Tag Archives: Food

A Big Fuss: TONIGHT

8 Feb

Tonight at Artisan Kitchen & Baths at 200 Amherst Street from 6 – 8:30pm, a fundraiser will be held to support a local farm that finds itself down on its luck. $30 gets you in. There will be an auction to raise money, a gaggle of chefs will prepare comestibles for your enjoyment, there’ll be music and a roomful of foodies with whom to mingle. 

Brought to you by the people behind Nickel City Chef, “A Big Fuss” is intended to be an annual event to benefit a local farm or farmer who finds himself down on his luck (or hers, as the case may be). The identity of the event’s largesse won’t be identified, as it would only do further harm to an already precarious situation. 

 

NYS Food Map

6 Feb

NYS Foodie Map by Shannon Glazer

This map was created by Shannon Glazer and uploaded at Buffalo.com. I was most surprised to learn that “pizza rolls” is a thing.

Buffalo’s Food Trucks React

25 Jan

Interviews conducted Tuesday after the Common Council passed the new Buffalo food truck ordinance. It is expected to be on the Mayor’s desk on Monday, and will hopefully be signed shortly thereafter.

Nickel City Chef Season 4: Tickets on Sale Friday

5 Jan

Feed Your Soul, a local organization headed by local foodie Christa Glennie Seychew, has now produced three seasons of “Nickel City Chef“, a local variant of the “Iron Chef” model. Local chefs battle a “Nickel City Chef” using a secret, locally sourced, ingredient. A panel of judges tastes and rates the food on taste, presentation, and use of the secret ingredient. (By way of full disclosure, Seychew is my food editor at the Buffalo Spree, she and FYS are clients of mine, and I have been honored to judge during all three seasons of Nickel City Chef.)

The purpose of the competition isn’t just to highlight the creativity and technical expertise of local chefs – some of whom are quite established, and others who are just up-and-coming – but also to promote the excellent farms and producers of high-quality food right here in western New York.

Although the audience at Nickel City Chef doesn’t get to taste the items presented for judging, each competition is catered by a well-regarded local restaurateur, and it’s fantastic to watch chefs hard at work – with expert color commentary from SeaBar chef/owner Mike Andrezejewski – and the suspense during the judging process is palpable.  The competitions take place at Artisan Kitchens & Baths on Amherst Street.

Tickets for the fourth season go on sale Friday. Following on the heels of Western New York’s hottest selling holiday release, Nickel City Chef: Buffalo’s Finest Chefs & Ingredients, Feed Your Soul anticipates tickets for all four shows in 2012 to sell out within 36 hours.

Taking place in the stunning loft showroom of Buffalo’s Artisan Kitchens & BathsSeason Four’s schedule of dates is listed below. Tickets for the 2012 season go on sale at noon Friday, January 6th. Tickets are $38 each and include catered gourmet snacks and access to a cash bar during the event. Children under 16 are not recommended to attend. 

Links to online ticketing will be available at NickelCityChef.com.

February 19th

Nickel City Chef Krista Van Wagner of Curly’s

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Challenging Chef Frank Mercado of M&T’s Private Executive Dining Room

March 4th

Nickel City Chef Brian Mietus of Bacchus

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Challenging Chef Dunbar Berdine of Black Rock Kitchen & Bar

March 25th

Nickel City Chef Adam Goetz of Sample

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Challenging Chef Christopher Daigler of Encore

April 15th

Nickel City Chef JJ Richert of Torches

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Challenging Chef Chris Dorsaneo of Lloyd

 Ticket Link: http://www.NickelCityChef.com

Two and a Half WTFs

19 Dec

UPDATE: I am making this post sticky for the time being, as I will be speaking with Shredd & Ragan on WEDG 103.3 on Tuesday morning  (click the link to listen live) around 8am regarding the Valenti’s Restaurant saga. Follow-up posts exist here, here, and here.  As with any story, if you want to provide information confidentially, send an email to buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

Yes, it’s media criticism Monday.

