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Posts from the ‘Corporate Culture’ Category

That’s BREE-osh to You

According to USA Today, unlike those white bread boomers, millennials are demanding “unconventional bread options” for their burgers, and fast food chains are happy to comply.

“For those who can’t pronounce the word, it’s BREE-osh, a light, slightly sweet French bread that’s made with milk, eggs and a rich yeast dough.”

The beauty of being part of a generation that slacked so hard we ceased to exist, at least to marketers, is that no one gives a rat’s ass if I eat my burger on a multigrain bun, Hawaiian bread bun, chipotle-studded bun, pretzel bun or even on brioche, however the youngsters pronounce it.

“Millennials need to have something that says who they are — uniquely them. The more unique the better — hold the raisins.”

I could also eat raisin bread and not let it define me. Or maybe even Craisins, a dried, sweetened cranberry introduced by Ocean Spray in 1993, likely to target boomer moms rather than Gen Xers hitting their peak sell-to-me years. Craisins are pronounced like cranberry minus the ranberry plus raisin.


Quinoa and Moscow Mules Are the New Salad Bars and Mudslides

In the chain world where flatbreads, wraps and pretzel rolls are considered innovations, a few brands are trying harder to tap into contemporary food trends, whether a ruse to appeal to the irrationally coveted millennials or simply a desire to appear relevant in late 2013. Some I’ve witnessed firsthand. (I’ve already documented how Cheesecake Factory’s kale salad doesn’t contain much kale.)

Take Maggiano’s Little Italy. Little Italy isn’t a selling point for anyone in NYC who enjoys tasting their food, so adopting this shrinking neighborhood as a concept and transporting it to the suburbs seems misguided at best. I don’t doubt that there are parts of the country lacking in big family-style plates of manicotti and breaded veal cutlets smothered in marinara, and I have family members who insist on dining on Mulberry Street when they very rarely visit. It must be America’s favorite casual dining restaurant for a reason.


It was the Handcrafted Classic Cocktails (as opposed to the plain Classic Cocktails section featuring a lemon drop and long island iced tea), though, that caught my attention and ultimately brought me to Bridgewater, New Jersey. There is an aviation, properly made and just mauve, not jewel-toned like the royal purple version ordered by James Spader in French in Montreal on The Blacklist to show off to the young FBI lady who just wanted a glass of Chardonnay, as if an aviation is the epitome of sophistication. They taste like Sweet Tarts, frankly, but they certainly are pretty and I do appreciate their presence on Maggiano’s menu.

maggiano's aviation

There was a surprising lack of sweet cocktails, the bane of all chain restaurants, and while not yet Fernet-crazed, a Negroni using Carpano
Antica was pretty on point, as was the presence of Aperol, multiple bitters and Fever Tree tonic water. Do note the fat ice cube in my Catcher in the Rye (Knob Creek Rye, Luxardo Marashino, simple syrup, Old Fashion Bitters).

* * *

Until recently, Bonefish Grill was dinner-only, so its decision to introduce a Sunday Brunch (and Bistro Lunch) is certainly more about increasing a day’s earnings (also, the Ruby Tuesday in Times Square advertises breakfast, a feature mentioned nowhere on its site) than trying to attract city folk with unlimited bubbles. Still, what other chains can you think of are doing brunch, the most controversial meal among food-centric crowds, with bottomless mimosas and bellinis? On a gut level I am anti-brunch, but because I can’t articulate why in a convincing matter I cave quietly now and then.

bonefish brunch

The brunch fare isn’t particularly on-brand for a seafood restaurant. Sure, there is a surf and turf eggs benedict with lobster and a crab and asparagus omelet (above) but the toast and au gratin potatoes (or fresh fruit) seem odd, especially coupled with the requisite warm Italian loaf and pesto dipping oil.  $19.9 (Bonefish prices everything in oddball increments) gets you that and unlimited bubbly drinks, provenance unknown, though likely prosecco and not Perrier Jouet “Grand Brut,” the only other sparkler it sells.



For fall, P.F. Chang’s has created “fried rice” from red quinoa and assorted vegetables. It’s topped with an egg. I was about to say that this is crying out for kale, but kale has its own showcase in the also-new Shanghai Waldorf Salad.


Moscow mules have also transitioned. P.F. Chang’s has a tequila jalapeño version, which negates the Moscow. Even Longhorn Steakhouse (I
say even because I’ve never had any interest in this Darden brand because it seemed so bland but am getting itchy to visit all of a sudden–maybe it’s the Snowfall-esque website with a mesmerizing pumpkin spice lava cake that’s sliced and oozes over and over again) has introduced a limited edition montana mule (I can’t get a straight answer on capitalizing cocktails or not, and it’s more problematic when the names contain proper nouns)  Jim Beam, no vodka. So, it seems that the moscow mule is becoming the new martini with ginger, and possibly a metal mug, being the only requirement for the designation.

