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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

November 6-12

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Savannah Food & Wine Festival

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August 18

Friday, August 18th, 2017

2017 Can Can Ball

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August 16

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

PAC The Rooftop

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Atlanta Back 2 School Food Festival

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

August 5

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Georgia Restaurant Week

Monday, July 17th, 2017

July 17-23

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National Restaurant Assoc Show

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

May 20-23

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Food that Rocks

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

May 6

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Taste of Marietta

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

April 30

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Bonjour, y’all

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

New Savannah Road is typical of Augusta: two lanes of asphalt flanked by ponds and kudzu-dotted forest. On this ordinary road, FPL Food is doing something exceptional.

FPL Foods steak“I moved to Augusta in 2004, after travelling all over the world for work,” François Léger, founder and president of FPL Food, explains. Genial and high-energy, Léger’s lively accent cuts a wide swath through the din of southern drawls.

“In France, we would raise the cattle, feed them and harvest them all in the same area. Looking around, the environment in Georgia is similar to many successful cattle feeding regions I’ve seen around the world. I started to think ‘why are we not doing this here?’ So that’s what we did.”

Carrying this passion of provincial farming to Georgia, Léger has established FPL Food as Georgia’s best-kept secret: a distinctly local product of—and for—the Southeast.

As the number-one privately owned processor of fresh beef in the region, FPL Food delivers products from Georgia-born, bred, fed and processed cattle direct to regional retail and foodservice operations. And frankly, the simplicity seemed a bit crazy at the inception.

“Here in the states, industrialization has led to the beef industry being very segmented,” Léger said. “Transportation is the big thing. You raise cattle one place, then for grain, you transport them to the Midwest to be finished and processed. After all that work, you finally have product sent back.

“It’s exhausting, for the cattle and for the business. I saw the opportunity to acquire our facility in Augusta and take a more comprehensive approach. It just made sense.”

While FPL Food was making a name among retailers as a ground beef operation, Léger and his team of globally-recruited experts began perfecting the art of raising cattle in the Southeast. A constant student of best practices, he worked on developing local forage and grain-growing operations. “At its heart, it’s about the breed, the feed and the care.”

Now in its 13th year, FPL Food spans three locations and boasts a variety of Georgia-grown beef products. As the only source for cattle processing in the region, Léger has a deep commitment to continue fueling the local economy for cattlemen and the more than 700 employees at FPL Food.

“It’s really great to do so much with the tools and talent we have. I am lucky enough to have found a situation, found a place, where I can realize a dream of mine and help be part of something bigger.”

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An International Flair

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

By Candice Dyer

Lisa and Fuyuhiko Ito Photo Credit: Sarah Newman

Forget that banal California roll, along with the other fishy items with gimmicky menu names like “sexy girl” or “rock ’n’ roll.”

If you are dining at Umi, trust the award-winning chef Fuyuhiko Ito to guide your chopsticks to something more exquisitely minimalist and Japanese, such as uni, a sea-urchin dish that tastes like a briny custard.

“Just as most Mexican food on this side of the border is more Tex-Mex, sushi has been widely Americanized to cater to American tastes,” says Umi co-owner Farshid Arshid, referring to the rolls that are heavy on mayonnaise and tempura-fried ingredients. “But now there is a real demand for authenticity among diners who want the real thing; they’re ordering more sashimi instead. The true test of a sushi chef is how he prepares something seemingly simple like nigiri, with just the right balance of fish and rice. That level of authenticity and high-quality ingredients are our priorities.”

Atlanta has long offered raw fare, but the dining experiences are becoming more “onakase,” or chef-driven. “Umi” means “sea” in Japanese, and the Buckhead sushi bar – named Atlanta’s best by USA Today – is riding the wave of popularity of cuisines that stay painstakingly true to their origins.

Smaller World, More Exposure

As technology and social media continue to make the world a smaller place, today’s diners are becoming more knowledgeable about foods, and they have a much greater exposure to different cultures.

According to research by the National Restaurant Association, 88 percent of American consumers eat at least one “ethnic” item per month, while 17 percent eat seven or more. Nearly one-third of consumers tried a new cuisine in the past year.

And, in a survey of 1,600 professional chefs in the American Culinary Federation, international influences are also making a strong showing at the top of the list of trends in 2016, including ethnic condiments and spices, authentic ethnic cuisine, ethnic-inspired breakfast items and street food.

Moreover, today’s consumers are generally more willing to try new foods and challenge their taste buds than previous generations. Research shows that two-thirds of consumers say they eat a wider variety of cuisines now compared to five years ago, and three in 10 tried a new cuisine within the last year. A full quarter of consumers say they like trying foods that are unconventional by American standards.

“I think a major reason for this trend is all the cooking shows on television, the Food Network, and shows such as Chopped’” says Arshid, who was born in Iran. “Diners are becoming much more educated, experimental and globalized in their thinking.”

