|Photo l Albert Yee|
|David under his cloak of anonymity|
It is with major regret we bid a fond adios to David Snyder, one of our two restaurant critics here at City Paper and writer of local food and drinks blog PhilaFoodie. David has been lending his laser palate and piercing prose to the Food & Restaurants section since August of 2008, ingesting everything from the exotic (duck tongues) to sheer corruptions of nature (gnocchi "heavy enough to bend space-time").
In his exit interview, he filled us in on what it means to be a consumer advocate, what aspiring critics have to know and why he's leaving what is surely one of the most-envied gigs in town.
Read our Q&A with David after the jump.
Meal Ticket: What were your most and least favorite reviews to write? Why?
David Snyder: My favorites lie at the extremes. It was fun and effortless to write about brilliant restaurants such as Bibou, Marigold Kitchen, MÃ©mÃ© and Talula's Table, for example. Their strengths are so mature and well-defined that the reviews virtually wrote themselves, like I was merely channeling good juju from the meals I had eaten. Plus, it felt good to let folks know that if they decided to spend their hard-earned cash at those places, it would be money well-spent.
Negative reviews were often easy to write, too, if the restaurants' weaknesses were loud and pronounced. On occasion, having a sour experience afforded me the playful luxury of torturing my readers with puns (DaVinci) or using a quirky format (Aladeen). Some critics say that they don't like to write negative reviews, but that never made sense to me. It's like a criminal judge saying he doesn't like to sentence convicted felons. Being a consumer advocate is what you sign up for as a critic, and sometimes that means writing a negative review. It's important to take that responsibility seriously.
The restaurants that were the most challenging to write about were the ones in the middleâspots that were neither spectacular nor terrible. Finding a place in the spectrum for these restaurants and putting the experiences into context was not an easy task sometimes.
My favorite review to write though, by far, was Wokano. When you've eaten duck tongue and fried pig intestines with friends, you've bonded for life. To be able to write about that experience was pure joy.
MT: What did you learn from your reviewing gig?
DS: For one, dining out as much as I have for this job has fundamentally altered the way I view the dining landscape. I don't see the dining scene in terms of ârestaurantsâ anymore. I view it more in terms of plates or meals. Most restaurants have a mix of dishes, some good and some not-so-good; it's rare for every menu item to perform at the same level. When people would ask me for recommendations, I found myself talking about what they should eat across the dining scene instead of where they should eat.
Another thing I learned was just how much you can derive about a chef's psyche just from eating his or her food. After eating at terra, for example, it seemed obvious that the duck dish was a reconceptualization of the less successful acorn squash hot pot I had tried earlier, even though the two dishes did not look or taste anything alike. Based on that, I suspected that Chef Paraskevas had a healthy and constructive attitude about failure. When I interviewed him later, I was surprised at just how accurate my hunches were. Every confidence and every insecurity is right there on the plate if you just look carefully.
MT: How can a reader spot a poorly-done restaurant review?
DS: A restaurant review is well-done if it's engaging, either by weaving a tale or providing some context or metric to gauge whether the restaurant is successful in what it's trying to do. Reciting a list of dishes you ate isn't enough; you have to tell a story.
MT: What should people take away from a well-done review?
DS: It's up to the reader to determine what he or she takes away from a particular review or reviewer. A review is merely a guide. As a consumer, the key is to be making informed decisions. With so many resources now available (including food blogs, Yelp, eGullet), consumers seem to be as hungry for information and perspective as they are for a worthwhile meal. That's a beautiful thing.
MT: Do you have any crucial advice for aspiring critics?
DS: The most important thing is to develop solid writing and interview skills. At its core, food writing is journalism. If you are not a strong writer or if you do not have the skill to pull information from a chef who's unwilling to talk about his or her craft during a post-meal interview, it won't matter how well you know your way around a kitchen.
You also need to develop your palate, a database of flavors in your mind against which to measure the food you'll be eating. In other words, you have to eat a lot. The goal is to forge a palate that's both broad and deepâyou need to know what food is supposed to taste like across a wide spectrum of cuisines. Part of developing your database also entails understanding the chemistry of how flavors and textures work together; Harold McGee's âOn Food and Cookingâ should be required reading.
