Tuesday, June 04, 2019

StarChefs San Francisco 2019

Courtesy of StarChefs
I've long been impressed by the Rising StarChefs awards. Unlike chef awards, their process is transparent and has a rigor that is often missing. I spoke with Antoinette Bruno, the CEO and Editor in Chief of StarChefs to discuss the upcoming awards and the diversity that they reflect. The StarChefs Gala takes place on June 11, 2019, buy tickets or learn more.

What’s the process for selecting Rising StarChefs?
Antoinette Bruno (AB): The selection process has more or less remained the same since 2002. The awards program has just grown in size and scope. StarChefs covers four cities or regions a year. From the nomination process through the Gala, it takes about six months per city. Today, we have a network of more than 1,200 Rising Stars alumni who contribute their nominations. We also accept recommendations through social media, our website, and during in-person interviews. We do in-house research as well, and candidates are vetted through a “pre-interview.” Generally, an editorial crew of two, sometimes more, visits the restaurants for an in-person interview, tasting, and photography, and then reports back to the editorial team at StarChefs HQ in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Many times we will return to restaurants for more than one visit.

Often the StarChefs Rising Stars Award is the first major award or national recognition a young chef, sommelier, bartender, or artisan may receive. Because StarChefs is on the ground in restaurants interviewing and tasting with hundreds of chefs and other industry professionals across the country every year, we have insights into the hospitality industry on a micro level. No other publication in the country has been able to do this kind of grassroots work.

The current list of Rising Star Chefs in San Francisco is incredibly diverse, was that intentional? 
AB: Talent is talent. Identifying the talented young leaders of the hospitality industry is our intention. We intend to find winners that represent the diversity of the industry and the city or region they represent. We have gotten better at this over the years by expanding the pool of communities we reach out to for nominations and from whom we gather information and recommendations. Unless the people involved in our process are diverse, generally the group of winners won’t be terribly diverse either.      

How important is diversity in the restaurant industry? 
AB: The diversity of the workforce in the restaurant industry is what drives it forward. It’s the industry’s greatest asset and strength. Some of the most exciting restaurants in America right now are run by immigrants or the children of immigrants—San Francisco Rising Star Chefs Robert Hernandez of Octavia, Nicolas Delaroque of Nico, Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz of Noosh, Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage, Reem Assil of Reem’s, Janice Dulce of FOB Kitchen, and Bartenders Emilio and Miguel Salehi of The Beehive are among them.

It’s been a few years since StarChefs had an awards gala in San Francisco, what brought you back this year? 
AB: We’ve been taking a deep dive into the San Francisco Bay Area every three years since 2005. We return to a city in search of a new class of Rising Stars based on the city’s size and depth of the restaurant industry there. For example, we cover New York every other year, Chicago and Los Angeles every three years, and Washington, D.C. every four years.  

How would you characterize the San Francisco dining (and bar) scene?
AB: The Bay Area has always been a region of peaks and valleys, and indeed we saw a metropolis bouncing with growth and change. Still, in a challenging city for cooks, we found no shortage of talent—in San Francisco and Oakland. StarChefs gave out 23 Rising Stars Awards this time around, to a total of 26 winners. Eleven of those award winners are women—the most of any class of Rising Stars in the 17-year history of the program. The San Francisco Bay Area’s diversity—including the second largest population of Filipino Americans in the country—is reflected.

2016 Rising Star Chef Yoni Levy is now the chef of Salesforce HQ. He left his post at beloved Outerlands so that he could spend more time with his growing family. Chefs are now taking care of themselves and their staff more than ever. We saw these trends of self-care and tech influence merge at Rising Star Chef Adam Tortosa’s restaurant Robin, where he has created an extraordinary benefits program (including a trip to Japan!). We found San Francisco and Oakland in love with natural wines, with Rising Star Somm Louisa Smith leading the charge. And, of course, so much outstanding bread—more than you can stuff in a suitcase.

