Friday, May 31, 2013
by Samantha Samonte
More and more restaurants have been increasing their use of fresh herbs since the 1990’s. During that era, growing interest on the ecological state of our planet started to pick up and a significant paradigm shift was formed. More and more individuals moved from the excess of the 80’s to learning the ropes of eco-activism, buying organic and sourcing local.
Given that eating is a daily routine, this grassroots shift affected restaurateurs in the city considerably more than any other lifestyle element. Restaurants caught on and later became forerunners in what others may have thought to be just a trend.
When the advantages significantly surpass the disadvantages, why not?
- Growing your own herbs and produce cuts costs and ensures quality ingredients for your customers.
- For those restaurateurs who have already been into the hobby of gardening, this definitely fulfills a passion, as well as cuts costs. Some have even expanded to selling herbs to the diners themselves, as well as being suppliers to neighboring restaurants.
- The Chefs who are able to grow their own herbs find that their customers are enthused by the quality of the produce on their plates!
- Many upscale restaurants develop their menus around the available produce in their garden. Hence, creativity is exercised while the menu remains interesting and never stagnant.
- With the economy these days, people are spending wisely when it comes to dining out. Therefore, diners aim for the best and freshest culinary experience for their money’s worth.
If you are ready to take on such measures, these are a few essentials you’ll need to keep in mind, according to the AICA culinary school.
- To begin with, restaurants need herbs first and foremost for their distinct flavor. Second, for their aroma and third for garnishing. Depending on the type of restaurant you have, you’ll need to know which ones and how much you’ll need daily.
- Yields range between 70% to 100% for each kind. The typical herbs a regular 50-seat restaurant may need include Basil, Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary and Chives.
- The number one herb used in most, if not all restaurant types is Sweet Basil, followed by Thyme and Cilantro. Mint is relatively indispensable to Asian restaurants while Rosemary to Mediterranean ones. Parsley is commonly used for garnishing.
- Since you are doing this for the first time, start with the easy ones. Known to be easiest to grow are Parsley, Chives, Basil and Oregano. The hardest being Thyme and Rosemary.
The Importance of Space
- To yield a pound of each herb, a space approximately 1×1 meters is enough, for each kind. However, for you to constantly yield a pound each week, make sure you have 3×3 meters set up.
Keep Them Organic
- Grow them organic. Don’t skimp on soil quality. Use organic soil. Boost their health by keeping them fertilized with natural additives. If your restaurant serves coffee, don’t throw away your grounds. Mix them with an organic compost.
- Keep close watch for insect infestation. Inspect leaves and stems closely and wash them daily with an organic soapy mixture. Use a spray bottle to spray the soapy solution onto the leaves; this will prevent pests from settling in. If you do find yourself infested, don’t worry. There are all-natural, inexpensive and organic solutions. Namely; Neem Oil, Salt Spray, Mineral Oil, Eucalyptus Oil.
Getting Through Winter
While ideally you’ll want to grow them all year round, the winter season can be tricky. Here are a few factors to keep in mind.
- Sunlight: Plants generally thrive best with lots of light. So make sure they get 6 hours of natural light or at least 14 hours of artificial light.
- Temperature: Keep them where the temperature stays mildly cool to warm. 60 degrees at night to 70 degrees during the day is ideal for budding herbs.
- Soil: Keep an eye on the soil. Keep it moist, and remember not to over water. If you are growing them in pots, clay terra-cotta ones with holes for drainage, are best. Garden soil is a no-no when growing indoor plants, as it often contains fungi, bacteria, insects and nematodes that promote disease. Use an appropriate organic potting soil.
- Choose: Some herbs naturally thrive better indoors. Herbs that are known to hold up longer inside are Parsley, Basil, Sage and Thyme.
Doing this yourself may not be an easy feat and will require added responsibility to your already full plate. However, if you see yourself equipped and ready, the benefits and satisfaction you may reap are exceedingly more than you can cook up!
Samantha Samonte is a writer for Culinary One, a website about culinary careers, cuisines and food. Helping aspiring chefs to find the best cooking schools. She spends the rest of her time living life to the fullest in the company of her laptop and creative writing prowess.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The Street Food Extravaganza event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions 2013 was an awesome adventure. The foods, plates and utensils all featured sustainable products. Lots of well known chefs were there, including many from Top Chef. And although I tend to have a low opinion of “groupies”, celebrity stalkers, and celebrity magazines, I must say that I was a bit in awe of some of the chefs here. Carla Hall was the MC (she does such a great job! She also was a host at Taste of Tulalip 2011). She interviewed various chefs and maintained an interesting & entertaining dialogue throughout the evening.
