Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All Natural Buzz

As we begin our adventure to reduce sugar by 50% in our bakery, I have been studying the different alternative sweeteners on the market and am starting to become very intrigued by Stevia. It is starting to garner strength in the States as the FDA has recently approved several name brands for distribution here.

Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay for hundreds of years. The leaves of this small, green Stevia rebaudiana plant have a delicious and refreshing taste that can be 30 times sweeter than sugar. What strikes me most is that it has minimal processing and incorporates that all important buzz word, “natural.”

It seems very clear that organics has waned and possibly run its course entirely, but the “all natural” buzz has gained a foothold due to the fact that quality and price remain fair. In other words, natural products are being produced without hormones and antibiotics using minimal processing while the cost has remained fairly flat. Organics on the other hand have had smaller yields leading to higher unsustainable costs. Also, they are losing support in the industry.

Americans love the next “best thing.” It was “no MSG”, and then organics, than sustainability, and now the market is driving “all natural” as the catch phrase for the decade in my opinion. It also goes well with First Lady Michelle Obama’s four point plan to reduce obesity which is a good start, but a little thin on implementation. Anyway, these idealistic initiatives have to start somewhere and I believe this tends to wake up people out of complacency. Yes, we are getting less healthy and overweight! Let’s do something about it eh?


Monday, March 29, 2010

Of All Things…

I often brag about the expertise of our culinary staff here at Rice and today was no exception with regards to that wonderful little red radish. I was cruising through the kitchens today and was taking a look at the produce when one of the salad preps caught me eyeing the radish she was preparing. She immediately said, “I know, they look terrible.” “We won’t be serving them today.” Took the words right out of my mouth…

Although we have seven ACF certified chef’s, the real value of that knowledge is passing it down to people who are still learning. This was a great example of that “trickle down” experience that comes from high culinary standards and training. This just reaffirms the importance of continued education in all areas.

I remember a story my Dad told me about being an apprentice carpenter… He said that when he was learning, nobody would show him how to do anything because people would fear for their skilled job. He then told me how he overcame this by working tirelessly figuring out the rise and run of a 7-11 stair case so he could become more valuable. Although there is definitely something to be said for learning a skill on your own, in the food business, training needs to be passed on or else someone could get sick. Figuring out if a radish is bad by sickening someone is not the experience I was referring to. The experience to stop that happening is…

A day in the life...


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Healthy Thoughts

Why is “health” food more expensive? It’s an interesting thought that healthy food is now served at a premium in restaurants and stores… When I was growing up, just about all food was healthy. It had a lot to do with how it was prepared though that made it unhealthy. Now, in order to eat healthy, there are restaurants and stores that exist solely on this premise. I actually used to manage one myself. A really glorified salad bar with soups, pastas and a bakery.

I thought to myself, this is a great concept, but one could just do the same at home for much less! What I have found in the University Dining Industry is that it costs my operation slightly more to rid the kitchen of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat and return to healthy preparation. How did this happen? Why are more nutritious products more costly?

I believe the answer is simple market principles at play. Supply and demand for fast and easy has driven prices down, while slow and challenging drives prices up. This sort of goes with the slow food movements, but I look at it from the commodity industry side rather than the philosophical side. In other words, prepared foods are now more popular than sloe foods and thus the prices are at a premium. I am hoping for a paradigm shift at some point to reverse this trend, but I am not sure what it will take. Should we bring back Home Economics as a required course in schools? Who knows…


Fructose Debate

I was reading an interesting study by Princeton researchers which states that High Fructose Corn Syrup causes considerable obesity in rats. The study seems justified, but the Corn Refiners Association also had their own opinion which disputes the claim of the study.

Here’s my take… Does anybody dispute that colas are actually bad for you? Since I was a little boy, my parents limited the amount of cola I drank because it is bad for you, I was told. I preach the same thing to my kids and students 30 years later. I really don’t believe we need to study the effects of individual ingredients in a cola, because the answer is simple. Drink lot’s of cola = gain weight. Try it if you do not believe me. When you are done with this simple experiment, you may need to go hit the gym though.

Read here about PepsiCo and their decision to drop HFCS.

With obesity at all time highs in the US, I believe the answer is a reduction in processed food with specific ingredients related to saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. I challenge you all to go cook for yourselves. It is not that difficult and with a little practice, you will be creating culinary delights for your family daily.