On Friday, The Buffalo News’ venerable, legendary restaurant reviewer Janice Okun gave a new Italian red sauce joint in North Tonawanda, “Valenti’s” 2.5 stars.

(I don’t know why literally every single Okun review involves a half-star, either.)

In that review, which was predictably yet unfortunately devoid of good feedback about the food or its flavor, Okun made the following observations:

Co-owner (with his wife, Lori) and Chef Terry Valenti is a Western New York boy recently returned home from Texas and Florida — he cooked at Mama Leone’s in Manhattan and in resorts in Daytona. In 2003 he took on uber-chef Bobby Flay on the popular “Iron Chef” program. Knocked the socks off him, too.

“It was the parsnips that did it,” says Lori. For the show, Terry produced Chilean Sea Bass stuffed with that vegetable (and artichoke hearts for good measure). He even dreamed up a Mango Parsnip Ice Cream that went over very well.

In the days since that was published, we’ve established the following:

1. Iron Chef America (featuring Bobby Flay) didn’t exist in 2003.

2. The list of Iron Chef America episodes reveals no competitor with the surname “Valenti” challenging any Iron Chef, ever.

3. The list of Iron Chef (Japan) episodes reveals no competitor with the surname “Valenti” challenging any Iron Chef, ever.

4. The aforementioned episode lists from America and Japan reveal that there has never been an Iron Chef “battle parsnip” in either series.

5. Mr. Valenti claims to have graduated from the CIA in 1993 and then became head chef at Mamma Leone’s.

6. Mamma Leone’s closed in January 1994.

7. A March 2009 health inspection of Captain Hiram’s, where Valenti had been working for 4 months at the time, is shown here. These should be made public for New York eateries, as well.

Aside from the massive question marks over the chef/owner’s alleged backstory, can someone explain to me why the photos that accompany these restaurant reviews seldom show the actual food? The Valenti’s story depicts four women outside the restaurant bidding each other good-bye, two of whom have to-go boxes. All I can gather from the image is that Valenti’s has a nice sidewalk. As for Okun, she gushes over the comfort of a restaurant’s booths, but we have no idea whether the veal is any good.

The #BUFTruck Legislation: Tabled Again

26 Oct

Yesterday, the Common Council’s Legislation Committee met again to take up the issue of food truck legislation. Attorneys for both sides spoke, indicating that some progress had been made – some of it by the attorneys over beers – but that significant issues remain unresolved.

In some ways, this sort of legislation-by-committee of stakeholders is a textbook example of how not to push a legislative initiative. Evidently, the meetings between the food truck and brick & mortar representatives degenerated into shouting. It’s time for the common council to understand that it’s never going to satisfy everybody, and that life isn’t fair. So, it needs to craft some reasonable rules, implement them, pass it, and let the market figure out what happens.

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One of the proposals includes a sunset provision – after one year, the law expires unless the common council takes action to amend or renew it. This gives everyone an opportunity to see how the law works in practice over four seasons, and both sides seemed amenable to it.

One of yesterday’s speakers was Christina Walsh from the Institute of Justice.  The WNY Food Truck Association retained her to explain to the Council that fewer regulations are better than more, and that complicated regulations in some cities have essentially turned trucks into outlaws. She indicated that these food trucks help get feet on the streets and generate their own jobs and economic activity. Most significantly, she helped to rebut the canard that the food trucks have all the advantages over brick & mortar restaurants. Tell it to someone who (a) doesn’t know where the truck is on any given day; and (b) has to wait in inclement weather to get food they need to eat in inclement weather.

How pathetic is it that the Food Trucks had to retain the services of a freedom expert in order to fight for the right to serve tacos, burgers, coffee, and BBQ from mobile canteens?

Councilmember David Rivera indicated that the meeting yesterday had been set up to get input from additional voices, but that none of them had shown up.  The meeting was somewhat abruptly adjourned after 45 minutes.

