When Dining Means Business: Shine at the Holiday Office Party – a.k.a. don’t drink too much!

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When Dining Means Business: Shine at the Holiday Office Party – a.k.a. don’t drink too much!

Holiday party shenanigans are the stuff of legends. Who hasn’t heard tales of lampshade-wearing employee or unfortunate comments (that the person can’t remember making)?  Luckily, making the right impression is easier than you might think.

Sure, it’s a party. But it’s still business.

It goes without saying that you’ll want to avoid drinking too much (never a good idea), dressing inappropriately, or using offensive language. Other winning strategies are a bit more subtle.

RSVP (and try to say yes!)

As soon as you’re invited, check and clear your calendar. Not attending might be viewed by management as a lack of commitment. Unless you have an unavoidable conflict, you need to be there. Either way, aim to accept or send your regrets within a week of receiving the invitation.

Comings and Goings

Arrive promptly, or up to 15 minutes after the start. You don’t have to stay for the entire event; an hour and half should be fine. Shake hands with and thank your host when you arrive and again before leaving.

Dress to Impress

Lean toward attire that’s festive but tasteful. Making an effort shows you appreciate your company’s hospitality and are ready to celebrate.

Mix and Mingle

Speak to people you don’t often see. Keep the conversation pleasant and avoid controversial subjects. Focus on the year’s accomplishments and keep things professional. You never know who’ll be watching.

Shift and Shake

It’s hard to balance both a drink and a plate. Try holding both your glass and food in your left hand, leaving your right hand free to shake. If there’s no place to sit, your best bet might be to stop mingling while you eat. You can work the room more afterwards.

Don’t Guzzle the Booze

Most office party faux pas can be avoided by avoiding or controlling alcohol. Especially for office parties that include an open bar, limit yourself to one or two drinks max. Here’s a suggestion for you:  order a drink you don’t enjoy and nursing it all night. To minimize the effects of alcohol, enjoy a snack at home before you arrive.

Have you witnessed an office party gone wrong? Share your story (without naming names) in the comments below. 

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Sunchokes, Garlic and Ssam... Oh my!

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Sunchokes, Garlic and Ssam... Oh my!

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

Prepare yourself. This is going to be one of those crazy all over the map posts. The common string is unfamiliarity; whether it's an ingredient, a cooking method, or simply a term that is rooted in an unfamiliar language. This theme came to me initially this week when a Dinova sales person signed a restaurant in Seattle named Girin Steakhouse, and was then reinforced on an internal team call where the topic slipped to a sunchoke with black garlic dish at another Dinova newcomer, Rambler. 

When I initially saw the name I thought (maybe) some guy named Girin opened a steakhouse, and when I visit I would order a NY Strip with a baked potato. However, a quick look at the website revealed something much different…following the word “steakhouse” comes “ssam” and “bar”. This is not your typical American steakhouse. I know what a bar is, but ssam? 

If you have ever enjoyed one of P.F. Chang’s most popular dishes, Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps, you’ve had something very similar to ssam. “Ssam is an offering of leafy greens and vegetables for wrapping proteins with garlic, soy paste, chilies and banchan." 

Uh oh…banchan? 

Translated to English banchan means side dish. Of course, had I been familiar with the Korean language I may also have recognized the namesake of the restaurant. In Korean culture "Girin" is a divine creature said to bring good luck, prosperity, and serenity. Apparently the good luck came to fruition since they were a James Beard Best New Restaurant nominee. How about that?

But, now it's on to sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. Not botanically related, as the latter name implies, they have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that can be somewhat reminiscent of an artichoke. I think sunchoke is a more fitting name, they are the tuber of a plant that is related to the sunflower. 

I will go off on a tangent here and mention the difference between a root and a tuber. Simply put a root’s sole purpose is to absorb water and nutrients from the ground. Tubers store nutrients and can propagate new plants. Potatoes are tubers, carrots are roots. 

Now, back to the sunchoke, it looks like a big piece of ginger and is in season now through spring. 