An interesting side note to this… At one of our serveries we make home-made chicken fingers from scratch, but one day we subbed them with a frozen product. I received an email the next day from a student that stated that the improved chicken strip offered was much better. Yup! The frozen one with high amounts of sugar and sodium was preferred over scratch cooking… Why I believe this is happening will be a topic for a future entry.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Best Things are Free!

I had a significant amount of responses to my blog yesterday about reducing the 3 S’s in which many were positive and some negative. One thing that got me thinking, was a comment that I should give students the choices to eat healthy or not. This of course is a free market society. As a parent, this is difficult for me to comprehend, but I will try.

So… In the free market society, many things are wanton and I have often heard that America’s favorite price is free. Let’s examine what one could get for free by not eating healthy. Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Elevated Tri-Glycerides, Obesity, Dehydration, Kidney Stones, Gall Bladder Stones, Ulcers, Ulcerative Colitis, Indigestion, Heart Burn, Lethargy, Scurvy, Rickets, and I am sure a lot more if I were a med student studying such things.

As a parent and a responsible administrator, I will not be held accountable for the poor choices you make if you desire any of the best things for free listed above. These comments about a free market society remind me of a student complaining that I rid the dining halls of Styrofoam since it was a modern wonder of the world and I should embrace it. Sorry, I am going to serve healthy food whether you like it or not… without Styrofoam…


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Poor Choices & the 3 S’s

I have come to the stark realization that no matter what we do to promote or market the correct way to balance a diet in our serveries, that students and we alike are making poor dining choices. The solution is in the food itself. Making the food more wholesome and nutritious so that students do not have to make the choice makes sense. The three looming issues that need to be addressed are sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Reading the article about Pepsi the other day really got me thinking and due to some other issues last week regarding proper goal setting, have set our goals brightly ahead in tackling nutrition and wellness. This has been a long standing goal, but we have failed to act accordingly. We achieved eliminating the low hanging fruit, but that last 10% up in the canopy can be difficult. Well, no more!

Meeting with my Senior Executive Chef and Senior Operations Manager, we agreed to take this challenge head on. We are going to reduce the amount of saturated fat by using less cream and also using the Combi technology more rather than using flat tops. My Senior Operations Manager made a great point about fried foods… When you eat at home do you always have French fries? Of course not, you go get them when you go out to eat. Our students live here at the university and consider this their home… Why do we always have French fries? We will begin parsing down the use of fried foods immediately.

Sodium is a big and ever growing factor in health risks, but is often very difficult to reduce or eliminate. My Senior Executive Chef proposed a bold initiative to be a “no salt added” kitchen. I thought this is going to be great! The solution is in using salt substitutes such as potassium instead of sodium. Brilliant! There are several products on the market currently that will meet our needs and we will begin implementing them ASAP. As you may recall, I was ranting about New York imposing a ban on salt in restaurants… I was not upset with the reduction in salt, but the fact that legislation was involved at all. If Pepsi were to come out with this initiative earlier, then the consideration of legislation would not have been necessary. The market is driving the salt out!

Reflecting on the Pepsi initiative to reduce their three S’s by 25% over the decade; made me realize that we need large companies to spearhead initiatives to be more widely accepted. Thank you Pepsi; for waking us up out of our complacency. In essence, we will parallel this initiative, but take it further since we are a leading university in many ways. I am calling on other universities to do the same. Yes, we should keep on battling the sustainability and locally grown initiatives, but in the end, these things do not really make for a healthier diet. How and what we cook do!

Our Goal? Question every ingredient and ask ourselves, “Can we use something different to make it healthier?”


Monday, March 22, 2010

Pepsi Gets It!?

As I have said before, less government regulation and the market driven forces will act accordingly for a better and healthier world. Pepsi is going to the lead the way with a 25% reduction in sugar, saturated fats, and sodium by the end of the decade. Why? Because it is the right the thing to do. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ee1d609a-351a-11df-9cfb-00144feabdc0.html

The World Health Organization has said that reductions in these ingredients could help tackle diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other conditions. It said this was of increasing importance in the developing as well as developed world.

Furthermore, the cuts go beyond what the governments actually are recommending. That is market driven capitalism at its core.

