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Why restaurants want you to order food on your phone

22 Nov


An order placed by an app is shown on the screen Sept. 12, 2016, at the Eastman Egg restaurant at Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago. Eastman’s app technology allows a customer to order at any time and the food is prepared only when the customer gets close to the restaurant. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The ability to order food with the click of a few buttons on a smartphone is becoming widespread — even fast-food companies are getting in on the action. But the technology — which in some cases tracks a customer’s location and times food preparation accordingly — can vary widely. And restaurants admit that some customers are still wary about the freshness of their food when ordering ahead..

“I think some users assume (their food) would be sitting on that counter for them because that’s how most in the industry do it,” said Eastman Egg founder and CEO Hunter Swartz, who focused on a mobile app as a cornerstone of the Chicago restaurant’s development. “As much as we had to educate the public about our food, there’s been just as much education for the app.”

Mobile ordering is becoming a critical piece of many restaurants’ plans because of what it can bring in improved sales. Customers spend more and visit more often, on average, when they’re using a phone to order their food.

The first restaurants to make mobile a big part of their business were the ones that rely heavily on delivery: pizza makers. At Domino’s, you can order just by texting an emoji of pizza or opening their app; no clicking required. Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have made big advances, too, and all three credit about half their sales to mobile orders.

Few restaurants are as far along as the delivery operators, but many have advanced their own apps by leaps and bounds to capture more customers on the go.

Starbucks launched mobile pay through its app a year ago, and it now accounts for about 5 percent of sales, Chief Financial Officer Scott Maw said at a conference last week. That jumps to 20 percent of transactions at peak times at several hundred of its urban stores. It expects that number to accelerate quickly in the near future, as customers get more comfortable with the technology. A quarter of Starbucks’ customer payments already are made with its smartphone app.

Maw also said Starbucks’ app eventually will be able to use weather data to market different food and drink items to customers, like a pumpkin spice latte on a chilly October day.

In June, Dunkin’ Donuts debuted mobile ordering nationwide and Chick-fil-A launched a new app with mobile ordering capabilities. Taco Bell has had mobile ordering capabilities on its app since 2014, but sister company KFC doesn’t offer it. McDonald’s, the world’s largest burger chain, has been testing its own mobile ordering system since the spring and has said that digital initiatives are a big priority in the near future.

Among fast-food restaurants, the frequency of customer visits increases by 6 percent and average spending per visit rises by about 20 percent when technology is used to place an order, according to a Deloitte survey released this week. Visits tend to increase because technology makes it easier to repeat an order automatically, while repeat orders of custom or upgraded drinks lead to increased sales.

In addition to an expected sales boost, the data collected from mobile ordering apps can shine light on the makeup of customers.


Here’s How Food Critics Lose Weight While Also Eating Tons of Delicious Food

10 Sep


“A healthy dinner.” Photo: Liz Clayman

In the latest issue of New York, restaurant critic Adam Platt goes deep on the diet regimen he recently took on. He’s not alone in wanting to shed some pounds, of course. In fact, in professional-eating circles, it’s a topic of much discussion: How does one achieve some degree of healthy intake when the job, by its nature, requires round-the-clock eating of delicious, calorie-rich food? Can a person maintain the proper level of professionalism that’s required to, say, taste-test the best steaks in New York City while also staying trim? In the case of Grub’s newly svelte colleague, he managed to keep to his reviewing schedule while dropping a bunch of weight. So, what’s the secret? That’s the topic of conversation in the newest episode of the Grub Street Podcast:

Adam Platt: I probably consume more calories than you do week in and week out, but we’re both food writers. It’s our job to eat food, so the question before us is: How do you keep from turning into a giant, floating blimp? How do you do that? There are various ways to do it. You’re a little younger than me, and I kept it together for a while by exercising. So you do it by running like a maniacal hamster in the morning for several hours, right?

Alan Sytsma: It doesn’t take me several hours, but yeah.

