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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NYC Get Ready for Rachael Ray...In a Truck

Tomorrow (Thursday, November 3rd) Rachel Ray will be making a special appearance in her “Two Buck Truck” on Vanderbilt Avenue between 42nd and 43rd. While Rachael Ray may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking about food trucks, but food as cheap as this deserves special attention. On the menu will be chopped brisket sliders and touchdown chili, served at only $2 for both. The truck starts serving at 1pm, but will only be able to serve 500 people. All proceeds from the promotion go to charity and Rachael Ray herself will be making an appearance. The truck recommends you come by a little early to beat the line, with only a limit of one per person.

Halloween Heads Up: Does candy Ever Go Bad

Every Halloween concerned parents make sure their children have received untainted candy, carefully inspecting the candy and making sure the packaging is fully intact. Something rarely addressed however, is how long candy lasts before it goes bad. The facts are actually surprising, and may make Halloween just a little sweeter.
Because candy bars are high in sugar and low in moisture content, they present an inhospitable environment for microbial growth. Pure chocolate can last for two years before any health risks emerge, but after about twelve months it will change texture and become drier and inedible. While the chocolate may last longer, other ingredients within the candy bar, such as nuts, caramel or peanut butter may decay much more quickly. After being packaged just a year, nuts can begin to go rancid, but by the time they produce harmful carcinogens, the candy bar itself will have gotten too decayed to eat.

Sometimes old chocolate bars develop white spots or a dusty quality, this is known as blooming, and has not been proven to harmful to consume. Some have thought that blooming was mold, but in fact it’s bits of fat or sugar that have risen  to the surface of the bar due to fluctuations in temperature or changes in humidity. Storing candy in a cool, dry place will prevent blooming from occurring.
Chocolate will only develop dangerous microbe growth if they somehow got inside before packaging. In the past salmonella has been found in chocolate, but under modern manufacturing standards this is much less likely. Overall most candy bars will last far beyond their expiration dates, and many do not even have expiration dates. When food is unsafe it will usually become inedible first, and many expiration dates do not even refer to safety, but more product and brand quality.

Jersey City Food Truck Regulations Still Under Discussion

Jersey City regulations on food trucks have been hotly contested in the last several weeks; however a new law received initial approval from the City Council with only a few objections. The regulations were initially set for approval in May, but food truck vendors said that they would be put out of business by them.
The new regulations state that mobile food vendors would have to submit to criminal background checks, be unable to remain stationary for more than two hours unless they pay a $400 monthly fee, and be at least 200 feet away from any permanent eatery.
Though these regulations initially received approval, some council members have objected to the $400 fee, saying that it is in fact too low. One member said “That seems to be quite a bargain, in my estimation, to give someone and opportunity to do business from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.”
Brick and mortar restaurant owners still object to these new regulations, claiming they pay well over $400 monthly to the city just to remain in operation. In a business where food trucks could potentially make $2,000 a day, $400 once a month seems very cheap in comparison. Restaurants also claim that many food trucks parking in one area steal business from permanent restaurants.
These regulations still require further approval before the nine member council will be ready to approve them.

El Rey Del Sabor's Imported Grasshoppers

This week El Rey Del Sabor is introducing chapulines, or for those of us less familiar with this traditional food, grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were just imported from Mexico, where they are commonly eaten in many areas, including the cart owner’s hometown, Pueblo. The chapulines are available in various forms, with a $9 quesadilla advertised. I opted to try the tacos, ordering two chapuline and one al pastor to balances the flavors out. I was impressed to see that the three tacos came to $9, and were stuffed with chapulines.

The tacos were unlike anything I had ever eaten. When I ordered them I was filled with excitement, but when I actually saw the browned grasshoppers stuffed under a coating of hot sauce, cilantro and onions, the whole experience became much more real to me. However, knowing the health benefits of eating insects (more protein per gram than any other meat), coupled with the frightening thought that insects could become an ever more present item on our menus given our depletion of resources, I dived right in.
Order from El Rey Del Sabor yourself and see what we’re talking about here
The chapulines were crunchy on the outside with a tenderer inside, similar in feel to shrimp, though not nearly as tasty. The more I ate, the more I found myself struggling to eat these tacos. The hot sauce definitely added to the crunchy chapulines, and helped nullify the taste a little bit. I tried to sit down and describe exactly what they tasted like, but nothing really came to mind. They’re kind of like shrimp without the fishy taste, but with a crunchy shell still intact. Overall they weren’t as flavorful as the excellent al pastor taco, and the crunchy bits were sometimes hard to chew. However the chapulines were a completely out-of-the-ordinary lunch experience and I can’t help but wonder how they would taste in the quesadilla…

Just how Dangerous is Spicy Food?

