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Archive for July, 2011

ACF National Convention

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

July 22–26 in Dallas, Texas. For more information, visit American Culinary Federation.

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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

July 17, 2011 at JCT. Kitchen & Bar.  For more information, visit Attack of the Killer Tomato Fest Facebook page.

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Bavesh Patel Named Executive Chef at Table 1280

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

The Woodruff Arts Center and Legendary Partners of Atlanta named Bhavesh Patel as executive chef at Table 1280. Patel recently served as chef de cuisine of Midtown’s Spice Market.

“We are thrilled to welcome chef Patel to Table 1280, where we know he will excel in creating inventive menus that round out The Woodruff Arts Center experience,” said Tony Conway, co-president of Legendary Partners. “We look forward to introducing our patrons to his style of cuisine and building upon his tenure in Midtown.”

Patel replaces Gary Mennie who served as executive chef for Table 1280 for a little less than a year.

Patel brings experience with international flavors to his work at Table 1280. When his family opened Anokha Restaurant & The Peacock Lounge in Coconut Grove, Fla., in 1999, Patel realized his passion was in the kitchen and gained invaluable “big picture” and catering experience while helping oversee the restaurant.

He moved to Atlanta in 2009 to serve as executive sous chef and chef de cuisine at Spice Market, an Asian concept from world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten housed in the W Hotel Midtown. Here Patel established relationships with local farmers and purveyors that allow him to incorporate the finest local ingredients into his dishes. Chef Patel adheres to strong principles in supporting area business owners and maintaining processes that are environmentally friendly.

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When No Comment is Not the Answer

Monday, July 11th, 2011

By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA

When someone refuses to take the stand in court to testify in their own defense – even though it’s our Constitutional right – we never quite trust the person’s innocence, do we? If they were innocent, we say, they would take the stand and defend themselves.

The same is true when you have an “incident” in your restaurant or you experience a negative review. It is your right not to say anything, but it certainly isn’t in your best interests. I once heard a police officer-turned-restaurant-crisis-and-media relations guru tell a group of regional burger chain franchisees that the only comment to the media should be “no comment.”

That is absolutely true if you want everyone talking about your restaurant – with the rumors and innuendoes growing with each conversation – while you idly stand by and do nothing.

If you or your company’s representative doesn’t get your side of the story out, then you are conceding to the disgruntled guests, competitors, journalist or nonpartisan bystander who heard the negative story and just wants to pass it on for gossip’s sake.  Ever heard of a story “going viral?”

“No comment” first of all makes you look guilty — as if you are hiding something, like the defendant who won’t face the jury and tell his or her side of the story.

Now, any good lawyer would tell his or her client to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — and nothing else. That means knowing what you are going to say ahead of time, practicing it and knowing when to stop talking.

At a recent Georgia Restaurant Association Media Training session that Anne Reeves Reich and I conducted, most of the 30 attendees had one goal in mind: learning how to respond when something bad happens at the restaurant, especially if the media is reporting on the story.

The four most dreaded scenarios are a bad review, low food safety score, a customer reporting a foreign object in the food, and the worst: someone gets sick or dies after eating your food.

So, what should your actions be and what should you say to your staff, guests and the media?

1. Be prepared in advance. We have said this before but it is the best advice. Sit down with your staff (and possibly your lawyer and PR counsel) and write down all of the problems you possibly could have at your restaurant. Chart out each scenario. Go through all the questions that could come up and draft a statement and list of actions to take for each. (See the chart on page xx for examples.)
2. Get media trained. Politicians know the value of the message and the value of being prepared with a factual and empathetic answer to his/her most dreaded questions.
3. Be honest with yourself. If it’s a bad review or a customer complaint, take a deep breath and really try to understand if there is validity to their remarks. Maybe your décor is a bit outdated or maybe your staff needs a refresher course on the wine menu.
4. Turn a negative into a positive. Again, it is up to you to respond to the situation, give your side and then show some positive action.