This should go without saying, but it's important to be an adventurous eater. I understand it can be challenging to cope with foreign textures and flavors. But in this job, being a picky eater is not an asset. The more boundaries you create, the more your database will suffer, and the less effective you'll be at reviewing.
And don't be afraid to be provocative.
MT: Why would anyone leave this awesome job?
DS: Reviewing restaurants for the City Paper has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. It's been a privilege to review restaurants for City Paper during what continues to be an amazingly vibrant time in the Philadelphia restaurant scene. And, believe me, it pains me deeply to give it up. But a fresh and exciting opportunity has opened at my day job that I simply could not resist. In order to fully exploit it the way I want to, I'll need to spend more time in the office, which unfortunately will leave little time for a full schedule of restaurant reviewing.
|Photo courtesy Marie DiFeliciantonio|
|You can just call her LP|
Over the past 17 months, there's been many a deadline day when Team Meal Ticket has bemoaned our lack of a competent, food-crazy intern to write witty posts while we frantically hammer away at print articles, attend the events we'd accidentally triple-booked ourselves for and provide insight to the eternal question, "Where do we go for lunch?"
Now our prayers have been answered in the form of chef-writer Marie DiFeliciantonio, whose surname manages to mash all of Felicia D.'s monikers together with those of her immediate family. Marie, henceforth known as "Lucky Porkchops" or "LP" to avoid confusion with her blogging brethren, has a degree in communications and culinary arts, once served as private chef to a very swanky family and has never met an unfamiliar ingredient she didn't long to ingest.
We put our newest player through the Q&A routine after the jump.
Meal Ticket: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you want to break into the food-writing realm.
Lucky Porkchops: I firmly believe in doing what you love and success will come. Eating and writing are my favorite pastimes. Combining my Communications degree with my Culinary Arts degree and writing a food blog is something I enjoy doing.
MT: What do you plan on contributing to Meal Ticket?
LP: I want to bring my view to Meal Ticket as a chef-writer and expose readers to my side of the bridge (NJ) and my side of the story as it pertains to food life. I'd like to share my experience as a caterer, personal chef, and restaurant addict.
MT: What bars or restaurants in Philly might we find you hanging out at on the regular?
LP: I am an experience junkie. I want to do it all (as long as it doesn't involve insane heights), see it all (as long as it isn't a horror movie) and try it all (as long as it isn't poison). That being said, in conjunction with the constant amazing additions to the Philly dining scene, you most likely won't find me making reservations at the same place twice. I have to try them all! To not totally evade the question I will say that there are a few places where you will find me in the near future including Cichetteria 19, Fish, Village Whiskey, and Modo Mio.
MT: What is your favorite dish to cook at home, or for a dinner party to impress your friends?
LP: It is hard to say what dish I enjoy making the most. Dinner is like the nightly improv show in which I perform. You never know what will end up on that plate. I will say that if I have a party and don't make hummus, I will hear about it all night.
MT: Is there any certain item you can never resist on a restaurant's menu? Why?
LP: As a self-proclaimed experience junkie, if there is an item that has never crossed my tastebuds before on a restaurant/bar's menu, it is most certainly the one I will order. I have taken it on as my mission to leave no flavor untasted. I'm usually not disappointed, either.
|Photo l Michael Persico|
|Isabella Rosselli and Stephen Starr pose for photo call|
Elite Chase Sapphire credit card members were treated to an uncommonly star-struck evening at Tangerine restaurant last night, when the Sundance Channel hosted a screening of Big Night, the critically acclaimed, food-focused indie flick starring Isabella Rossellini.
Rossellini and restaurant potentate Stephen Starr attended last' nights party in advance of Sundance's Tastemakers series, a collection of vignettes featuring influential persons in their fields (watch Starr's here) and Sunday night showings (10 p.m.) of award-winning films from festivals around the world.
Meal Ticket had a chance to speak with actress, model, director and writer Rossellini just before the screening; we used our two minutes to find out what role food plays in the beauty icon's life. Read the interview after the jump.
Meal Ticket: Green Porno, the short-film series you directed, wrote, produced and starred in for Sundance Channel, explores the sex life of marine animals and insects. Some of the films begin with scenes in the kitchen, moving on to the native habitats of the marine creatures -- when we return to the kitchen, your character has lost her appetite. Were you a vegetarian prior to or after this project?