Recently a curry-eating contest in Scotland resulted in the hospitalization of two people, after consuming bowls of “world’s hottest chili” Though a waiver was signed by all participants in the contest, an ambulance had to be called after contestant began profusely vomiting.
This event begs the question, just how dangerous is spicy food, and is it possible to consume enough of it to kill you?
Different studies over the years have yielded varying results about the benefits and dangers of consuming spicy food. Cayenne pepper has been proven to boost metabolism and aid in weight loss. However, consuming excessive amounts of cayenne peppers can inflame tissues and cause harm to the body.

In the 1980’s a study claimed that a 150-pound person could be killed from three pounds of extreme chili powder is consumed all at once. However this situation is unlikely to actually play out, because the body would expel the excessive heat and not allow so much to be consumed. This could play out through various symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains and sweating (all exhibited by curry eating contestants).
Spicy foods have also been blamed for stomach ulcers, but experts claim that to be a myth as well. The reason spicy foods may cause discomfort is because is because they increase the secretion of stomach acids, causing irritation to the stomach acid wall and afflicting any open sores or slowing the healing process of an ulcer.
If ulcers are a recurring problem when eating spicy food then you should probably tone down your intake. All in all though, spicy food most likely cannot prove fatal because the body will reject the heat before getting to that point.

Vegan Bakeries Going Incognito to Build Business

Vegan bakeries recently began to advertise their establishments in new ways to draw more customers and to avoid the reputation that comes with making vegan food.
Vegan bakeries have experienced a great deal of success lately, winning Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” two times consecutively while growing quickly in many locations throughout the country. Vegan products are free of animal-made products, including milk, eggs and honey. However, vegan bakers are still wary of advertising themselves as vegan for fear of scaring off potential customers. Many bakeries simply use terms  like “egg-free” and “dairy-free”, knowing that vegans will read the labels and understand that the food is truly vegan.
Some bakeries, like Pattycake Vegan Bakery in Columbus, Ohio, opened with a strong political message proudly advertising that their food was vegan. While the concentrated vegan population of Columbus bought good there frequently, outsiders rarely ventured to the bakery. At last owner Jennie Scheinbach removed “vegan” from the company name, signs and advertisements, and slowly experienced an increase in sales.

Other vegan bakeries have chosen not t deny their political message, like Danielle Konya who operate Vegan Treats, distributing her vegan baked goods in bags marked with “vegan” and “compassion never tasted so delicious.” Ms. Konya believes that covertly, vegan bakeries will accomplish little to change the world around them.
In the past vegan recipes used primitive means to replace animal products, such as tofu instead of eggs lending a ‘cakey’ taste to vegan foods. However new cooking methods have vastly improved the quality of vegan cooking, such as flax seeds, coconut oil and soy.
Though many people now agree that vegan baking has significantly approved, it seems that the negative connotation of vegan food is still instilled in many potential customers, prompting some vegan bakeries to adopt new ways of marketing their animal-product free food.

Wall Street Protests Wearing Thin on Food Vendors

Although the occupy Wall Street movement intends to stand up for small business owner like New York’s street vendors, those who sell food around Zucotti Park have been less than understanding of the protestor’s goals. Street vendors have recently complained that they have been losing all their business due to the influx of protestors, repelling their regular crowds and not purchases themselves.
The street vendors are mostly Arab and Egyptian, and though the protests have been compared to the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square, the vendors fail to see the similarities between events. While the protestors have exhibited a certain level of destitution, begging for coffee and hunting for money, streets vendors have failed to see the parallels between the Wall Street protests and uprisings in Third World countries. Egyptian street vendor Zizi Elnagouri said, “We were fighting for a big, big thing: for life, to eat, against a giant snake that would kill us. Here, they’re not fighting to eat, say, regular bread, but … special bagels or something.”

