Archive for March, 2009

New Gluten Free options!

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I’ve been missing pasta so much. especially the  handmade kind––the soft, stretchy-chewiness of it all. I take special note of every good place to eat in Boston that has worthwhile gluten free, and here’s a new one. Nebo in the North End. And yes, it serves gluten free handmade pasta. I can’t wait. Also–jsut for the record–the gluten free pasta at Uno’s is good. Not just “good for gluten-free”. Good.

Here’s the Nebo press release.

Gluten Free Menu at nebo

Enjoy a wide selection of gourmet pizza, homemade pastas, and more

Boston, MA (March 23, 2009) – Guests with gluten allergies can now chow down on delicious gourmet pizzas and homemade pasta dishes at nebo! In an effort to accommodate their valued guests, nebo is proud to present an extensive menu of gluten free cuisine, including all pizzas and pasta dishes. Now everyone can enjoy the exceptional taste of nebo’s fresh, gourmet Italian-style pizzas and homemade pastas.

All of nebo’s celebrated gourmet pizzas can be made with gluten free dough for a $4 substitution charge, including such favorites as:

pizza con patate pancetta, golden potato, gorgonzola, rosemary, and mozzarella (16)

nebo mozzarella, traditional sauce, and 2 eggs over easy (classic Italian) (14)

zucca marinated zucchini goat cheese, caramelized onions, mozzarella (15)

scampi shrimp, pecorino romano, garlic, evoo (17)

All handmade pasta dishes can be served with gluten free pasta for a $3 substitution charge. A wide selection of tasty antipasti dishes, insalate, and entreés are also gluten free, including:

salumi misti prosciutto di parma, bresaola, hot capicola, abruzzese sausage, formaggi (13/27)

cozze skillet roasted PEI mussels in a light fresh cream wine sauce (13)

staccetti di manzo sliced siroloin, rustic pesto, grilled tomato, fried capers, romaine, lemon vinaigrette (19)

pollo alla limone sautéed chicken, capers, lemon butter sauce (18)

nebo’s gluten free menu is also available for takeout. To view the full menu, or to make reservations, please visit

About nebo:

nebo is an upscale pizzeria/enoteca. The stylish décor of all natural wood, stone, and chocolate brown ultra suede is reminiscent of the cosmopolitan ambience of Rome and Milan. The white marble bar, complete with plasma TV, is perfect for a post-work bite or beverage. The full menu at nebo is served until midnight Monday through Wednesday and – a rarity in Boston – until 2:00a.m. Thursday through Saturday. nebo is located at 90 North Washington Street  Boston MA and reservations can be made by calling 617.723.nebo (6326).

