings that pair well with fish to rich, darker varieties for meats and heavier meals.

If you’re considering buying some premium sake for your restaurant, here’s a couple tips to keep in mind:

If at all possible, taste the sake first.  Look for balance in taste.  Sake can range from sweet to dry, but no matter what, it should have balance and smooth drinkability.  Harsh or artificial flavor is a sure sign of poor quality.

Look for color.  Most premium sakes will have a light amber or golden color.  Clear sake can also be good, but typically clearness indicates too much filtration, which tends to rob the sake of its flavor and character.

Watch out for dark brown coloring.  Unlike wine, sake doesn’t age well, and if it is exposed to hot temperatures or excessive light, it will degrade even more quickly.  In general sake shouldn’t be kept for more than a year.  A surefire sign that a sake has degraded is dark brown discoloration.

Price doesn’t always mean you get what you pay for.  Of course, Japanese sake is going to offer a better range of flavors and quality than American sake.  But prices for Japanese sake is usually doubled when it’s imported.  There are a surprising variety of American brands that are very drinkable and a fraction of the price.  Naturally, the best of the best is going to come from Japan.

Sake can be a great addition to your restaurant’s repertoire and give your customers a truly unique dining experience they will remember for a long time to come.

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Aztec “Beer” Makes a Comeback

Aztec Beer Makes a Comeback

The traditional Aztec drink pulque

Pulque is a thick, milky alcoholic drink first enjoyed by Aztec kings in the centuries before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.  It is fermented from the juice of the maguey plant, which is an aloe-like relative of the agave, the source of tequila and mezcal.  After the fall of the Aztec empire, the masses of poor mestizos in colonial Mexico adopted the drink and pulque consumption soared.

Fermented maguey is mixed with any of a number of flavors including pineapple, pistachio, strawberry, and even celery to mask its bitter taste.  Places that serve pulque, called pulquerias, have been going out of business one by one over the past century as its popularity dwindled among the working classes of Mexico.

Then, suddenly, young people in the heart of Mexico City rediscovered pulque and now the few surviving pulquerias are thriving hangout spots for Mexican youth.

Technology has also lent a helping hand  as modern pasteurization has led to the bottling and canning of pulque, which traditionally had a shelf life of only a few days.

A few companies have even begun to import the drink to the United States, in hopes of capturing the attention of homesick Mexicans and tuned-in hipsters.  After a hundred years of decline, pulque has made a comeback.  Montezuma would be proud.

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Hot Chef Trends for 2009

Despite the economic downturn you’re sick of hearing about (unless you’ve been under a rock), two trends remain hot for the food service industry in 2009: food nutrition and sustainability.

Even as consumers tighten belts and close wallets, they’re looking for healthy foods brought to them in an environmentally sustainable way, and if they think they can afford it, they’ll go for the product with the “green” label every time.

An older trend that’s still going strong is healthy and nutritious foods.

Most customers have started to blend green or organic food with healthy food, which makes it easy for you to blend the two into your menu for 2009.

Here are some tips to help you keep up with the times:

Customers want healthy choices, not demands. In other words, they appreciate healthy options on a menu but don’t want to be forced to eat them.  Menu diversity is nothing new, but it would surprise you how many restaurants have made the mistake of getting a little overzealous with healthy menu options.

Sometimes customers just want a burger and fries.

Advertise your sustainability. In recent years, your business has more than likely adopted cost cutting measures like recycling, energy conservation, and buying local products.

Let your customer know!

These are things they can connect with that make them feel good about consuming your product and bringing them back for more.

Back your claims up with green certification. Claiming to be green is one thing.  Getting certified is an entirely different matter.

The Green Restaurant Association has been promoting sustainable restaurant practices since 1990.

Getting your restaurant certified green will not only help you cut costs, it will give you and your product legitimacy in the eyes of the customer, enhancing their loyalty and increasing person-to-person buzz about your business.

Oh, and you’re helping the environment!

A healthy kids menu equals happy customers. Gone are the days of giving little Jimmy a burger and fries off the kid’s menu while Mom and Dad enjoy their entrees.

Today’s parents want nutritious offerings for their kids that will be eaten with all the enthusiasm of a Happy Meal.

Coming up with creative menu items for kids that are both healthy and satisfying can be a challenge, but the chef who pulls it off can count on happy customers coming back with the entire family.

Buy local (thinking global optional). As energy costs rose in the past few years, buying produce, ingredients, and meats locally became a red hot trend in the food service industry.

Not only does buying locally cut costs, it affords chefs and restaurant managers more purchasing flexibility.

Add in customer appreciation because your business is saving energy and investing locally, and you’ve got a winning combination.

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