Derek Yach, senior vice-president of global health policy, said: “This goes beyond many of the calls for action by governments. . . [which] have mostly lacked any competence to launch, implement and monitor reductions. The advantage of a self-regulatory system is it puts the costs of action and enforcement on industry.”

One of the important ways that a reduction in saturated fats will be accomplished is a conversion to sunflower oil while artificial sweeteners will replace the fructose. Along those same lines, many industries including universities have switched to either canola or soy oils and if they have not yet, they should be in order to be leaders.

What this means to a university dining operation? We have to put on our game faces and do the same if not more. University Dining is always on the leading edge of transformation and letting Pepsi out do us would be embarrassing to say the least. Come on everyone; let’s get on with reducing the fat, sugar, and sodium from our menus for a healthier world. Maybe if we do this, we won’t need healthcare for all. Oh well, we just got it! Now we can focus on lowering the healthcare costs with a better diet...


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak - March 17, 2010

Since I have been following this outbreak since it was first discovered, I thought I would keep passing along information until it is resolved. I plan on writing a synopsis of the events when a final resolution is adopted. Here is the report from the FDA.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Focus on Culinary

What it means to have eight ACF certified chef’s at a university…

In a word, “awesome.” Rice University currently has four ACF Certified Executive Chef’s, a Certified Sous Chef, a Certified Chef de Cuisine, and two Certified Working Pastry Chefs who have all certified while working here. Education for the students is our primary mission, but the ability to grow our staff professionally should not be ignored. This model has provided us with extraordinary food, training, safety, and sustainable growth initiatives. It does not stop there however… We currently have three candidates who will try to certify as Executive Chef’s this year as well as three more candidates who are vying to become Sous Chef’s concurrently.

Additionally, two of our Executive Chef’s are Practical Examiners (ACE) which means they certify chef’s from our region. Rice University is an ACF accredited examination site as well. The opportunity to work with this kind of talent ensures that culinary excellence will be achieved continuously. It is the driving force behind a 90% scratch made operation including the bakery. We are narrowing down on that 10% gap as well.

In essence, we have moved away from the traditional model of FOH and BOH combined to a primarily BOH driven operation. This does come with some challenges though. There is always a matter of administration and chefs usually do not take too kindly to this kind of work. It makes it necessary for a strong administration and analytical team to support them. It is worth it!

With health and nutrition at the forefront of our challenges, I believe in this model and encourage other universities to strive for this operation as well. The satisfaction that chef’s get to continue their culinary education and the benefits that the students receive from it pays off ten-fold.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Loving Lentils

I will tell you right now that I love Lentils. As a matter of fact there are 13 varieties of lentils that are available and are adored in India the same as we adore a hamburger. Lentils go with just about anything or just plain. They have high fiber, protein and vitamins. We have been using lentils pretty regularly here at Rice University as a supplement to other grains, beans and pastas for quite some time. They are well received by our students.

So… Did you know that 78% of all the lentils grown in the US are exported? That it is a cash crop worth 87 million annually? The reason is that we do not use them much compared with other countries; hence the high export ratio. I read an interesting development today by researchers in Washington State that developed the 14th variety of lentil that was just approved for market. The Essex was developed by a plant geneticist to improve crop sustainability and increase harvest amounts. I find it very interesting that we dedicate our time to develop a better product just to export it. Come on people, go buy some lentils and make a quick and easy stew. These little gems will put a smile on yours and your kid’s faces.

With all the market driven forces to bestow more whole grain and multi-grain pastas to our clientele, I say give them more lentils instead of pasta whenever you can. Grains are becoming more popular than I have seen in a decade with the likes of quinoa as well as barleys. I implore more universities to start easing up on the pasta and try something a little different. Have fun with the lentil.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Juice Is It!

Several years ago, the debate began as to the nutritional and sustainable aspects of corn and corn syrup. The tide has waned some and I have not heard much about it lately. However, when it was in the forefront, I began experimenting with colas that had sugar cane instead of corn syrup. I found that the products were similar in taste, but that the name recognition doomed the project. Coke and Pepsi are so prevalent in our life that market forces prevent a visionary change on a large scale.

