Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slow Food re-visited

The New York Times presented a rather edgy piece about the Slow Food community. I’ve never had a good grasp on what this whole "slow food" thing was about. Is it braised cuts of meat that take a long time to cook, uh yeah, sometimes. Or is it food that takes a lot of care, time and patience to grow, well yeah, sometimes this too. With the attachment of Alice Waters name to Slow Food USA ideas like organic, locally produced, and heritage came into play. What it all adds up to me in the end...

Two quotes from the article sum it up best:

"When it first took root here in 1998, some people were drawn to its philosophy, while others were put off by what they saw as elitism and an inflated sense of importance."

And Mr. Petrini, founder of Slow foods self described philosophy of Slow Food as being, "food is much more than cooking and eating."

It is a very pretty picture to draw. One where a utopia of unselfish people grow and distribute high quality food products all produced in a natural healthy way where no one under cuts the prices of the other, or sprays dangerous herbicides to get a better yield, or injects their livestock with an assortment of antibiotics and growth hormone in an effort to get a better yield, get a better price, make more money. Get Real!

Sure if you can afford it, you can paint any picture you want, not only with your food. For instance a Slow Bathing group might arise with a philosophy that, "showering is much more than soaping up and rinsing off." In both cases the average person can strongly disagree with those philosophies and ponder what kind of chicken, or what kind of shower head his minimum wage job can afford him. I’m guessing this average Joe doesn’t have enough dough to wax philosophy about lives basic necessities.

While I do feel that in my personal life, with my chosen career path that food has the potential to be more than a means of sustenance. I also understand that this is not something most people can afford, or appreciate on a daily basis. I hate the idea of factory farms, chickens on top of chickens on top of chickens, yuck! But I don’t see how every child in the public school system can have a chicken lunch without this ugliness. Go ahead and ask yourself, are you willing to pay twice as much taxes so that all those kids can have organic chicken instead? I think not.

While I see the Slow Food philosophy as relevant, I’ve yet to see the movement as much more than an elitist group of food connoisseurs with an inflated sense of importance. It’s something they are trying to change as the NYT explains, but they have a lot of work to do.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nemo's Specials

Chilled Ginger-Watermelon Soup with Basil-Crab salad

Steamed Mussels in a mushroom-carmalized onion broth

Pan roasted Golden Trout, Warm Cucumber-Tomato Bread Salad, Blue Crab Brown Butter

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nubella's 7 most inflated foods in America

By Natalie Vavricka, Nubella News

When you stroll through the supermarket these days, you might think your eyes are playing tricks on you. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s no illusion: Americans are seeing the worst food inflation in 17 years. In fact, retail food prices rose a whopping 4 percent in 2007 alone. Why such staggering increases? Read on as we uncover the reasons—and reveal the 7 most inflated foods in America.

Understanding Sticker ShockWhy is your grocery bill skyrocketing? Experts point to a variety of factors, including higher transport costs due to rising fuel prices, increasing global food demand, the weak dollar, speculation in the commodities markets, and a series of unfortunate weather events.

In addition, USDA economists cite dramatic increases in ethanol production. Ethanol, a gasoline fuel alternative, is made from corn or sugarcane, and when its production increases, the prices of these two commodities tend to rise in tandem. The resulting corn shortage has also produced an escalating demand for alternative grains, such as wheat and soybeans, making those crops more costly, too. According to the United Nations, global wheat prices have risen 130 percent since March 2007, while soy prices have risen 87 percent.7 Most Inflated Food PricesHow does all of this affect your bottom line? If the following items are on your shopping list, your grocery bill could be sky high.

1. Beans. They’ve always been considered a perfect food for people on a budget, but these days, beans aren’t quite the bargain they used to be. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) reports that the cost of dried beans rose 21.6 percent between March 2007 and March 2008.

