April 2015 Newsletter

Apr 21, 2015


It wasn’t so long ago that a number of operators banned “foodstagramming” in their restaurants (of course, some still encourage guests to turn off their cell phones when they’re dining).

Now, of course, most have either embraced Instagram or given in to the fact that certain people will take pictures of their food no matter what. But there’s no denying that the food porn trend goes beyond simple photography—in fact, it could be argued that Instagram and all the other social media are accelerating what is already the crazy-fast adoption of new food trends. And there’s also the ever-present danger of chefs and customers alike focusing (get it?) so much on picture-taking that they forget about how it tastes, or even tasting their food at all. Read the article on restaurateuring in the age of Instagram for additional perspective.

It could also be argued that the whole Bone Broth thing is also a function of social media and its tendency to make this a business of food fetishists. If you want to get on board, our culinary development associate Justin Braly shares a recipe for simple chicken (bone) broth.

And speaking of trends, there’s one that simply shows no sign of being over: better burgers, always and ever. We’ve got 15 different ways to tap it.
To your success,

In the Age of Instagram

By Joan Lang, Editorial Director

If it seems like one minute a restaurant has a certain thing on the menu and two weeks later everyone else has the exact same thing, you’re not imagining it. And it’s not just the foodie press and bloggers and the Food Network. It’s Instagram.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, and food pictures on Instagram say it all: what’s in a dish, what the diner thinks of it, and exactly what it looks like. And that makes this business more competitive than ever.

Or call it the age of food fetishes, and the Cronut was just the start. Thanks to social media—in particular the picture power of Instagram—food trends are now spreading, fully formed, with lightning speed. They’re being hatched, and then they’re being replaced almost as quickly.

Another cheese and meat board—really? More roasted Brussels sprouts with fish sauce replaced by more kale Caesar salads supplanted by more seared cauliflower steaks and now it’s Avocado Toast? Yes, indeed.

There are lots of other implications, besides menus becoming increasingly similar.

As far as Instagram goes, restaurateurs need to decide whether they’re “fer it or agin it” (a policymaking conundrum that not surprisingly tends to split along Millennial lines). As of now, more operators appear to be agin it, or at least not on board, as a recent Smart Brief poll showed the great majority of respondents either not using Instagram or not knowing how to leverage it.

A nice-looking plate is now called “Instagram-worthy” by both guests and reviewers. Can you say “focus on presentation”?

Instagrammers have become the new bloggers, reaping fame and contracts from their posts. And we all know how influential the blogosphere became to the restaurant industry.

Everyone wants to know how to take better Instagram photos, now that they have that fancy iPhone. (We may need to consider changing the lighting to facilitate picture-taking—or anticipate more early-bird specials or growth in the breakfast daypart, just because natural daylight is almost always better.)

Last but certainly not least, savvy marketers are turning to the medium to get their message across.

• Applebee’s has, among other things, turned its Instagram account over to its fans for a year in order to gather user-generated content aimed at helping the aging brand establish its standing as the go-to hangout spot

• Chefs and independents who use Instagram often end up on Must Follow lists that invite more followers (and potential customers) by the hundreds

• Taco Bell uses Instagram very effectively to promote new menu-item launches and LTOs

• Frank Prisinzano, the outspoken chef-owner behind a number of popular New York restaurants, has used his account to critique his own restaurants—getting lots of attention in the process

• Domino’s old sign/new sign “scavenger hunt” has helped draw attention to the chain’s rebranding efforts

• Zoe Nathan Loeb is using her proximity to beautiful food to promote both her restaurants and her new cookbook

Using Instagram needn’t be a big involved campaign. Even something as simple as posting photos of the days specials or inviting fans to post selfies taken in your restaurant can reap beautiful rewards.