Black garlic is served with the sunchokes at Ramblers in San Francisco, and this combination deserves a little attention as well. I first tried black garlic at a food show about five years ago and it was love at first bite. Unlike purple potatoes, garlic does not come across this intense color naturally. Garlic is heated over a period of several weeks, a process that turns this common root (had to say that) into a caramelized head of sweet and sticky goodness. Black garlic is common in Asian cuisines and is known for its health benefits. America hadn’t seen much of this exotic ingredient before 2008, and now it's available in many different restaurant concepts.  

After this immense knowledge dump, I bid you well prepared for a weekend game of Foodie Fight,  the “trivia game for serious food lovers.”  

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When Dining Means Business: Picking the Perfect Restaurant for Entertaining Clients

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When Dining Means Business: Picking the Perfect Restaurant for Entertaining Clients

Hosting a successful business meal starts with choosing the right restaurant that suits the people, the agenda, the menu, and the budget. Spend a few minutes considering your choices, and your meeting will be off to a great start.

Consider your business guests.  Are your dining companions adventuresome eaters?  Foodies?  An exciting and exotic menu might just be the thing to get the conversation started, and show you understand your guests. If you don’t know, better to err on the safe side. Choose a restaurant with a good variety of dishes, and maybe a few unique choices. You can check most menus beforehand online. 

Try to find out before making a reservation if there are any meaningful dietary preferences or requirements: vegetarian options? Gluten free choices? An organic, “farm to table” menu?  Atkins, Paleo, South Beach?  Again, a menu check or a conversation with restaurant management can help you choose.

Décor and atmosphere are also important. View the gallery images the restaurant’s website to get a feel for the ambiance and feel.  For men, a little monochromatic, better lit; for women, warmer colors, more subdued lighting.  If your in-town, stop by the restaurant and get the lay of the land.  Speak with the host or General Manager about a specific table, if necessary. 

Your guests can also be a source of good ideas.  Some may have favorite restaurants of their own. Taking them there may be an appreciated treat, and help them feel at ease.  It’s ok to ask guests beforehand to choose from two good options that you have found.  Letting your guests participate in the venue choice may draw them closer to the experience.

What’s your agenda?  Are your guests rushed for time?  Ideally the get together will leave time for easy conversation first and for business as well.  Restaurants that rush a meal along are fine for a short chat, but not necessarily ideal for an involved business discussion.  If your goal is to bond and draw out your guests, make sure your party won’t be hurried along.

Choose a restaurant where the pace is slower. 

Make sure the decibel level is conducive to conversation. That means no loud music, not a big, crowded noisy place, tables not set too closely together, especially if your conversation needs to be discreet.  You want to be with your guests, not with everybody!

Get a room. If your group is large, or if you want to offer a presentation, a private room might be the solution.  Surprisingly, even small restaurants may have a private room available, and still serve an off-the-menu meal.  Make sure to check the technology; do they have projector, and screen equipment?  TV monitors? Audio.  Can their staff set it up for you, or do you need to do it.  Can you bring your own equipment?

What’s your budget?  Unless you have serious cost-of-sale research, your budget will depend more on your agenda, how much of an impression you want to leave, how much you feel a client or associate needs to feel pampered.  Or plain and simple, how much you can afford. Just remember that being too lavish can be as off-putting as seeming too cheap.  Clients don’t want to know, for instance, that you too easily spend their money.

 The Devil is in the details.  Make sure you pick a restaurant that’s easy to locate and easy to get to.  Nobody wants to be late because of traffic or bad directions.   Make sure that parking won’t be an issue.  Especially for lunch, convenience is the key to having enough time for a successful meal meeting.

Always make reservations when you can. If a restaurant won’t take reservations, take them off the list, unless your intention is to be completely informal where waiting isn’t a problem.

Your bottom line will be best served by a little reconnaissance, a little homework, and a lot of care about your guests.  Bon Appetit!

Any other tips for picking the perfect restaurant for a business meeting?

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Soups On!

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Soups On!

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

It’s pumpkin carving, apple picking, leaf raking, soup eating time here in New England. As we turn to warm and hearty comfort foods in colder weather, soup tops my list for an easy appetizer or dinner. A wonderful pot of soup can be made from just a few humble ingredients. Starting with a good broth is important. I usually have some home made on hand in my freezer but if not, I go for the Swanson’s Organic Chicken Stock. The New York Times wrote about a simple soup recipe this week and certainly sounds like it would be flavorful. For more flavor, I would definitely use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water. There are thousands of soup recipes out there but if you’re feeling creative here are a few tips for easy pureed vegetable soups.

