November 30, 2016
Holiday special delivery: America's Test Kitchen v. Kimball
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  For about 14 years we've made Cook's Illustrated's high-roast turkey (butterfly and brine the bird, then roast it at 450 on a broiler pan set atop homemade dressing.  It takes less than 2 hours and the dressing is bastedly divine).  This year, for the first time I let each child pick a recipe from our archive of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines for us to make together.  Cara chose a cranberry-apple crumble that was to die for (Cook's Country), Ethan and I made gingerbread cookies that really were worth eating (Cook's Illustrated), and Anna and I made Quaker Bonnet biscuits that were pretty good.  In an egregious lapse of judgment, I elected not to serve said biscuits at Thanksgiving dinner itself (we had a lot of starchy sides already), thus giving my middle child yet another grievance for her tally.

In short, we are loyal fans of the America's Test Kitchen conglomerate.  I love to cook, but I don't get to do it that much anymore.  If I try a new recipe I want to be pretty sure it's going to be good.  Enter these magazines.  Before the recipe you get a detailed description of what worked, what didn't worked, and why.  I want to know that each ingredient and each step is worth it, and I'm not blanching carrots or roasting poblanos for no reason. 

So for our family at least, Christopher Kimball's divorce from the Vermontian empire he's created is big news, as is his new venture Milk Street.  Which was a leetle to close for comfort to the enterprise he left, according to ATK, which filed a suit alleging breach of fiduciary duties, corporate theft, interference with contract, and other goodies.  ATK has a site explaining Why we are suing Christopher Kimball.  Here's the WaPo with 6 takeaways

Is it just me, or is there a terrific fact-pattern here?  You can get the complaint, a chronology, and emails there. Of course, this is from a woman constructed a long essay built around a lady entering a series of pie baking contests. 

'Tis the season!

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August 29, 2014
Are the Reports of the Cupcake Craze Death Greatly Exagerated?
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

Last month when Crumbs, America's first public cupcake company, announced it was closing most of its stores after its stock was delisted by Nasdaq, and it had defaluted on some $14.3 million in financing, many viewed the annoucement as a sign that the cupcake industry bubble had finally burst.

In the past decade, cupcakes appeared as if they were taking over with businesses sprouting up everywhere.  Not only had cupcakes come to replace traditional cakes at weddings and birthday parties, but people were willing to stand in ridiculously long lines and pay sometimes as much as $5 for a single cupcake or between $30 and $50 for a dozen.  A 2012 story on Georgetown Cupcakes in DC suggested that sometimes the lines could take up to an hour to get through.

Some view the apparent demise of Crumbs as a sign that the cupcake craze was a trend that had finally run its course.  Or put differently, an unsustainable business model.  In addition to concerns about potential market saturation and over exposure, some indicated that pricing was a problem.  Indeed, while cupcakes were touted as an "affordable luxury," some note that at $3.50-$6 each, cupcakes seemed more like an overpriced snack.  As this article suggests, these cupcakes were not something middle America could afford.  Another problem was low cost of entry--potentially reflected in the many people who thought they could give the cupcake business a try.  Still another was diversity--could an industry based on a single food really survive with competitors that offered more than just cupcakes?  And then there was the problem of potentially swimming against the health trend.  Cupcakes seem like a healthier option than your large slice of cake or pie, but alas as a Forbes article points out "your typical large frosted premium cupcake can have as much as 500 calories," and lots of people eat more than just one.

Of course others note that the demise of Crumbs may reflect issues unique to Crumbs.  Indeed, there are some cupcake businesses that continue to thrive.

And even the Crumbs story is not over.  Just this week it was annouced that Crumbs would begin reopening it stores because, as the Wall Street Journal notes, a court signed off on a sale of Crumbs to "self-styled turnaround guru Marcus Lemonis and Dippin Dots owner Fischer Enterprises."  Apparently, part of the turnaround strategy will be moving away from reliance on just cupcakes and incorporating other desserts.

So while the cupcake bubble has certainly gotten smaller, it may be too soon to tell if we can really call the cupcake craze a bust.