2. Eggs. According to the CPI, the cost of eggs skyrocketed 18 percent from May 2007 to May 2008. What do these price hikes mean for you? While you could have picked up a dozen Grade A eggs for $1.45 in 2006, the same carton will cost you an average of $2.18 in 2008.

3. Dairy Products. It’s not easy when an entire food group is inflated, but such is the case with dairy products, which increased 11 percent overall from May 2007 to May 2008, according to the CPI. Which ones will make the biggest dent in your wallet? Cheese is up 14 percent, milk more than 10 percent, ice cream nearly 6 percent, and butter almost 4 percent.

4. Cereal. Since May 2007, increased corn, wheat, and energy prices have pushed production costs for cereals up 10.5 percent. According to the CPI, retail prices for cereal increased 4.4 percent in 2007 and are projected to rise approximately 8 percent by the end of 2008. In fact, after its fourth-quarter profits plummeted 17 percent in 2007, the manufacturer of Wheaties cereal announced that it would raise prices. Think a muffin might be an affordable alternative? Think again. The CPI indicates that baked goods are just as inflated.

5. Chicken. Soaring gas prices have caused a spike in the production of ethanol fuel, resulting in increased corn prices. Since corn is often the main component of chicken feed, the poultry industry has taken on the extra cost of feeding its animals—and passed along the price increase to you. In fact, the CPI shows that chicken prices increased 4.5 percent from May 2007 to May 2008.

6. White Bread. Among pantry staples, flour has seen some of the most dramatic price increases in recent years. In fact, the average cost per pound for flour was $0.34 in 2007 but rose to $0.42 by 2008. Not surprisingly, the cost of white bread is also way up, from a national average of $1.05 per pound in 2006 to $1.28 in 2008, reports the BLS.

7. Apples. You might assume that price hikes on poultry, dairy, and carbs may force Americans to start eating more fruit. Well, not so fast. The cost of fresh produce is also soaring, and one of the most inflated fruits is the apple. In fact, a pound of Red Delicious apples cost $0.96 in 2006; by 2008, it was up to $1.16.

Crains Newspaper article about food cost.

Recipe for trouble Rapidly rising food costs, newly frugal customers are challenging restaurant industry stalwarts

.By KATHERINE FAY4:30 am, July 14, 2008

Rick Cassara says his sales are off by a “good amount” this year. There has been far less business from the convention center, hotels and tourists, but those are just a few of the problems encountered by the owner of John Q’s Steakhouse in downtown Cleveland.Like most restaurant operators, Mr. Cassara is feeling the pressure from increased operating and food costs. But on top of big bills, restaurants are serving a customer base that’s trying to pinch pennies and scale back dining habits.“We’re a steakhouse, so we can’t really take away steaks,” Mr. Cassara said, “But we are buying less and more specifically. We haven’t run out of anything yet, but we are running tight.” He did not specify how much his business is down.

In an Ohio Restaurant Association survey last October, 23% of more than 100 respondents said they could be out of business within a year if business remained the same, said Mark Glasper, director of communications. But business hasn’t been static; it’s become worse. Almost across the board, the association’s 2,500 members are reporting sales decreases of 10% to 20% since January, Mr. Glasper said. “Our members are being hit from both directions,” he said. “A lot of them are on edge. Restaurants operate on razor-thin margins, and when costs go up, they’ve got to do something.”Wholesale food prices jumped 7.6% last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and on a 2008 year-to-date basis through March, they rose an additional 8.5%, causing restaurants to consider raising meal prices, creating more value specials or offering smaller portions.