Everyone Wants to be a TV Chef

Friday, March 20th, 2009

In the kitchen

Everyone wants to be a TV Chef
An awesome responsibility. I was a judge, clipboard in hand, fork at the ready. Sitting in judgment over the skills, the menus, and media demeanor of eight aspiring cooking school students hoping to win the New England title as the next  “Almost Famous Chef. ” A win is a trip to the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley for the nationals, $10,000, stages in Europe, and professional connections up the wazoo (maybe). Losing is a few photos for the school and some nice additions to their knife kit.
Almost Famous a five-hour competition at Cambridge Culinary School in Cambridge. Each student chef cooks a challenging entrée, prepares it from scratch, under time pressure and the gaze of three sets of judges—instructors from the local professional Culinary Schools—who watched over kitchen technique, sanitation etc; four professional chefs—Jody Adams of Rialto and Jay Murray from Grill 23 and two other chefs, one from Newport, RI, and the other from Vermont.  The professional chefs were given a complex 25 -point judging template, with precise guidelines on how to deconstruct each student chef’s dish and professionalism. My task was simpler: rating the chefs on media presence, and the ability to stay on message with the distraction of ten judges, four videographers, several sponsor reps, and a still photographer milling around. No joke: it was one of the most stressful five hours of my life. Here’s why.
Cooking competitively is not an artifact of TV hype. It’s hard work to do, and hard to watch. The chefs––from their forties to their teens, career switchers and green as grass gangly newcomers–are the top students at Cambridge Culinary, Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, Bunker Hill Community, and New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. They worked hard to get here today, spent days engineering dishes creative enough to show their spark, yet not so dicey as to be impossible to produce under pressure. I ached for “Jenny”, competitor contestant #1, a Korean woman in the US only since 2003. By lottery, she was the first chef to begin. The subsequent competitors came on stream at half-hour intervals so finished dishes could judged hot out of the oven. “Jenny” made a classic herb-crusted rack of lamb with a celery root puree, and asparagus Polonaise. She worked like a demon. Head down, hair back, lipstick on, hyper-focused. Her technique was flawless. Her timing was not. And her communication skills? A recent immigrant, you could hear her formulating her answers word-by-word. The judges cooed over her Polonaise. Most of us had never seen the technique—separating raw egg yolks, freezing them for an hour, and then rolling them in Panko crumbs and a fast deep-fry so that when fork met egg on dish, it was the perfect yolk of a perfect fried egg, a runny simple sauce.  But—the judges found the lamb raw, the plate cold, the dish under-seasoned. Laborious, beautiful, but not up to snuff. Next, another aspiring chef, a refugee from advertising, studying at Cambridge Culinary and working at Blue Ginger. He was media magic, but his dish was too fussy. And horrors! He used lecite powder, a lecithin derivative popularized by Ferran Adria to make the coconut foam. Chef #2 got high marks for grace under pressure, but his oolong-tea smoked scallops were raw and cold, and the chefs couldn’t taste the saffron in the rice cakes.  Next up, a sweetheart chef from Texas studying at NECI, making a beef tenderloin topped with rendered bone marrow. She overcame a kitchen disaster, and did well—but not well enough to win. By 6:00 PM, all eight chefs were working away, while an official with a digital stopwatch barked time codes. The judges had chatted up most of the chefs, wondering why one was using this kind of polenta and not that, worrying that chef #1 wasn’t going to get her lamb into the oven in time.
At 7 PM, we judges sat down. One by one, the chefs presented their dishes. We went to work. Tasting each morsel. Feeling the anxiety.  A serious task undertaken by a serious team, knowing what it would mean to the young chefs to win. I wanted to throw up—not from the food––on the whole pretty good––from the tension. Hopeful faces under crisp white toques.  Two chefs almost tied, but Erik Powers (20), a young man from Everett studying at Bunker Hill is going the Almost Famous Chef Finals in Napa. His meal—a beautifully executed pan seared cod wrapped in pork jowls, (guanciale), came out hot, pretty, and perfectly seasoned. Luckily, his mom was to hand to witness the triumph. The chefs stayed to party on. The judges, totally spent, made a beeline for their cars.

Stealth Health at the CIA (and the Harvard School of Public Health)

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Dr. Walter Willett at the CIA Healthy Falvors Conference

