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  • Vegetarian Requirement of Food Carts is a Bad Idea

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Food carts are becoming increasing popluar...especially in bigger cities where the lunch rush is fierce.

    In Madison, the city's Vending Oversight Committee, will take up a potential requirement that food carts offer at least one vegetarian menu item, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

    I've always been of the thinking that forcing a restaurant, eatery, food truck, cart or vendor to carry a particular menu item is bad. I believe it's fine if you want to offer a suggestion, but beyond that is stepping over the line.

    I don't doubt that the rise in people who prefer vegetarian items is out there, but that's where capitalism plays a key role. Those who have the menu items customers want and crave get the business...those who don't either adjust or become irrelevant to that audience.

    One quick story I have is that when a restaurant I ran in Phoenix was in its infancy, a female customer asked to see a menu after stepping in the front door. I quickly got them our menu and they scanned it quickly, then asked if we had a Gluten-Free menu.

    This was 2006, so the big rise in options for Gluten-Free diners were still fairly small. Being an Asian restaurant and open for about 3 weeks, I hadn't considered the option. I said to the woman that we're sorry but we didn't have one to offer at the time. She said that was "disappointing" and urged us to get one.

    It was one of many unsatisfactory experiences with customers in that market. But we were just trying to get off the ground, the last thing I wanted to worry about was expanding our menu.

    Back to the story at hand. It's unlikely the move will be green-lighted, but it's a growing part of the customer base. Part of being in food service is knowing that you'll find people with all kinds of needs and wants, from vegetarian, to vegan, Gluten-Free, allergy-related, etc.

    So if you're a restaurant or food truck that DOES offer a vegetarian, organic, Gluten-free, etc. menu item...be sure to highlight that fact for customers. I've been on the positive side of that spectrum also, and customers DO appreciate when they can enjoy some of your food, rather than having to find an alternative.

  • Two Case Studies of How Tough Restaurant Business Is

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    My personal back story has many twists and turns, and one of those involve my time living and working in El Paso, Texas. I moved out of the Sun City permanently in 2006, and having gone back this past June for a visit I got to see some of the changes taking place there.

    There are some positive things happening, but recently I've learned that two of the most popular, long-time restaurants have closed permanently.

    Cappetto's Italian Restaurant, first opened in 1956, and Jaxon's Restaurant and Brewing Company, a near 40-year institution, have both shut their doors.

    The El Paso Times breaks down what is known about both situations.

    Having operated an unsuccessful restaurant, I know that debt and taxes pile up fast. It's part of the struggle of the business, any business really, but especially when you have other ongoing issues like getting customers through the door, ensuring the food quality is high and keeping workers, many of whom don't make very much, happy.

    But these cases are restaurants who fell behind on their bills, while also trying to expand. Jaxon's at one point had 4 locations, Cappetto's 2 locations, along with selling products in grocery stores, and catering every UTEP Miner event, luncheon, that I can remember.

    No matter how successful a restaurant is, there is always a chance to be taken when discussing expansion. While it may sound like "Monday Morning Quarterbacking," I believe that if the customers keep flowing in-and-out of the door at one location, keep it going until it's ABSOLUTELY necessary to open a second location. Spreading yourself too thin can happen quicker than you might think.

    Another lesson is you HAVE to pay your taxes. Some bills can wait (believe it or not you're taught that in culinary school), but the ones that are absolute musts are taxes, gas, electric, rent, payroll. Purveyors usually are the ones you get far behind on, unless you're really on your game, or have an accountant that can help out. It's a point brought up by L&J Cafe owner Leo Duran in the story.

    It's also interesting to note that the article mentions some negative reviews on the Internet at sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon.

    I've frequented both restaurants countless times, and have enjoyed my experiences for the most part. More so, I've seen streams of customers turn those tables over both at lunch and dinner.

    While some negative reviews can appear online causing a hit to an eatery's reputation, both Jaxon's and Cappetto's had loyal followings. The web review may have been a factor, but I'm not sure how much the bottom line suffered.