AP: What the Admiral also does, for those of you who don’t know him, he walks everywhere in the city. So it’s like, “Hey, I want to go uptown to try this meatball sandwich. Let’s go.” You go, “Okay, Admiral. Let’s go.” We’re walking. So off he goes. Striding up the avenues. It’s like, Wait a minute, Admiral …

AS: You’ve gotta earn the meatball sub.

AP: That meatball sub’s 50 blocks away, my good man. What about the subway? “Hell, no,” says the Admiral.

AS: Not if it’s a nice day.

AP: Also, he walks at a brisk clip. He’s walkin’ hard. Anyway, so that’s how you did it. My idea was to, not make light of the story, but I clearly needed to go on a diet. So I thought I would try and find the most prominent, most interesting, slightly outrageous dietician/nutritionist in New York City that I could. This being New York City, there are plenty of people like that. And my challenge to this professional nutritionist person was: I am 50 pounds overweight at least, a fat food writer, entering middle age, and possibly near death. I would like to keep my job, but I would like to lose between 40 and 50 pounds. Can you help me?

It seems that the professional he found — Tanya Zuckerbrot — could indeed help him with it. Listen to the whole thing to hear them talk about how they did it, either via iTunes or streaming right here.

Rio’s favelas to Brighton’s North Laine: the entrepreneurs tackling food waste

20 Aug

Situated in the run-down district of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Refettorio Gastromotiva is the latest venture from three Michelin-starred Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who has partnered with a social enterprise which trains chefs from disadvantaged neighbourhoods across Brazil.

The restaurant, which opened on 9 August, uses surplus food from the Olympic village to feed hungry locals, aided by a collection of superstar chefs. It’s one of a collection of social businesses across the world that are trying to tackle the food waste problem and change attitudes to waste.

The latest statistics paint a bleak picture. A third of all food produced – 1.3bn tonnes – is wasted every year, while 795 million people do not have enough to eat. Nearly half of this waste comes from homes, with the remainder from food production, food retailers and the hospitality sector.

Refettorio Gastromotiva will follow a similar business model to Bottura’s first project, Refettorio Ambrosiano, which launched last year. Ambrosiano provides paid lunches to the public in order to provide free evening meals to local homeless shelters, using donated food from Milan agricultural market and a network of supermarkets, restaurants and schools. So far it has saved 30 tonnes of food and provided 23,000 meals.

Post-Olympics, Refettorio Gastromotiva will do the same. Opening once a week initially, it will use donated waste food from a supermarket chain, fruit and vegetable wholesaler and local organic farmer to cook paid-for lunches, allowing it to provide 70 free evening meals for vulnerable Lapa residents. The kitchen will be staffed by graduates from the social enterprise Gastromotiva’s chef training scheme, who come from some of Rio’s most underprivileged communities.

Attempting to tackle the issue of food waste from the opposite direction, Silo in Brighton was billed as the first “zero-waste” restaurant in the UK and is primarily concerned with designing out food waste.

A meal served up at Silo Restaurant, Brighton. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer

With a carefully planned, seasonal menu along with a root-to-tip, nose-to-tail ethos of using every available part of each ingredient, sometimes more than once, what’s left over is poured into the hi-tech composter in the corner of the restaurant, which churns out compost that is distributed to suppliers and locals, as well as used by the restaurant to grow its own mushrooms.

Tom Hunt’s Poco cafe bars in London and Bristol also take a zero-waste approach, weighing all of the food waste produced. The Bristol restaurant creates just 20.83kg of food waste a day, equating to around 0.2kg per diner, less than half that produced by the average restaurant diner according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

These kind of ventures are changing perceptions of food waste, says Tom Tanner from the Sustainable Restaurant Association: “Consumers have started to see [food waste] as socially and morally inexcusable and economically, businesses can see that it no longer makes sense.” With the global value of wasted food estimated to be $1tn, there is a financial opportunity.

It’s not just restaurants that are involved. Toast Ale, created by Tristram Stuart, food waste activist and founder of food waste charity Feedback, aims to turn some of this waste back into a product that can be sold. Made using one slice of surplus bread per bottle, the 32,000 bottles of ale brewed since launching in January have saved over a tonne of bread.