What I learned though is that using an alternate product with high visibility can lessen the dependence on colas. Several years ago, we implemented a juice program with Vitality/Sunkist and placed shiny new dispensers next to the soda fountains. What we found is that our overall cost increased by thousands per year due to the 100% juice products, but soda consumption decreased by 6%. There was not a net break-even or savings, but I can sleep better at night knowing that fewer students are drinking soda.

Where we go from here depends on the name brands… I have seen some throw-back introductions in the cola market recently that are using sugar cane instead of fructose. They are probably researching the feasibility in order to be prepared for a market driven force to rid fructose. I say they are on the right track and should make this change. To be clear, I am not sure if the caloric and diabetic properties change much, but in our “all-natural” product world, it seems this is the wave of the future and I support it completely.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Please use my Shopper Card!

There was a recent article about the FDA and CDC using consumer’s shopper’s cards from grocers to help track and locate the source of food borne illness. Great! Please use my data so that my family and I can avoid being poisoned! I am in no way an advocate of the government prying into my consumer habits, but we are talking about food purchases here. Does anybody really care if the government knows what you eat? Are you feeling guilty about something?

Let me put this into perspective… The fact that McDonald’s is having a record-breaking year and fast-food chains in general are outpacing the market is all the information one needs to know where and what people are eating these days. The only people I believe should fret about their shopping habits being recorded are those who are receiving assistance from the state. (I.e. food stamps) I was at my local grocer about a month ago and witnessed the customer in front of me buying four boxes of cookies, ice cream, candy, and two cases of soda. I know, we have all made this strange purchase at one time or another, but she paid with the state issued food assistance card. I thought to myself that is an interesting diet… I wonder if the person has kids. Anyway I think you can see where I am going with this and I will leave it at that.

Those complaining in the article about their shopping habits being recorded seem to be suffering from a strange case of paranoia in my opinion. Obviously those people have never had food poisoning or had to deal with a large scale outbreak at a university or restaurant. I hope no one ever has to experience this because it is frightening and debilitating not to mention the PR nightmare that ensues will humble the most experience politico.

So… Go ahead and use my data and find the source of potential poisoning within the greatest food chain to have ever graced this planet!


FDA Update - Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak

Just passing this information along today... The FDA sums-up the finding pretty well...

As part of the Salmonella Montevideo investigation, the Food and Drug Administration has been actively investigating the supply chain of black and red pepper supplied to Daniele International Inc., Pascoag, R.I.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Salty Dog’s

New York is at it again with legislation aimed at restaurants; trying to ban salt from prepared foods and not having it available on tables. This is starting to get a little ridiculous. Are they going to ban colas too? They have a high amount of sodium content. It reminds when they passed a law banning trans-fat. Well guess what? Most restaurants had already rid the trans-fat well before the law took effect because it was market driven to do so. This is capitalism.

The government simply should not legislate about something they simply do not understand. It is not like chef’s are adding large amounts of salt to foods, but rather the foods we buy often have salt in them that we prepare. Butter for example or solution added chicken breast. Please stop looking for ridiculous ways to increase your coffers by fining restaurants for serving salt! I can just see the Salty Dog Police Force now! Please…

I would like to play devil’s advocate for a moment however. What makes a good chef better is how well they extract flavor from protein, spices, or legumes. I can see the possibility of a salt-free restaurant popping up in the near future just to prove that you can cook without salt added. Good chef’s can cook this way, but they have to change their paradigm and possibly become better chefs in the process. The irony is that they could use MSG as a salt substitute, but the market drove this out as well. Almost… Read that story here…


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Houston Recycling News

According to the Houston Business Journal on March 8th, the City of Houston will expand its RecycleBank program to include 54,000 more containers. This is great news and a good start. I believe the recycling in Houston and the surrounding areas is woefully inadequate and is a combination of a lack of resources and apathy.

I believe the apathy could be thwarted by availing more resources and a “pay you to recycle” program that will start the process. If people are willing to recycle for a monetary gain and it is in place for years to come, I believe people will be less apathetic in the future to recycle even without a monetary reward. It is really a matter of getting people interested and then sustaining the process through education, publicity, and plenty of resources to make it convenient.

Landfills in Houston should be modified to recycle as well. I remember in California that a landfill near my house was setup to dump anything. In the last 10 years, it has been modified to separate general waste, green waste, tires, and appliances. Even better, they burn the green waste for energy. That is a definition of sustainability in case you were wondering. I hope to see Houston take the lead in this endeavor in the future. The people and nature will thank you.