    No matter how long a restaurant is in business, and no matter how much it's lauded, there's always a risk of falling behind both in the bank account and in relevancy. It proves how tough the business is. You must balance changing tastes, rising costs, customer needs, all with an eye to running the business side, dealing with employee issues and evolving in this competitive industry.

  • Talking Bubbly with "Most Popular" Wine Writer

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This article is an interesting read for those, like me, who enjoy reading about the wine drinking habits of writers and those in the industry.

    I'm fascinated with what wines (sparkling and still) people love to drink, and their thoughts on the varietals they can do without.

    Lettie Teague from the Wall Street Journal meets up with Hugh Johnson, author of "Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book". The discussion centers on Champagne and other "fizzes", which is a term used by Johnson to describe other sparkling wines.

    Champagne or sparkling wine is generally thought of as a "celebratory drink", meant for weddings, job promotions and New Year's Eve. But the bubbly can be so much more than that.

    The sleek, crisp style of a Champagne or sparkling wine is a great combination with foods that are either rich or spicy. Sushi, lobster, or other rich, buttery foods are just a few examples of good pairings.

    Champagne and sparkling wines CAN be expensive, but they can also be affordable and are sold under many different names, depending on what country they come from. Whether it's from California, Australia, or named Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy, lots of regions produce their own type of sparkler.

    Some names I can recommend are Tattinger from France, Gruet from New Mexico, along with Schramsberg and Roederer Estate from California. These are names that should be available at local wine shops, if not, ask for other recommendations at any price point.

     

  • Squash Can Be Everything Good

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Doing my weekend reading, I came across this article talking about a recipe called "Pumpkin stuffed with Everything Good".  One ingredient under the "everything" heading is squash.

    I really enjoy squash, and don't eat nearly enough of it that I would like. I chalk it up to much like many other non-everyday ingredients, it becomes lost in the fold with my family's routine. We eat a lot of vegetables, and our share of fruits, but squash lately has been relegated to the pureed Gerber that my son Anthony eats. (And say what you want, I do sneak a spoonful or two to demonstrate how it's done, and ensure it's not poisonous.)

    One of my all-time favorite squash dishes was the buttnernut squash ravioli in brown butter sauce that I had at the buffet at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. It stood out to me then and it's been etched in my memory ever since.

    Squash is great anytime of year, since many are considered seasonal (summer, autumn, winter), and can be part of what makes vegetarian dishes tasty.

    The great thing is they're also available year-round at local grocery stores and farmer's markets. Whether it's acorn, pumpkin, spaghetti, or zucchini, I enjoy cooking with and eating different kinds of squash.

    What are your favorite recipes or meals with squash? I'm always looking for ideas...

     

  • 8-Twelve Steps up Game for Brookfield Shooting Victims

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    A story that's making the rounds Thursday is that the owners of 8-Twelve MVP Bar and Grill will have a fundraising benefit for the families of the victims in the Azana Spa and Salon shooting in Brookfield Sunday.

    One of our media partners, and my former employer, broke the story here.

    I have not been to 8-Twelve, nor to any Surg Restaurant Group-owned establishments, but I have to say that in this time of tragedy, it's nice to see them step up to help out in any way they can.

    Whether they raise hundreds of dollars, or ten dollars, the gesture is one of kindness and community.

    I personally hope to make to one of their restaurants or at least help in getting folks to their fundraiser to help the families of the victims. More is expected to be announced Monday.

  • Interview Flight with Chef Christopher Mangless

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    One part of this new blog is the ability to hear from local and regional chefs about how they view not only their work, but food in general. 

    My first Interview Flight, which is 5 questions, is with Three Three Five and The Traveling Chef Christopher Mangless.

    Q: Describe Three Three Five's style and what a customer can expect when going there?

    A: At Three Three Five we showcase quality ingredients and allow those ingredients to speak for themselves. We are committed to sustainable, local, organic artisans and food stuffs as often as possible. Our food is playful and innovative, yet familiar.

    The most important part of dining at Three Three Five or with The Traveling Chef is for us to create an extraordinary experience unlike anything you might expect. The details are never overlooked no matter the request, we do everything we can to exceed the guests' expectations.