Demographic shifts also have spiced up Georgia menus. Some trace it back to the 1996 Olympics, which thrust Atlanta onto the global stage. Since then, Georgia has continued to see a huge influx of new people moving to the state.

In fact, for the sixth year in a row, Atlanta was ranked in a Penske Truck Rental survey as the No. 1 place to move in the U.S. And along with new residents coming from different parts of the country and the world to the state, there comes a higher demand for more restaurants and more variety.

Serving Up Authenticity

The past 10 years have seen an explosion in restaurant diversity across Georgia, says Jay Bandy, a principal of Goliath Consulting, an Atlanta-based restaurant consulting firm that assists with menu development, training, supply chain management and more. “There used to be just the Imperial Fez and a few other old standards,” he says, “but look at Atlanta today. There are several corridors of fantastic international restaurants where most of the world is represented one way or another.”

The community of Clarkston, in particular, has become a lively, heterogeneous hub of refugee resettlement, so naturally businesses and restaurants have sprung up to provide a taste of home. Then there is Buford Highway, the seven-mile stretch of road in Atlanta lined with a United Nations of restaurants comprising Vietnamese pho, Chinese dim sum, and Korean barbecue and bibimbap, along with Bangladeshi halal meats, Indonesian salty fish and authentic Mexican tacos, among other delectables.

“People are not afraid to try new things,” says Sucheta Rawal, director of Go Eat Give, a nonprofit organization that promotes cross-cultural connection and understanding through service, education and travel. Once a month, the group organizes a Destination Dinner at a local Atlanta restaurant to highlight a country’s culture. “Once [people] gain an understanding of the cuisine, they’re more likely to travel and open themselves up to new cultural experiences.”

Chai Pani is one restaurant in Decatur that is reflecting the broader nature of Indian food.

“We serve street food and the kind of food that Indian families eat on a daily basis,” says general manager Isaac Clay. “The richer food from northern India, which is what most westerners are familiar with, is more of a celebratory cuisine, served at weddings and special occasions.”

Chai Pani, which originally launched in Asheville, N.C., in 2009 before opening a second location in Decatur, was started by James Beard Award-nominated Meherwan Irani, who grew up near Bombay. (Irani also opened the Indian-inspired street grill restaurant Botiwalla in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market earlier this year.)

Chai Pani means “tea and water” and is slang in India for going out for a cup of tea, a tasty bite or a snack. Its menu reflects that notion with sandwiches and chaat, or street snacks, that is crunchy, spicy, sweet, tangy and brightly flavored. For those looking for a more substantial meal, the menu also includes thalis, or more traditional family dishes of various meats and vegetables served with basmati rice, daal, raita, roti, kachumber and papadum.

The Decatur restaurant attracts a mix of Indian and American diners. “What we’ve seen over the past 15 years is that more Americans are willing to try new things,” Clay says. “It’s become a badge of honor that you’ve taken a risk to try something different, or something with an unfamiliar spice.”

Restaurants also have become more specialized, he notes. “Whereas you used to just get hibachi or sushi at a Japanese restaurant, now you can get something like Japanese bar food or ramen.”

Atlanta has seen a number of izakayas, or informal Japanese gastropubs, open over the past few years, including Miso Izakaya and Craft Izakaya (in Krog Street Market), and Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur. And more raman shops have indeed come to town, including Raku in Duluth and the recently announced Raman Station opening in the Memorial Drive corridor of Atlanta. The LA-based Jinya Ramen Bar chain also recently opened an outpost in Sandy Springs.

Then there’s restaurants that showcase multiple cuisines, such as The Flying Monk Noodle Bar in Savannah, which serves up fresh-cut noodle dishes from Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Korea and Laos.

LottaFrutta, which has locations in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of Atlanta, Alpharetta and at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, serves up Ecuadorian soups and ice creams, Mexican fruit cups and pallets and Cuban coffee and sandwiches.

Adrian Villarreal, chef and owner of Rreal Tacos in Atlanta, was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and spent two years in Paris kitchens before moving to Atlanta in 2002. Before opening Rreal Taco in late 2015, he most recently served as chef de cuisine at the Richard Blais-helmed The Spence.

For the menu, Villarreal draws from his own experiences in Mexico along with culinary knowledge from his family. For example, the cilantro and mustard dressings are both family recipes, one from his grandmother and one from his mother. And his mother-in-law gave him tips on which candies to use in some of the dishes.

“The way we achieve our authenticity is getting as close as possible to the true techniques or heart of the food,” he says. “We brought the right equipment, like the 20-gallon copper pot from Michoacán to cook our pork carnitas. We use the right peppers, the right oil, etc. while balancing the use of more regional items in key places.”

And how have diners responded to these efforts at authenticity?