Remember, it is better to be prepared for bad news than to try to respond during an actual crisis. But regardless of the situation, the keys to media training and your response involve the following:

Keys to media training
1. Who is your target audience and what do you want them to know and act on? Reacting to a television reporter is different than dealing with a food inspector. Understanding this will help you craft your message as well as determine the way you deliver it.
2. Your messages should help you achieve your objectives. Calling a food critic a meathead with no taste buds is probably not the best way to get him to come back in a few months and review the restaurant again. But not responding to the critic won’t make that happen, either. The key is to know what you want. The critic isn’t going to retract his story, but he very well may come back and write a positive story – especially if he believes that his comments helped you “see the light.”
3. Know your rights. You don’t have to speak with reporters when you are called or confronted with TV cameras in your face. You definitely should speak with them in time for them to meet their deadline. If you aren’t prepared to talk, promise to call them right back, giving you time to collect yourself and your thoughts. Ask them what type of questions they have so you can be prepared. Get prepared. And then call them right back.
4. Deliver your message regardless of the question asked. If someone had a bad reaction to a meal, acknowledge it, but in the same sentence you might also say that your vendors provide top-quality produce and that you serve thousands of happy diners each year. Henry Kissinger often opened press conferences with “What questions do you have for my answers?”
5. Remember that media training can also help you promote your restaurant. Wouldn’t it be a shame to miss a photo op or a good story because you weren’t prepared to talk to the media and therefore didn’t respond? There are plenty of opportunities for you to create awareness, pre-sell products, build credibility for your restaurant as a responsible community citizen, and differentiate yourself from your competition. But if you don’t know how to say it in 30 seconds, it won’t get reported.

Remember the Tylenol crisis of a few years ago in which the CEO of the company went on camera and truthfully told the company’s side of the story and explained what they were going to do about it? Remember how great everyone felt about Tylenol after that? Yes. Do you remember what the problem was in the first place? Probably not. Many believe the CEO’s candor saved the company.

No comment is never the right answer. But the right answer should be intelligently crafted and honestly delivered, so that a negative can be turned into a positive. But it’s up to you to plan ahead for the day that we all hope won’t happen — but could.

Ellen Weaver Hartman is President and CEO of Hartman Public Relations based in Atlanta. Hartman has more than 30 years of experience in building strategic communications campaigns for some of the world’s most well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Popeyes, Avon products, Arby’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Chili’s. In addition to consumer and business-to-business communications, she has expertise in corporate communications, social responsibility, media relations and crisis management. To contact Hartman, e-mail ellen@hartmanpr.com.

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Southern Foodways – Consuming the South

Monday, July 11th, 2011

By Christy Simo

Southern food. It’s a complex term, weighted down by centuries of upheaval and discord, influenced by diverse cultures and lifted up by cookouts and family meals.  It’s fried chicken and greens, grits and barbeque. And bacon. Lots of bacon.

Over the past several years, there’s been a renewed focus on Southern food, be it from culinary critics, TV shows, or people visiting who want to experience a taste of the South. But Southern food is not a trend. It’s always been here, entwined between the pine trees and mountains, flowing through the streams and along the sandy coast of Georgia.

“The South has the most storied and eloquent history of food in this country,” says Kevin Gillespie, executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. “I think it’s because we have a longer lineage and a longer history than most of the other regions in this country can claim.”

“I think the South, as far as food goes, is one of the more influential parts of our country,” says Todd Ginsberg, chef and co-owner of Bocado in Atlanta. “The South has a plethora of indigenous ingredients and a back story. The South has an abundance of dishes that means something to the United States.”

But what does it mean to be Southern? What does it mean to cook Southern? And do you have to be Southern to cook Southern?

“Southern food has begun to embrace a lot of characteristics about it that lie underneath the surface—the fact that it isn’t always an incredibly heavy cuisine style, and it isn’t always about deep-frying things,” Gillespie says. “For a long time, when people said Southern, that’s what they wanted, and that’s what they were looking for. And inevitably chefs in the South—I’m sure often times to their dismay—made those things because they felt like it was their only option.”

Today’s southern food continues to evolve, recognizing new influences while rediscovering old traditions and ways of cooking.

“I don’t think the concept has changed; the perception of southern food has changed,” says John T. Edge, executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. “I think that a new generation of chefs have helped a new generation of consumers see value in the food of our collective forbearers.”

“People have taken the charge and have decided that we’re going to cook the things that we want to regardless,” Gillespie says. “And people are trying things and experiencing traditions that they didn’t know about before, so it’s given Southern chefs an opportunity to dig a little deeper into what our food traditions really are.”

“Southern cooking had a bad rap for a long time,” Edge adds. “Some of it was deserved, but not all of it. But I think now we as a region take pride in our food in the same way that we take pride in other cultural creations that come from the South, like architecture, like music, like all forms of art.”

What Southern Food Is
The south is a mix of people and foods, and it’s always been that way. Native American, Western European and African cultures have all played a part in the Southern food we eat today.