Isabella Rossellini: The series is 18 short films; they are not all the same. Originally it was just the sex life of marine animals, but once a marine biologist got involved he thought we should have a more explicit environmental message. And of course, part of Sundance's mission is to experiment with new formats -- films for the Web, for phones.
I am almost a vegetarian. I do eat organic chicken and am careful what fish I select. There is a problem of overfishing; you have to ask questions. The place where you buy your fish should have the answers to questions like, where is this salmon from? Vendors should know this.
MT: What influence can these short films have on viewer's eating habits?
IR: You know, I think of myself as an entertainer. I am not an activist. That said, I did want to try to frame an environmental message in a comical way. The environmental message can be very... doomsday. Sundance makes these environmental films as part of their mission; it is a valid attempt to educate.
MT: Italians are often stereotyped as food-lovers. Is meal time and eating together very important to your family?
IR: No. My family life is not centered around food; but of course food is very important. I think being Italian influenced my taste -- you know, not eating processed foods, never anything from cans, TV dinners.
MT: I wonder if anyone eats TV dinners anymore.
IR: You know, I used to buy them as a kind of touristic attraction, when my friends from Italy would visit. We never had anything like that in Italy, and they would react with absolute horror.
MT: Do you enjoy cooking for yourself and eating at home?
IR: I do eat at home alot. Mostly so I know where it's from! Of course, I have a housekeeper, but I can cook better!
Stephen Starr made his first appearance on Bravo's Top Chef during Season 5's Restaurant Wars episode. For Top Chef Las Vegas, he sat at the Final Table during last night's finale episode. Meal Ticket caught up with the restaurateur today to get his thoughts on the experience.
Some Top Chef fans here in the city are sore over the fact that they always identify you as the owner of Morimoto and Buddakan in New York, but gloss over all your restaurants in Philly. What's up with that?
The first time I was on [Top Chef New York], it was a totally new experience, and I had no idea what they would do. I had barely watched the show and I didn't know much about it. I don't know why they didn't say that. If I do it again, I would make sure they say that I'm the owner of restaurants in both Philly and New York. My guess is they're sort of not giving us the respect we deserve, just honing in on New York. And of course, that's ridiculous. Philly is our home, and most of what I do is here.
Did you feel as though the format for this final table ï¿½ï¿½ mandatory dessert, the "mystery box" ï¿½ damaged the finalists' ability to showcase their strengths?
It probably hurt them. It's like playing in the World Series in 60-degree temperatures or 40-degree temperatures. What's easier on the pitcher and batter? It's better when things are controlled. If they figure out how to do their best and plan it in their heads, I think it'd be much easier and better.
Now I don't know when Tom Colicchio actually told them [about the various twists]. It might have been 7 in the morning. So if they were told that at 7 a.m., it's not as much as a curveball, since we taped until the late afternoon. But generally speaking, my answer would be that those curveballs would only hurt the chefs.
How long did the taping for the Final Table actually last?
Five or six hours? I don't know. I have all these confidentality agreements so I can only give you the broad view.
Based on what you tasted, do you feel as though the right chef came out on top?
It was really close. And at the end of the day, I was not the judge who made those decisions. I really liked that dessert with the pumpkin seeds. It was really good. People said it was dried out, but it didn't matter ï¿½ the flavors and consistencies were really good. I think that dessert was from the guy that won [Michael Voltaggio]. Bryan [Voltaggio] did the venison ï¿½ that may have been the best [entrï¿½e]. But if memory serves me well, I think that the right guy won.
I don't watch these things very often. I'm really way too busy to watch them every week, but I read on the Internet when people are like, "So and so should've won." But there's no way you can know who should've won by watching TV. You gotta eat it! I think that people really develop a fondness for the characters, like that guy with the beard [Kevin Gillespie]. He was a very folksy, likeable guy.
With so many palates at one table, there was bound to be some disagreements about specific dishes, right? Any disputes or differences in opinion that didn't make it onto the show?