 The Blacklist photo via The Pegu Blog

Getting My Kix

justin warner cooking

General Mills has been on a tear with its “Hello Cereal Lovers” campaign. Chefs like Dale Talde, Harold Dieterle and Amanda Frietag have developed recipes, and even I was moved to attend a cooking event with Do or Dine’s Justin Warner and I’m pretty certain I haven’t eaten cereal since I was in grade school (which I
probably should’ve kept to myself, if only because saying “I don’t think I’ve eaten cereal in 30 years” aloud only succeeds in scaring the NYU food studies girls who might not even be into their second decade of life).

fizzy trix

Why not Cocoa Puff carbonara, nuggets mimicking ground beef? Or Fizzy Trix cocktails, sweetness tamed with bitters?

ravioli filling

What I really wanted to see was some unnaturally colored food made palatable, and I got my wish during the interactive cooking session. Lucky Charms, marshmallows only was an audience suggestion, which got turned into ravioli, also stuffed with smoked mozzarella and oregano.

lucky charms ravioli

The result wasn’t abysmal, a little sweet and herbal, and most importantly, the shells oozed blue.

cereal swag

The dark (destitute?) underbelly of food media was exposed when attendees began scrounging for leftover raw meat. Heck, I gave in and took the baggie of scallops along with my swag. Even though I rarely blog about cooking anymore, I always make at least two meals a week at home  and a scallop fennel recipe was on the roster for Wednesday. A dusting of crumbled Vanilla Chex actually would’ve worked with this buttery seafood dish, so don’t think that I didn’t learn anything.

Revving Up

“All the motivation in the world is nothing without the right energy.” –Hormel

So true. I fear that the only thing keeping me getting off the couch on a sunny Saturday afternoon is a refrigerator lacking in Revs,
Hormel’s new packaged food item
that seems like something I would make if too lazy to go buy groceries or late-night drunk when the only thing open is San Loco.
(After a 4am dinner of cheese and crackers, this morning marked a new low–or is that high?–in laziness: a bagel breakfast sandwich ordered through
Seamless.) The angle being pushed is not just convenience, but protein, a recent American obsession on par with gluten avoidance. (Don’t just take it from me–57% of Americans are trying to buy packaged foods with more protein, according to a 2013 International Food Information Council Foundation survey.)

I only became aware of this snack that seems better suited for a gas station store shelf while at a suburban Target with a substantial grocery section (that still feels weirdly off-brand for me). Oh, so they’re selling a tortilla stuffed with lunch meat and a slice of cheese for $1.99? Ok.

Wegmans ready to eat

It didn’t make a full impact until an hour later when faced with the full line of eight Revs, displayed between every iteration of Lunchables at Wegmans. This is really a thing. Perhaps Hormel wanted to bank on the success of the McWrap but found the lettuce, cucumbers and sauce too complicated? Millennial bait? And I thought Hormel reached peak genius with Compleats.

I only regret not springing for one. I’ve yet to see Revs in the wild in Brooklyn, at least not at C Town.

Update: Revs are indeed at C Town. At my local there is a small row of four right before the register with the prepared sushi and salads that I’ve never seen anyone buy. Only two for $3 too. I still didn’t buy one.

Oh, Canada


Topical and/or newsy isn't my forte, but let's
lightly touch on Canada Day in a roundabout manner. There is an uproar up north
over the new creepy iteration of Kraft peanut butter's teddy bear mascots.

Ok, Kraft makes peanut butter? It's "Canada's favourite?" And it's affiliated
with teddy bears named Crunchy and Smoothy? What else do we not know about Canada?

Known: Lay's dill pickle and ketchup flavored chips were birthed in Canada.

Photo : Kraft Peanut Butter Facebook page

Corporate Culture: Pret A Manger

Pret beets & berries

So I haven't been granted any previews of The Elm or
The Butterfly. But I did get a peek (and almost typed sneak peak because it's been
seared [seered?] into my brain from repeated viewings) inside a Pret a Manger test
kitchen and an early look at their new summer salads launching on Monday. You
know I have a soft spot for international chains, plus I regularly eat at Pret

Pret salmon

I learned a few localization tidbits:

  • Americans want more salads. I don't think we're accustomed to the boxed
    sandwich thing that's so common in the UK.
  • We also want to add our own dressing and toss it together, hence the new
    plastic clamshell (recyclable) instead of the cardboard box of yore.
  • A new prosciutto sandwich is in the works. The British version is full of
    mayonnaise, naturally, while we may get brie on ours even though the Italian
    and French comingling seemed illogical. We don't care about culinary accuracy.

Pret quinoa

I like a substantial salad, which usually means a
meaty component, so I was most into the Italian Prosciutto & Quinoa (also
containing hard-boiled eggs, edamame, peas) and the Wild Salmon salad with a
tzatziki dressing (suggested dressings is also a new thing). The three other
salads feature falafel, beets and berries, and vegetables plus quinoa.

And yes, I bemoaned the loss of my old long-gone
favorite the Chicken Provencal No Bread Sandwich, which was really just a
smaller, less expensive salad. It's never coming back.