The Bone Broth Boom

By Justin Braly, Culinary Development

Whether you call it stock, consommé, brodo or broth, there is no mistaking that the bone broth craze is upon us. Bone broth is heralded for its beneficial nutrients such as collagen (good for hair and nails), glucosamine (great for joint health) and glycine (which is great for removing toxins), but what exactly is it this delicious yet simple elixir?

Bone broth, in theory, is as simple as it gets. Broth by definition is soup consisting of meat or vegetable chunks, and often rice, cooked in stock, and bone broth is even simpler. Bones, with little bits of meat still attached, are cooked with any assortment of vegetables and aromatics for upwards of 24 hours—much longer than most recipes call for—in simmering water until the bones release their collagen and nutrients. This mixture is skimmed of fat regularly as it cooks and strained through a fine mesh sieve when it’s finished… voila! You have bone broth, which has become a cornerstone of the Paleo diet.

The amount of blog posts and websites dedicated to bone broth is astonishing, and small towns even seem to boast at least one person at the farmers market peddling this magical elixir, noting that their broth will change your health for the better. But in major cities, the craze is even bigger. In New York, chef Marco Canora may have started the craze with Brodo: A walk-up window that sells piping hot cups of broth (in three different sizes) to hungry customers in the morning, daring them to “rethink their hot beverage.” In San Francisco, there are at least six places selling “liquid gold.” Will bone broth rival Starbucks one day? Probably not, but maybe instead of a morning juice or afternoon cuppa, people will gravitate towards broth for their nutrients and vitamins.

Like all trends, bone broth has many different iterations. Restaurateurs, chefs and bartenders are taking advantage of the bone broth trend, because if it’s hip consumers will buy it, even in a cocktail format. At Los Angeles’ Pistola you can get “From the Kitchen With Love,” a $22 bone broth cocktail consisting of six ounces of lamb consommé plus two ounces of Glenlivet 15. Consider it a play on French Onion Soup.

While I don’t see the broth cocktail scene taking off, bone broth for kitchen use will stick around, so why not make your own? This recipe for Chicken Bone Broth is a great place to start.

Chicken Bone Broth:

5 lb. chicken bones
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 gal. cold water (enough to cover the ingredients)
2 medium yellow onions, roots cut off and halved
4-5 carrots, washed and cut in half
6-8 celery stalks, washed and cut into thirds
6-8 cloves of garlic
1 bundle thyme (fresh)
3 bay leaves (fresh)
1 tsp. salt

1. Place chicken bones in a large stock pot. Add apple cider vinegar and water to cover the bones.
2. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to keep a low simmer for 24 hours. Stir once or twice in the first few hours, and then a few times for the duration of your simmer, adding additional water as needed.
3. After 24 hours add the vegetables, garlic, salt, thyme and bay leaves to the pot. Increase heat to bring back up to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
4. Cook for 8 hours longer, stirring every hour or so. Let simmer with lid off for the last 2 hours.
5. Strain all ingredients by pouring bone broth from one pot to another through a colander or strainer.

15 Shades of Burger

By Joan Lang, Editorial Director


Quick: What’s one of the most successful and enduringly popular menu items in all the restaurant universe, from mainstream fast food chains to destination dining? What can guests never seem to get enough of? What inspires cult followings and seemingly endless creativity? And what has nearly every revered chef in this country tried a hand at?

Although its exact origins are shrouded in late 19th century obscurity, the hamburger has emerged as one of the iconic pleasures of American dining, and a bulwark of the restaurant menu. From circa-1921 White Castle “belly bombers” to db Bistro Moderne, with its game-changing Original db Burger (a $35 sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle Parmesan bun, first introduced in 2001), there’s almost nothing that can’t be done to and with a burger.

No wonder sales of burgers keep growing—in 2014, according to NPD, the number of hamburgers sold increased 3%, in part because rising beef prices incented more restaurants to add them and more customers to order them.