Not really ... there were no major disagreements on this one. Tom Colicchio is excellent, by the way ï¿½ he really is almost a professor with his analysis of food. My opinions are very basic ï¿½ which may be better ï¿½ but Tom's are so much astute and prolific. He's really good.
Taking their styles and cooking in consideration, which of the three chefs would you most like to hire for one of your restaurants?
If you really want me to be very honest with you, the conditions by which we eat this food, the number of dishes we have ï¿½ it's not even close to being enough for me to determine if I would do a restaurant with them. If I were a judge the whole time, sure, I could figure it out.
Funny you say that, because leading up to the Final Table, they had the contestants saying stuff like, "This could make or break our careers!"
It's a television show, you know? It's a very well-done and successful one. It's inspired a lot of people to not only watch, but to want to cook.
You said you didn't care for the inclusion of bacon in Kevin's dessert. Safe to say we'll never see a bacon-laden dessert at a Starr restaurant?
Chefs are experimenting with lots of stuff, and pork has become a very important ingredient in cooking. Of course, it's always been. [That type of dessert] is being done a lot now ... but putting pork in a dessert for me is just gross. I don't want pig ice cream.
So are you not into that vein of experimentation?
When you're a young chef and you just start doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff ... your foundation needs to be strong. Your knowledge of classic techniques needs to be awesome. Then I think you start to play. That's the danger in cooking shows and things like this. Maybe a lot of people are going too quickly to the experimental stage before they have the basics down pat.
What are the chances of seeing a Top Chef season set in Philly in the future?
I don't know. Of course I put my two cents in that they should do that. I've pushed the producers. I told them they need to come to Philly, it's a great culinary town. I think they are considering it.
Rob Tod, owner of Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, will visit Philadelphia to make the U.S. debut of the first-ever American spontaneously fermented lambic in a Tria Fermentation School class on Thursday, Dec. 17. Hyped lambic-heads have already sold the class out, a testament to Philadelphia's devotion to the rarest and weirdest of all artisanal beer styles.
Tod is already in Belgium in advance of his beer's big premier at Day of the Lambic festival in Belgium on Dec. 12. Meal Ticket called the man up for the details on the ways and means of America's first homegrown lambic, why it isn't coming to a store near you, and the one ingredient he said they'd never make a beer with, after the jump.
Meal Ticket: What is the name of your new lambic?
Rob Tod: It doesn't have a name yet. Around the brewery we just call it Allagash Spontaneous.
MT: When was it brewed?
RT: The first batch was brewed in December of '07 (see video above). We've done 7 or so batches since then.
MT: What was it aged in?
RT: We used a mixture of used French oak wine barrels, "virgin" barrels and barrels we had aged beer in a few times.
MT: Will this be available as a bottled or draft beer?
RT: It might not be available at all. Every barrel brewed was not usable ï¿½ say, each batch was seven barrels, and one or two was no good. Then we fruited some of it, so there isn't much right now. This will probably be something you see only at the brewery and for special events.
MT: What kind of fruit did you use?
RT: Some cherries, some raspberries, and I think our brewmaster Jason Perkins did a batch with Maine blueberries, 'cause we always said we'd never brew a blueberry beer. Some of them should be ready about 6 months from now.ï¿½ [Ed: Philly Beer Week! cough cough]
MT: So you don't think you are going to sell bottles around here?
RT: I don't know if I would ever sell it. I just don't have any plans for it currently. You know, lambic traditions goes back years and years ... these brewers have passed down their methods generation to generation, and we're really just taking our first stab at it. It might even take a year, or 10 years, to get it right. We will have it for special events.
MT: What will you be bringing for the Tria tasting?
RT: A straight, unblended lambic from one batch, one barrrel. It's uncarbonated.
You might've already read Felicia D'Ambrosio's review of Louisa Shafia's new Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life in this week's food section. Here, she touches base with the Philadelphia native, who runs her own green catering business in New York, to talk about her new book, urban foraging, locavore elitism and the joy of the farmers market.
Why was now the time to write this book?
I went to cooking school in New York, and had to do an internship somewhere to graduate. I went off to San Francisco to a pretty well-known vegan restaurant, Millennium. As it happened, someone got fired as soon as I got there and they offered me a job right off the bat!