I have some questions out to various people involved in this issue, and as I get more details I’ll relay them here. In the meantime, be sure to join the WNY Food Truck Association Facebook page, and follow your local food trucks:

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Food Truck Tuesday & Nickel City Chef

25 Oct

1. The food truck debate continues apace. The food trucks and the brick & mortars on the ad hoc committee created to help draw up regulations that everyone could agree on has met a few times, and from what I can gather from the Twitter stream of Roaming Buffalo truck owner, Christopher Taylor, it didn’t go well.

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The Common Council is to meet on the issue today at 2pm at City Hall, and the Food Truck Association is urging its supporters to join them. They suspect that a vote may be taken on proposed regulations today.  I’m not so sure it’ll all be resolved today, but one can always hope.

2. I’m very proud of my association with Nickel City Chef, and have been honored to judge several really epic battles between talented local chefs. I had urged its organizer, Spree food editor and Feed Your Soul owner Christa Glennie Seychew, to pull together a cookbook by the chefs, highlighting the food they prepared during their battles. That book is out, and its unveiling will be tonight at a party at Artisan Kitchen & Baths on Amherst Street between 6 and 9. 

If you can’t attend the party, you can order the book and DVD through this link. It makes a great gift for any Buffalo foodie, and celebrates Buffalo’s best chefs, and our best ingredients from small local farms.

Sign the Petition: Let the Food Trucks Roam Buffalo

26 Sep

I realize that the regulation of food trucks is not the most pressing matter facing the world, the state, the city, our society, etc. I am fully cognizant of the fact that this is, on the surface, a first world problem.

However, this is also an issue about freedom to do business in a business-unfriendly place. This is an issue about defeating a strict adherence to oldthink with grassroots support for something new, good, and innovative. The very fact that the food trucks in Buffalo have had to unite for a lobbying effort to counteract an effort to run them out of business by existing quick-serve brick & mortar restaurants underscores the difficulty they face in just being allowed to operate in a reasonable way, and in changing presumptions and mindsets.

This isn’t about poaching customers or throwing a middle finger up at existing restaurants.  This is about setting up reasonable, rational regulations to protect the food trucks’ right to do business, and also to protect the concerns of existing brick & mortar restaurants, many of whom are quite supportive of the food truck movement.

Good food and consumer choice wins here. Please sign the petition, linked-to below, which has been endorsed and approved by the Buffalo coalition of food trucks. This will be sent to each Common Council member, as well as the Executive Director of Buffalo Place. Be heard.

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When There are No Laws, It’s the Wild West

22 Aug

This past weekend, the battle between food trucks and a small handful of restaurants in Buffalo grew more acute, and more ridiculous.

Two local restaurants – Taki’s on Court Street, and the Waterline at the Waterfront Village have gone out of their way to affirmatively call city government and thwart the food trucks’ ability to set up in locations where they’ve been invited to set up.

The Roaming Buffalo truck sets up at the corner of Court and Pearl at the invitation of the Convention Center on occasional weekdays. A few picnic tables have been set up at that corner. R ‘ n R BBQ Truck and Where’s Lloyd set up occasionally in the parking lot of the Waterfront Village, at the invitation of the employees of Synacor, a tenant in that complex.

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So, the Waterline is worried that it loses its monopoly on food service for 2 hours a day, a couple of days a week, and Taki’s for some reason has it in its head that “food” competes with “food”, rather than the notion that sit-down diner fare isn’t the same as food truck burgers, dogs, and beef on weck.

All of this is a follow-up to this story, with a counter-story written by local business advisor Tony Maggiotto, Jr.

The brick and mortar restaurants had complained that a proposed law, which would have required food trucks to set up outside a 100′ radius of existing, operating kitchens would lead to a “wild west” mentality. Now that that law has been tabled until the Common Council returns to work, we have a wild west mentality being practiced by anti-competitive brick & mortar restaurants. Taki’s, the Waterline, ETS, Jim’s Steakout, and Just Pizza have gone out of their way to tightly restrict how the food trucks can operate.