“My guests, who are pretty awesome, for the most part fall in one of three categories:  they are excited to get into a level that is now more authentic-tasting tacos than what was their norm, and there are guests that are familiar with true Mexican flavor and are ready to just try anything in front of them. Then there are some that are familiar with authentic tacos, and they just want my food to taste the way they remember,” he says. “I do believe that the common thread to join all groups is finding a delicious balance where the food and the flavor are still somewhat familiar and comforting but are prepared or presented in a more raw or straightforward composition.”

Staying True to Your Roots

porchlight_headshot_photocredit-greggandcarolinewillet-300-1

Andre Gomez Photo Credit: Gregg and Caroline Willet

For many chefs and restaurant owners, the challenge is staying true to a cuisine’s culinary roots while also putting their own personal spin on the dishes.

Andre Gomez, a native of Puerto Rico who trained under steak guru Kevin Rathbun, opened Porch Light Latin Kitchen, which emphasizes Caribbean flavors, 10 months ago in Smyrna. He sees his role as “bridging a gap” for diners who may not be accustomed to Latin cooking, and he uses locavore flourishes to achieve that goal.

“I’m a classically trained chef, but I try to stay authentic to the Caribbean with its African, Spanish and native Indian ingredients,” he says. “That said, I also realize that I’m in Smyrna, Georgia, so while I use a guava-based barbecue sauce on my ribs, I brine my Springer Mountain chicken in SweetWater beer.”

“It can be challenging to introduce a new flavor, so we started out emphasizing burritos. Our diners, though, have proved to be very open and receptive to new things, so we also have conch fritters and empanadas made from green plantains and pork cheeks instead of the usual ground meats – those are really popular,” Gomez says.

The name of his restaurant, too, was inspired by regional hospitality. “In the South, when you leave your porch light on, that signals that you are welcoming guests,” he says. “I liked that concept, and I try to stay very involved in the guest experience at my restaurant. Latin food culture is very warm and friendly, like Southern culture, so we want to provide an atmosphere where diners can discover and enjoy comfort foods.”

Todd Ginsberg, chef/owner of Yalla! in Atlanta’s Krog Street Market (and The General Muir in Decatur), spent some time in Israel researching the cuisine of his Jewish heritage. “I wasn’t so much looking for recipes as I was for techniques,” he says. “I went into the kitchen of Abuhassan in Tel Aviv and watched how they made hummus from chickpeas taken from warm water – it was never chilled, but made to order. I studied shawarma at Haifa and ate falafel in Jerusalem. Until you sit down with families who have eaten this way for centuries, you don’t get it.”

The Larger Trend

Diners who are more open-minded and willing to try new foods? It’s a chef’s dream customer, but it’s not just happening in big cities like Atlanta.

“It’s a universal thing that is going on now all over the world,” notes Bret Love, owner of Green Global Travel, an ecotourism and cultural preservation organization that encourages people to travel more adventurously. “But it’s amplified in Atlanta because we’ve got the busiest airport in the world and therefore an increasingly international population.”

The capital isn’t the only part of the state that is diversifying its gastronomy. Thai, sushi and Indian restaurants recently have popped up in the smallest towns of northeast Georgia. Athens has two Peruvian restaurants – Cali N Tito’s and Polleria Pablo – that bring in crowds for fried cassava or ceviche, and Cumming now boasts a Peruvian café, too.

Six months ago, tiny Cleveland got its first sushi bar: Yoshi Express. It does not serve uni – yet. Nor is it licensed to pour sake. And many of the menu options can be “deep-fried” for an extra charge of a couple of bucks.

“We are in the South, you know, so you have to offer fried stuff,” says chef Ty Kinnaragh, as he delicately slices a piece of eel. “Still, I have a lot of people who will let me free-style with no restrictions, and I love that.” So far this entrepreneurial experiment is proving so popular that proprietor Misa Thatsana, who is of Laotian descent, is planning to launch another sushi bar in nearby Cornelia.

In fact, international flavors have become so mainstream and up for grabs in every quarter that many object to the isolationism implicit in the word “ethnic.”

“It’s worth considering that all of the food we label ‘American’ came from somewhere else, and that includes pizza, hot dogs and even apple pie,” Chai Pani’s Clay says. “So there’s always been a continual impact of international influences since our country was founded.”

“My perspective is that the word ‘ethnic’ needs to be dropped and changed,” says Ciera Tavana, whose father is from Iran and who runs a super club called SOFIA XIV. “Lots of what folks are just experiencing has been here for years, and it’s a commercial version of it to appeal to new palates.

“These ‘new’ foods are not new to the people who make them,” she says. “I think the most important thing is for people to have respect and understanding for what they are eating. It’s more than a pleasure – it’s a presence.”

“There is no defining Indian food or defining Thai food because every family from that culture cooks a little differently – your dining experience depends on the founding family and their roots,” Chai Pani’s Clay says. “So what counts is whether you enjoy it and it tastes good.”

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