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August 03, 2013
The DIY IPO
Posted by Erik Gerding

This article in the Times on Wednesday provides more evidence that Oakland leads the nation in locavore cutlure and innovative financing for social entrepreneurs.  The article spotlights the "direct public offering" of  People's Community Market, a company that is bringing fresh produce to an un-served community in West Oakland. A key takeaway from the article: social entrepreneurs in California have been doing crowdfunding long before the JOBS Act.  Another takeaway not in the article: many of these social enterprises in the Bay are connected by networks.  For example, the CFO of People's Grocery, David Guendelman is also CFO or strategic advisor to a number of cutting edge social impact ventures, including Straus Family Creamery, Saveup, Lotus Foods and others.

What is a direct-public offering?  It is a loose term covering securities offerings to a large group of investors sans underwriters and their commissions.  For securities law mavens, the key is that firms rely on a transaction exemption under Regulation D/Rule 504, Regulation A, or the intrastate exemption (Section 3(a)(11)/Rule 147).  The intrastate exemption might be a lot more workable in California than in smaller states given the need to impose resale restrictions on securities being sold and the demands of investors for some liquidity to their investment.

Correction: The direct public offering was conducted by People's Community Market, a forprofit C Corporation.  People's Grocery is a non-profit sister corporation.

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January 31, 2012
Mormon Cuisine?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Last week the NYT wrote about "Mormon Cuisine." Having grown up in Wisconsin and outside of the LDS Church, I don't have childhood memories of Mormon meals, but I have been to my share of pot luck dinners as an adult. Marrying into a family that descended from Mormon pioneers, I quickly learned that water is the drink of choice with evening meals (we always drank milk in Wisconsin); jello is a salad, not a dessert; and Sunday meals consist of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and cooked veggies.

The NYT story was focued on traditional food, but I was thinking about this today as I ate lunch at The Banana Leaf, a new Sri Lankan restaurant in Provo. While many Utah restaurants, like Chuck-A-Rama, still specialize in Mormon comfort food, the ethnic restaurant options in Provo have exploded since my student days at BYU. I assume both the demand for and the supply of more exotic options is at least partly a result of the expansion of the Church.

But it's also true that the more traditional fare is much better than 20 years ago. For a much improved version of meat, potatoes, and veggies, Communal (featured in the NYT story) is excellent, as is the Tree Room at Sundance. For a less pricey meal, there's La Jolla Groves. Even the cheap eats, like pizza, burritos, hot dogs, and whatever Guru's Cafe is serving are better than the older options. I am not sure people here are "redefining Mormon cuisine" so much as discovering (a bit later than the rest of the world) the joys of good food.

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February 03, 2011
Catching Up: Taco Bell, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report, Google's DotOrg Project
Posted by Christine Hurt

I've spent the last week traveling to some places but mostly trying to travel various places and not getting anywhere via plane, train or automobile.  I'm officially given up and figured I might as well blog about some things I've seen the past week.

Taco Bell.  As a fan of Taco Bell and the crunchy beef taco, which is sometimes as low as 79 cents, I was not too surprised to hear that the beef was not all beef.  I go to the grocery store.  I know how much ground beef costs.  Making a 79 cent all-beef taco would be hard.  And, I've been to Mexican food restaurants all my life -- you often see some chopped potato or carrot in the ground beef.  But when Taco Bell tried to explain, what they left out made it impossible for me to look the other way.  To tell me that the non-beef portion contains a lot of water, two kinds of sugar, cocoa powder, and "a little oats," but then get all shy and say "and other ingredients" makes me a little nervous.  Why can you list these other fillers and flavor enhancers but not others?  Are they secret?  Are they worse?  Is it potatoes?  Is it lard?  Is it something really, really gross?

Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report.  Six months after the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was meant to fix all the problems that created the financial crisis, we now have a report of the commission charged with finding out what created the financial crisis.  This seems a little like the cart following after the horse, but I assume that there were conversations back and forth during this time.  However, I secretly wanted the report to blame things that no one had thought of and certainly didn't include in Dodd-Frank just for giggles.  However, the report seems more like a Restatement of conventional financial crisis wisdom:  financial institutions, derivatives, Federal Reserve, lax regulation, credit ratings agencies and mortgage origination practices.  However, the majority report lets both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac off the hook and government encouragement of home ownership.  The bottom line that the media keeps repeating:  The financial crisis was avoidable.

