July 2014 Newsletter

Jul 22, 2014


A quick glance at our Facebook page will give you just a hint of the exciting projects we’ve been working on here at Synergy: contemporary deli discoveries, artisanal bakeries, rebranding initiatives, beverage upgrades, a quick trip to New York City for the opening of the newest LYFE Kitchen. It’s been a great year-and this is only July!

In this month’s newsletter we delve a little more deeply into these subjects and more. There’s an article on how traditional delis are being rebooted for the Millennial age, with on-trend attributes like local sourcing, craft beer menus and quality-oriented ingredients.

We weigh in on the often-thorny subject of sustainable seafood, and offer a few resources to help you stay abreast of the complexities. And we also revisit the fast-evolving gluten-free menu trend, and what the FDA’s recent definition means to you-frankly, we can’t even believe that some people are still questioning whether offering gluten-free items represents an imperative that’s here to stay. It is, trust us.

To your success, Dean Small and Danny Bendas

Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Thoroughly Modern Delis

By Joan Lang


Photo: Flickr User Chris Chen License CC by ND 2.0
Photo: Flickr User Chris Chen License CC by ND 2.0

One by one, the old icons are falling, thanks to the premium casual trend. It’s been applied to hamburgers, to cocktails, to Mexican QSR: Take a familiar concept, one with a degree of built-in familiarity and consumer acceptance, and differentiate it—around the ingredients, the menu, the presentation, the service model. Make it unique and craveable, make it stand out from the competition with a quality proposition.

Hamburgers became better burgers, with righteous grass-fed beef and artisanal buns. Cocktails became craft cocktails, with mutton-chopped mixologists and drink-specific ice. And Mexican QSR became, well, Chipotle.

It’s not surprising that the appetite for housemade smoked and cured meats, gourmet pickles and better bread—not to mention the ongoing obsession with handcrafted sandwiches—would lead to a reinterpretation of the classic sandwich emporium: the deli.

And sometimes it’s being done by entrepreneurial restaurateurs who may be too young to have experienced the flavors and conviviality of a classic Jewish deli in a really authentic way, like the original Pastrami King or Wolfie’s Rascal House. But they still want what she’s having in the way of a mind-blowing deli sandwich.

This time around, though, all the elements have been elevated into the eco/artisan/sustainable stratosphere, along with the necessary postmodern trappings like cocktails, craft beer, hip service and stylish surroundings.
During a recent Discovery Trip to New York City, we experienced not only the classic Katz’s Deli but also some of the new-wave deli concepts that are changing the paradigm, such as Mile End. And we came away with some key learnings about how the modern-day deli works.

Aroma and freshness cues are huge: Smelling the smoked meat has a powerful impact from the moment the guest walks through the door. Watching the meats being carved (as at Katz’s) is crucial to communicating the product’s quality. But getting younger, Gen X diners into a deli environment requires an expanded menu, while at the same time keeping a focus on the authentic classics, which helps guests take the concept seriously.

Inspired by the smoked-meat tradition of the Mile End neighborhood in Montreal, New York City’s Mile End Deli is an elder statesman in the new-wave deli trend. Now with two locations and an immensely successful catering business, Mile End is an homage to the Jewish delicatessen via a big helping of the peculiarly Canadian style of kosher-style deli meat, made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. It differs from the more familiar pastrami in the use of flavorings like coriander and the fact that it uses significantly less sugar. Seating is famously tight, consisting mainly of stools at window counters (helping to ignite another mini-trend among the competition). Starting small, Mile End has become a specialty food phenomenon, producing a wide variety of cured and smoked meats and fish, pickled goods, and freshly baked bagels, breads, rolls, and pastries. The crave-worthy menu also features one of Canada’s other national foods: poutine.

Another entry in the deli parade is Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, in San Francisco. The menu has all the usual Yiddish soul food suspects (matzo brei, noodle kugel, chopped liver), but the pastrami is smoked in house and brined for seven days, the hand-rolled bagels are from locally prized Beauty’s, and the chocolate babka uses an owner’s grandmother’s recipe—and the whole thing started with a pop-up. Décor is as expected, with baked goods on display, soft-focus portraits of family elders on the walls, and old-fashioned signage, but there’s also a Smoked Trumpet Mushroom Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut, Swiss and Russian dressing on rye. With three locations, including one in the Contemporary Jewish Museum and another in Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, Wise Sons looks like a game changer

Touting artisan-made deli fare (“We cure, pickle & smoke quality meats & fishes according to the highest standards & oldest traditions”), three-location Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, OR, uses locally raised beef, sells a shareable platter of house- made pickles, and bakes all is own rugelach, hamantaschen and macaroons. The bright, yellow-and-white striped menu is old-school though, featuring noodle kugel, pastrami on rye, cheese blintzes, and lots of pancake-style eggs. There’s also cheerful takeout (which helps to offset the long lines for a table), catering and mail-order.

Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, in Waltham, MA, plays a bit fast and loose with the traditional deli menu, but it errs on the side of artisanal with a selection of carefully sourced New England cheeses and charcuterie; Cuban, pulled pork and banh mi sandwiches; and housemade truffle chips—in addition to the more predictable bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and Katz (pastrami with pickle mustard) and bologna sandwiches.

Then there’s the growing number of places that take a totally freewheeling approach to deli standards like smoked/cured meats and pickles. Case in point is Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, with a trio of locations in L.A. and a frequently changing menu that runs the gamut from the Pastrami Nosh sandwich (“double smoked pastrami, melty Swiss cheese, kimchi mustard, pickles and a sunny fried egg”) to fries cooked in schmaltz (chicken fat). Cheffy touches like ketchup leather on the burger and housemade duck ham leave no doubt as to the creativity of the kitchen, although blackboard menus and reasonable prices adhere to the spirit of the neighborhood deli.

