Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stealth health, Beard Foundation issues, San Francisco and goose intestines

May 6

The James Beard Awards are upon us, so I'd better clear the mental decks here so I can muse on whatever might come about. The Beard Awards often are referred to as the Oscars of the restaurant world. They are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the industry, so I guess that's fair.
The James Beard Foundation was clouded by scandal a couple of years ago when its president was arrested for fraud. It seems he was embezzling funds intended, among other things, for scholarships for culinary school students. Tacky.
Since then the entire board has been replaced, the by-laws refurbished, and the foundation has declared its determination to re-evaluate its priorities and work on helping the kids again. We'll see. A new president was recently hired, and last Thursday at the Beard House, before introducing the visiting chef, George Mavrothalassitis of Chef Mavro restaurant in Honolulu, the foundation member who introduced him first talked about the "thousands" of students who had benefited from the foundation over the years -- a number I doubt -- and asked the guests, who mostly are foundation members, to sponsor scholarships.
This was the first time I'd been at the Beard House since the new president, Susan Ungaro, former editor-in-chief of Family Circle, had taken up her post, and I wondered if she was responsible for the new push.

Anyway, it has been a hectic week-and-a-half or so for me. I spent Thursday and Friday in Napa with a bunch of corporate chefs and marketing people from chain restaurants. Nation's Restaurant News held a symposium at the Culinary Institute of America there at which we explored ways that the bold flavors of the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia might be used to add tasty but healthful items to the menu.
Attempts by chain restaurants to sell food that's good for its guests has been a challenge, because guests don't order it. In fact, restaurateurs have generally found that if they indicate -- with one of those heart-healthy symbols, for example -- that a dish might be good for them, sales actually go down, presumably because guests expect the dish not to taste good.
Greg Drescher, the director of education for the CIA's Greystone campus in the Napa Valley, argued that food, whether good for you or not, can't just be okay, but has to be downright craveable, or people aren't going to order it when a burger and fries is sitting there tantalizingly on the menu. Fortunately, he said, the foods of the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia, happen to be trendy at the moment and provide the opportunity for restaurants to use whole grains and monounsaturated fats and chiles and garlic and ginger and so on to make delicious food that guests will order in spite of themselves. "Stealth health" was a term that was bandied about.
So that was fun.
Since I was in the Bay Area I took the time to visit friends and restaurants, including Silks and Straits Cafe.
I'd had the food of Silks chef Joel Huff just a few weeks before when he was visiting New York, but it seemed worth sampling again. And I'd interviewed Straits Cafe chef-owner Chris Yeo years ago and had been meaning to check out the food.

Back in New York I went to the book launch of Gael Greene's new book, had Japanese-Latin food at Kion, went to a reception sponsored by Mexican shrimp, a cocktail party at the Boat House in Central Park, had Greek-ish food at Parea -- Michael Symon's new place -- had a lunch of goose intestines among other things in Brooklyn, and went to a Kentucky Derby party celebrated by a bourbon company, plus dinner at the Beard House.

I also wrote articles about Salmon, restaurant Thomas Henkelmann in Greenwich, Conn., and other stuff while researching ways that restaurants might cut energy costs.

So, I'm sorry for not being very communicative here in cyberspace.

More to come...


m said...

How can the Beard people hire a president? Doesn't the title imply an election? M

Bret Thorn said...

It's more like the president of a university, who is hired by the school's board of trustees or a similar body.
Company presidents aren't elected either.