In addition, the economic turndown and the higher cost of doing business have led some restaurants to cut staff or rework employees’ hours and positions, Mr. Glasper said.“We want the public to understand what is happening to their favorite restaurants — to understand why all this is happening, why prices are increasing — not because the owner is gouging them, but because it is a question of survival,” he said. Sweating the details

Dante in Valley View has seen business decline 10% to 15% since the restaurant, formerly known as Lockkeepers, changed hands last September, said Dave Eselgroth, general manager and sommelier.“I think that if we weren’t in an election year, with $4 gas and a bad housing market, that things would be better,” Mr. Eselgroth said. “The combination of those variables is causing problems, but people will still go out to eat. If their lives are miserable, they’ll need a piece of sunshine.”While people still are dining out, Mr. Eselgroth has seen the number of customers splitting menu items increase. Dante’s Wine by the Glass program, which includes a 90-wine selection, has flourished, while the number of customers ordering expensive bottles of wine has decreased significantly.“Maybe gluttony is down a bit, too,” he said.

Though Dante is trying to cut back by ordering lesser-known cuts of meat and eliminating two management positions, it may not be enough. With distributors instituting fuel surcharges on deliveries, Dante expects to pay $8,000 to 10,000 in additional expenses this year.“We are definitely going to have to reflect that in portion size and menu pricing,” Mr. Eselgroth said.

At Nemo Grille in Avon, the costs of paper products, toilet paper and cleaning chemicals also have skyrocketed, said Michael Walsh, head chef. Nemo recently switched its to-go boxes from a 57-cent brand to a 23-cent brand, changed to cheaper cooking oil, and reworked produce delivery schedules to once a week from twice.“We’re trying to find ways to avoid going directly to the menu prices,”

Mr. Walsh said. “It’s the hidden things, though — the paper products, oil and fuel charges — that went from being dirt cheap to being there. You spend $18 for a case of paper towel rolls, and look back and it was $13 three months ago.

”Papa Joe’s in Akron has seen its head count increase slightly, but only due to the strategy of reducing menu prices to draw more customers. By taking more profitable items like pasta dishes and lowering the price, Papa Joe’s can make money while creating affordable items for customers, said Jeffrey Bruno, co-owner.“You have to try to understand where the customer is coming from,” Mr. Bruno said. “You can’t take the time to look at high food costs and go crazy. You have to keep costs in control and provide help to people.”

Working 'harder and smarter'
Some restaurants are holding up just fine, though it takes a lot of effort to keep business growing.Pier W of Lakewood, for one, has seen business go up at least 10% since the start of the year, said Guillermo Espejelli, general manager. He attributes its growth to the restaurant’s culinary team, ambi-ance, fresh seafood and service.“We are very humble because we have friends in the business who aren’t doing as well,” Mr. Espejelli said. “I do believe that when people go out, they are coming here. They’re saying, ‘I’m not going out every two weeks, but maybe every three.’

They want their money’s worth and are coming to us for the whole package.”While Blue Point Grille in Cleveland’s Warehouse District has seen the price of its most expensive and popular ingredient — cold-water domestic black grouper — double in the past five years, the key to keeping business up is through maintaining quality and marketing, said George Schindler, president of Hospitality Restaurants.

The restaurant is in the process of remodeling its bar area to give it a more casual feel so it can attract the growing number of young, professional residents in its neighborhood. Blue Point also is participating in Date Night in the District, a combined effort among 12 Warehouse District restaurants that allows couples to enjoy three-course, fixed-price meals between $39 and $99 on Friday nights throughout the summer.Noted Mr. Schindler: “When things are slower, we work harder and smarter. We know things will turn around, and when they do, we hope they’ll take off and that we will be stronger than ever. Until then, our customer base will recognize the quality of what we do.”

Monday, July 07, 2008

Two Rare Indulgence

Within the past few weeks I've been out to eat twice, once at a familiar place, the second a new adventure. We went to Melt just after their next door addition was complete. The space is inviting and cozy as ever. Luckily you might spend less time waiting for a table. As in the past all the food we had was excellent. I had the Melt Quesadilla, and a few very refreshing Strongbow Ciders. The addition of goat cheese and bacon make the house quesadilla a filling meal for me. As usual the service was very propt and curtious even with the hectic pace and waiting diners.