And then there’s the Reuben, the crossover sandwich star that sums up the longing for authenticity and flavor that defines the new deli trend—it’s showing up absolutely everywhere there are great sandwiches. Make no mistake that Delta Bistro, in Greenwood, MS, is a Southern restaurant, but its Comeback Reuben (which uses traditional Mississippi-style “comeback sauce” instead of Russian dressing) has a foot neatly planted in both cultures.


Sustainable Seafood: Do Your Homework

By Joan Lang

"Trash Fish" Sustanable Seafood Dinner | Photo: Flickr User Edsel Little License CC by SA 2.0
“Trash Fish” Sustanable Seafood Dinner | Photo: Flickr User Edsel Little License CC by SA 2.0

Of all the sourcing and purchasing challenges that foodservice operators face, sustainable seafood may be the most complex—especially now that more restaurants are calling out wild or sustainable fish and shellfish as they would organic produce or natural chicken.

But seafood isn’t like tomatoes and chicken, with their relatively low price and almost infinite availability.
With fish and shellfish, the challenge lies in both the supply and the definition of sustainability. Many wild fisheries are being depleted faster than Mother Nature can restore them. A 2012 United Nations report found that almost 30% of the world’s wild fisheries are “overexploited,” and more than 57% are “at or very close” to the limit; this includes such popular species as Atlantic cod, Chilean sea bass and Bluefin tuna.

Once heralded as the answer to the growing world demand for seafood, aquaculture has also proven to be problematic, because of escapement, pollution, environmental damage and questions about the feed used in fish farming. For instance, it takes nearly three pounds of wild-caught feed, in the form of fishmeal and fish oil from such species as anchovies and mackerel, to produce one pound of marketable farmed salmon—one of the most popular aquacultured species. And many of the “native” species Americans consume are actually imported from other countries.

Climate change adds yet another level of complexity, and even politicization, but certainly global warming will further impact fisheries.

At the same time, many restaurant operators want to add more seafood to the menu, both for health reasons and to offer their guests more variety.

Various organizations have attempted to provide guidelines for consumers, retailers, customers, and chefs, including SeafoodWatch and Seafood Choices Alliance. But such a complex issue is not easy to simplify, and even the watchers have come in for controversy. The Marine Stewardship Council, for one, has been widely criticized for certifying fisheries that are not actually sustainable in order to answer demand for sustainable choices from retailers such as Whole Foods and WalMart.

Chefs and restaurateurs, for their part, have been very proactive to very positive effect, as shown by the Give Swordfish a Break campaign, way back in 1998. High-profile chefs like Rick Moonen and Barton Seaver have led the way as activists and educators. The Chefs Collaborative has published “Seafood Solutions: A Chef’s Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Seafood,” while programs like Hook-to- Cook routinely raise awareness.

At a time when many consumers still clamor for familiar salmon, swordfish and cod, restaurants can lead the foray into such underutilized species as whiting, mackerel, sardines and bluefish. They can purchase and use bycatch (non-target species which would be otherwise be thrown away), like the Louisiana flounder often caught in shrimpers’ nets. They can proudly menu “trash fish,” like skate and rockfish. And they can help promote traceability and educate guests about responsibly sourced seafood.

All of this takes commitment, and more than a little homework. Menu flexibility and good relationships with purveyors are also important. But there is ample evidence that an increasingly sophisticated customer base demands not only good food, but food they can feel good about.

The Gluten-Free Mandate

By Karen N. Knoblaugh, MS, RD, Food Allergy Consultants

On August 13, 2013, the FDA finally caught up with Europe by providing a definition for “gluten-free,” which introduced a much-needed guide for food producers. It also provoked a sigh of relief for millions of consumers who require gluten-free foods.

This new guideline requires that any food identified as being gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Food manufacturers have until August 2014 to comply with these new mandates, or else they can be considered to be misbranding if they continue to use terms related to gluten-free (“free of gluten,” “no gluten,” or “gluten free”).

Currently there are no FDA regulations for foodservice establishments with regard to providing gluten-free foods; requirements are only applied to labeled foods. It has been up to the customer to ask the questions and make their own determination if the restaurant, café or bakery has the capability and qualified staff to provide them with a safe meal. With this new regulation comes an increased expectation for those in the foodservice business to also be compliant with these FDA guidelines.

Note that currently, this is not a requirement but simply an expectation; however, the foodservice provider should be able to detail all procedures and precautions in place related to the preparation and service of gluten-free foods. Additionally, any inspections after August 2014 will most likely review your gluten-free protocols if the claim is being made. How they will actually test for or determine if a food is at or below the 20 ppm is still a big question, so most likely they will look for the absence of all gluten-containing ingredients in the preparation of those foods.

So what does this mean for you? The first thing is that if you are using or intend to use the gluten-free moniker, you must be much more vigilant in your preparation of those foods. Hopefully, you have already been doing this, but it may require a bit more attention on your part moving forward.

It may also mean that you have to go back to your supply chain and make sure that any ingredients being used to make the gluten-free items really are gluten-free. Documentation on such ingredients should be maintained and updated as needed. You may also have to modify your prep or service protocols (separate cutting boards, utensils, fryers, and cooking surfaces, as well as communication plans, etc.) and increase training for your entire staff to ensure proper care is given to your gluten-free customers.

Offering gluten-free menu items has become an important piece of the foodservice industry. Being able to provide safe gluten-free items has become a customer expectation more than ever before. If this is something that your establishment is considering but you would like assistance with implementation, Synergy Restaurant Consultants has qualified consultants that are ready to help.

Tip of the Month

Looking for more information on sustainable seafood? Check out SeafoodWatch, NOAA’s FishWatch, SeaWeb, and the Sustainable Seafood portal for National Geographic.