When people came to Georgia, they often tried to cook the foods they were used to back in their homeland, but adapted them, using the different foods available and cultivated in the south. It was a way of preserving something that reminded them of home when they found themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

As people migrated elsewhere, they took their cooking techniques with them, melding them with whatever types of food and cooking styles were in their new place to live. In that way, food migrates and melds together as well. This is what we call foodways.

Foodways encompass not just what’s served on the plate, but the ideas and behaviors related to its preparation, serving and consumption. The physical, social, cultural, economic and spiritual activities that surround a plate of food could be different from one region to the next, even if it is basically the same dish. Not only that, but how you procure the food, prep and preserve it, then present the food is central to a culture and often has heavy symbolic meaning.

Although there is not one particular food that all Georgians eat in common or that we only eat or drink, there are two pillars of Southern food that are usually incorporated in some way: pork and corn.

“There are some exceptions—pork and corn are less dominant along the Gulf Atlantic coast—but the bedrock of our food culture is pork and corn,” Edge says.

Native Americans taught European settlers how to grow and cook corn, and Spanish explores brought pigs with them in the 1500s, introducing pork to the region for the first time. West Africans brought some of their traditional foods with them as well, such as eggplant, collard greens and okra, starting in the 1600s.

Eating With the Seasons
By its definition, Southern food is seasonal. The South has an agrarian history, and people ate what was available, when it was available, whether it was fresh tomatoes and okra, black-eyed peas or peaches. When the food was in season, it was on the table.

“It was certainly one where meat showed up constantly or meat products at least, like lard, ham bones or smoked pork. But it was driven by vegetables more than anything, because it was about what you had available to you, what you could take out of your own garden, and what you could best use to feed your family,” Gillespie says. “It wasn’t fancy, but it was truly driven by availability and economics.”

That thought process dovetails into the current local foods movement, where chefs buy local produce and procure local products through nearby farmers and merchants.

“If you’re going to cook southern, you’re going to want to use Southern goods. That mantra of buying local and eating local, it sounds like something that was handed down from on high from Berkley, California, but that’s not the case,” Edge says. “To eat local is something that many grew up doing and something that your grandparents did.”

“Cooking southern is this understanding that Southern food is about truly being seasonal and truly representing your region—almost your sub-region—by embracing the ingredients that are grown around you and having that sort of utilitarian purpose to the way that you handle them,” Gillespie says. “Southern food has always been one that is about flavor over fashion. It’s about a cuisine that is extremely satisfying before anything else.”

“People want to bring in local produce [into their kitchens]. And what do you have in the wintertime in Georgia? I’ve had collards on the menu all winter, I’ve had chard, greens and root vegetables,” Ginsberg says.  “So if you’re trying to stay local and you’re trying to stay true to the principle of cooking locally, obviously you’re going to try [to cook the local cuisine]. If you’re buying the grits from a local mill, you’re going to put it on your menu.”

“It’s all local,” says Jamie Cadden, head chef of Blackwater Grill, a Cajun-Coastal Southern restaurant in St. Simons. “I have a seafood purveyor here from St. Simons and I also have a purveyor in Jacksonville, Florida. This is a shrimping community, so we get all the Georgia White shrimp we can handle down here.”

But Southern cuisine is more than the food and where it came from. It’s about hospitality and how the food makes you feel. It’s pleasure and solace on a plate.

“Southern cooking means it’s comfort food,” Cadden says. “The collard greens, the macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, things like that. It’s a lot of bacon. It’s a comforting type of food. Everybody comes in and says ‘Man these are just like my mom’s collard greens.” It takes you back to the family Sunday dinners.”

A New Type of Southern
As new groups of people come to the south, the concept of Southern cooking continues to shift and expand.

“The idea that you have to be Southern, to be born in this place, to be an interpreter of this place, is short sighted,” Edge says. “There was a time when the South was a very provincial place, and you were either from here or you weren’t. That time’s past.

“For the longest time, even though we think of the south as influenced by West Africa and Western Europe, there have always been new ethnicities coming to the south,” Edge says. “You get these honest fusions of food from multiple cultures. That’s beautiful stuff. And it’s not an insult to Southern food. Culture evolves … and you see changes in the south, by way of new immigration, by way of new ideas.”

“Like anything, people put their own play on it, their own creative forces behind it,” Ginsberg adds.

“People come to the South to look for something honest, something real, to look for the unvarnished America,” Edge says. “They think that this is the homeland of perfect barbeque and exemplary fried chicken. They think they’re going to look for honest American foods prepared with care and prepared with a kind of respect for the past. But I would argue that in doing that, they’re missing what’s going on here in terms of new ethnicity. Some of the best crawfish I’ve had in a long time was cooked by a Vietnamese family in a crawfish shack on Buford Highway.”