Google's Answer to Not Being Evil:  DotOrg, which is Not Very SuccessfulSunday's NYT features a follow-up report 6 1/2 years after Google's Form S-1 told us that it was going to create a philanthropic arm:

Last year we created Google Grants—a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising. And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

The NYT article writes of the problems in harnassing the power of Google and directing it at problems discrete enough to be solvable but challenging enough to pique the interest of the Googlers.  Go Big or Go Home may not be a mantra that applies to global development.

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August 19, 2010
Appetite and destruction: global food insecurity and speculation in agricultural commodities
Posted by Erik Gerding

I am in the mode of speculating on the next financial crises or wave of financial litigation. Next to municipal securities (the subject of my last post), I would bet quite a bit of money (borrowed to be sure) that we’ll also see an uptick of government enforcement in the area of agricultural commodities.

Manipulation in agricultural commodities hasn’t been all that sexy since the Duke brothers were busted in Trading Places for trying to corner the orange juice futures market with inside information. If the Duke Brothers were in business today, they would likely gravitate towards the action in financial futures and derivatives, not pork bellies.

Or would they? The media has been awash (from Rolling Stone to The Atlantic to the New York TImes) in the last year with stories on coming global food insecurity. International investors and sovereigns have been reported to be buying vast tracts of farm land in East Africa to satisfy the growing demand for food for countries, like the Gulf States, that don’t have enough arable land to feed their populations now, let alone should food shocks hit. We may have seen a harbinger of things to come as Russia recently shut down wheat exports given the massive drought and fires in that country.

Regulatory scrutiny and enforcement actions in agricultural commodities will heat up for two reasons. First, greater volatility in a given market is not only a boon to traders generally, it also inflates the incentives to engage in manipulation. Of course, the key question is how do we define what constitutes market manipulation.  This leads to the second reason that ag commodities will be a hot legal area: when crises hit, there is a clockwork reflex on the part of politicians and regulators to blame speculators or speculation in general. This often sweeps aside that greedy speculators often help ensure commodities markets function and can even increase the total amount of food being produced. A farmer that can lock in future prices with a speculator may well be more willing to produce more food once he or she can manage their risk with a futures contract with a speculator on the other side.

If you thought that the debate over speculation was heated in the SEC v. Goldman case, wait until there are food shocks, hunger riots, revolution. If financial crises tend to generate legal earthquakes, food crises can overthrow entire political systems.  Food security may not register as a major political issue in the United States, but for the leadership of countries like China and India it may be the most important issue of all.

Of course it isn’t worth inventing a debate on whether a given practice in agricultural commodities markets constitutes manipulation or not absent hard facts. But isn’t the time to start developing the expertise on these topics now – in a (relatively) quite moment? The driving force behind these idle musings as to the next financial crises is not just to while away a humid afternoon, but hopefully to provoke some thought for legal and financial scholars. We’ve learned the hard way that scholarship on financial crises tends to be reactive, meaning we are less than prepared for the next “Big One.”

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March 18, 2010
What is the "most delicious plate of food in each of the college towns for each team competing in this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament"?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Serious Eats assembles a list with the help of "siblings, old classmates, readers, and other FOSE (friends of Serious Eats)."

The choice for Madison -- mac and cheese slice from Ian's Pizza -- is respectable. Quirky, local, and includes the obvious main ingredient for a Wisconsin treat (cheese).

The pick for Marquette is burgers and frozen custard from Kopp's, which I blogged about here and Christine blogged about here. Two posts for a custard shop, giving another nod to dairy. Not bad.

But the choice for BYU is "sweet pork barbacoa from Cafe Rio." Seriously? I have had it, and it's fine, but it's not even close to the best choice for Provo. That honor should have gone to J Dawgs.

Jdawgs

How did they do on your town?

