Snack Foods and the Changing Culinary Chic

August 15, 2016

In it’s simplest definition, a snack is a small portion of food meant to hold one over between meals. In contrast, a meal is typically comprised of multiple items, has higher caloric content and is usually tied to rituals of time and location.Historically, snacks were prepared from ingredients commonly available in the home. This has changed considerably over time with the new norm existing today as pre-made foods that are conveniently packaged and last seemingly forever.But snack foods are not just treats anymore. They have to become part of the larger ingredient mix along with potatoes, carrots or butter. Frito Pie is on the menu alongside the $25 dish of shrimp etouffee. This may not seem important to the producer as long as products are selling at the store. But it validates a fundamental element of consumer behavior – the end user decides how to use any product he or she purchases. The challenge for the producer is to recognize the innovative ways consumers use their products and facilitate strategies that will help keep the trend going. This means understanding the underlying cultural processes that have allowed this transformation to take place and how to capitalize on it in order to grow sales.Some credit to the changing role of snack foods must of course be attributed to the inventiveness of snack producers. Restaurateurs and chefs have also been and will continue to be tremendous influencers. Consumers, rather than turning to manufacturer websites and cook books are looking to the Food Network and local chefs not just for ideas, but also for validation of their culinary choices. Even subculture icons like Lux Interior of The Cramps (a rockabilly/punk fusion band founded in the 1970s) have helped shape the use of snacks in cooking – Mr. Interior had a deep penchant for Doritos Quiche.

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To be sure, the snack is the inspiration. We see evidence to support this notion starting back in the 50’s with the introduction of recipe ideas for everything from corn flakes to Cheetos. But what accounts for the resurgence of using snacks in cooking in an age dominated by “healthy” foods, “quality” ingredients and of haute cuisine in the home? And what does this mean for a marketer or product development team? The simple is answer is that by understanding the deeper issues driving the transformation of how snack foods are used, it is possible to better innovate and drive sales over time. We have identified several areas that deserve special attention.Snacks as SymbolsMeaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena and activities that serve as systems. Rituals associated with food represent a deeply ingrained structure by which meaning is propagated within a culture. In other words, a potato chip is more than food; it is representative of childhood memories, concepts of being a good or bad parent, regional affiliation and other symbolically charged concepts.The brand itself is equally symbolically charged. This explains why a generic brand of corn flakes to top your tuna casserole may not be “good enough.” Only Kellogg’s communicates that the cook cares enough about the people eating. This also explains, in part, the reluctance of many to buy store-branded products (although other factors come into play as we see, for example, in times of economic crisis).Flavor is less the issue than the need to create a dish that fits within the symbolic framework in which it is constructed and consumed. The implication is that it recipe ideas aren’t enough. These ideas must be tied to richer symbols. Package design, shelf positioning, etc. must all reflect greater symbolic structures and lead to the construction of new and unique traditions that work within the existing framework.The Invention of TraditionTraditions exist to preserve a wide range of commonly held ideas, practices and methods used by distinct populations. Food joins other elements like music, folklore and clothing to create culture. Beliefs or customs are taught by one generation to the next and actions are reinforced over time. The preservation of culture, however, becomes much more difficult in a postmodern world.Through the emergence of tribal subcultures along with the ease and means to communicate and cross-pollinate we see many using brands as badges of affiliation. In practice, people are “inventing” tradition by endowing products with rich symbolic meaning. Product, therefore, becomes a means by which people artificially establish a past and validate identity in the present. Mom may have never actually made Frito Pie, but it helps the consumer maintain a sense of identity to believe that she could have.Food as Novelty and PlayFinally, using snack foods as ingredients speaks to the very basic need to invent and play. Snack foods used in a way different from their “intended purpose” is novel. At a psychological level, novelty speaks to four basic principle elements:

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Thrill Seeking: the pursuit of activities and objects that are exciting, unusual and potentially dangerous.
Experience Seeking: the pursuit of unfamiliar and complex environmental stimuli, as through cooking.
Disinhibition: Sensation-seeking through engagement with other people; searching for opportunities to lose inhibitions by engaging in variety in food, sex, alcohol, etc.
Boredom Susceptibility: the tendency to be easily bored by familiar or repetitive situations or people, or by routine work.Beyond the sensory benefits of novelty, there is the need to use experimentation as a means of establishing cultural capital. Snack foods have become a means by which people not only attain psychological stimulation but also display to friends and loved ones that they are inventive and interesting.ImplicationsIt may be interesting, but what does it all mean? Simply put, it means that whoever can tap into these unconscious motivations, symbols, and practices can increase sales, grow customer loyalty and develop brands that are synonymous with enjoyment. We often interpret our products through a self-limiting, narrow focus. Understanding snack foods from the vantage point of “ingredient” opens a new series of delivery systems, product possibilities and messaging strategies.After all, the customer will always decide how to use your product.

