Sunday, November 3, 2013

Disposable Dishes with Ethical Elegance

This was a fun story that started with some thinking about the news that New York City is taking steps to divert more of the city's waste stream to composting facilities instead of into landfills. Around the same time, I was at a trade show where I saw vendors serving food samples on beautiful paper plates that were also compostable. I went online to see what compostable paper plates were on the market and found some great stuff. Then I went to another trade show, this time for the foodservice industry, and I happened to be discussing my work on the story with one of the vendors. And just at that time, a man came up behind me, overheard what I was saying, and told me that I really should stop by another booth at the show to talk to the man from Aspenware.
I knew I was onto a story that would be as interesting to readers as I had found it myself when I found myself discussing compostable dinnerware at a dinner party. Questions were asked, and the economics and ethics of compostable dinnertable became a topic for discussion for the entire table. It was fun to know that I'd given people that I respect something to think about.

Casual Dinnerware from Zak Designs

I talked with Zak Designs CEO Irv Zakheim for this story about his company and its design-driven products. In the wake of a horrible fire in Bangladesh that shined a light on the working conditions of garment workers in third-world nations, I found myself asking about how Zakheim ensures that the Zak Designs factories aren't going to be the next to be identified by the news media or political activists as unsafe or exploitative. I wasn't surprised to find that Zakheim had thought about this before I did, and I was glad to hear that he had a good answer for the question.

Gourmet News' November Retailer of the Month

For Gourmet News' November issue, I wrote the retailer profile on The Fresh Market, a chain that I'd been completely unfamiliar with. I interviewed Craig Carlock, the company's CEO, and you can find that story here.

Weekend Menus for

In an effort to boost weekend traffic over at, I am taking a leaf from the food bloggers and posting some casual pieces about interesting food that are based on my own experiences with some of the products I enjoy using. I'm not one of those cooks who has endless hours to spend in my own kitchen, but I'm also not one of those cooks who's willing to put bad food on my table. My solution to this dilemma is to use quality products that help speed along the process of making and serving a delicious meal.
Up until now, I've been keeping my time-saving secrets mostly to myself, although I've never shied away from admitting my reliance on a lovely sauce or a ready-made product if someone asks for my recipe. Now I'm going more public.
You can read about a lovely Sunday brunch, which was actually a Friday night dinner when I served it, here and a menu for a weekend supper here. The Sunday brunch relies on heat-and-serve quiche from La Terra Fina for a meal that just couldn't be easier to put on the table, and the weekend supper leans on oven-roasted pork chops served with Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce from Fischer & Wieser. The pork chop meal story doesn't mention that the sauce totally rescued me on those pork chops, which I overbrined a bit. They weren't wrecked; just a little too salty, but that sauce is a combination of sweet raspberry flavor and a nicely balanced heat from chipotle peppers, and it was just glorious on those pork chops. For the menu, I paired the pork and the sauce with Barley Couscous from Roland, which is pre-cooked in the box, so that all you have to do to prepare it is to pour some boiling water over it, let it sit for a few minutes and then fluff it with a pork when you're ready to plate. I had my doubts about how well that was going to work before I tried it, but I followed the directions anyway, and it turned out terrific. I had some left over after dinner, so I reheated it in the microwave the next morning with some cherry jam on top. Very nice breakfast.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

AJ's Fine Foods

Gourmet News' September retailer of the month was AJ's Fine Foods, right here in Arizona. Most of the AJ's stores are in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and there's only one AJ's store in Tucson. It is, however, not in my neighborhood, so I'd never been there.
The chain was recommended as the retailer of the month by a public relations agent who represents a few brands well known to Gourmet News, including a couple that advertise. She said that she loves her neighborhood AJ's so much that she goes there sometimes on the weekends just to sit and watch people, and she could stay for hours.
Since I did the story, I've visited the AJ's in Tucson a few times, and although I can't say that I'd spend hours just sitting there, it's nice to have a place that carries some of the products that I've grown to enjoy after sampling them at the Fancy Food Shows.