In what ways is the dining scene in San Francisco different from other American cities? 
AB: The Michelin stars for California were released today, and Northern California has the highest concentration of stars in the country. No surprise there. So, the bar is high in San Francisco. StarChefs is an industry-facing publication, rather than consumer. I encourage all young cooks to come to San Francisco to stage around if they can swing it. Because the city is such a tough one for young cooks to survive financially, the labor shortage is acute. Kitchens need the extra hands and it can be relatively easy to get in the door and gain valuable experience at some of the best restaurants in the country.    

Looking forward, any predictions for how dining will continue to evolve?
AB: I hope that we will continue to see more of what we found in this class of Rising Stars: more women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community represented in leadership roles. I also hope we continue to see the expansion of proper benefits programs for restaurant workers, like we have seen in the Bay Area, as well as a continued focus on the work/life balance and the mental and physical health of chefs and hospitality professional on the whole.

Thanks StarChefs!

Friday, March 08, 2019

7 Trends from the Winter Fancy Food Show 2019

The Winter Fancy Food Show is a great place to identify trends. It’s also a way to see how trends are evolving. Here is a short list of what caught my attention. 
Cauliflower is everywhere! This isn’t new and you've probably seen cauliflower rice in stores. From the Ground Up makes gluten free pretzels and crackers from cauliflower. I wasn't crazy about the pretzels, but the cheddar crackers taste a lot like Cheez-its. The other brand I liked was Caulipower. They make gluten free cauliflower pizzas, pizza crusts and tortillas. They each have the right texture, something I found lacking in other brands. 
I wrote about mushrooms before but this year I saw even more innovations, including snack bars with mushrooms, from a brand called Shrooms offering a sweet and savory version as well as one with chocolate. Mushrooms are also showing up more in tea and coffee including one from the Republic of Tea called Restore and Reset that combines Reishi and cocoa. 
Long a favored ingredient in skin care, collagen is moving into food. I saw it in fuel bars and drink mixes from the Paleo focused Primal Kitchen, teas and added to random products like a sweet and creamy “granola butter” from Kween. Will ingesting collagen peptides help support healthy joints, tendons, and muscles, skin, hair, and nails? From what I’ve read, the jury is out.
One of the coolest things I noticed at the show this year were all the new ways food is being packaged, new form factors in particular. Lots of individual packets of things like ghee from Fourth and Heart, extract pastes from the British company Taylor & Colledge, nut oils from La Tourangelle. Remember the Altoids tin? It’s back but ingeniously filled with teas for travelers from Numi, and with tubes of curry and harissa from Jacobsen Salt. Fit Fit Bites offers fruit snacks in little pucks. Uncle Dougie’s solves the frustration with barbecue sauce bottles by packaging their product in a squeeze-able pouch. Another cool innovation is the Slingshot with chia granola to add to an accompanying yogurt based drink. 
Hummus has been trending for a while, but now in addition to being available in tons of flavors, it’s showing up as an actual ingredient. A couple of examples include Firehook's hummus crackers and O’Dang hummus dressing which comes in a variety of flavors. 
Turmeric is another trendy ingredient. This year I saw it in ghee, in “shots” that a coming soon from Numi, in a particularly delicious hummus from Blue Moose of Boulder, in tonic from Turveda, in crackers from RW Garcia, in bone broth from Nona Lim, in pinchetti pasta from Al Dente Pasta, in ice cream from ReThink and even in Ritrovo balsamic vinegar. 
Frico is a cheese crisp from Italy, traditionally made from heating Parmigiano Reggiano until it melts and forms a thin crust. But companies have created products that mimic this treat, Sonoma Creamery, Whisps and Parm Crisps were a few I noticed this year. Crunchy, cheesy and available in a variety of flavors and shapes, these snacks are gluten free, low in carbs, high in protein. 

A few other things I took note of this year that were new to me included: 

Schizandra which sounds like the name of a Disney princess, but is really a berry and showed up in an elixir from Rebbl called Schizandra Berries & Creme as well as in the Daily Beauty tea from Republic of Tea. It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine for and is adaptogenic, which means it supports the adrenal system and combats stress on the body. It supposedly tastes sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. 

You know about probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Prebiotics complement probiotics, basically providing food for probiotics grow, which in turn help promote better digestive health. When you see prebiotics on labels it means generally some kind of fiber. 