The feelings of disconnect between street vendors and protestors extends to brick and mortar business owner as well. Many have reported lower sales as customers are driven away by the protestors, as well as having issues with protestors damaging their bathrooms. For some vendors closely surrounded by protestors it is difficult to move their carts in and out of the park, resulting in all night vigils guarding their carts in Zucotti Park.
Though many street vendors sympathize with the goals of the Wall Street protests, they cannot help but hope that they come to an end soon. A falafel vendor named John from Alexandria had this to say, “This is terrible business. I hope they get the money they’re protesting for, then they can give me some.”

Soccer Star to Open Food Truck in Portland

Midfielder Sal Zizzo from the MLS’s Portland Timbers has recently announced plans to develop a food truck with friends, based upon his own Italian heritage. Zizzo’s family owns restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy district, so Zizzo and a friend purchased a truck and have spent time learning about food preparation and developing a menu and logo for the new enterprise. Zizzo will still remain on the Portland Timbers, which is wrapping up it’s season, but will make appearances on the truck, stating that he would be around there sometimes working the stove.

Since mentioning the truck on Twitter, the truck has been developing significant buzz, and Zizzo plans to launch the truck in a week or two. The truck will be opening at a popular downtown food truck location, and Zizzo plans to bring the flavors from San Diego’s Little Italy to this new area.
Though his friend will be primarily operating the truck, Zizzo will play a significant role in its operations during the Timbers’ off-season. The Timbers’ coach John Spencer eagerly anticipates the opening of this truck, hoping to negotiate himself free lunch.

New Blog 15% Chronicles Low Tippers in Brooklyn

A Brooklynite has recently taken to the internet to voice his dissatisfaction with the low tips he receives as a delivery man. 20 year old Larry Fox from Williamsburg, Brooklyn has created a blog called 15%, chronicling the low tips he receives daily to publicly shame them. At first customer addresses were included as well, but Tumblr requested he take them down.
Fox states that the motivation behind this blog was to publicly shame the stinginess of his low-tipping customers. He “just got tired of all these big companies, these TV shows and movie sets giving us two or three dollar tips on a $90 order.” The blog has recently expanded to include updates from other delivery men, and answering questions by readers. Check out the blog for all the updates, and to reconsider ever giving out a low tip.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are Chain Restaurants Threatened by Yelp?

A new study from Harvard suggests that Yelp might play a huge role in bringing down chain restaurants across the country. Yelp offers user reviews of thousands of small restaurants, and gives consumers a point of reference when they make the choice to eat out at a new place.
Chain restaurants have always offered customers reliable and familiar menus in places where smaller restaurants seem foreign. An entrée at Applebees in Texas will be roughly the same as one in Nebraska, and gives customers a degree of comfort in knowing what they are ordering. Yelp however familiarizes customers with local establishments, provides ratings and gives insight into whether these restaurants would be suitable to eat at. Armed with this knowledge, customers may have started to depend of chain restaurants less when travelling through new areas.

Recent bankruptcies at Friendly’s and Chevy’s support this theory, though Friendly’s claims their hardships stem from higher prices in cream. Chain restaurants believe that adding healthier meal items and calorie tracking information may attract health conscious restaurant-goers. Harvard researcher Michael Luca however believes that online consumer reviews might now substitute more traditional forms of reputation.

2012 Zagat Survey: Notable Trends

The new 2012 Zagat guide to city dining took not of an interesting new trend to expect in food, the rise of Southern food in New York City restaurants. New restaurant entrants such as Red Rooster and The Cardinal specialize in okra, fried green tomatoes and savory pork chops. Though Zagat was recently acquired by Google, the results if this survey were taken before the acquisition occurred. Regardless, found Tim Zagat claims that readers won’t notice a difference in the guide since joining forces with Google.
The guide also sites restaurants with rooftop seating as a growing trend, and gives insight into the new letter-grade system for sanitation the city enacted on all restaurants to follow. In response to this grading system, nearly four out of five surveyors were pleased with this new system, and 35% said that they would only eat at restaurants given an “A” rating.
This year’s survey rated 2,111 restaurants indexed into wide-ranging categories such as “gluten-free” or “hipster”. The average cost of a meal was found to have increased 4.1% to $43.46 last year. The guide also noted that the average cost of a meal at the 20 most expensive restaurants was $163.34. Zagat said that in the past year there were 135 notable restaurant openings, and 68 restaurant closings.
Zagat surveys began 32 years ago in New York, and have expanded to over 100 cities.