Helping the Women Who Grow Coffee

For the September issue of Gourmet News, I wrote about organizations that are helping the women who produce coffee for the world market, and through those women, entire communities in very poor parts of the world. I learned that in many parts of the world, women do most of the work to produce coffee that we drink obliviously in the United States under horrifying conditions. Some of them are doing it all because they live in African communities whose male populations have been decimated through genocide. Others are doing all the work of growing, harvesting and selling coffee because their men are off working in cities, leaving the women and children alone in the rural farming areas. Others are simply abused into doing the work and then surrendering the rewards.
The organizations about which I wrote are working to make sure that more of the women who do the work actually get a say in how the economic rewards of that work are used. It was a rewarding story to write.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Specialty Foods Producers Wow Restaurateurs

Here's the story about many of the specialty foods producers who exhibited at this year's Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo. These vendors, which offer products packaged for both foodservice and retail sale, had a lot to say about products that add gourmet panache to a meal without breaking the budget or help meet the needs of dinner guests who are increasingly likely to arrive with nonnegotiable dietary restrictions.

Special Events Make Market Street a Destination Supermarket

Market Street is a chain of gourmet supermarkets in north and west Texas, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, that puts on month-long events to draw in the community for celebrations of Texas products, food and fitness, and an Entertaining Made Easy expo held in November to capture the interest of customers who are planning their holidays. Read more about it here on Gourmet News.

A Cook's Tour of the WFHE Show

I visited the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo last week and returned with a couple of reports: this one, which just takes a walk around the exhibit hall, and another one, not written yet, that demonstrates that upscale restaurateurs are taking some cues from the producers of specialty foods. The specialty foods manufacturers generally make their products in small batches, so they face comparatively less risk as they experiment with innovative flavors. They're more likely to spend some time thinking, thinking and thinking about a new flavor profile and then just go ahead and do some experiments. Then they'll taste-test those experiments with family and friends and maybe even customers, and when they have a product that everyone likes, there's still a chance that it's just not going to go over with American consumers. But since they're making product in small batches, that's probably not going to take the whole company down with it. It makes for a lot of excitement at the Specialty Food Association's annual sofi awards presentation, which honors innovation in the specialty foods industry.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Back from the Las Vegas Market

I've just returned from the Las Vegas Market, where I visited with Vietri, saw what Charles Viancin is up to this year, and looked at the new items in Jessie Steele's collection. I also talked to tag's national sales director about the company's direction following the death of founder Norman Glassberg. It's too soon to reveal what I learned about that, though -- you'll have to wait for the news in the September issue of Kitchenware News & Housewares Review. For now, suffice it to say that there's definitely a plan, and the company is moving forward under the leadership of Norman's daughter Jessica Glassberg.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nibblins Celebrates a Decade of Helping its Community Make Great Culinary Experiences at Home

I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Dolinar and Elise Stine of Nibblins, a kitchenware and gourmet food store in Winchester, Va. for the retailer profile that appeared in September issues of Kitchenware News & Housewares Review and Gourmet News. Read it here. 

Reality TV as a Source of Solid Business Advice

Last week I interviewed Chris Cornyn, a branding expert specializing in the specialty foods industry, who is one of the mentors for a Lifetime network tv program called "Supermarket Superstore." The premise of the show is that contestants who have a product that they'd like to bring to market come to the program to be challenged on the business decisions that must be made along the way. They get advice on how to build a brand, and I gather that they progress through the program based on their success in following that advice. Then at the end, the winner will get a package of services from Cornyn's agency, DINE Marketing, and a chance to pitch their products to supermarket buyers.

In Praise of the Un(der)appreciated Surface RT

I wrote about blogging my way around a trade show for Consumer Electronics Daily News here. The trade show in question was the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. I started on the first day just by wandering into the exhibit hall and writing quickly about whatever booths caught my eye on a quick tour. When I had several bits, I just headed back to the show's press office to go online, and I posted it as a walking tour through the show.   Next, I went to the New Brands on the Shelf Pavilion, an arrangement that the Specialty Food Association makes for new companies that participate in the association's incubator program for new food businesses. The next day, I started the day by thinking about what I'd seen the previous day and what themes I could use to organize new stories. Then I went back to the show floor to look for booths that were showing great holiday ideas and booths that offered healthy food choices. No shortage of ideas there. I used Scribbler the Surface RT, to take pictures of the products and the booths as I went along, and when I went back to the press room to connect, it was just a matter of copying and pasting from my Word document, adding in the pictures and hitting the Publish button. Couldn't have been easier, and the booth-holders were grateful that I was putting up my stories and sending them out to our Gourmet Newswire readers while we were all still at the show.