    We are open Wednesday evenings from 5-10 p.m. featuring seasonal small plates, which changes weekly depending on what's available locally. We suggest coming to dine with friends and family, sharing a variety of different dishes.

    Q: What's your favorite meal to prepare?

    A: The simple things. A really great tomato salad, fresh off the vine. When I can find great ingredients at a local market or a new cheese from a local cheese maker and enjoy those flavors in their simplest form. A great piece of fish and a simple salad is what does it for me.

    Q: Where do you like to eat, or who's food do you enjoy?

    A: My favorite restaurant as of late would be Yusho in Chicago. Chef Matthis Merges is doing yakatori inspired small plates along with amazing cocktails at an affordable price point...it's fantastic.

    Q: In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc?

    A: Vinegar. I think for a home cook, it can be intimidating to veer from a particular recipe but the acidic component from a quality champagne or sherry vinegar can really heighten the complexity of a dish.

    Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure?

    A: Cheese. Wisconsin Artisan Cheese. Lately it has been goat cheese from La Claire farms and of course Rush Creek Reserve. Perhaps I could cut back a few pounds per week...easier said than done!

    Three Three Five is having a great event this Saturday night (October 27th). Tickets are still available for the Bittercube cocktail dinner, featuring Nick and Ira of Bittercube as well as Wisconsin Foodie.

    Chef Mangless will also be hosting a season wine dinner featuring Domaine Serene Winery from Oregon on Friday November 16th. Tickets and additional info are available at their website here.

    Three Three Five is located at 335 North Broadway, Green Bay, WI, 54303.

    You can follow Three Three Five on social media:

    Twitter: @335Broadway

    Facebook: Three Three Five

  • Great Beer News/Not So Great Wine News

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This article from CNBC has some interesting tidbits from the past week about some new offerings from beer companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Diageo's Guinness with regards to craft brews.

    But it also goes into a brief about the damaging effect of the weather on this year's grape crop in Europe. Much like we have dealt with drought-related crop problems in the U.S. this summer and into the fall, European countries have been working through much of the same issues.

    What the ultimate price is for the wine from 2012 will not be known for quite awhile, but I have a feeling the same concern there is for beef and grocery prices in 2013 in the U.S., could be the same fate of wine futures in France and Italy.

  • Pepin Teaches How to Make Crepes

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    One of the wonderful publications and websites has teamed up with one of the legendary chefs.

    On the Food & Wine website, they have a mini-series of tutorials featuring Jacques Pepin. If you've never seen Pepin on TV, he is an amazing teacher, an even better chef and also has a great sense of humor.

    Here he teaches folks how to make crepes.

     

    A couple of notes that make Jacques one of the best TV chefs to learn from.

    First, he makes everything look easy. I find that to be a tremendous help, especially if you've never done it before, the confidence he exudes in the ability of anyone to make great food can be a big boost.

    Secondly, he tells you what to do if you mess up. For example, if the batter is too thick, or if you don't get enough batter into the pan, or if there's a mess on the side of the pan. He has you covered in case that happens.

    Finally, the idea that you don't need exotic equipment or ingredients to pull off crepes. While it can be a fancy restaurant item, anyone with flour, milk, one egg and a non-stick pan can pull it off.

    You also get an added bonus of learning how to make Crepes Suzette. So not only is it a tutorial, it's a great, fancy dessert recipe also.

    But crepes aren't just for breakfast and dessert, you can make them savory for a brunch or lunch. I once worked at a small cafe where we would have crepes with smoked salmon and cream cheese, or grilled chicken with scallions and curry.

    Crepes are good any time of day. Enjoy.

     

  • Working Your Way Through Wine

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    I enjoy shopping, pouring and talking about wine. White wines, red wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines...you name it and I'll be happy to sit, sip and discuss.

    In fact, wine shopping is something of a passion of mine, where I become this meticulous nut who reads all labels, mutters ideas and pairings to myself, walking up and down the aisles countless times and after spending WAY too much time in the section, select one wine.  And that's just for a gift.  I won't get into the torture of finding something for myself.