Culinary Travel Experiences And How To Select Great Regional Dining

August 16, 2016

To better understand the concept behind culinary travel, one must first understand culinary tourism and all that such provides. As such, if one is interested in knowing more about culinary tourism, one may want to request an information package from the International Culinary Tourism Institute, founded in 2006, which is a non-profit education organization for training and education for its members and the public. Of course, there are also many other organizations involved in culinary tourism which one can also find online.So, what exactly is culinary tourism? it is when one travels to a country or region with the specific intention of experiencing the food native to such an area. As such, dining out has become a valid part of the tourism experience. So, whether one is in the mood for Spanish cuisine from Spain, or food from the Middle East, when one actively travels to such areas in order to experience such native cuisine, then one is often considered a culinary tourist.In addition, now that food has become an accepted and valid aspect of tourism, it is also believed that food as well as accommodations, climate and scenery all play an active role in such travel experiences. In addition, as individuals often dine out during vacations, while those on vacation may not experience the full art of culinary tourism, most likely one is going to still experience several culinary delights on such travels. As such, this tourism then becomes part and parcel to most vacations whether family, romantic or otherwise.

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Still, as food tourism is defined as the ongoing pursuit of drinking and eating experiences, it differs from agricultural tourism. For, although it may be considered a subset of cultural tourism, cuisine is in fact also a manifestation of culture both past and present. Still, culinary and agricultural tourism remain linked due to the growing of foods which are included in the many regional dishes prepared which use locally grown ingredients.In addition, although one may perceive from the sound of culinary tourism, that all foods consumed as part of such a process are gourmet dishes. In fact, this is not true at all. For this type of tourism is often more about what is unusual yet memorable and tasty, rather than what is often exclusive, pretentious and overly priced. As such, one can expect to find both basic and gourmet dishes, as well as great beer, wine and cocktails in all price ranges.So, how does one find out more information about such culinary tourism? Often, one can contact one of many culinary tourist organizations which one can now find online. Of course, one can also decide based on taste and region where to travel to experience such culinary delights. However, if one is interested in specific culinary tourism, one may be able to find some great deals by talking with representatives from one of the many organizations now listed online.For, whether one contacts an International organization, or a more locally based one, often one can gain a great many ideas of where to go and explore when it comes to such culinary tourism. In addition, as there are often many different dining opportunities available in each region, one may want to read a variety of online reviews in relation to such offerings, along with menu choices to assure one is going to fully enjoy such a dining experience. For, only when one can see first hand how such restaurants operate on an ongoing basis, can one truly decide if a restaurant is one in which one wishes to spend both time and money.

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To this end, regardless of the type of food one seeks, one can find a great variety when participating in culinary travel or tourist opportunities. However, to assure one is going to enjoy the atmosphere, food and service, one may want to read a variety of reviews posted by past consumers. For, only in doing so, can one assure that one is going to have an outstanding culinary travel experience in whichever region or area one may decide to visit for such culinary delights.

Essential Reads for Men: ‘The Food and Beer Cook Book’ by Richard Fox

August 14, 2016

With the exception of such staples as curry, steak and ale pie or, god forbid, the doner kebab, beer and fine cuisine have tended to have a difficult relationship. Despite the arrival of microbrews and fruit beers, grain remains very much grape’s poor relation, with few top restaurants boasting of their beer list.Now, however, grain has found its champion in Maxim ‘Beer Chef’ Richard Fox. The Food and Beer Cook Book is an unashamedly unpretentious collection of recipes and informative titbits designed to convince us that beer deserves a place in every kitchen, above and beyond that of chef’s lubricant.

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Fox’s love of beer emerges from the start, guiding us energetically through the various types, matching beers to meals and even giving a quick rundown on beer tasting. Throughout, it’s clear that his recipes are as much about celebrating the beverage in all its forms as they are about the food itself.As Fox himself says, ‘cooking at home is more about the event…than about fancy food’, and that’s reflected in his choice of dishes. Many are established favourites such as the club sandwich, Welsh rarebit and eggs Benedict, while every recipe uses beer either for flavour or to simplify preparation.Fox assumes that his reader will have all the culinary aptitude of the stereotypical male, keeping recipes simple to the point of brutality and focusing on ingredients and flavours rather than technique. The club sandwich is made with pigeon and caramelised onions — ‘top tasting, beer soaking, footie friendly fodder of the highest order’ — while canapés include mini Yorkshire puddings with venison and raspberry beer sauce, with a side order of idiot-proof instructions.The Food and Beer Cook Book includes suggestions for both formal and informal occasions, ranging from a romantic dinner à deux to supplies for TV marathons. Ladies horrified by the idea of confronting one of Fox’s creations at their next candlelit rendezvous can take comfort in dishes such as fruit salad with strawberry beer crème fraiche, and inside-out hot dogs with BBQ sauce look likely to keep plainer appetites topped up.