1.      Start with some basic aromatics (remember mirepoix?) usually one-part carrot, one-part celery and two parts onion. Sweat them in a little olive oil. Sweat, is a key term here, you don’t want to brown the onions when making a soup that is light in color; you don’t want your soup to have a burnt flavor. 

2.      If you are adding any spices now is a good time, maybe some curry or smoked paprika would be a good twist. 

3.      Once the aroma from the spice reaches your nose it’s time to add in your star ingredient. Rough chunks are fine but try to keep them in somewhat uniform size so they cook evenly. Pick a great ingredient, maybe carrots, cauliflower, broccoli or even a bag of frozen peas. If your vegetable of choice is butternut squash, simply half and seed it then throw it in. You can scrape the flesh from the rind after it’s cooked and before pureeing. It’s a lot easier than peeling when it’s hard as a rock! 

4.      A peeled and cored apple will add a little sweetness to squash or pumpkin soups. 

5.      A slice or two of day old bread added to the pot will act as a thickener. 

6.      Add broth to cover the veggies and perhaps some herbs like a bay leaf and a couple of thyme sprigs. Let this simmer until the veggies are tender. 

7.      Next simply pull the bay leaf and any woody stemmed herbs out and then puree. I have an immersion blender, but you use a regular blender be careful. I think we’ve all heard stories about hot soup exploding in the blender! 

Once the soup is back in the pot taste it for salt and pepper additions. A little cream at the end will give it a nice flavor and texture, but be sure not to let it come to a boil. If you prefer the deeper flavor of roasted vegetables go ahead and roast the veggies, then add them to the pot. Truly there are no rules here and 100 ways to switch this up. Be creative and let me know what you come up with!

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When Dining Means Business: Tableside Tech

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When Dining Means Business: Tableside Tech

Smartphones and tablets and projectors, oh my! Today’s business meal often includes a full menu of technology. Knowing how and when to power down has never been more important.

The Pew Institute reports that among U.S. adults, smart phone ownership reached 64% in 2015. This “always on” culture tempts us to stay in constant contact -- but using technology during business meals is rude and distracting. It tells your companions that they are not important, that something else is more worthy of your attention.

Even the Emily Post Institute has weighed in. Emily Post’s great-granddaughter, Cindy Post Senning, calls our obsession with texting “texting anarchy.” She pronounces “It’s not good manners.” 

Still, many find it difficult to unplug even for a few minutes. In American’s Views on Phone Etiquette, 82% reported they believe phone usage hurts conversation. Yet 89% report using their cell phone during the last social event they attended.

Especially if you are the host or a featured guest, answering a call or text is a highly visible disruption during a business meal.

Your best strategy? Think of a meal like any other business meeting. It lasts only a short while; your companions deserve your full attention.

Don’t let technology ruin a great time. You wouldn’t stop in the middle of a meeting to take a call; handle your business meal the same way.

Place your phone on vibrate before entering the restaurant. Better still, turn off your phone or leave it behind so you’ll be spared any temptation to use it. Put it your pocket, purse or briefcase, and not on the table.

Say no to texting at the table. Texting, like calling, diverts your attention from the meal and your companions. Although quieter than a phone call, even “discreet” texting is noticeable to everyone at the table.

Step away for unavoidable calls. On that rare occasion you simply must make or take a call, keep it brief. Excuse yourself and step away to the lobby, empty bar area, or another quiet place where you can conduct business in private. If you anticipate something that could be an unavoidable interruption, mention the possibility at the beginning of the business meal.

Plan ahead and prepare for tech fails. When planning to use a restaurant’s meeting room, projector and/or screen, arrive early to ensure everything necessary for a smooth presentation. We tend to take technology for granted, but lots can go wrong. Check ahead of time that the restaurant has what you need. Better still, bring along different computer adaptors and cords so you never get caught empty handed.