“The southern food culture is one that is definitely a melting pot of all the people who have passed in and out of the South,” Gillespie adds. “The South has been incredibly accepting of people’s food cultures and has absorbed them into their own and made them a part of something that already had so many variations.

“We’re creating something new while being inspired by the traditions of the past,” he says, adding that restaurants like his “embrace the new generation of people who are going to have to carry forward our traditions of the south. [Our generation is] going to be the ones to tell the story of Southern food. So I believe that hopefully this is a new chapter in the life of Southern food.”

Will Travel For Food
Traveling to eat somewhere new is big business, and millions of Americans come to Georgia every year to try something Southern. A recent study by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with the Gourmet and the International Culinary Tourism Association says 27 million travelers in the United States engage in culinary or wine-related activities while traveling, and Georgia is listed as one of the top 15 destinations in the country.

These travelers are younger, more affluent and better educated than non-culinary travelers. And they’re not just eating out.

They take cooking classes and visit farmers markets, gourmet food shops and food festivals. They go on winery tours, drive wine trails and attend local wine festivals.
They also spend more money than the ordinary traveler. On average, food travelers spend $1,194 per trip, with more than one-third of that budget going toward food-related activities.

“People [used to] travel and they would go see museums and grand fine homes with columns along the front,” says John T. Edge, executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. “Sure they may want something pretty good to eat between those Doric columns and museum shops, but that was it.”

Now, Edge says, “People travel to eat. Then they detour to go to the museum or look at the house with the big Doric columns.

“For many people, entre to a culture comes by way of food. If you go to a museum, you are seeing a staged semi-lacquer of a region and how it should be represented,” he says. “If you sit down in a barbeque joint in South Georgia, you are in that culture, you are of that culture, and that is the best kind of cultural tourism. It doesn’t rely upon the mediators. You’re living it. You’re in it. And that’s how people want to travel.”

Perhaps that’s why travel-food hybrid shows have leapt in popularity over the past few years and people are creating trips around visiting restaurants featured on TV. Last year, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visited Blackwater Grill in St. Simons, showcasing the restaurant’s Boudin Fritters, low-country boil and Grouper Daufuski. The show aired in June 2010, and Blackwater Grill is still seeing people come to the restaurant as a result.

“As soon as that show aired, people were lining up and our sales for those three dishes skyrocketed,” says Jamie Cadden, head chef of Blackwater Grill. “Every time it reruns again, we get another surge of people coming to the island to eat where he ate and to eat those dishes.

“People heading on their way to Florida, they’ll just detour here,” he adds. “Right now our business is really good, and we get people in here every week saying ‘We saw you on TV, we’d like to make reservations.’”

“I find more and more, that people plan their trips around what they’re going to eat,” says Kevin Gillespie, executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. “Food tourism has become something that is really huge. They’re not always necessarily looking for fine dining. They’re just looking for places that are really going to have really great food.”

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Blais Partners with Concentrics for New Midtown Atlanta Restaurant

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Richard Blais and Concentrics Restaurants announced that recent “Top Chef All-Stars” winner Richard Blais will be opening a restaurant in MidtownAtlanta. The opening is currently slated for Winter 2011. Located in the former Globe Space, Blais will be serving “simple American food that tastes great”.

“I’m extremely enthusiastic about partnering with Bob Amick, Todd Rushing and the whole Concentrics family!” said Richard Blais. “Having previously worked with Concentrics at ONE. midtown kitchen, I’m honored to be teaming up with them again in this newfound partnership. I’m super excited about getting ‘back on the line’ and doing it in Atlanta this upcoming year.”

Perhaps most recognizable as the recent winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars,” Richard Blais has played an influential role in hospitality for the last 15 years. His wildly creative approach to cooking and cuisine led to the establishment of Trail Blais, a forward-thinking culinary company that has consulted on, designed, and operated some of Atlanta’s most popular eateries. His creative take on American food has been featured on Food Network, Discovery Science and PBS and in numerous publications including InStyle, The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine.

“I am thrilled that I can participate in the opportunity to anchor Blais in Atlanta. We are all looking forward to having a space where Blais can offer his talents to his fans on a nightly basis,” states Bob Amick, Concentrics Restaurants Owner.

Blais will be Executive Chef/Partner of the Midtown concept and will manage everything from menu development, execution, concept design and more.