Saving NYC Food Trucks

A new organization called Save NYC Food Trucks has emerged to raise awareness about the escalating problems facing New York City food trucks. These issues have gotten a lot of coverage lately, but this organization created a video to capture these difficulties, and inform the greater public which may be completely unaware of the plight of food trucks.

The video was released this past weekend and features some prominent food trucks, like Kima Ima from Treats Truck and Eddie Song of Korilla BBQ. The video mostly discusses the business of operating a food truck and all the problems they face, acting as a means to inform the general public. The video is below.

Buffalo to Regulate Food Trucks, Takes Cues from Other Cities

In Buffalo, NY, city council was held with members of the council, restaurant owners and food truck vendors to discuss legislation for food trucks in Buffalo. Although some trucks have been in business for over a year, the city has still not enacted legislation regulating how food trucks should operate with respect to restaurants.
Most speakers at the committee spoke in favor of the food trucks, and food truck owners themselves have circulated an online petition, with a goal of 4,000 signatures to be presented. At the end of this council meeting, it was decided that a six member panel with equal representatives from restaurants and food trucks would come up with a compromise plan themselves. In thirty days they are to return to the legislative Committee for a vote to take place in November.
                Elsewhere food trucks have been effectively regulated. In Portland, called one of the top mobile food destinations in the world, food trucks usually park together in parking lots because they are not allowed to park along the streets. In Seattle food trucks are free to roam the city and park along the streets. However, they must stay 50 feet away from any food establishment, including grocery and convenience stores. Trucks also pay the city about $1,000 to park for the year.
Meanwhile in Chicago, food trucks are not permitted at all. Taking cues from these other cites, Buffalo officials are willing to work with the food trucks, but only under a regulated system that strikes the right balance for food trucks and restaurants.

What to Expect from the Melon Outbreak

You may have recently heard about the listeria outbreak that has affected American cantaloupes. More than 70 people are sick, and at least twelve dead from cantaloupes contaminated with listeria food infections. The outbreak seems to have started with Rocky Ford, Colorado Cantaloupes, specifically those supplied by Jensen Farms. As a result the FDA announced a recall of all cantaloupes in the affected area.
                This listeria outbreak has been dubbed “the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade”, and still may be far from over. Listeria can incubate for more than a month, meaning cases of listeria may be reported all through October. The recalled cantaloupes are all Colorado grown, but many cantaloupes that have been recalled may not have stickers denoting where they’re from, making it more difficult to avoid potentially diseased cantaloupes. For the full report, visit Guardian.

The Great Food Truck Race Finale

In the final lap of the Great Food Truck Race, the last two trucks remaining, California’s Lime Truck and Ohio’s Hodge Podge Truck head to Miami for the ultimate showdown and a chance at $100,000. The episode kicked off with Tyler Florence giving each team $500 to buy ingredients, with the ultimate goal of making $15,000. The first team to reach this mark would then race to South Point Park to claim a briefcase with their cash, and win the Great Food Truck Race.

Hodge Podge immediately began to sue their Miami connections to find a food truck meet up spot, while Lime Truck was expecting a Truck Stop challenge first to give them time to prepare their plan of attack in Miami, but was instead thrown for a loop when the elimination challenge immediately kicked off. Just as the trucks begin to get settled, Tyler calls them for a Speed Bump. The trucks are towed and the teams can only get them back with $200, which they must earn somehow without the truck. The teams kept their ingredients however, and Hodge Podge was able to sell some high end plates while Lime Truck attempted to offer lessons in cooking mussels, taking much longer to earn their truck back.