I ended up spending a year and a half there, and it really influenced the way I thought about food and cooking ï¿½ the process of producing food. This was a place where we composted everything ï¿½ it was no big deal to chuck things in the compost bin rather than the trash. All the food came from local farms, and we really tried to cook with seasonal ingredients.
When I came back to New York and the East Coast and eventually opened my own catering business, I brought those green principles to doing events. Like, no bottled water, no waste events, seasonal menus, composting everything ï¿½ it seemed like no one in New York had had access to that style of entertaining. It was happening in restaurants to some degree, but not going on in the world of fine entertaining.
People were so excited that they could have an event with elegant food and not create any waste. So I thought, Iï¿½ll write a cookbook, and touch on these low-waste entertaining concepts.
Is it possible to be an ecologically conscious consumer without being a true vegan or vegetarian?
This book isnï¿½t either of those things, though Iï¿½ve been both. I still donï¿½t eat a lot of animal products, but if something crosses my plate, especially when I am a guest in someoneï¿½s home, I will eat it.
Look, if we all cut meat out of our diet we would definitely release less carbon dioxide and pollutants into the world. But the truth is, it isnï¿½t realistic for a majority ï¿½ or even a minority ï¿½ of people. Iï¿½m thinking itï¿½s beside the point to suggest everyone become a vegetarian.
I do suggest, in the book, that you eat much less meat. Also, buying humanely and responsibly raised meats makes a huge difference. There are lots of things you can do short of being a vegetarian.
The locavore principles have filtered down from "seasonal" and "farm-to-table" restaurants and taken hold in the food-interested population. Do you think this kind of eco-conscious diet will ever have mass appeal in America?
It's happening, I think because of all the food poisoning scares getting more frequent across the country. They are mostly resulting from food that comes from a factory and is then distributed all over the country, which makes the outbreak hard to track. People are getting more curious about where their food came from, and seeking reliable sources. It's so much safer to eat local, because if something is tainted it is only going out amongst a small group of people, and is sooner detected and recalled.
Shopping at farmers markets and this sort of eating is often criticized for being elitist. Is this diet attainable for those of more modest means.
I donï¿½t know about Philadelphia, but farmers markets in New York accept food stamps. Though not as cheap as the average crappy supermarket, a farmers market is definitely cheaper than convenience markets. I feel like eating fresh, local food is pretty affordable ï¿½ the cheeses and meats are more expensive, but cutting down on those products in the quantity that you eat and buying higher quality solves it.
Also, I discuss in the introduction of the book how buying local keeps money within the local economy and provides local jobs. Itï¿½s important for the health of the local economy to buy local. Iitï¿½s a longer-thinking strategy.
In your book, you discuss foraging for food to supplement your diet. Is that something you can do in NYC or any other big city?
You know, itï¿½s not a totally normal thing to do! I mean, I mostly shop at farmers markets, but itï¿½s just a lark to go foraging. Iï¿½ve found quince, apples and all kinds of herbs in Central Park, and berries and wildflowers just outside the city. Itï¿½s a wonderful way to get in touch with nature. At the farmers market, they are selling a lot of wild-foraged things ï¿½ ramps, wild mushrooms and sorrel.
There are things like gingko nuts that there are a lot of in Philly. People are harvesting these in the fall. They are good, healthy nuts with a lot of fortifying qualities, besides being tasty.ï¿½ There are so many things that immigrants are so attuned to that Americans have lost touch with. We donï¿½t remember where our food came from. Itï¿½s like having a mulberry tree when you are a kid. People walk by these in full fruit every day and it would never occur to them to pick one and eat it. Itï¿½s about getting in touch with your food source.
What is the first step for someone who wants to eat more responsibly?
Go to the farmers market. The products are beautiful and if you are concerned with price, you will certainly find something in you price range. Thanksgiving is coming up ï¿½ look for the gorgeous sweet potatoes or cranberries. Seeing something beautiful and bringing it home to experiment with ï¿½ you will get inspired. The farmers market is a fun place to go! Itï¿½s got great energy and people are excited to be there.
|Photo | Mike Persico for Grub Street
You may not know this, but Meal Ticket's very own Felicia D is also a badass bartender/font of boozy knowledge at the Belgian Cafï¿½. Grub Street provides a cool profile of our girl via their recurring Bartender's Bible series. Choice excerpt:
What's your patented drunk-handling technique?: Enlist the drunkï¿½s friends as allies, stall and ï¿½forgetï¿½ to serve them another drink, serve fake all-soda drinks if necessary. Gently shaming them works, too, if they are not too far gone.