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As you’ve probably guessed, this isn’t a book for the aspiring Gordon Ramsay. For those more Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook than Masterchef, however, it may prove just the thing to remove that kitchen phobia. Cheers!**The Food and Beer Cook Book is published by Sentinel Press**

Food and Wine Tours – 7 Ways for Adding Culinary Depth to Your Travels

August 13, 2016

Food and wine had been the basis of their courtship. Marriage brought an end to these quiet and yet exciting times. She has said little through the years as he went off with golfing pals and corporate jaunts while she stayed at home. His conscious always treated her to spa visits and club memberships to make up for it. Now, he wanted something for just the two of them. Twenty five years together deserved a celebration.He was looking for a place near enough to allow them more time for each other and less time for travel. They needed to find a way of enjoying what they both loved and yet rediscovering their mutual passions for life and each other. One loved the outdoors and gardening. The other looked for a more urban relaxation. Their mutual love was preparing and eating great food. Thus a great culinary adventure is born.Culinary tours allow visitors to really experience the cultural roots of a region. It’s a little bit history, a little bit entertainment and a little bit educational. Yet it can also be an assault on the senses. What better way to involve all five senses?7 Delightful Ways to Design Your Culinary Adventure1. Celebrity/Master ChefsDining out has long been one of society’s favorite activities. Master chefs have left culinary schools for world-class restaurants, honed their skills and are returning in droves to their home communities to be a part of regional tourism and hospitality. The James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating and preserving America’s cultural diversity and traditions. These master chefs are usually members of this foundation.Many are indeed, recipients of James Beard honors. You can usually get some great insights of where to dine by looking for press releases from this organization. Even better, there are categories for joining as a food and wine enthusiast. Of course, some of these master chefs do merit celebrity status. Be sure to make reservations in advance to get the most out of your visit.Cleveland’s Entertainment District hosts some of the city’s most popular restaurants, bars and clubs. Master chefs and celebrity chef, Michael Symon, all have their flagship restaurants here. This is a microcosm of Cleveland, and indeed America’s diverse cuisine. It is a great way to step into the culinary scene and branch out into the neighborhood that centers around your favorite taste. The ethnic neighborhoods of Cleveland are known for superb dining choices.

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2. Schools – Wine and Culinary/ Master ClassesWe have come a long way from Julia Child to the Food Network and beyond. What is important today is that food is recognized as essential to healthy living. Perhaps more important is that preparing healthy food can be at the core of reducing stress for busy professionals and providing touch points for family and friends to rally around.Luxury resorts and hotels have provided culinary excursions and master classes for generations. These are again gaining in popularity. Cleveland boasts both cooking schools and a wine school. These schools provide busy locals with the skills to take their culinary appreciation to the next level. They can also provide a great added value to a culinary tour of the region. Additionally, the nearby Culinary Vegetable Institute brings master chefs from throughout America as artists in residence for classes and private dinners on their campus.3. Luxury Hotel Culinary PackagesEssential to any great vacation is the need to replenish and revitalize ourselves. Some may choose a Bed and Breakfast but for those who see this basic need as a time to treat oneself to more than the ordinary choose a luxury hotel or resort. These hotels and resorts have in place a highly skilled, 5 star staff just looking for ways to delight the guests. Culinary tours are as varied as the hotels but can provide a great foundation for any regional food and wine tour.The Ritz Carlton Hotel of Cleveland boasts a culinary tour that includes face time with the Executive chefs, special dinners, tours of the West Side Market and the city. The concierge staff is poised to provide directions and reservations to other restaurants and attractions that add to the culinary experience.4. Farmers MarketsAmerica’s cities are known for the public markets that support the cities and restaurants. Seattle has its Public Market, San Francisco has its Fisherman’s Wharf, and Cleveland has its West Side Market. These are popular tourist destinations. There are ample chances to talk with local suppliers, sample the many treats and enjoy a pleasurable time people watching.Cleveland’s venerable West Side Market has been supplying the tables of families and restaurants since 1912. As one of America’s oldest enclosed markets, it sets the standard for the many farmer’s markets set up in both urban town squares and the rural areas surrounding Cleveland. This market supplies fruits, vegetables and a diverse array of the regional meats that make Cleveland so popular with gastronomers.A drive through any area in Northeast Ohio on a Saturday will supply a family with locally grown, healthy fruits and vegetables for a week. Concessions provide ample opportunity to taste the best of the regions. You can also check out the Farmers Union markets in town squares and shopping centers throughout Northeast Ohio on weekdays during summer months.5. Wineries/MicrobreweriesAmerica’s interest in locally produced wines and brews is growing. Wine regions are gaining in popularity as destinations. The Sonoma and Napa Valley regions of California, Oregon’s Columbia Valley, New York’s Finger Lakes and the Niagara region readily come to mind. Microbreweries are the next craze to attract regional visitors. Microbrew tastings as well as wine tasting are easily found in the wine regions. You can actually find wineries that are developing companion microbreweries on their properties.Northeast Ohio is home to Vintage Ohio, an event attracting thousands to sample the growing wine industry in the state. Home to several wineries and vineyards along Lake Erie, northeast Ohio provides ample ways to enjoy the ambiance of relaxing in a scenic vineyard with friends with a glass in hand. You can enjoy a picnic lunch or opt for a more formal dinner in the elegance of the winery.6. Farm ToursHeritage farm tours along the Ohio and Erie Canal are committed to capturing the farming techniques of the regional founders for posterity. Many Amish farms welcome visitors to tour their farms by request. Indeed you will find produce stands along the country roads leading to their farms selling whatever vegetables and fruits are currently being harvested in their fields and baked goods, cheeses and cured meats processed on their farms.