The next morning the Truck Stop challenge was presented, with both teams having to catch a fish in thirty minutes and then cook a dish with it in thirty minutes. Though challenging, both teams managed to catch their fish, and though Hodge Podge’s was cooked perfectly, Chef Chris used too many ingredients, while Lime Truck’s was just right. Lime Truck won $1500, helping them out of the hole they found themselves in after the first day of competition. At the end of the day the teams were notified of a second Speed Bump, both teams would have to reopen as a dessert truck for two hours in the morning. Both teams were extremely close to the $15000 mark by now, and Lime truck headed downtown to sell their desserts, while Hodge Podge stayed in the parking lot of the wholesale store they bought their ingredients from. Both teams sold well in these spots, though editing made it to difficult to tell how close the trucks actually were to each other in sales. In the end both trucks raced to see Tyler for their briefcase, but Lime truck arrived first winning the $100,000 prize. Though Hodge Podge only lost by a few minutes, they admitted to feeling like winners anyway.

Congratulations to Lime Truck for dominating this season of the Great Food Truck Race, and to all the other trucks as well for providing excitement and competition throughout the season.

Vendy Awards were a Great Success

Everything went smoothly at the Vendy Awards this past Saturday, with 21 vendors, fast moving lines and fair weather. The event had a great crowd, featured lively music, and had great sponsors ensuring the day would be a blast, like Maker’s Mark and Brooklyn Brewery. For the first few hours guests sampled as many cuisines as possible, strategically choosing between the most sought-after trucks and those with the most manageable lines. Korilla BBQ, Souvlaki GR and Solber Pupusas seemed to have the longest lines throughout, but eventually they winded down so I could have a taste.
Some exceptional offerings came from The Cinnamon Snail, which made a spicy red bean tart, seitan wrap and a Maker’s Mark jelly-filled donut, alongside their funky costumes. Taim’s green falafel was one of the best falafels I’ve ever tasted, and Sunrise Grill’s oxtail was unique and delicious. Taco Truck made light and refreshing tacos, and Two Pitas in a Pod had a great sample platter complete with pulled pork, falafel and hummus. La Bella Torte had extravagant and filling cannolis and desserts, and Wooly’s shaved ice made delicious Maker’s Mark infused shaved ice. One of the toughest challenges of the day was trying to juggle multiple drinks and plates while looking for a place to sit, but I suppose my own gluttony is to blame for that. As the trucks started to close up, I got a last minute chance for beef taco from Korilla, with kimchi and a delicious sauce, and a chicken pita from Souvlaki GR, complete with Greek fries inside.
When the time came for the awards to be announced, the trucks all closed and the owners gathered around the podium, while the judges were introduced, the concept of the Street Vendor project was discussed, and thanks given to all the sponsors and participants. The Most Heroic Vendor Award was presented to Patty’s Taco for standing up to the multiple violations she received and fighting back with a lawsuit against the city of New York. Best dessert went to Wooly’s shaved ice, which served up the perfect light dessert for this challenge, and they came with their very own Green Man. The Cinnamon Snail won the Maker’s Mark challenge for their donuts, and undoubtedly their colorful costumes as well. Taco Truck won the Best of New Jersey category; Korilla won Rookie of the Year, storming the stage with the most enthusiasm of any of the vendors present, and Souvlaki GR won People’s Taste. The Vendy Cup was at last presented to Solber Pupusas, which had lines as long as anyone’s today, and served delicious, authentic corn patties.
With the final award given out, the 7th Annual Vendy’s came to a close and everyone shuffled towards the ferry, vendors included. With delicious food, great weather and an even greater turnout, this year’s Vendy Awards picked a stellar group of food vendors and gave recognition to some unique trucks that until now were largely unknown.

Vendy Awards Are This Weekend!

This Saturday the 7th Annual Vendy Awards will take place at Governor’s Island, and tickets are still available to those of you looking to get in, albeit the cheaper general admission tickets have long sold out. For the first time this years a “Best of New Jersey” category was opened up, and the awards will continue to honor the “Most Heroic Vendor”, supposedly ranging from the vendor who called in a terrorist threat to the vendor who memorizes your order and has it ready for you every day.
There are many other awards to be given out tomorrow, including the People’s Choice Award, Rookie of the Year, and the juggernaut of them all, the Vendy Cup. With so much food and so many enthusiasts present, the only perceivable threat is long lines. So if you still can, buy a ticket and head down to Governor’s Island tomorrow to see what it’s all about. Your friends at Foodtoeat will be there, so make sure to say hello!