Scratch-Made Stories

We are always looking to diminish that last 10% of food that we do not make from scratch and it seems we are getting closer every day. Thanks to Chef Roger at the West Servery for undertaking the task of redefining deli meat and turkey in general. The chef’s at West are experimenting with roasting whole turkeys and slicing for daily sandwiches and the deli bar. The brand of sliced turkey currently used is exceptional, but you can’t beat a freshly roasted turkey breast.

Once the procedure and guidelines are sufficiently tested and in place, we will expand to all serveries just like the fresh ground natural Angus burgers. Keep it up everyone, the students and I appreciate this hard work very much.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Rodeo Food Just Usual Houston Fare

Our son’s Godfather was in town this last weekend so we decided to head off to the rodeo for a little fun and food in the sun. Often times Housing and Dining are questioned why we contract food for our concession stands during the sporting events rather than self-operate them. You only need to take a look at the amount of vendors in this city to answer that question.

When we started checking out the food vendors, I realized very quickly that there was nothing unique, but rather the restaurants we are all familiar with living in and around Houston. These restaurants have become so iconic in fact that they are at the rodeo, sporting events, and other special celebrations around town throughout the year. It would be nice to see a larger amount of lesser known vendors in the future, but from the concessions point of view, it makes sense to have highly visible vendors.

I have to comment on one venue that made “any dinner into dessert.” I know nutritionally and healthfully that this is taboo, so we could sum up the concept as “this will probably kill you.” However, this is what I expect to see at a fair or the rodeo. Something cool and different... If you never had a fried Twinkie or Oreo, go ahead and try it once so you can say you did! Then eat salad for a week to compensate…

Anyway, when I was growing up and going to the California State Fair every year, I always looked for the food I never ate at home any other time of the year. I wonder if kids feel the same joy going to the rodeo or a fair today like I did when I was a kid. My daughter could eat any of the rodeo food as a matter of just dining out on the weekend with us. Does the magic still exist?

Go enjoy the rodeo anyhow…


Friday, March 5, 2010

FDA Kudos & Organics?

I know I have been ranting about the effectiveness of the FDA for some time, but to be fair, they have managed to contain a contaminated product before a spread of Salmonella Tennessee in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, also called HVP. It is noted however that an independent consumer tested the product and reported it to the FDA. I suppose I could make the argument here for less regulation and more capitalism (which I favor in general), but I won’t in the case of the FDA. The credit due to the FDA is that they identified the affected product very quickly and issued recalls. In the past events of outbreaks, they have been slow to identify the source and contaminated products, but not this time. They actually got out in front, which is what I would expect from this organization. The current bill in the House will allow for more spending to bolster the FDA is something I have been supporting since it was proposed.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the recall is "yet more proof that the Food and Drug Administration needs more authority, more inspectors and more resources to ensure that our food supply is safe." Read the article from CNN>

Now that the FDA and capitalism have received their Kudos, I would like to point out a particular product on the recall list identified as organic. Let me first preface this from a quote by the FDA regarding this outbreak, “HVP is used in processed foods, including soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravy, seasoned snack foods and dressings.” If we were to focus on two things here, it would be that HVP is itself a processed ingredient and that it is used in processed foods. Follow Your Heart and Trader Joe’s brands of organic salad dressings are on the recall list and I wonder how they can truly advertise this as organic with HVP present.

Those who know me understand that I am for the idea of organic food supply chains, but also realize that I am a pragmatist when it comes to what is considered organic and safe. We in the food industry understand the elements of organics, but I am concerned that the average consumer does not. HVP is a form of trans-fat and is considered to be unhealthy for ones heart. The fact that the company label is named Follow Your Heart, which implies good for your heart and that the product is labeled organic with a processed substance should be a wake-up call to those consumers to question the validity of many organic products. Don't believe me? Read the product description... We do in the restaurant business question the validity all the time and what we find is the reason we all do not universally support buying and serving organic products. Buyer beware…


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Servery Conundrum

It has been a very interesting and challenging year for Dining Services this academic term with the opening of the West Servery, closing Baker kitchen for a re-build, and demolishing the Lovett and Will Rice kitchens; to make way for the new East servery. I would like to put into perspective what I am seeing and what the students are perceiving. While we are eliminating small dining operations in favor of larger dining halls, the relevant truth is that one servery will be considered better than another. The challenge is to reduce the gap between perceived quality and service. Much of this has to do with infrastructure…

West servery is shiny and new while simultaneously constructed to offer the most optimal flow for retrieving food. The kitchen is right-sized optimally allowing the kitchen staff to work efficiently and effectively as well. The design, colors, and lighting of the servery provide the best visual results of the food and at the same time has a very talented Executive Chef to optimize the experience. Chef Roger.