Use tablets only for business. If using a tablet to make presentations, resist the urge to expand its use. Sharing that latest dancing cat video can seem immature. Using a restaurant’s wifi to stream video can also slow down internet access for other business diners. If you’re determined, you can always send a link after you return to the office.

Has technology been crashing your business meals? Share your tech nightmare story in the comments below. 

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Flavoring Fall

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Flavoring Fall

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

For a small chef-owned restaurant seasonal menu changes are not too terribly complicated.  However, when you consider larger restaurants and restaurant groups, there is a litany of factors that come into play: first is creative. Just a few of the many things that the chef will think about for each new dish are the seasonal flavors he wants to represent, new product availability, textures, color, and of course flavor balance. Food cost is also highly important; can this dish be prepared at a cost that is in line with the rest of the menu? If the restaurant’s average entrée price is $16 there is no sense in putting a $32 special on the menu; it’s not what the customers are coming in for.  What about plating? Is it too complicated for the line cooks to plate it properly on a busy Saturday night? Does the restaurant have a complimentary plate to present it on, or will new service ware have to be ordered?

A chef will cook up a few (maybe several) versions of each dish and then decides on one. In larger organizations the chef is not the only decision maker, so he prepares the dish and presents it to upper management. It's different in every restaurant, but my experience is that the executive team gets together and tasted the proposed dish to decide if it would make the menu. Each component is considered on its own, and of course the overall dish is scrutinized.

Once the new menu item is approved the chef now has to order the product needed for the dish, after having previously checked availability.  Sometimes there is a new technique used in the preparation of the entrée on which the kitchen staff needs to be trained. Once the kitchen staff is up to speed on how to prepare the dish, the front of the house staff has to be trained. In most restaurants the kitchen makes up a few plates and the service staff is briefed on the menu addition at the pre-shift meeting. They need to know how to describe the dish, ingredients (allergy warnings), and ideally the staff should taste it. 

There are so many other wheels turning, such as photos of the new entrée to post on the website and printing new menus. There are, of course, a plethora of other details that I undoubtedly neglected to mention that go into this extensive process, but for now I'll have to leave it until next time.

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When Dining Means Business: Trials of the Business Table

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When Dining Means Business: Trials of the Business Table

 The Importance of Business Meal Etiquette

Good business dining makes a lasting impression, no different than your personal brand and business reputation. More than one business deal or sale has been lost based on lackluster etiquette during a meal.

For instance, an individual choosing the most expensive menu item can seem greedy or out of touch. One who’s hard on the waiter or waitress can seem insensitive or domineering. An individual who salts everything before tasting may be viewed as likely to make rash decisions.

Business dining can reveal more than a person's appetite. A trial like a spilled beverage hints at how they might handle a business emergency or their ability to stay composed under stress.

Know in advance how to handle yourself with confidence. Brush up on the tips below and be ready for the trials of the business table.

Listen More Than You Talk

Mealtime conversation is an opportunity to get better acquainted with employees, business colleagues and potential business partners. Show interest by asking about non-proprietary business topics. Upcoming company events, new product releases, or industry news are all safe subjects.

General questions about hobbies or personal pastimes show your concern goes beyond the surface. When dining with a supervisor, try not to focus too heavily on leisure or vacation. You might seem disinterested in your career.

If conversation lags, be ready to engage with friendly small talk about current events or a mutual interest. Don’t be afraid of silence. A few seconds of silence can make you seem thoughtful and keep nerves from turning you into a chatterbox.

Mind Your Manners

Stand and sit up straight. Greet your dining companions warmly and express your enthusiasm for the meeting.

After the host picks up his or her napkin, place yours in your lap and use it frequently through the meal.

Chew quietly, mouth closed. Between bites, rest utensils on your plate, not the table. Handbags, briefcases and laptops belong at your feet, not on the tabletop.

Cut food and butter bread one bite at a time rather than all at once. This takes longer, but shows you’re focused on the conversation, not eating as quickly as possible.

Add extra salt and pepper only after tasting your food. When finished, place knife and fork diagonally across the plate to signal wait staff.

Use the Right Utensil and Glass

Unsure which utensil to use? Remember to start on the outside of the place setting and work your way in. The salad fork is on the outside. The dessert fork or spoon, when on the table, will be across the top edge of the plate. Your stemware is to the right side of your place setting, bread and butter on the left.