“In addition to using surplus, we are also raising awareness,” says Zane. “In the UK, 44% of bread produced is never eaten. To solve this, all we need to do is eat (or drink) it.” Toast Ale’s bread is donated by bakeries and sandwich manufacturers who would otherwise have to pay to dispose of the waste. There are plans to expand production to Yorkshire, Cornwall, Bristol, New York and Iceland.

Baked ham with muntrie berries and roasted vegetables

21 Dec


Serves 12

1 smoked ham (7 to 9kg net weight)
1 ½ cup muntrie berries

½ tsp saltbush
½ tsp native pepper
½ tsp sea parsley
½ tsp bush tomato, ground
50ml orange juice
½ cup honey

Roasted vegetables
6 carrots
6 parsnips
6 onions (small)
½ kg chat potatoes
½ pumpkin, sliced into four

Preheat the to oven 180C. Take the skin off the ham to expose the fat. If you take the ham straight out of the fridge, sit it in warm water for 5 minutes to soften and the skin will peel off easily. Score the fat.

To make the glaze, mix the saltbush, native pepper, sea parsley and bush tomato with the orange juice and sit for 5 minutes to let the herbs swell and release their flavours, then and honey. Brush the ham with the glaze.

Drop the oven temperature to 150C and cook the ham for 1 to 1½ hours, or up to 2 hours depending on the oven. Brush the ham every 15 to 20 minutes.

Sear the vegetables in a nonstick frying pan until they take on a bit of colour. Brush the vegetables with olive oil, place in the oven and they should be ready when the ham is cooked.

If you have any leftovers at the end of the Christmas meal, the ham can be wrapped in a clean wet cloth, placed on a tray, covered with clingwrap and stored in the fridge.

The ham can be sliced off and used in sandwiches, salads, fry-ups and ham and eggs for breakfast. Leave a bit of meat on the bones then freeze them to use later in a hearty pea and ham soup.

Polenta, lime and fennel biscuits recipes

30 Oct

These delicate biscuits are a recipe of Roberta’s mother; their wonderful pairing of fennel and lime speaks to the unique fusion of culinary traditions in Brazil. Even better with a dollop of silky doce de leite.

Makes 40
125g fine cornmeal (polenta)
60g flour
100g icing sugar
½ tsp baking powder
100g butter
2 tsp lime zest
1 tbsp fennel seeds
doce de leite, for dolloping on top (optional)

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Rub all the ingredients together to make a rough dough. You can add an extra few drops of lime juice or water if the crumbs don’t want to stick to each other.

2 Pat out the dough to a thickness of around 2mm. Punch out small circles using a cookie cutter or a strong glass tumbler. Transfer the pastry discs to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

3 Bake the biscuits in the oven for about 10 minutes, taking care not to let them brown.

4 Let the biscuits rest for around 10 minutes on the tray before transferring to a rack to cool completely before serving. Top with a dollop of doce de leite, if desired.

Stinky Tofu in Seattle: Why You Should Try This Strange Snack

1 Sep

Learn more about stinky tofu, a smelly yet beloved staple of Taiwanese cuisine.

Stinky tofu, also known as chou dofu, is fermented tofu. As its name suggests, stinky tofu, well, stinks. Some say it smells like dirty socks, while others say its stench is akin to that of rotting cheese, dirty garbage, or manure. Despite its strong and foul odor, stinky tofu is a popular snack in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, where it is typically sold at night markets or roadside stands. Stinky tofu is also served as a side dish at lunch bars. If you want to try stinky tofu in Seattle, it’s best to eat it a restaurant, unless you don’t mind stinking up your house and feeling the wrath of your neighbors.

Stinky Tofu

Stinky Tofu

Stinky tofu is popular among tourists and locals alike in Taiwan. There are often long lines of people waiting at stinky tofu stalls. All you have to do to find stinky tofu when visiting Taiwan is follow your nose. Although stinky tofu smells bad, it has a delicious taste. Stinky tofu fans claim that the more stinky the tofu, the tastier it is. Many stinky tofu vendors build their reputation by offering the smelliest tofu on the block. The taste of stinky tofu is a lot less pungent than its smell. Biting into stinky tofu is a lot like biting into soft cheese.