My favorite prebiotic product was Zen Basil, a line of organic drinks made with basil seeds. Basil seeds are similar to chia seeds, they plump up when added to liquid but compared to chia seeds they have more iron, fiber, potassium and calcium. Used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine they purportedly have antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmodic and antifungal properties. The drinks which are made from a family recipe are fruity, juicy and delicious. They also offers bags of the basil seeds. 


Last but not least, I don't remember seeing eggs at the show before. This year several companies were featuring eggs from pasture raised chickens. 

Friday, March 01, 2019

Traditional Italian Almond Biscotti recipe

“There is no beating grief. There is no getting over it. Yet, the beauty of grief is that it stretches your emotional bandwidth. Joy, happiness, love, compassion: The degree to which you can feel them is directly proportional to the amount of pain, grief, sadness, and devastation you have felt.” This is a quote from Beautiful Grief, a book I read recently. It came into my life at a time when I was experiencing more than my fair share of grief. I’m trying to focus on this idea of letting my grief expand my capacity for joy. Baking is where I often find joy.

One of the reasons I am grieving is the loss of my dear friend Susan Russo. I met her in the early days of blogging. She was a terrific writer and recipe developer but mostly just a wonderful person. I am trying to hold on to my happy memories of her and celebrate her with one of her recipes, Traditional Italian Almond Biscotti.

The cookies are chock full of toasted almonds, scented with vanilla and orange. The recipe makes a big batch, so there are plenty to keep and to share.

I associate many recipes with Susan—Italian American dishes of course, and ingredients like fennel and olives. Her two blog posts, one on Kitchen Window and another on her blog about biscotti capture so much of what I loved about her—the way she shared her heritage, humor, and warmth, all while caring for others. I hope these cookies bring you, and anyone you share them with, some joy.



Traditional Italian Almond Biscotti
The recipe is from Susan Russo’s mother, I’ve adapted the instructions.

Makes 36 (3/4 inch-wide cookies)

3 cups whole raw almonds
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 jumbo eggs (if you don’t have jumbo eggs, use 4 medium eggs)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 large orange (about 1 -2 teaspoons)
1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing the tops of loaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper.

Place almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the toasted almonds, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and flour.

In a small mixing bowl, combine 3 jumbo eggs, vanilla and orange zest and whisk until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be very sticky. Squeeze the dough and once it comes together, form a ball. Divide the ball into four equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface place one piece of dough, and roll into a log approximately 8 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4 of an inch high. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Place two logs on each baking sheet. Brush the tops of the dough with the beaten egg.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing. Place a loaf on a cutting board, and using a large serrated knife, slice cookies 3/4 of an inch thick on the diagonal. If the slices crumble, then let cool a few more minutes before slicing. Place slices on their sides back on to the baking sheets; place in the still warm oven with the temperature off and the door closed for 30-60 minutes. The longer they stay in the oven,the harder they will become. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing up to one month in a tin or another air tight container.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

15 Discoveries from the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show provides a terrific opportunity to discover new and delicious things. Some of these things are new, some are just new to me, but all of them are worth seeking out. 
Satsumas are a tangy sweet hybrid citrus fruit. Blackberry Patch has recently introduced three satsuma products, a syrup and two preserves intended to be served with cheese. The Satsuma Cane Vanilla is also delicious as jam on toast. It’s very intense and juicy. 

I’ve had honey infused with different ingredients including lavender and citrus, but I’ve never had any as heady as Makabi & Sons, rosewater infused honey. Based in Los Angeles, they also make beautiful boxes of gourmet cookies, but it was the honey that really won me over. They also make cardamom honey. 

If you’ve been to France you’ve no doubt seen that the supermarket brand Bonne Maman has a much larger line of jams and preserves available there than they do here. In France, you’ll find flavors like pineapple with rum and vanilla as well as Mara Des Bois Strawberry. At the show, they were introducing a new line called “intense” and I loved the Red Fruit Intense. Looking online I now I see they are offering Strawberry Intense instead which includes some black currant juice. Might it be the same thing as Red Fruit? I’ll have to buy a jar to be sure. The Intense line has less sugar than conventional jams, and true to the name, a more intense flavor. 
I wish I could tell you that Liege waffles were trending, but I only saw two companies exhibiting them at the show. Mountain Waffle Co. sells wholesale and Belgian Boys sells retail. What sets these waffles apart is their crunchy almost crackly texture thanks to the inclusion of pearl sugar that does not melt. Belgian Boys offers plain as well as chocolate covered Liege waffles.  