Spills, Shares, Spirits and Sneezes

If something spills, discreetly cover the wet area or food with your napkin and ask your host to call the wait staff. Escape to the restroom to clean yourself up.

Don’t offer to share or ask to taste anyone else’s food. However, if asked to share, you may cut a small portion, place on a separate plate and offer it. This is preferable to refusing, which would likely seem rude.

In general, stick with a non-alcoholic beverage. One glass of beer or wine with the meal is acceptable as long as the host is ordering. Take caution though, ordering more than one drink may make the wrong impression.

Should you repeatedly sneeze or need to blow your nose, excuse yourself and leave the table.

If you or another diner become choked, however, quickly signal to your companions by grasping or pointing to your throat. Many people and wait staff are trained in the Heimlich technique and will be able to assist.

What are your favorite tips for good business dining etiquette? Share your secrets in the comments below. 

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My Kingdom for a Clam

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My Kingdom for a Clam

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

I recently hosted a clam boil.  There are several varieties of clams including geoduck, razor, manila, and more but they aren’t all readily available.   Although you see razor clams on the menu from time to time, most often in high end restaurants, they are somewhat elusive.  First of all, they have to be hand harvested as the long, narrow and very brittle shell are easily broken by shovels and rakes.  Razors are most often found in tidal flats, that are accessible only at the lowest tide.  This happens during a full moon so there are only a few nights each moth that harvesting is ideal. 

Just for the sake of interest I have to mention a bi-valve that I am not a fan of.  At the risk of sounding prejudiced the geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) is just plain ugly.  We don’t see them much (thankfully) here in the east as they are native to the west coast.  Most of the geoduck harvested in the US is shipped off to Japan where the neck is a delicacy.  These giants can grow up to about 5 pounds but most are harvested from deep trenches at about 1-3 pounds.  They can live up to about 145 years old!

There are Pismo clams, manila clams and surf clams but the most common are the hard shell and soft shell varieties easily found in our local waters.  Soft shell clams are referred to as steamers as simply steamed and dipped in butter is the most common way to enjoy.  Another common preparation for the soft shell clam is battered and deep fried.  On the menu you will often see a designation between the whole clam or the clam strip.  If you choose the whole clam you get the belly too; strong flavored and a bit slimy, not everyone is a fan.  The soft shell clam is also referred to as a “piss clam”, now doesn’t that sound appetizing?  The reason for this unfortunate reference is that when they are disturbed the clam ejects a spurt of water before withdrawing deeper into the sand.  When we were kids our job was to stomp on the shore right at the water’s edge.  When we saw the squirt my grandfather would race over with his shovel and dig them up.

My favorite clam is the hard shell clam, oh so many names for the Mercenaria mercenaria (not a duplication typo!).  This is the bivalve we see on the half shell and starring in clams casino.  This clam is named by size and there is plenty of confusion surrounding that.  The smallest hard shell clam has to be at least 1” wide at the hinge to legally harvest.  These are called little necks, or count necks by some, and are often eaten raw.  As the clams graduate in size they are called middle necks, top necks, cherrystones, or simply cherries and the largest at 3”+ are quahogs, or chowders.  The larger clams get tough so are usually cooked before consumption.  Just in case it ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit the quahog is the official shellfish of Rhode Island.  And if there are any Family Guy fans out there, no there is not a city by that name.  The word quahog is from the Narragansett Indians who also made beads from the shells called wampum.  

Don't be afraid to try something new. Happy clamming!

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When Dining Means Business: Mechanics of the Business Meal

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When Dining Means Business: Mechanics of the Business Meal

Our Dinova corporate members understand the power of business dining. Every business meal shared together is a chance to charm (or alarm).

Learning the mechanics of the business meal can contribute greatly to business success. Master these essentials and whether an annual review lunch with the boss, that big client dinner, or the business deal of a lifetime, you’ll be ready to shine.

When You’re a Guest

 Follow the Leader. Your host will drive the business conversation, interact with wait staff and pay the bill. Pay attention and enjoy yourself.

Keep it Clean. Leave messy spaghetti, barbecue and shellfish for another day. Stick to easy-to-eat dishes that won’t drip, splatter or splash.