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January 05, 2010
YCGTNO Finale - Restaurants
Posted by Trey Drury

If there is one topic that keeps people in New Orleans talking, it is food.  Consistent with this disposition, I have created a relatively mammoth guide to dining in New Orleans during AALS.  Restaurants are divided into the following categories:

I. Dining Out

A. Classics

B. Cutting Edge Cuisine

C. Chef-Centered Restaurants

II. Lunch at the Conference

A. THE Place to Go

B. High-End Lunches

C. Casual Spots that Don't Disappoint

I'm watching a tape of Iron Chef while typing, so expect my descriptions to be especially flowery.  Details of all picks are after the jump.

I. Dining Out    These recommendations are for places to go as a destination.  They are either too far away for a mid-conference trip, or the pace of service is not conducive to a between-meetings bite.

A. The Classics.    Two places say New Orleans to me more than any others - Commander's Palace and Galatoire's.  Commander's mixes familiar creole classics and modern Louisiana cuisine better than any other restaurant.  The food is always delicious, the service is perfect, and the atmosphere is friendly.  Galatoire's has the best dining scene in town.  Lots of regulars, people out to have fun, and great food and drinks.  Usually I don't even take a menu.  I ask my waiter what is good today and follow his recommendations.

There are other classic creole restaurants in town, with great, well-deserved reputations - Antoine's, Arnaud's, and Brennan's, to name a few.  Those are great choices, but they have not adapted as well as the first two to the changing times.  The real exception is if you are looking for a place for a large group.  There are many hidden, smaller rooms in each of these older restaurants, and getting a private room for your group is lots of fun.

B. Cutting Edge Cuisine.    While New Orleans loves its traditions, there are a few places that are keeping pace with the latest culinary trends.  Restaurant August is John Besh's flagship in his ever-expanding empire.  Stella! opened not too long ago (within the last 10 years) on the far side of the Quarter.  Bayona, Susan Spicer's original place, has become a staple in the local dining scene.  Each of them uses local ingredients and respects local and regional traditions, but they all resemble high-end restaurants in New York or San Franciso as much as they do their cohorts in town.

C. Chef-Centered Restaurants.    This group is less homogenous than the rest, but the common denominator is that the restaurants are generally smaller, a little more off the beaten path, and the menu relfects the distinctive perspective of the chef.  The most well-known of this group is Brigtsen's.  Frank Brigtsen won a James Beard award a while back, and this restaurant is 100% his creation.  The food is savory, delicious, and on the gamey side of the ledger (think rabbit, sweetbreads, etc.).  Other great choices, none of which will steer you wrong, are Gautreau'sClancy'sUpperline, and Lilette.  There is one newcomer to this list that I have been loving lately, Boucherie.  Boucherie serves relatively casual food - great ribs, shrimp and grits - done with great skill and care.  Also, the desserts.  Their best known offering is krispy kreme bread pudding.  That's krispy kreme donuts, torn up and made into bread pudding.  Stop drooling.  It's really good.  Also, there is a bacon brownie that may not sound intuitively well-paired but is awesome.

II. Lunch at the Conference.    These picks are places that you can make it to from the conference.  Some of them may be tight, depending on your situation, but they combine great food and an ability to get you in and out in time for your afternoon business.  Also, all of them would make fine choices to walk to for an after-conference dinner.

A. THE Place to Go.    Nothing like burying the lede; but, if I had to give everyone one and only one suggestion, I would tell you all to go to Herbsaint.  It is walkable from the conference.  The food is delicious.  It focuses on regional cuisine but has a distinctive flavor and good variety of dishes.  You can make it a destination, but the staff knows how to get you in and out if you so desire.  Don't pass it up.

B.  High-End Lunches.    There are a reasonably large number of high quality restaurants that are good and versatile enough that you can head there for a great dinner, or you can squeeze in a nice lunch mid-conference.  Red Fish Grill and Bourbon House focus on fresh local seafood.  NOLA and Palace Cafe offer a slightly broader menu of Louisiana cuisine, and Bacco is an Italian restaurant with a Louisiana twist.