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The Culinary Vegetable Institute in nearby Milan, Ohio provides organic and heritage vegetables and micro-greens to the kitchens of some of the country’s top chefs and restaurants. Farmer Lee Jones, the spokesman for the family business, is gaining national acclaim as a celebrity guest at many culinary events.7. Community GardensUrban gardens are becoming vital parts of neighborhoods as families realize the advantages of homegrown produce. However they are not new in many communities. When a visitor is fortunate to find an urban garden gem that has been established for quite a while, that visitor is treated to a glimpse of the heritage of the neighborhood and lovely afternoons spent talking with the gardeners who share the space.The Brooklyn Heights Community Garden in Cleveland celebrates is now 100 years old. Its grounds are well-maintained by the coop members and classes for all ages are held in the greenhouse and garden center on the campus.Remember that anniversary couple? They spent a relaxing week in an area not too far from their home but a world away in new experiences. They cruised the back roads with the car top down, picnicked under the stars in a lakeside vineyard, joined other couples for an elegant and exclusive private wine dinner and shared an evening at the theater. There was even time for a tour of the Botanical Gardens, a little shopping and just the two of them for a few holes of golf. Of course that led to the couples massage in the luxury hotel where they stayed. The rest of the time is private.You can find more about regional destinations and culinary tours at my blog. Be sure to look up my review on Mr. Symons B Spot restaurant in Woodmere.

Wine Travel – Finger Lakes and the Canandaigua Wine Trail

August 12, 2016

Situated in west central New York, the Finger Lakes region is an ideal destination for anyone.  Families, couples, senior citizens, and college kids will all feel at home here.  It’s a four season area with numerous outdoor activities and a natural bounty derived from a delightful mix of elements.The Finger Lakes themselves are a phenomenon.  They are actually glacial lakes, formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers which carved the earth.  Looking at a map, the lakes look like fingers – long and narrow, stretching from north to south.  There are 11 in the region by our count, with the two largest, Cayuga and Seneca, forming the centerpiece.The region is filled with valleys, rolling hills, and spectacular scenery, especially in autumn.  Charming small towns abound, and there’s a sense of artistry here, perhaps inspired by the surroundings.  To pinch a phrase from the Finger Lakes Visitor’s Guide, it’s a scenic partnership of Napa Valley and Scotland here.  I’ll take their word for it, but if Scotland is half as pretty as the Finger Lakes, I’d like to go tomorrow!It’s easy to get to the Finger Lakes region, which is situated just south of the New York State Thruway (I-90).  You’re about a 90 minute drive from either Rochester or Syracuse, two underrated cities that warrant a visit.Canandaigua Wine TrailCanandaigua is a real slice of Americana, with an historic downtown and all sorts of unique places to visit.  Our first eagerly anticipated stop was the New York Wine and Culinary Center, on Main Street in Canandaigua.The NYWCC is a perfect place to get acquainted with New York wine and food.  The emphasis here is to educate visitors about New York’s rich wine, food, and culinary traditions.  You can take a class here, enjoy a wine dinner, learn what a sommelier does, and much more.  There’s an educational theater and a hands on kitchen where you can create your own masterpiece.  Also, don’t miss the New York Garden located outside the building.  Depending on the season, you might find grapes ready to pick, apples, tomatoes, or any number of other native crops.