All of the food was Fabulous, and even though I had a few favorites the caliber of these street food creations was such that I would cheerfully return for seconds on any of the dishes served. The chefs included: Hawaii’s Sam Choy, Maine’s Michele Ragussis, San Francisco’s Emily Luchetti and John Fink, L.A.’s Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, Chicago’s Art Smith, Atlanta’s Richard Blais, Earthbound Farm’s Sarah LaCasse and Monterey’s James Waller. Although I took pics of everyone’s food, some of them didn’t turn out so the missing images are due to Murphy’s Law and not due to lack of interest in the chef’s food.
Char Siu Pork with Firecracker Fried Rice
This dish had a great bouquet of flavors and despite the “firecracker” name it wasn’t too spicy. The Firecracker Rice ingredients included: corn, peas, carrot, brown rice (I think), cilantro, red onion, black sesame seeds, and rose petal as garnishes. The pork was tender and delicious. According to wikipedia: “”Char siu” literally means “fork burn/roast” (char being fork (both noun and verb) and siu being burn/roast) after the traditional cooking method for the dish: long strips of seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and placed in a covered oven or over a fire”. It was one of my favorites at the event.
Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai
Arancini is a Sicilian fried rice ball usually flavored with a tomato-based meat sauce and mozzarella. Michele’s upscale version uses arborio rice, beef, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, Parmesan, and parsley. She fried it golden brown then finished it a nappe of Tomato and Béchamel sauces. It looked large and filling, but biting into it revealed a delicious, savory morsel with a lighter texture than I had assumed…very nice! I had seconds and contemplated thirds.
Chef Michele struck me as a “no none sense” chef…”Please enjoy the food…f__k you very much if you don’t like it!” Chefs like this know they create great food and don’t really care too much about the media or public scrutiny. They cook with passion, prepare great food, and don’t get their feelings hurt (too badly) if you don’t care for their preparation. They are passionate, honest, have just enough ego to excel but not so much as to become arrogant. I don’t really know chef Michele but this is the impression she gave me, and as chef I like and appreciate these traits.
The Pearl Seafood Restaurant & Raw Bar
Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger
Korean Mung Bean Pancakes with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kimchee
Susan Feniger is always smiling, and its not one of those fake politician/car salesman smiles, but a genuine smile from the soul. Her food is unpretentious and flavorful. The mung bean pancake was very light and tender, the kimchee spicy (as it should be!), and the shiitakes added that touch of umami. Flavorful and a great vegetarian option as well.
My lovely wife is Korean so I had to ask for a “side” of kimchee when they served me this dish!
Susan Feniger’s STREET
Los Angeles, CA
Crispy Clam Roll with Geoduck Sashimi and Uni Tartar Sauce
I like Chef Blais. He plays on the edge and isn’t afraid to fail a number of times if it garners him a culinary win in the end. Trial and error…a scientist’s approach. He pushes the limit but has an innate understanding of flavor combinations so his “failures” are probably more along the lines of “good” but not “great”. And true to his culinary style of accentuating flavor while down playing presentation, his dish looked like it had simply “fallen from the sky” and landed neatly on the plate…looks plain but tastes great!
His dish was my favorite at the event. The outside of the bread was cooked golden brown in butter like a grilled cheese sandwich and had a fabulous buttery crunch, the geoduck nicely shaved, the uni tartar added a wonderful richness, and the fried clam (geoduck?) added additional crunch.
Flip Burger Boutique, HD1, The Spence
Birmingham, AL; Atlanta, GA
Mary Sue Milliken and Mike Minor
Churro Tots with Chocolate and Caramel
I loved this! I think I went back three times and would have continued to return for more if I had had room to stuff more of these puppies in! Warm and crunchy on the outside, tender and soooo moist on the inside. Coupled with chocolate and caramel…ahhhhh.
Border Grill Restaurants and Truck
Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles & Santa Monica, CA
Shrimp and Grits
The shrimp were nice with a mildly spicy sauce. But I really liked the grits. I spoke with the sous chef about hot holding the grits for service because I am thinking of adding them to a menu item which one of my staff (Jeff Johnson) is bringing forward. He explained that grits are easy to hot hold during service and simply finish during plate-up with stock and whatever final touches you want to add.
Table Fifty-Two, Art & Soul, LYFE Kitchen, Southern Art & Bourbon Bar
Chicago, IL; Washington, D.C.
Scallop and Pork Belly Taco with Cilantro Mango Slaw
Beautiful tempura Weathervane scallops! And who can go wrong with pork belly?! The slaw added a nice refreshing “lightness” to cut through the salty protein of the pork belly and scallop. I really enjoyed this dish as well, it was in my top 3-4 favorites.
The Whole Beast
San Francisco, CA
Emily Luchetti, Sarah LaCasse and James Waller also presented their creations at this event, but my pictures failed and all I can remember is that Sarah LaCasse had a wonderful lightly smoked Sturgeon. If anyone has their dishes please leave a comment.
Posted In:Food and Wine