C. Casual Spots that Don't Disappoint.    All of these earlier places are sit down, cloth napkin restaurants.  What if you want something more casual?  Here are a few options where you will be as welcome in a t-shirt and jeans as you would in a coat and tie - Acme Oyster House is the best place to go for shrimp po-boys, jambalaya, oysters on the half shell, and other basics.  Mother's has all that stuff and more.  I recommend the debris po-boy here.  Debris is the gravy-filled roast beef droppings that fall off of the meat while cooking. Finally, Cochon Butcher is a tiny gourmet sandwich place where they make sausages and other specialty items on site.

Good luck with your choices.  There are so many options, it's hard to go wrong!

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December 05, 2009
Pricing by the Calorie
Posted by Gordon Smith

KFC's new promotion -- a 395 calorie meal for $3.95 -- is brilliant. (KGC?)

Dave at 5 Blogs Before Lunch wants KFC to expand the promotion to the whole menu.

Their Roasted Caesar Salad (w/o Dressing & croutons) would be priced at $2.20, while their Popcorn Chicken family pack would cost $12.10 for a 1210 calorie purchase. 

It would be a perfect way to hit consumers at their pocket books (the one true motivator) and encourage healthier eating. 

And, imagine if others joined in: 

A Double Quarter Pounder at McDonald's would cost $5.60. While Chicken McNuggets would only be $1.70. 

A Burger King Triple Whopper would be $11.30 while a TENDERGRILL™ Chicken Sandwich would only be $4.00

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November 26, 2009
What's Cooking?
Posted by Gordon Smith

The NYT has a fascinating set of slides based on searches entered on Allrecipes.com,. The most common search? “Sweet potato casserole” ... by a country mile. But my favorite from the Top 50 was #16:

Mac-cheese
 

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September 03, 2009
Figs ain't what they used to be (and they never were)
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

My friend and colleague Paul Heald has just posted a typically iconoclastic piece that's generating some buzz.  Ever heard a birkenstock-wearing, tofu-eater deplore the tyranny of modern agribusiness? Has the replacement of myriad heirloom varieties with supermarket pablum got you down?  Apparently the science behind foodie nostalgia hinges on one study that compared seed catalogs from 1903 to ones from 1983 and found a stunning 97% loss rate in number of available varieties. 

According to Paul, the numbers are wrong.  Quoting from the abstract:

Our study of 2004 commercial seed catalogs shows twice as many 1903 crop varieties surviving as previously reported in the iconic 1983 study on vegetable crop diversity. More important, we find that growers in 2004 had as many varieties to choose from (approximately 7100 varieties among 48 crops) as did their predecessors in 1903 (approximately 7262 varieties among the same 48 crops). In addition, we cast doubt on the number of distinct varieties actually available in 1903 by examining historical sources that expose the systematic practice of multiple naming.

Of extra interest to lawyers, it doesn't seem like whether a type of produce could be patented increases the number of available varieties.  Food innovation occurs with or without legal protection.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of locally grown food and heirloom varietals. I belong to a CSA.  Our Saturday morning farmer's market visit is a weekend ritual.  And it's a wrench for me to pass up a roadside produce stand, no matter how sketchy.  Paul's research just suggests that the cornucopia of fruits and veggies available to us now is varied as it ever was.  Something to chew on.

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August 07, 2009
The Cheese and Burger Society
Posted by Gordon Smith

For lovers of cheese ... with meat. But it's mostly about the cheese. Wisconsin cheese.

The Cheese and Burger Society.

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July 25, 2009
The Best Burgers in America?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Searching for the best burgers in America is one of the (many) silly things that foodies do to entertain themselves, but some picks are more credible than others. Lunchbox Laboratory in Seattle, for example, looks like it could be worth a trip, but the recently minted list at Epicurious contains one obvious pretender:

Atlanta: Holeman & Finch
2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA (404-948-1175)

Best flipped upside down and eaten as fast as humanly possible to manage its gushiness, the burger created by Chef Linton Hopkins is as much an event as it is a sandwich. A bullhorn sounds at 10 p.m. (official burger time), and the crowd goes wild. Hesitate a minute and the limited quantity (they make only two dozen a night) will be gone. The glossy buns baked in their bakery next door contain two patties of freshly ground, grass-fed beef (chuck and brisket in equal proportions), a slice of Kraft American cheese, a pinch of raw red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, homemade ketchup, and yellow mustard. Crisp golden fries are part of the deal. Those who miss out on the burger can always come back for Sunday brunch, when the kitchen makes 72 of them.