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Ian Winslade has taken over as Executive Chef at Murphy’s

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Ian Winslade has taken over as Executive Chef at Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland, Atlanta.

“Being able to work in this quintessential neighborhood restaurant is a real breath of fresh air for me. I look forward to helping Tom continue to evolve Murphy’s and develop new ideas to build on Murphy’s tradition of great food.” – Chef Ian Winslade

Chef Winslade’s goal is to “cook with integrity,” utilizing fresh ingredients and clean flavors, emphasizing owner Tom Murphy’s vision for Murphy’s — an archetypal wine country restaurant. New menu additions include a Grilled Café Steak with Black Sesame Mustard Sauce and Sliced Portobello; a Red Wine Miso Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Green Lentils and Potatoes; as well as Roasted Arctic Char with Lemon Risotto, Wild Mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano.

As a young man from Waltham Chase, England, Chef Winslade worked in the kitchen of an upscale country inn and found the fast-paced environment fit well with his energetic personality. Having found his niche, he enrolled at Highbury College, in Portsmouth, to formally study professional cooking. Ian continued his education under Chef Yves Farouz at London’s Café Royal, and then worked with famous French Chef Louis Outhier at London’s 90 Park Lane. Chef Winslade also worked closely with Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open Spice Market and Market, housed in W Midtown and W Buckhead, here in Atlanta. He served as opening Executive Chef at Buckhead Life Restaurant Group’s Bluepointe.

Most recently Winslade worked in the kitchen of the The Fifth Street Café and the Buckhead Bottle Shop, both managed by AD Alushi and the ADI Restaurant Group.

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Atlanta’s NRD Holdings Acquires 23 Domino’s Pizza Units

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Atlanta-based NRD Holdings, LLC (NRD), one of the country’s largest operators and developers of franchised quick service restaurants, recently purchased 23 Domino’s Pizza units — 17 in Jacksonville and six in Orlando.  With this acquisition, the company is now among the top 25 largest Domino’s franchisees in the United States.  The Domino’s acquisition is the company’s first foray into the Florida market and adds to NRD’s existing multi-brand stable of restaurants, which also includes Popeyes in Atlanta and Checkers/Rally’s restaurants in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta.

The 23 NRD Domino’s restaurants will employ approximately 17 people per unit; a total of 400 for both Jacksonville and Orlando. With this acquisition, NRD now employs a total of 1,200 people throughout their portfolio of brands.

“NRD’s goal is to maintain our positioning as a top franchisee through superior operations, exceptional portfolio management and intelligent risk management.  We define our business strategy as growing through both acquisition and development, as well as aligning ourselves with only the top brands in the industry,” said Aziz Hashim, NRD’s president and CEO. “In this case, we selected Domino’s due to their brand equity and recognition within the industry.”

“We’re thrilled to have Aziz as part of the Domino’s franchise system,” said Scott Hinshaw, Domino’s Pizza executive vice president of franchise operations and development. “His incredible track record of success, outstanding leadership and commitment to his diverse portfolio of brands make him the best of the best in the franchising industry.”

According to Wendy Harkness, NRD chief talent officer and chief legal officer and a 20-year restaurant veteran, the growth strategy is completely in sync with retaining brand specific leadership for each of its portfolio holdings.  “In keeping with this strategy, NRD has hired Domino’s veteran Cesar Verde as Division Vice President to manage the Domino’s portfolio. Verde has more than 20 years’ experience with Domino’s and was twice named Domino’s “Operator of the Year.”

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Cordes Named Executive Chef at H. Harper Station

Friday, July 8th, 2011

H Harper Station is furthering their commitment to local, seasonal and sustainable food with the addition of Executive Chef, Evan Cordes.  “We have always been focused on sustainable meats and local produce, and with Evan’s natural affinity for those things it’s just getting better and better” states Jerry Slater, Harper’s owner.

Evan Cordes, born and raised in North Carolina, and most recently of Cakes & Ale and Serpas True Food, is excited about crafting menus .  “I believe that a delicious meal, crafted from local ingredients should not be out of reach for anyone” states Cordes.

Guests can expect the menu to change more frequently as items come in and out of season.  Making a summer debut on the menu is a locally harvested eggplant carpaccio with tomatoes and marinated peppers, a summer bean salad featuring green beans, sunflower sprouts and black cherry tomatoes and a ribeye with smoked potato salad and roasted okra. Cordes and Slater have partnered with local farms like Bes’ Maid Garden Essentials, D & A  Farms and Gaia Gardens to ensure a frequent supply of high quality, organically grown local produce.

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