Stinky tofu can be steamed, barbecued, deep-fried, or stewed with spices. The most popular way to eat stinky tofu is deep fried with pickled cabbage and chili sauce. The vendor makes a hole at the top of each cube of stinky tofu with chopsticks or tongs in order to let the toppings penetrate. Deep-fried stinky tofu is typically dripping with grease. It is crispy on the outside and soft and extremely hot on the inside. Deep-fried stinky tofu doesn’t have as strong of a smell as other varieties. Most tourists prefer to eat their stinky tofu with a generous squirt of sauce for flavor.

How Stinky Tofu Is Made

Stinky tofu is produced in a variety of ways. Traditionally, stinky tofu is prepared in brine made of vegetables, meat, and fermented milk in an earthenware jar. It can take up to several months for the brine to ferment. Sometimes, the brine may include cabbage, Chinese herbs, bamboo shoots, mustard greens, dried shrimp, or amaranth greens. Stinky tofu vendors tend to be very protective of their brine recipes. Stinky tofu is said to contain beneficial bacteria, similar to that of yogurt.

Today, modern factories use quick methods to mass-produce stinky tofu. They marinate fresh tofu in fermented brine for just one to two days so that it develops the signature stinky tofu odor without fermenting completely. This short fermentation process leads to a blander flavor.

Although some people are initially appalled at the smell of stinky tofu, they often find that they can’t get enough of it after tasting it. Stinky tofu is said to have its roots in the southeastern maritime areas of China. According to legend, a tofu vendor named Wang Zhi He invented stinky tofu during the Qing dynasty. He had a lot of unsold tofu, so he cut it into small cubes and put it in a jar for several days. The tofu fermented and turned a greenish color. He tried the smelly tofu and found that it tasted delicious, so he decided to start selling it at his store.

Try Stinky Tofu in Seattle at Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen

Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen is a leading Taiwanese restaurant with locations in Seattle, Washington and Tempe, Arizona. Get your stinky tofu fix and sample other authentic Taiwanese dishes at Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen!

Skinny Chinese Pan-Fried Fish

17 Aug

This is an unknown dish for most readers outside China. I have not heard of it until I met my husband and his family. In Chinese, we name it as 糍粑鱼, with the English translation glutinous rice cake fish. Surely we will fail to find any glutinous rice cake in the dish. We use this term to describe that similar pan-frying process.

I am using a grass carp, which is the most popular and inexpensive edible fish in China. This dish is originated from Chinese Hubei province. I get the recipe from my mother in law. You can replace it with other fishes, just choose fat ones.

Hubei province is known as Chinese fish and rice fields. Fat grass carps are harvested every year. It is a custom for people to dry some grass carps naturally to enjoy in cold winter days. Traditionally, this recipes calls for dried fish. I find out a easy version by using it, you can make yummy, skinny pan-fried fish with marinated fresh fish chunks.

Fried Fish

Fried Fish

Skinny Chinese Pan-Fried Fish
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Skinny Chinese Pan-fried fish


One grass carp around 1000g, remove head and tail (you can ask your batcher to help)
4 dried chili pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk scallion, minced
1/4 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Marinating sauce
2 tablespoons cooking wine
1/4 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorn seeds (optional)
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 stalks scallion, minced
1 thumb ginger, minced

Cut the fish into large chunks around 3-4 cm thick. And then add all the marinating sauce. Mix well and then transfer to an airtight bag, refrigerate for around 2 days.
Transfer the fish out. Remove the ginger and scallion attached; drain the fish chunks with kitchen paper.
Heat up cooking oil in a pan, place the fish chunks in. Do not turn them over at the beginning, turn over to fry the next side one side becomes slightly golden brown.
Add garlic, dried pepper, scallion and garlic. Fry for another half minute until fragrance. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and white sesame seeds. Mix well and enjoy, possibly with a cup of beer.