The tenants at the Waterfront Village complex didn’t sign an exclusivity agreement with the Waterline, which would prohibit them from inviting outside food onto the premises. If the Roaming Buffalo’s mounting of the sidewalk to reach its corner at Court Street Plaza is deemed illegal, then every setup at Buffalo Place (for instance, the farmer’s market on Main Street) is illegal, as well.

The wild west mentality comes when established brick and mortar restaurants flex political muscle to ensure that the food trucks can’t do business in the city – whether that be through thwarting proposed legislation, or demanding that the city prohibit them from competing with them because of, for instance, months’ worth of safe sidewalk-mounting.

Ain’t room enough for the two of y’all?

The food trucks have an advantage? Which advantage?

  • The advantage they have at only being able to set up for a couple of hours at a time?
  • The advantage they have regarding no set rules, regulations, or laws, which leave their businesses subject to the whims of anti-competitive councilmembers and restaurants?
  • The advantage they have of not being in the same place each day?
  • The advantage they have in which people have to take affirmative steps to find out where the trucks will be set up?
  • The advantage they have of not having to lock and secure a $80,000 truck every night?
  • The advantage they have of having to rent an inspected food prep kitchen, in addition to a secure truck parking location?
  • The advantage they have of serving food to people unprotected by the elements?
  • The advantage they have of not having a seating area for customers to use while eating?

The food trucks and the complaining restaurants aren’t the same thing. They are similar only in that they serve food to paying customers.

I have gone out of my way to hunt down Lloyd’s at the Waterfront Village because I enjoy my $5.50 taco lunch. The Waterline’s salads and sandwiches are expensive and haven’t merited a special trip. I’ll now go out of my way to avoid Taki’s because, seriously – how many Greek diners does one region need? But I’ll especially avoid them because they have found that their product is not competitive when faced with burgers or tacos served out of a Grumman truck, and instead of stepping it up or dropping their prices, they’re whining to mommy and shutting down the wheeled interlopers.

Support your local food truck.

Where’s Lloyd (tacos)

The Whole Hog (BBQ)

R ‘n R BBQ

Roaming Buffalo (Buffalo favorites)

Coming soon is Fork on the Road (Vietnamese street food)

Our Quest For Purity

17 Aug

I consider the TED series of lectures a candidate for the “Highest and Best Use of the Internet” award, the greatest realization of the Information Revolution’s potential to inspire and educate. I reference TED semi-regularly (note: Buffalo’s own TEDx experience is coming in October), and please allow me to do so again to set the stage for our discussion.

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There is a lot we could pull out of those 18 minutes, but let me narrow the field to work through what I consider the freshest idea presented: the morality of Purity.

Jonathan Haidt lays out five pillars of morality: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, In-group Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. Conservatives value all five fairly equally, Liberals put far greater emphasis on the first two. But conservatives and liberals alike, and the moderates in between, all put some weight on Purity. As Haidt describes, Purity is one of the five moral pillars we are born with, pre-programmed to recognize and value. Haidt notes that while conservatives tend to follow a more traditional religious sense of Purity, the Liberal Purity path exists, is growing and has a new object of its affection: food.

I don’t mean to definitively link Foodie-ism and Liberalism in any sort of causal or predictive relationship, though the demographics of both (white, wealthy, urban-focused) certainly coincide. Nor is this a fact-based argument about the actual merits of tying Foodie-ism to Progressive thought – its hard to extol the virtues of your electric car with a straight face when you dine on foie gras shipped in from half-way around the world (but more on that later). Instead, let’s talk about the moral feelings that drive the wildly different ways a segment of our culture focuses on food – local, organic, sustainable, free-trade, heritage and quality worthy of Foodieville restaurants hardly all have to mean the same thing (why is free-trade coffee more likely to soothe the Foodie’s discerning palate?), though they are often mistakenly intertwined in the mind of the slumbering general public. 