Packing a tasty bite of something in the middle of an otherwise traditional patty adds not only flavor and juiciness, but it’s also a surprise for the guest and an operational advantage for the house because it keeps messy, melty ingredients like cheese or foie gras off the griddle. And you can stuff a burger with everything from blue cheese or Brie, to caramelized onions, chutney, salsa, olives, chili, sausage or even a fried egg.


Although there’s a great deal of debate about what constitutes a “classic” hamburger—that’s the whole point of this article, after all—after several years of burger one-upsmanship there seems to be a move back to a style of burger that’s traditional, but elevated. That means juicy, well-seasoned meat, traditional condiments and toppings like tomato and mayonnaise, old-school American cheese, and a fresh, slightly squishy bun that soaks up all the juices. No elk meat, no kimchi, no lavash flatbread: just best-in-class technique and ingredients.


Ah, the slider. These fun little mini-burgers made it possible to put the popular overstuffed sandwich on a small plates menu, and spawned dozens of different variations from pulled pork to fried chicken. The Slider House, in Nashville, has one of everything, and guests can mix and match two or three choices with a side for $8.99 or $11.99 respectively. Sliders have also become increasingly popular as bar snacks, as in the two different formulations of Cheeseburger Sliders tucked among the wings and quesadillas on the Snacktime menu at TGI Friday’s.


Short rib and sirloin. Brisket and filet. Seeking the perfect ratio of fat to lean, flavor to tenderness, burgermeisters are writing special specs for burgers—half of them, it seems, from butcher-to-the-stars Pat LaFrieda. That and sobriquets like “never frozen,” “handcrafted” and “ground in house” are the earmarks of the quality meat trend that’s sweeping the better burger movement. The famous cheeseburger at Husk takes much of its savor from Benton’s bacon ground in with the chuck and flank


Differing schools of thought abound on how to cook a burger, and along with grilled vs. griddled and thick vs. thin, there’s the ongoing controversy of minimal compressing on the grill vs. smashing that puppy down with the spatula til the juices sizzle. We’re talking Smashburger, among others, which promises burgers that are “Smashed Fresh. Served Delicious.” Proponents claim the technique of smashing a meatball-thick patty down on the griddle creates plenty of surface and thin edges that pick up a tasty, crisp char. Shake Shack also smashes its burgers, on a Miraclean griddle, which not only builds flavor but allows the meat to cook more quickly.

Other Meats

Though the great majority of hamburgers are probably made with ground beef, there are all kinds of other meats that can be used to make a signature burger, including turkey, pork and lamb, as well as bison, buffalo and more unusual meats. The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, in New York City, has quickly become famous for its chargrilled lamb burger, which picks up additional Greek accents from the addition of feta cheese and cumin mayonnaise. A menu favorite at Tavern in Los Angeles is the Pork Pork Pork Burger, made with ground pork, bacon and chorizo finished with Manchego cheese and romesco sauce on a brioche bun. And Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks, based in Southern California, invites guests to substitute a turkey patty for any of its burgers.


Here’s a category that tells you how far the “burger” definition has traveled, with patties made from crab meat, ground tuna or salmon, and shrimp. Fishburgers are great for operations because they can be made with non-premium product, including trim, the thin ends of a salmon filet, or broken shrimp, allowing guests to enjoy a luxury ingredient at an affordable price point. Burgers made with seafood have a low-fat, high-protein nutritional profile that appeals to health-conscious diners who still want the indulgence of a “burger.” The neutral flavor and soft texture of fish also take well to ingredients that wouldn’t work with beef—like the Asian Ahi Tuna Burger served rare with Asian slaw and wasabi dressing at Lazy Dog, which has 16 locations in ahi-crazy Southern California.


The hamburger may not actually exist in Korea, but the kimchi burger has certainly caught on here. Fusion mashup
BopNGrill, in Chicago, has other signature burgers that call to mind other ethnic specialties, including the Pizza Burger (topped with mozzarella sticks, marinara, American, Parmesan, and caramelized onions), Bavarian (pretzel bun, sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, Dusseldorf mustard) and Hawaiian-esque Loco (fried egg, short-rib gravy, caramelized onions, bacon, sharp cheddar).