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Wilhelmus Estate WineryOpen since 2007, Wilhelmus Estate Winery is the pride of Buon and Karen Keunen, who named the winery after Buon’s father.  We loved their Cayuga White, a light, fruity white offering.  Even better in our estimation was the Free Run Traminette.  “Free run” is a term used to describe the situation when the grape picking process ruptures the skin of some of the grapes.  The juice from those grapes collects in the transport containers, resulting in a high concentration of sugars, fruit esters, and tannins.  We particularly enjoyed the spiciness of this wine, and thought it would be a superb companion for a pork dish or a stir fry.Just a general comment about these Finger Lakes wineries … each of them offers unbelieveable scenery.  A better word is stunning. It’s like Mother Nature’s best here, with fresh clean air and valleys cascading down to the lakes.  The soil is rich, the climate invigorating.  You really need to experience this area to truly feel all it offers to your senses.Finger Lakes Wineries In NaplesAt the extreme southern end of Canandaigua Lake, you’ll find the charming village of Naples and the Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery. Arbor Hill is about an inviting a place as can be.  The main building looks kind of like a country cottage, white clapboard with a big sign above the awning. Once inside, it becomes even more inviting.  There’s a beautiful gift shop where you can peruse all sorts of Finger Lakes specialty products, from grape pies to apparel to housewares.  But the star here is the wine.Our first taste was one of Arbor Hill’s newer wines, the Vergenne.  We hadn’t heard of this style before, and it’s reminiscent of a Riesling in some ways, especially the crisp finish.  We learned this wine is made with a grape that’s part Lambrusco, so essentially this is a white wine made with a red grape.  A new one on us, but decidedly tasty!  And at less than $11 a bottle, it’s a best buy.Another variety we’d never tried before was Arbor Hill’s Sparkling Chardonnay.  Dry like a Chardonnay but effervescent like a good sparkling wine, it’s a perfect match of two styles.We absolutely loved Onnalinda White, a mix of Cayuga White, Traminette, and Vidal.  We expected this to be sweet, but it’s only mildly so, an easy drinker that joined us for our trip home.Imagine Moore and WidmerWith a unique name and a gorgeous setting, Imagine Moore Winery was next on our list.  They are housed in a restored barn that dates back to Civil War times, with a panoramic view of Naples Valley from the wrap around deck. We even encountered a few olive trees just off the patio. Here’s where you should come to buy a great dry Riesling.  The name, Joy, fits perfectly.  The mix of fruit flavors and aromas is everything a Riesling should be.  Of all the wines at Imagine Moore, don’t miss this one.Since we’re always searching for wisdom, we felt compelled to try Imagine Moore’s Cabernet Franc.  Its name is really Wisdom.  And it was a smart choice indeed, a tasty, complex, fruit forward wine that we felt would pair well with pasta dishes.  P.S. – it does!

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This was an ideal spot for a bit of afternoon relaxing.  Words don’t do the setting justice.  The air is fragrant and fresh, with a warm valley breeze.  We immediately knew why so many things grow here, as it seems this area is blessed with all the natural resources required.  Also of note, Imagine Moore partners with the Brown Hound Bistro for wine tasting dinners and events.  We didn’t make one, but we can’t fathom how you’d go wrong.  Last but certainly not least on our day trip to Naples was a visit to Widmer Wine Cellars.  Widmer is one of the largest and most successful wineries in the United States.  You may be aware of the Manischewitz brand – it’s produced here. We highly recommend a tour of this bustling, modern facility.  It’s about 45 minutes in length, and you’ll see everything.  Of course, you’ll end up in the tasting room and gift shop!  When you’re here, try Widmer’s Lake Niagara Harvest Blush, an easy sipper you’ll want to take to your next picnic.  The gift shop is equally appealing, with shelves stacked with wine gifts, jellies, juices, and gourmet treats.Final ThoughtsNew York’s Finger Lakes area is an ideal destination for wine travel lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and artisans.  There’s a little something for everyone here, including spectacular scenery and a peaceful, relaxed pace.  Whether it’s a family vacation or just a weekend getaway, you’re sure to find the Finger Lakes a welcoming travel destination.