Not that she's done that to us or anything. Read the full piece here.
After the jump, Erin Mae Szrankowski touches base with Food Network personality Guy Fieri to talk about his Guy Fieri Road Show appearance at the Merriam Theater this Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m.
So how did the idea for this traveling Road Tour originate?
As a chef, one of the greatest things to come out of my restaurant back in California was [doing] demonstrations. I would do these demonstrations and everyone would get a kick out of them, because I like to entertain, I like to laugh, all that. When I got on Food Network, I was there and doing my gig, again. But itï¿½s at such a higher level, with all the other Food Network stars doing TV promotions or big presentations and so forth. I really preferred the style of rock 'n' roll, music and so on.
I was South Beach and I was doing a big demo at the South Beach Food and Wine event ï¿½ everybody having a good time, everybody was getting wild. Bringing out the margarita machine, with everyone getting a little wilder. Rachael Ray comes on as I leave the stage. As Iï¿½m walking off, my agent from L.A. said, "What was that?" I thought I was in trouble, but she said, "Can you do that again?" I said, "Do that again? I could do that times 10." She said, "If you could do that again times 10, Iï¿½ll get you a national tour."
So the idea behind the show is everything food. Food and people, food and entertainment, food and laughter, food and music, food and Q&A, food and knowledge, food and tasting. Itï¿½s all done with the background of music going on, the rock 'n' roll being played from my big DJ. Thatï¿½s the energy of it ï¿½ letï¿½s rock 'n' roll. Letï¿½s have a good time.
There seems to be a huge music and cooking connection here. Are there certain genres of music, bands or songs that put you in the mood to cook or eat certain things?
Absolutely. One of my favorite songs is Motley Crue's ï¿½Kick Start My Heart.ï¿½ A lot of the time, I'll go into the kitchen, start getting ready, getting knives and cutting boards out. Then we'll fire the song up [surprisingly good guitar impression]. When Iï¿½m doing Southern food, itï¿½s things like Lynyrd Skynyrd. When Iï¿½m doing barbecue and I'm outdoors, it's Sammy Hagar. When I have a bunch of buddies over and weï¿½re rocking out, itï¿½s Metallica. Different food for different times ... it all depends on the energy level and depending on the punky level, how weï¿½re feeling. I got a big digital jukebox that has all of my songs ï¿½ 200,000 songs and a touch screen. And we just rock the noise.ï¿½ Itï¿½s awesome. Everyone comes over sits on the counter, watches whatï¿½s going on and hangs out.
What's up with the bartender at your show?
Yeah, we have a flair bartender named Woody who's coming all the way from Australia. Everything that I do is done at the next level. So when I found this Australian flair bartender that does this wild activity, I figured why not bring him on the tour? He has a knack of throwing cocktails way, way, way into the air and catching them, stacking martini glasses and all kinds of other wild behavior. The guy is so out of control. The only thing we have to watch out for is that he doesnï¿½t destroy the stage so I can come on there later.
How did you decide Philly was going to be a stop on your tour?
My stop in Philly is going to be gangster. One, I love Philly. Two, Philly is a great food spot. Three, people in Philly get food ï¿½ they really like and appreciate food. There are a lot of reasons why Philly was picked.
At every stop on your tour, you have a local chef prepare a dish for the audience.ï¿½ I heard that Tony Luke Jr. will be the special guest on Wednesday.
I picked Tony Luke to be the opener because I want to have a local guy who has a really good personality, really good energy. And you know Tony Luke Jr. ï¿½ come on, everyone in Philly knows Tony. So, heï¿½s gonna come and make a cheesesteak after me, called the Guy Fieri Philly Cheesesteak. Iï¿½m dying to eat it.
What kinds of stuff will you be addressing in the "lecture" part of the show?
Itï¿½s all incorporated ï¿½ [not like], "This is the lecture part and this is the cooking part." It all goes together and a lot of it has to do with how the audience gets involved. Everything from stories on the road to stories, people asking their own questions, you name it. There is no way to tell ... there will not be the same show twice.