Comme Ci Comma Ca: Authentic Mediterranean Food

Today we were surprised to see the Comme Ci Comme Ca truck, also known as ChefSamirTruck parked on 52nd Street in midtown. I’ve only see this truck before around Wall Street, and given that they were recently declared as finalists in the upcoming Vendy Awards Rookie of the Year category, today seemed the perfect opportunity to sample some of their Middle Eastern food.

While Cous Cous is a dish that they are well known for, I opted to try one of their sandwich entrees, the Moroccon Kofta Brochette sandwich with beef, vegetables and sauces inside a baguette. For $6, the sandwich was smaller than I hoped, but it was one of the most perfect sandwiches I’ve ever had from a food truck. The baguette seemed to be hollowed out on the inside for the filling to fit perfectly inside. With the baguette closed, it would appear to be just a loaf of bread, but opened and you can see that it’s a full sandwich. The beef portions were generous inside, and the hot sauce and white sauce added a delicious kick to the vegetable mixture. The taste was some of the best flavored meat I’ve had from a halal vendor, which I guess accounts for the hefty prices. Sausage and cous cous can run you around $9, and the sides are all upwards of $3. Putting the price aside however, Comme Ci Comme Ca is a truly delicious Mediterranean truck, and we wish them the best of luck at the Vendy Awards this year.

Seven Vendy Cup Finalists Announced

This week the full list of finalists for the top honor known as the Vendy Cup award in this year’s 7th Annual Vendy Awards were finally announced. The seven finalists are all vastly different food vendors, and many are much less known, but no doubt will make a mark on this year’s contest with their delicious food that got them nominated.

Solber Pupusas serves Central American food throughout Brooklyn, and has been serving it’s fare for twelve years now. The truck specializes in pupusas, Salvadoran corn patties that have rarely been brought to American mainstream culture. Nominated previously in 2008, the owners believe its is the pupusa that deserves to win the Vendy Cup, all they do is bring it to their customers.
Eggstravaganza is a popular breakfast cart in Midtown that serves Mexican wraps and egg sandwiches. Creating this cart was a longtime dream for owner Arturo, working in restaurants most of his life to create the perfect blend of his family’s traditional cooking and American styles. The delicious chorizo, made by his father, a butcher, makes Eggstravanza stand out from the competition.
Chimicury el Malecon stands on West 207th street serves Dominican hamburgers called ‘chimis’, and has served Dominican food for 25 years. Business began when Washington Heights and Inwood experienced a growing demand for Dominican food after an influx of Dominican immigrants. Chimicury el Malecon has experienced great neighborhood support over the years, but recognition by the Vendy Awards would catapult them into the spotlight.
Sam’s Falafel is a vendor with 14 years serving in Zucotti Park, originally from Egypt. Owner Sam Ahmed has spent years perfecting his perfect falafel recipe, which shows in his highly desired falafel platters. Everything is made from scratch with high quality ingredients, and though Ahmed was originally a translator in Egypt, cooking has been his true calling.
Souvlaki GR has only been vending for one year, but their signature Greek food has become a staple around the Wall Street area. What makes their food unique is the Greek fries that are stuffed in the savory pitas. The truck’s owners thank their fans and customers for their fortune so far, appearing in last year’s Vendy Awards as well.
Trini-Paki Boys Halal Food is in fact owned by a woman, Fatima Khan, but named after her two sons. The food is a blend of Trinidadian and Pakistani, like Khan and her husband, and specializes in curry chicken and biryanis. Khan ascribes a very loyal customer base to her success, and the cooking skills she learned in her mother’s kitchen.
The last Vendy Cup finalist is Tamales Guadalupe, a Brooklyn vendor with 14 years of experience serving Mexican food. Mexican tamales are the specialty of Guadalupe Galicia, a single mother of five children who works tirelessly for her family. Guadalupe’s tamales are among the best in New York, with customers repeatedly coming back for a taste of their authenticity.
That rounds up the finalists for this year’s Vendy Cup. General admission tickets are sold out but VIP tickets are still available for this Saturday’s event.