You may be surprised to know that we were very conscientious about moving Chef Roger to the West servery from the North servery. Our primary concern was that the perceived quality of food would be diminished at the North servery. As a matter of fact, the chefs did a wonderful job and North Servery remained stable with the introduction of Chef Adam. The North servery was also designed and constructed with natural light that is highly conducive to the presentation of food.

This of course leads me to the South servery which is the oldest of the three and quite frankly designed poorly by modern standards. At the same time, I have been hearing that the quality of food is less than the other serveries. One of the primary problems and this was echoed by a recent design consultant we invited to look at the servery; is the lighting, colors, and layout. In the consultant’s words, “there is no heartbeat.” Let’s face the reality, there is no natural light, low ceilings, a red quarry tile floor, and black serving lines. Serving any quality of food under these circumstances would challenge the most experienced chef. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Chef Kyle for doing his absolute best with the current situation. But wait! It’s even more challenging than you might imagine. While serving 19 meal periods a week to Hanszen and Wiess Colleges, South servery is transporting 15 meals per week to Lovett at a make-shift serving line set-up in the commons until East servery is completed. But wait! There’s even more… Our entire catering department is operating out of South as well. During the next fall term, South servery will be doing the same with Will Rice as they are with Lovett currently. What does this all mean? Chef Kyle is managing three times the volume of other serveries in an inadequate space. Concurrently he has to manage multiple menus per day where the other serveries only have to manage a few. This is because catering orders are all unique.

Where we go from here… We are negotiating and planning how to make South servery more inviting, efficient, and effective by several means. All of which I will not relay here, but one primary project will be to relocate certain resources. The most important point to note is that we recognize and are working on it.

South will continue to have a challenging year and in the next fall term with transporting food to Lovett and Will Rice, but that will soon be alleviated in January when East servery opens. I ask for the students’ patience and support of our excellent staff that are working in the most challenging environment I have seen in my 22 years of dining operations. Thank you Chef Kyle!


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do you ever hear about MSG today?

Back in the early 90s, there was a “no MSG” movement that many will remember and college students will not since they were just beginning their journey in life. It was an interesting lesson about food trends, hype, food labeling, and a little hysteria all mixed together. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer in one form and a good preservative in other forms primarily for frozen prepared foods. It can be added as a seasoning or as a salt substitute as well.

So… In the early 90s there were reports of severe allergic reactions to MSG and the media picked it up and the FDA conducted placebo studies to see if the claims were true. While this was going on, restaurants rushed to get MSG out of their foods since customers were refusing to eat foods with MSG. There were even whole restaurant chains opened with the tag “no MSG.” I happened to be a manager at one of these restaurants at the time and I can tell you, the message was so pervasive in the media that I would be asked the question if we used MSG on a daily basis. So the story goes…

Do you ever hear about MSG today? Well, I did just the other day from a student and was taken back that they even knew the history of it. We do not use MSG here at Rice because we are a scratch made operation with very few frozen items with the exception of French fries and a few other things. By the way, I saw a student eating a plate of French fries for lunch and would kindly encourage you to try a little harder at a balanced diet. Usually this is where you find MSG, but I checked and they do not contain MSG. Hence the reason for writing this little tale… By the way, the FDA found no conclusive results about MSG causing allergic reactions or an increase in symptoms to asthmatics.