"Techno Buddha" by Nam June Paik

As Haidt alludes, food isn’t really the point. The morality of purity lying behind the food is really about focusing on what one puts into one’s body, the cleanliness of the lifestyle. The sacredness is found in the purity of the food, but that purity can be found other ways. To extrapolate, the point is finding sanctity in a secularized, post-religious culture in order to fulfill the human need for Purity.

Astrophysicist, atheist and NPR contributor Adam Frank recently addressed this topic when he sought to commandeer the word “sacred” to describe any awe-inspiring experience. Noting that it should be all but impossible to be Spiritual and Scientific, he was still at a loss to explain the feeling he gets when walking into a church, or (I assume) looking into space. Purity is still a moral pillar for the atheist scientist, and a little word twisting secularizes an ancient term for an experience that his deliberate conscious brain has rejected but pre-programmed mind still craves. 

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How else do we secularize the sacred in our modern world to fulfill this basic human need? Finding the most pure lifestyle choice is a trend in modern life. Christopher McCandless read enough Tolstoy and Emerson to seek to purify his spirit in the wild. He walked into it, but never walked out, starving to death in an abandoned bus in Alaska, joining a long list of wilderness-philes who literally disappeared into the sanctity of nature.  The urban/suburban debate often is imbued with a moral overtone that overwhelms any rational fact-based comparison of the sustainability/lifestyle merits of either living arrangement.  Melissa Coleman recently wrote a memoir about growing up on a 1970’s Maine hippie commune where the adults attempted to divide their lives into three: one third of their time farming and doing manual labor, one third on family and child rearing, one third on reading and study. It imploded like many other such experiments at that time, but at its heart it resembles Elbert Hubbard’s “Head | Heart | Hands” mantra with the Roycrofters in East Aurora nearly a century earlier. Gene Rossellini moved to the wilds of western Canada for twenty years to try to teach himself to re-enter the Stone Age (he ultimately gave up and went home). Even exercise routines are overcome by quests for purity: the simple act of escaping from the doldrums of daily life is no longer enough. Now runners want shoes that are leaner, five fingered, or not present at all, and gym buffs lift rocks instead of traditional weights. They are called Caveman routines, and they have Paleo diets to go with them. And they are everywhere.     

These may be more extreme examples, but at their core they are attempts to fulfill that fifth moral pillar in a secular way. Today, in 2011, the sacredness of food has grown into a number of manifestations that pervade our culture and thus more mainstream. No longer the exclusive purview of Whole Foods and Wegmans, even Tops has half a rack (!) of organic produce for sale. The local/organic/fair-trade/heritage trendsetters (again, not all the same thing of course) have moved well on past Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) to barter-based homesteading, urban chicken coops, splitting cows and raised bed farms in emptied city neighborhoods. I myself have an ancient apple tree that provides many bushels each fall, plus cherry and pear trees and a garden full of zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb, squash, green beans, sweet peas, strawberries, and leaf lettuce. And I’m seriously considering raising rabbits (don’t tell my neighbors). And yet…

My maternal grandmother is an Albrecht. For over half a century (and well into the 1970’s), the E.J. Albrect and Sons Poultry (or, “the chicken stand,” as it was known in my family) was a fixture on the south end of the Broadway Market. Our family was proud of the work, but also sought to evolve past raising and slaughtering chickens in the backyard. It was seen as progress to separate the home and cultivation of food. How far has the industrialization of food gone, how disconnected are we from the glossy, neatly rowed identical white breasts in the convenient jumbo pack that urban chicken coops became a general cause célèbre?

And does it matter if the actual sacredness is often a false veneer? The food itself may be pure, but the process to make it so hardly aligns with Liberal principles. Organic farming reduces crop yields in a hungry world. Studies have found local food can have a higher carbon footprint than economically mass-produced varieties. The search for sacredness and purity among the religious and those on the right (often the same thing in the United States) is hardly rational; at its core it is a fulfillment of prejudicial pre-determined biases and needs. Why should secular and left-leaning attainments of purity be any more consistent or logical?