Stealth Healthworks
Outside, the Napa Valley vineyards are absorbing the last twenty minutes of winter sun. Inside, at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) in St. Helena, California, Dr. Walter Willett taps on the microphone. A hundred or so corporate chefs and food service executives from little ventures like Applebee’s (serves over xx meals a day), Dunkin’ Donuts, (tkt customers a day), Panera Bread Company (tk meals a day), and McDonald’s (trillions of hamburgers sold!), are holding their collective breath. Willett, chairman of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, the g-force behind the nationwide banning of transfats, best-selling author, and one of the most cited scientists in history, shares the “Nutritional Wish List” of policy recommendations he has prepared for President Obama.
Willett, a benign presence with a handlebar mustache and twinkly blues, has a habit of saying very scary things in a calm monotone. When he says that, “We are at the end of increasing longevity in the US,” for example, or, “In ten years, in terms of obesity, Massachusetts will look like Mississippi,” everyone nods sleepily. But when he says, “ an unregulated market is doing to human health what is has done to the US economy,” people in the room wake up. “What! Is he talking about more regulation for the restaurant industry?” worries a product development VP from McDonalds sitting next to me. Willett expands, “Regulations for the food industry are like toxins: too much is bad, a little can be good.” Yes, he is thinking about suggesting a regulation mirroring the new law in the U.K., to mandate a salt reduction of by 20% in all packaged and processed foods to the Obama administration, (Look out for reduced sodium soups, crackers, bread and cookies, salad dressings etc)—and suggesting leveling a national tax of as much as 18% on sugared sodas and candy. “We need economic levers to keep the public from making bad food choices.” Willett says. The conference is off and running. The 100-plus “operators”, the people who work for the companies that serve 95% of the meals Americans eat outside of the home, will spend the next three days listening hard. When Willett’s Harvard Medical School colleague David Ludwig MD calls diet sodas, “a gateway drug,” the audience winces.
The CIA and HSPH jointly sponsor this invitation only, Worlds of Health Flavors Conference twice annually. It’s a top ticket for corporate chefs, top nutritionists, physicians, research scientists, and cookbook authors Three days of cutting edge science and a serious discussion of food strategies to get America healthier. Three years ago, when Willett first lectured this group about transfats, (labeling them as “nutritional poison,”) few of the attendees would have expected that by 2009 a label of “New! Trans-fat Free!” would the biggest selling proposition in the food industry. Today, as Willett speaks, the chefs’ ears are cocked, awaiting this year’s crusade. Willett is a figure of reverence. He also makes food service operators anxious. This is a tough year economically. Change is expensive in the food business. As chef Greg Schweizer, former Executive VP of Menu Development at Applebee’s informs, “A menu or ingredient change for us means communicating to 50,000 line positions in over 100 locations, all of them suffering financially.” Estimates are that the switch to trans-fat free recipes cost major food suppliers over a billion dollars. Today, business is bad enough without spending money on nutritional improvements. But chefs are people who like to feed people and feed them well. Even bottom-line pressured chefs care about serving food that makes you healthier.
The code word at the CIA is “Stealth Health,” an under-the-radar effort to: reduce the salt in your food; shut off the sugar; substitute good fats like olive and canola oil, nuts and avocados, for bad fats like butter, corn oil and animal fat; sneak whole grains in to your diet, and turn the trickle of fresh fruits and vegetables that Americans eat into a torrent; ––all without your noticing. The challenge is to make “healthy food that doesn’t taste like ‘health food’,” says Stan Frankenthaler, Executive Chef of Dunkin’ Brands, (the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin & Robbins).
The Better for You option
The chefs talk about their takeaways from the conference.  “Almost everyone now has better for you options on their menus. It’s part of our response to Dr. Willett, to the obesity crisis, and to serving what the customer wants,” says Chris Gatto, Vice President of Food and Beverage at Uno Chicago Grille. “What we learn at Napa goes right into new product development. We’re not going mess around with our sacred signature deep-dish pizza, but we feel the pressure to offer more healthy options to the guest, like our brown rice with mango and craisins, and our new soup—beef barley with wheat berries. A couple of years ago, people had never heard of wheat berries. Now, they say, ‘Wow, that sounds good’.”  At Dunkin Brands, Stan Frankenthaler takes the scientific data from this meeting and brings it “straight to our Culinology team—the group at Dunkin’ that brings together nutritional scientists, chefs, and product development people. And then we begin.”  Applebee’s Schweizer says that Applebee’s now buys, “millions of pounds of salad greens, a major change in our menu.”
But change doesn’t come quickly for the big guys. Mark Graham, a product development consultant for Starbucks puts the issue in perspective. “Even when we are ready to introduce a better for you option, we have to find the supply chain that will support it.  We don’t yet have all the vendors that can support new, healthier menu offerings. For example, when we introduced a new product at Starbucks, an apple cherry muffin, we had to find enough product to bake 23 million organic apple cherry muffins. That’s a lot of organic dried cherries to source.” Tom Gumpel, Vice President for Bakery Development at Panera Bread worries about the salt issue. “As a chef, it really has me worried. For the food service, tuning off transfats was like flipping a light switch. But when you take 20% of the salt out of bread, bakery items and soup—we sell 90 million pounds of soup a year! ––without affecting texture and taste, that’s a tough trick. “ Gumpel, who used to be a dean at the CIA has a love hate relationship with the conference. “My biggest takeaway is sadness. It’s all great information, but how long is it going to take to trickle down to the average American?”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

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