These types of food trends come and go all the time, but in the case of the MSG ordeal, I believe something good came of it. Food labeling became more prominent and consumers started to check labels for ingredients. For you youngsters, there was actually a period in my lifetime where food ingredients were not labeled. Although at the time food manufactures cited that an increase in prices will follow the new FDA requirements of food labeling, I don’t think one can put a price on having information available to make wise consumer choices. I have realized thanks in part to a class project here at Rice that we need to label our food in the serveries. Let me assure all of you that this will be coming along with updated nutritional and food-mile mapping information. Read what the FDA found recently>

As usual, I like to point out an irony and I have just the one to end this… We now have many students who are on a gluten free diet which by the way is difficult to accommodate, but we do our best. The irony you ask? MSG is suitable for those on this very specific diet. Things change all the time and I ask everyone not to get caught up in any hype about food related issues. If you have a question, just ask one of the chefs…


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food is about experimentation?

I was reading an interesting article about a challenge to eat unprocessed foods for a month and had to laugh a little about the struggle many of the people had doing this. On the other hand, I felt a little sorry and sad that many people have not grown up eating or learned how to cook from scratch. Nourished Kitchen is a website I just recently discovered and they do have good information about going back to the basics of cooking. While I think most people will not bother to dredge flour or make yogurt from scratch, they do offer good advice and recipes if you have the time and especially the inclination.

One of the comments made was about the difficulty in meal planning for a family. I often find this difficult as well with a wife who does not eat much variety (don’t worry, she knows…), a very precocious, yet adventurous four year old, and an 8 month old infant. However, from my 20+ years of experience in the dining business, there are some easy ways to do this and at the same time balance the diet nutritionally. What we do at home is make sure whatever we are eating that the baby can try a little…

Since you are eating at least one vegetable at dinner anyway, make sure the one chosen can be mashed for the baby and eaten whole by the rest. Potatoes are a wonder food, but you have to leave off the salt and butter to keep it that way! I originate from the West coast so artichokes and avocados are a staple in my house once a week. Baby loves artichoke hearts! Anyway, plan your week in general first. Here is what we do… Monday is beef night, Tuesday is vegetarian, Wednesday is Pork or Chicken, Thursday is pasta or taco night (my wife makes the best tacos!), and Friday is my little girls choice. Weekends are a wild card of eating out or cleaning up leftovers. This is a basic plan and then you can start deciding about menus. If you like to have fried food occasionally like we do, bake it instead…

I could make this particular blog 100 pages about eating right, but one simple thing you can do is question what you eat. If you don’t think it is natural, then it probably isn’t. Food is about experimentation and in my short 37 years I am still eating exciting new flavors and recipes as I am exposed to many here at Rice University. Great job chefs! You have to train your kids early so that they will be accustomed to variety and have the will to experiment later on. Candy is not a dessert! Fruit is though. My little girl now considers dessert a choice and blend of several different ones… Especially blueberries. By the way, does anybody remember the MSG ordeal back in the early 90s? A little story about this in my next blog…


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Shogun – Chef Edward Castillo, CCC

The North Ninja, Chef Ed (CCC) won the first annual Servery Samurai competition, but judging the three competitors was no easy task. The competition was centered on a mystery basket competition chaired by Chef Roger Elkhouri (CEC, ACE) who also hand selected the items. Each competitor was given a community basket of items to prepare their dishes, but each one had to serve six identical dishes based on a nutritionally balanced platform. The mystery basket was one of the toughest I have seen… Branzino Sea Bass from the coast of Greece, live Lobster from Maine, Artichokes from California, Red Swiss Chard from Arizona, and fresh Oysters from Florida.

Although Chef Ed (CCC) won the competition, the judges gave high marks to the other chefs as well. Chef Kyle (CEC) had the best and most juicy lobster, Chef Derrix had the best fish; panko crusted with pineapple relish, and Chef Ed (CCC) had the best artichokes and red Swiss chard.

The winning dish from Chef Ed?
Creamy mashed potatoes inside a crispy potato tower
Fresh green bean ragout with herbs
Poached lobster
Lemon infused artichokes
Cornmeal crusted oysters and braised Swiss chard with caramelized shallots
Herb crusted Branzino fish with a reduced lobster and sherry wine sauce

Although the ingredients were challenging in themselves, the community basket was challenging in that there was no butter, cream, milk, or cheese to cook with. The chefs had to rely upon extracting flavors from the ingredients using various cooking methods. Congratulations to everyone involved in making this a successful venue and we look forward to seeing the edited film of the first Rice University Servery Samurai Competition!

Related News>