This sounds like fun, what with the bullhorn, the limited quantities, and the late hour to accentuate the unhealthiness of the whole experience ... but Kraft American cheese!?!

No, no, no, no! Automatic disqualification.

The point of this list was to reveal the best burgers in America, not to provide a roadmap for "how to ruin an otherwise fine burger."

By contrast, check out the review of Judy Rodgers' burgers at the Zuni Café in San Francisco:

San Francisco: Zuni Café 1658 Market S. (near Franklin) San Francisco, CA (415-552-2522) When anyone mentions hamburgers in San Francisco, one name immediately comes to mind: Zuni Café. While Bay Area residents can't agree on politics—or the best burrito, for that matter—the general consensus is that this is the best burger. Chef/owner Judy Rodgers buys chunks of chuck and liberally salts the meat before going home at night. The next day she and her crew grind the meat, salt and all. The salt seasons the meat so the thick grilled patty releases a gush of liquid with each bite. It's served on a square of grilled rosemary-scented focaccia, generously slathered with garlicky a ïoli, and accompanied by house-made pickled zucchini ribbons and onion strips. The burger can be ordered with Roth Kase Private Reserve (an Alpine-style raw-cow's-milk cheese aged ten months), Mountain Gorgonzola, grilled onions, or portobello mushrooms, but why mess with perfection? Note: The Hamburger is served at lunch and after 10 p.m. only.


Note to critic: adding fine cheese to a burger is not messing with perfection, but rather completing the creation.

Ok, back to the burger ... Roth Kase is not the best cheese from Wisconsin, but it puts Kraft American to shame. If you want to make a great cheeseburger with Wisconsin cheese, I would recommend Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company. It's a Gruyere style cheese that is great for melting.

I know what I am having for dinner ...

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May 12, 2009
Red Mango
Posted by Gordon Smith

I have been casting about for a new franchise to feature in my casebook, and with the help of a student, I was looking at Red Mango ...

Redmango

After the junior high band concert, the whole family visited the local Red Mango franchise, and, of course, I had to ask: "what is authentic frozen yogurt?" The young woman behind the counter struggled with her response, but she finally managed to blurt out, "It's one of the five healthiest foods in the world."

Huh?

As it turns out, the Red Mango website has a link to the source of this claim: Health.com. It lists "Yogurt (Greece)" on a page labelled "World's Healthiest Foods." (Can you guess the others?) If you follow the link on Health.com, it leads you to a brief story on yogurt, which begins like this:

Many think of yogurt as just a sweet snack. But the thick, creamy, rich kind that’s traditional in Greece has been integral to Grecians’ healthy diet for thousands of years.

Um ... maybe my case study can talk about fraud and consumer protection.

They are hitting the health angle hard. Here's more on "authentic frozen yogurt" ...


Redmango2

I love this bit of marketing. Red Mango ... natural goodness ... freshly delivered ... good health ... morning, day or night ... all-natural, nonfat, gluten-free ... wholesome ... healthy treat ... Fruity Pebbles and Cap'n Crunch!!!!

So you be the judge. Open the nutritional information below and tell me whether you would call this food "healthy." (Hint: look at the sugar content.)

Redmango3
Too bad. For a few minutes tonight, I was feeling like I might be able to cheat nature because Red Mango serves a very tasty product. A bit on the expensive side, but yummy.

UPDATE: See Larry Ribstein's post from January on Red Mango and other "Obama generation" stores.

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April 22, 2009
Serious Eats
Posted by Gordon Smith

Being a closet foodie, I have begun exploring the world of food blogs. Not very intensely, yet. Not until grading is complete. But I have subscribed to a few in Google Reader.

Serious Eats is starting to win me over, with posts like this light-hearted entry. And this weightier post on the artisanal cheese industry in Vermont.

Serious, indeed.

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