Anything else you would like our readers to know?
I want them to tailgate before they come. I want them to bring the party to the party. Weï¿½re gonna bring out these gigantic 6-foot, 25-gallon margarita machines. We are going to have a party. Bring it, come have fun, enjoy it.
|All Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|David Michael produces natural alternatives to synthetic food coloring|
David Michael & Co. has been in the Philadelphia food business for over 100 years, but you've never heard of them. That's because DM is a flavor developer who sells their taste technology to the companies you do know ï¿½ sellers of consumer packaged goods, or CPGs.ï¿½ï¿½ CPGs purchase flavors, stabilizers and coloring agents from the food scientists at DM, as well as technology and product-development insight.
The Innovation Roadshow, held yesterday at the Delaware Avenue Hyatt-Regency, invited food scientists and marketers from DM's exclusive client list to taste flavors and products that DM predicts will be trendy two to three years out. DM CEO Skip Rosskam offered teases of what's up next. "Our research indicates persimmon will [be] on-trend in two to three years," Rosskam said in an interview with Meal Ticket. "So right now, we are educating our clients on this flavor, so they can taste it and get familiar."
DM also produces prototypes of finished goods that they predict will be highly desirable, like this year's Pie Pops ï¿½ portion-controlled, 50-calorie mini pies on a stick ï¿½ and Meatloaf Cupcakes. "Comfort foods are big in this economy," Rosskam said. "So we developed an idea for mini-meatloaf "cupcakes" iced with flavored mashed potatoes." Keep in mind DM would not produce such a frozen, direct-t0-consumer product, but rather the flavorings that would enhance it.
"We can make a flavor that tastes exactly like roast beef," said Rosskam. "When you put a roast beef in the oven, a natural reaction happens ï¿½ browning, caramelizing; and we can do this in science. We recreate taste by reacting a protein with a sugar ï¿½ this is done with natural chemistry to manipulate and modify the flavor.ï¿½ We can create a rare roast beef flavor, or a grill-charred beef flavor.ï¿½ One advantage is such a flavor is meatless ï¿½ a great addition to a veggie burger."
|Care for cake in your milk?|
In addition to predicting and manufacturing the popular flavors of the future, like authentic Chinese fruit flavors honey sweet date and sea buckthorn or exotic Australian rosella (wild hibiscus) and blood lime, DM presents product possibilities to their CPG clients. The Roadshow offered looks at product prototypes like real fruit snacks infused with bacon or barbecue flavors, savory spicy tamarind lollipops, "Tipsy Chips" that taste just like a blood orange-jalapeno margarita or bleu cheese dirty gin martini, milks flavored like bakery treats such as carrot cake and blueberry muffins, dessert bruschetta, single-origin ice creams, chocolate sparkling water and cocktail gel shooters delivered in plastic packets akin to oversize single servings of ketchup.
One item that seemed immediately marketable was DM's natural alternatives to FD&C colors for food and pharmaceutical products. Developed by Nathalie Pauleau-Larry of David Michael Europe, which specializes in natural color, the line ranges from green-yellow to red-purple and uses ingredients like tumeric, carotenes, paprika, carmine and anthocyanins from fruit and vegetables, like black carrots or red sweet potatoes to create bright but lifelike colors.
"A 2007 study in the UK [published in The Lancet] showed FD&C colors had indications of causing hyperactivity in children," Rosskam explained. "By 2010, the United Kingdom will have regulations in place that require products using synthetic colors to carry a warning on the front of the box that they may cause hyperactivity." That kind of marketer's nightmare boilerplate presents a unique opportunity for DM to fill a void in the market with their natural colors, in Rosskam's opinion.
Though you've never heard of them, some of DM's 100 years of R&D are likely sitting on your cabinet shelf right now. "Our client list is confidential," says Rosskam. "But you can't walk very far in a supermarket without seeing hundreds of examples of our work."