Roons are definitely the best macaroons I have ever tasted. They are moist inside, toasty and crunchy on the outside and dipped in Guittard chocolate. Smaller ones called Lil Roonies are completely coated in chocolate, the espresso chocolate ones are particularly good and are “coming soon.” Right now most of their macaroons are available primarily in Portland OR or online. 

Choffy is a product developed by an engineer who had a dream about chocolate that could be brewed like coffee. After three years of experimentation, he found a way to make it work. It tastes a bit like chocolate but also a bit like coffee. It’s good black or with milk or sugar if you prefer. The ground roasted cacao also can be used in recipes.
I really like sweet treats with a bitter edge. Infusions are a line of chocolate covered almonds from Canada with tea. They start with crunchy roasted almonds cover them in toffee, dip them in chocolate and then coat them with powdered tea—matcha, rooibos or raspberry rooibos. The matcha is my favorite. Available at Costco in Canada, I hope they make it to our side of the border.
Good Catch fish free tuna tastes like tuna, not just the texture of tuna, but also the flavor of tuna. It’s high in protein, made from plants and in particular a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans along with algae oil which gives it a fresh from the sea flavor. It’s just launching in stores now. 

Ramen noodles from Sun Noodle. I’ve known about Sun Noodle since I started writing about ramen. I’d say the majority of ramen shops in the US use noodles from Sun Noodle. Their base line includes 200 different formulas, but of course, each restaurant generally puts their own twist on it. Now you can find fresh ramen noodles from Sun at many Japanese specialty grocery stores and even at some Whole Foods stores. 

You may have seen egg bites, the little souv-vide cooked eggs at Starbuck’s. I go to Starbuck’s so infrequently I hadn’t seen them but I tried the version from Trois Petits Cochons and was impressed! They are tender and flavorful and come in a variety of flavors including bacon and swiss and prosciutto and gruyere. 

I eat a lot of almond butter. But I had never had walnut butter until recently. Walnut butter from Wellnut Farms has a bit of sugar and RSPO certified palm oil but it’s generally pretty healthy. The sugar is necessary to cut the bitterness. I might try making my own with a bit of walnut oil. 

Angkor Cambodian Food is a food company started by two ex-engineers. They have a whole line of Cambodian sauces, but my favorite is the award-winning lemongrass paste. It’s a beguiling blend of lemongrass, garlic, onion, jalapenos, fish sauce, galangal, lime and lime leaf, and a few other things.  Use it for stir frys, marinades or even as a soup base. 

Muso from Japan produces a line of umami products—hot sauces, miso pastes and more. They add a savory quality without seeming overly salty. Most of their products are organic. If you’re interested in specialty Japanese ingredients, check out their booklet.  Some of their products are available on Amazon, but only one umami paste. I hope they find distributors and more of their products become available soon. 

Smoky red mustard from Freak Flag is a unique condiment that has notes of garlic, tomato and mustard and a balance of honey and vinegar. But it needs another name. Heinz is selling a mayo-ketchup combination called “mayochup” so maybe “mustup”? 
Red Duck makes condiments and their latest ones are taco sauces. If you love Korean tacos, you’re in luck. Their Korean Taco Sauce is definitely my favorite, and is good in a taco or quesadilla but I imagine it would be good in a marinade for meats, in meatloaf, chili or in a gooey bean dip. I’m looking forward to experimenting with it. 

Chile crisp is having a moment. It’s a Chinese condiment that has gotten a lot of press with plenty of copycat recipes online. Don Chilio offers basically a Mexican version that consists of thin slices of chile peppers fried to a crisp in olive oil. I tried the jalapeno but they also offer a habanero and serrano version. It’s super crispy and plenty spicy. I’d eat it by the spoonful. It’s heavenly over a slice of cool avocado.