    So as you can probably tell, I not only have a passion, but should likely seek professional help. Recommending therapists aside, this story in the "Los Angeles Times" tell the tale of two sommeliers who've left the restaurant biz behind and moved into purely retail sales.

    Both guys give an interesting insight into the differences between selling wine in a restaurant setting versus a retail store.

    For me, the major difference is price point. I know that I will likely spend a lot more money buying wine in a restaurant than if I went to a store and got a bottle to take home.

    When I was wine director at Blue Fin Asian Grill in Phoenix, we had our price scale set at two glasses sold to customers would cover what we paid for the bottle wholesale. Anything beyond that was pure profit. Anyone who paid close attention would know it made more sense to buy the bottle, if there were two or more customers at a table drinking the wine.

    Each restaurant has their own system, but the point is that those who want to enjoy great wine for the cheapest rate, go to the retailer. Especially ones like these guys in Southern California who definitely know their Viogniers from their Gewurztraminers.

    Two local retailers that I can personally recommend are Red and White in Appleton and Ridgeview Liquor in Ashwaubenon.

    Both have knowledgeable staff and a great selection. I'd also like to hear other suggestions for places for folks looking for a great bottle of wine.

  • Attacking “Foodie Culture”

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    "Foodie" is a term that I personally do not care for, but has become such a big part of today's lexicon, that you can't ignore it, nor the people whom it may pertain.

    The major reason I don't like the term is that while it may describe tenets of my personality, I have actually met and worked with real "foodies"...and let me just say...they're INSANE. They're WAY too obsessive about the most minute details of a dish or ingredient, that it makes me feel like I don't get it.

    It's not that I'm not interested if the squab a certain chef brought in special from outer Mongolia and had a steady diet of wild rice. It's that I don't care. That's just not my thing.

    But I do enjoy them for the common interest in the culinary arts, along with discussing facets of the food and beverage industry.

    One writer has taken a quick snapshot of this culture, and it was review by the "Wall Street Journal".

    According to the story, the author Steven Poole takes aim at a number of areas from food obsession, to organic farming and even the impact that nouvelle cuisine had several decades earlier.

    The one avenue I want to focus on here is the celebrity chef effect. In the book, Poole says that celebrity chefs try to pretend they have a greater role in life than merely, "spraying froth at a few rich people."

    While attending culinary school, I found it laughable that many students and chef instructors held an extremely bitter attitude towards Food Network personalities (including a particular disdain for Emeril Lagasse). They would remark that, "they're not REAL chefs," and that anyone who would lower themselves to do what other celebrity chefs do for the camera is, "unbecoming of a culinarian."

    First of all, these students who if they were to ever achieve the level of success of those either on Food Network, the Cooking Channel, PBS or the Travel Channel, would be lucky to do so. The same goes for the chef instructors, who would no doubt drop everything they had, students and school included, to jump at the chance at being featured in front of a national TV audience.

    The biggest impact a celebrity chef on TV should have on the viewer is to inform, entertain and give back whenever possible. Holding chefs to the standard of heroes, Gods or any other deity is the same as expecting that from such TV darlings as Jerry Springer, Snooki or Honey Boo Boo.  It's both ridiculous and a waste of time.

    I watch enough cooking shows and related programming to know and admit that I have my favorites and not-so favorites. But I believe, like most normal people, that celebrity chefs and TV "foodies" are regular folks who happen to have a particular talent, skill and passion. Nothing more, nothing less.

    If I can learn something from watching them...great. If not, I either will feel somewhat entertained or know not to watch that show again. I suspect that very few people idolize Emeril, Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray, etc., to disturbing proportions.

    As for how celebrity chefs view his or her fans, I can't say. I'm sure the size of their ego is directly proportional to the size of their character. But they don't get that far in life without someone thinking they're pretty good at making food and getting others excited about it.

    And that should be the focus of any food program or channel is learning about and then craving the different foods across the country and around the world.