As we speak, the dames of Les Dames d'Escoffier International ï¿½ the "organization of women leaders in food" ï¿½ are packing in to the Sofitel for four days of eating and networking at their annual conference. The org features more than 1,400 members from 26 international chapters ï¿½ï¿½ culinary luminaries, food writers, educators, chefs, PR specialists, historians, scientists, authors, retail specialists, caterers, tour planners, nutritionists, manufacturers, stylists and more. But for all their renown, I felt like there was something missing from their legend ï¿½ a face, a voice. That was remedied quickly upon speaking with Suzanne J. Brown, a coffee and tea marketing specialist and president of LDEI.
Meal Ticket: When did you take the reins of the organization?
Suzanne J. Brown: A year ago. The term for the president is one year, so my term ends at the end of this conference.
MT: So then, youï¿½re gonna be throwing things around, getting drunk, and the whole event will turn into a bacchanal, right?
SB: Yeah, thatï¿½s the way weï¿½ll celebrate when I pass the gavel. But seriously, itï¿½s the presidentï¿½s responsibility to develop the conference and preside over it. She is the one responsible for it. And then the host, which is Philadelphia this year, has a local committee that will, along with our board of directors, actually execute and to find community speakers.
MT: Why was the organization formed in the first place?
SB: At the time we started in the '70s, there weren't very many women chefs. And it was really not a profession for women. So there were several women in New York ï¿½ including Karen Brock, our founder, who is still living and will be in Philadelphia ï¿½ who gathered women together because of her standing in restaurant critic circles. There was a small group of women that got together and thought, "You know what? We need to create a community for women that want to be chefs that want to go to culinary school. We need to raise the awareness that there are a lot of capable women who are already cheffing or that want to chef." So they did ï¿½ they formed this organization, and the purpose is to raise funds within our chapters for scholarships given to women who want to pursue careers in the culinary field.
MT: Do you feel as if your mission has been met? Are people catching the drift?
SB: I think itï¿½s equal opportunity now, and itï¿½s just continuing to grow and more professionals [are coming] into the field. We discover more culinary opportunities. ï¿½ One of the differences between Les Dames and other culinary organizations, other than being by invitation only ... [is] that [these] are women of accomplishment. Theyï¿½re not at the beginning of their careers. They have already sort of made their mark or are making their mark. We have a diverse membership in terms of profession that is different than other, similar kinds of organizations.
We are [also] international and trying to grow that facet of our organization. For instance, one of our goals this year was a new initiative called the Global Culinary Initiative, where we become more active in their communities to engage with the population. Philadelphia is an ideal example. Your international flavors tend to fit within Philadelphia and the surrounding communities. Itï¿½s an opportunity for the Dames to embrace that and bring the ethnic culinarians into the fold and share tradition, ways to cook, culture, into our food first, and then to share ours with them. In other words, bring them, letï¿½s embrace them, letï¿½s work with them, letï¿½s learn from them, make them members. Weï¿½re about women helping women.
MT: Why did you choose Philadelphia for this yearï¿½s event?
SB: Every year, we try to balance the location of our conference. For instance, one year, weï¿½ll have it on the East Coast, which is this year, and Philadelphia stepped up to the plate and offered to be the host city. Last year, we had it in Honolulu. So next year, weï¿½ll go back to the west, and Palm Springs, California has offered to be the host city. We have chapters all over North America, [so] we try to offer a city where at least some part of the population will be able to get there if they hadnï¿½t made the previous one.
This is the 21st conference, and weï¿½re glad to be there. I love Philadelphia ï¿½ I used to live in Bucks County. We try to develop a theme for the conference that is sort of indigenous with the host city, and this year, because of the wealth of history and the wealth of significant architecture and art and food, we felt that it was the year to really focus on education. Iï¿½m an Easterner, so I love the historical, the educational, and enrichment activities that take in those fine points of the Philadelphia area.
Featured speakers include Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Mr. Michael Whiteman, and Marcia Levin Pelchat, Ph.D.ï¿½ Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, will present the keynote address on Fri., Oct. 2 at 8:15 a.m. on "Today's Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Cook and Eat from Farm to Table." Afterwards, Whiteman, president of Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company, will address "After the Downturn Turns Around: Preparing for Change." On Sat., Oct. 3, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Dr. Pelchat will discuss "Our Aging Senses and Cuisine." These presentations are open to food professionals for a fee. To purchase tickets visit ldei.org.
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