The Original db Burger notwithstanding, restaurateurs and chefs have been trying to outdo each other with the most expensive or most luxurious burgers for years, using ingredients like Wagyu beef, truffles (even Smashburger has a truffled menu entry), lobster, wild mushrooms and even a bottle of Chateau Petrus (served on the side). Not surprisingly, many of these burgers can be had in Las Vegas, but a clutch of upscale restaurants in San Francisco are serving more-ish versions of sliders, like the escargot patties topped with foie gras on the menu at Bisou Bistronomy.

Over the Top

Size and variety also make an impression with burger fans. Chomp Kitchen and Drinks in Warren, RI, has amassed a cult following for its over-the-top Stack Burger 3.0, a towering assemblage consisting of a beef patty with American cheese, spicy fried chicken with smoked gouda, smoked BBQ beef, bacon, ranch dressing, and onion jam with lettuce and tomato. And three-location Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar features an extensive menu that includes 19 different burgers plus additions and substitutions ranging from six different breads to sake-marinated sauerkraut.


There are regional sandwiches, and regional sodas, so no surprise that burgers come in regional styles, too. In Northeastern Mississippi, for instance, the ground beef is mixed with flour and soy meal and fried, to create something called a Slugburger, while the Deep South is home the Pimento Cheeseburger, a tasty conglomeration that has recently gone trendy outside of its native habitat, as at the new ABV in the Mission District of San Francisco.


There are veggie burgers and there are veggie burgers, and lately restaurants are catering to guests who avoid meat but crave burgers with versions made from soy, nuts, grains, ground vegetables, and other tasty concoctions. Oshi Burger Bar, part of the Jeff Johnson Restaurant Group in Memphis calls its organic veggie burger the Conscientious Objector, topping it with tomato, crushed avocado, red onion, Swiss, lettuce and burger sauce. Michael Mina makes a Fava Bean Falafel Burger with Gamble Creek Farms organic cucumber yogurt, tomato confit and tahini at Locale Market in St. Petersburg, FL. Even White Castle has a Veggie Slider.


Socially conscious sourcing is big in the burger segment, with antibiotic-free and grass-free meat a centerpiece of many business plans. For higher-end independents, many with chain aspirations, grass-fed and local beef is the way to go. Crave Real Burgers, with three locations in Colorado, works with local ranchers for its beef. Breakaway Café, in Sonoma, CA, sources its organic pastured beef from SunFed Ranch. The Burger Lounge chain has been selling grass-fed burgers, local produce and a green lifestyle since 2007. But now even Carl’s Jr. has jumped on the bandwagon with an all-natural, grass-fed offering.


The Counter was arguably at the forefront of the customizable menu item trend—burger or otherwise—back in 2003 and it’s still going strong, with locations all over nine states plus Ireland, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. With a mix-and-match selection of patty meats and sizes, breads, cheese, toppings and sauces, the concept touts a possible 312,120+ different burger combinations, “unique to each customer,” plus dozens of already-designed options. Of course, it’s easy for just about any restaurant to offer a DIY options: just look at Friendly’s.

Patty Melt

Thanks to the unending popularity of classic American comfort food, it stands to reason that the patty melt would also get the better burger treatment—and the trending success of both grilled cheese sandwiches and artisanal toast hasn’t hurt. Hardee’s Bacon Velveeta Patty Meltdown is in-your-face retro, but the new Snappy Pattys, in Medford, MA, delivers “upscale contemporary American food” including a sixsome of signature patty melt sliders made with grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef with scratch-made sauces on house-baked olive oil brioche.

Tip of the Month

Want more advice and ideas for using Instagram? Check out these articles from the National Restaurant Association, F&B Kibbutz, and Pizza magazine.