Unseasonal Menus

Cravings MenuTaco Bell's announcement of a new "low-end" menu elicited
online snickers, but it just means that the company is introducing a $1 Cravings Menu to
counterbalance its, er, upscale, Cantina Bell offerings. Nearly twenty years ago (hell, the mid-'90s are that distant?) Taco Bell had a 59-cent, 79-cent, 99-cent menu, so $1 fast food in 2013 is rightfully low-end.

On the innovation side, Fast Company has the Dorritos
Locos Taco backstory.

But what I really care about is Bonefish Grill and
the "menu refresh" that came to light in Bloomin' Brands' earnings
this week. It'll be the first since 2008 and will begin testing in August.

I'll assume it doesn't involve doing away with bones.



Ok Go

Go soupYou
may have heard that Campbell’s has introduced special soups for millennials.
Go! Soup, which comes in flavors like pulled chicken with black beans instead
of chicken noodle and makes use of edgy ingredients only young people can
appreciate like chorizo. These $2.99 pouches, which are more costly than
Campbell’s core offering, are the result of studying 20-somethings in the wild,
i.e. "hipster hubs" of  Portland,
Austin and San Francisco.

familiar? Probably not if you are under 35. OK Soda, Coca-Cola's attempt to
capture Gen X dollars, was also test-marketed in Portland and Austin, oh jeez,
19 years ago.


never tasted it, but at the time, using graphic novelists (when I asked for the comic books section at Powell's when I was in high school, I was passive-aggressively scolded Portland-style "We have graphic novels.") like Daniel Clowes
and Charles Burns was pretty cool. Then again, I am a sucker for packaging. (I
associate design firm Charles S. Anderson with that era and they’re still going
strong—they also now apparently own the rights to the image I used for a tattoo
in the early ‘90s). There was also a pre-internet social media-esque
ad campaign.
 It was a flop, obviously.

though capitalizing on youth demographics often has a way of backfiring, I
would certainly take the slack, disaffected tone over the XXtreme branding
that pervaded much of the ‘90s.

OK Soda via Wikipedia


Le Self

Village buffet

Le Village Buffet photo via Where is Cat?

I've not been a Francophile for decades so my cultural understanding of the country is admittedly weak. Yes, I realize they are a thin nation and we are mostly chunks, but I'm pretty sure that when people talk about a certain French aesthetic, they really mean Parisian not the entire country.

Acclimating French women to Jenny Craig is no easy sell, as Susan Dominus' article in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine points out. In particular I was struck by Valérie Bignon, the director of corporate communications for Nestlé France's irrational vehemence against cafeteria-style dining (I didn't interpret this as all-you-can-eat) a.k.a. "Le Self."

“You know what I find totally crazy?” Bignon asked, momentarily sidetracked. “Le Self. You know this system? It’s American. You take a plate, there’s a line, you take some salad. . . .” She was referring to what we call self-serve, an option so neutral to me that Bignon might as well have been decrying the rise of the photocopy machine. “In school cafeterias, there used to be a gentleman who made the meal and a madame who served it, and everyone ate together at the table, as they do at home,” she said. “But Americans hit on this system that is fast, it’s cheap, you take what you want — and now it’s everywhere in France!” she said. “I am anti-Self. It’s bad for rapport, and it’s bad for health — it’s too individualistic.”

But in the new issue of Saveur, a woman raised in France in the '60s reminisces about summer family road trips along Route Nationale 7. Author Sylvie Bigar writes:

Other times when hunger struck, we could count on the casual roadside restaurants that fed travelers, as well as truckers who drove the route year round. I remember filling my plate from their generous buffets with as much leg of lamb or entrecote as I wanted.

So, what gives? Le Self is clearly not a modern invention, nor strictly an American export. Buffets are viewed by Parisians much as they might be by a certain class of New Yorkers, which doesn't mean they don't exist.

Also, not terribly related: I feel like a bad person because whenever an article by an American writer mentions a pivotal family trip to Paris (which happens an awful lot–I can think of two off the top of my head in magazines this month, alone) that formed their ideas about food, my brain shuts off and I start feeling twitchy. Obviously, my aversion is born out of jealousy because the idea of a European vacation is unfathomable to me despite even the seemingly middle-class Griswolds partaking in the rite of passage. I am making a vow to hold back on kneejerk character assessment just because so many writers experienced kickass family vacations involving Michelin-starred restaurants.


Can You Dunk Them In Soy Milk?

Coconut oreosAs McDonald's is the go-to for any writer talking–or more likely, posting photos–about localized fast food, Oreo is rapidly becoming the defacto snack  example (Kit Kat and its Japanese insanity is also up there, for good reason). In fact, the first time I became aware of American food being adapted abroad in the '90s, it was a discussion, who knows where,  about how Kraft had to take out the white fluff and tone down the sugar in the black biscuits for Chinese consumers.  

This week's version about Chinese marketers' endless quest for bastardizing our food comes from Reuters. A rectangular Oreo has been a hit, but a version that switched out the white filling for gum and a red bean paste flavored middle both never made it to market.

Also off the drawing table: A Ritz cracker meant to taste like fish in Sichuan chile oil. Which sounds awesome, as does the "Chicken Feet With Pickled Chili" seasoning created at the Kraft R&D lab.

Coconut Oreo picture via Eataku