Be Reasonable. Order from the midrange of menu offerings. Avoid the most expensive dishes unless they’re specialties of the house, or offered by your host.

Stay on Course. If your host suggests a first course or cocktail, go ahead and order one. Business meals are about more than food. Don’t rush. Multiple courses provide time for conversation.

Prepare for the Meal. Think of the meal like an offsite business meeting (without the white board and bagels). Be ready to discuss pertinent topics. Keep printed handouts to a minimum. You can forward documents afterwards with your thank you email.  

When You’re the Host

If You Extended the Invitation, You’re Hosting. You’ll make arrangements, lead the conversation and pick up the check.

Make Reservations to minimize waiting. Need an especially quiet table with privacy? Now’s the time to ask. Confirm the morning of your event.

If hosting, arrive promptly and wait for your guest(s). When a restaurant is busy and the waiting area crowded, you may proceed ahead to the table when offered. Don’t pick up your napkin or begin the meal. Let the wait staff know the rest of your party is on the way.

Shake hands and smile. When your guest arrives, stand and extend a welcoming handshake. Offer a warm greeting such as “Great to see you. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Seating Smarts Position the VIP in your party with the best view of the dining room, away from hectic service areas.

When and How to Talk Business

Take a few minutes to settle in before turning to work, especially if your conversation might be sensitive. A good time for discussion is after you’ve ordered and are waiting for your food.

Try not to put your companion on the spot by asking detailed questions. If concerned about performance numbers and other data-driven subjects, bring along the necessary reference. Keep an eye on the clock and schedule a follow up if you need more time together.

What’s your must-remember tip for business dining?  Share your secrets in the comments below. 

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Farming on the Rooftop: Bidwell Restaurant

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Farming on the Rooftop: Bidwell Restaurant

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

There is a lot of talk about “Farm to Table” cuisine these days. And naturally some restaurants are certainly more diligent about sourcing locally than others. Dinova recently added Bidwell Restaurant into the marketplace and it is an exemplary case of one chef’s commitment to sustainability. Chef John Mooney employs hydroponic (specifically aeroponic) growing methods to provide his busy Washington D.C. restaurant with produce that is grown right on the restaurant’s rooftop, and then is used within hours of harvest. 

Hydroponic gardening is the science of growing plants using only water and a sterile growing medium, like vermiculite. Since the plant is not reaping minerals and vitamins from soil a nutrient mixture is added to the water. Aeroponic farming is an offshoot of hydroponics, with this method there is no growing medium. The roots, suspended in a dark chamber, are frequently sprayed with a nutrient solution. 

Hydroponic gardening is not for everyone; startup costs are high and there is a real science to growing plants without soil. However, this method of farming is gaining popularity in countries where abundant water supplies are not available and the ground soil is parched. So, if an area doesn’t have a good water supply how does growing vegetables in water make sense? In a hydroponic farming system water is recycled. Only the water taken up by the roots is used, there is no wasted water seeping into the ground. This reduces water usage over soil gardening by a whopping 80 – 90%. Limited space is another scenario where hydroponic gardening is a great choice. In soil, plants grow large root systems to search for food and water, with hydroponics sustenance is fed directly to the roots. With smaller root systems the plants can be grown closer together, requiring only about 20% of the overall space necessary for traditional soil gardening. Also, because nutrients are supplied directly to the roots, plants grow much faster; for example, a head of lettuce takes only about 3 weeks to fully mature.

According to the Bidwell website Chef Mooney named his Roof to Table restaurant for General John Bidwell. Bidwell served in the US Army in the 1800’s and was the founder of Chico, California. An avid farmer, he developed the Bidwell heirloom melon, a gold medal winning flour, and California’s first commercial raisin crop. 

What a great concept that provides fresh vegetables and a fun experience!

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It's Easy Eating Green

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It's Easy Eating Green

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

Choosing a vegetarian diet is nothing new, for years people have shied away from animal protein for any number of reasons, religious, moral, or simply a healthier lifestyle.  I could imagine my life as a vegetarian, at this point I choose not to, but it would be possible.  Vegan?  Not for me!   Life without eggs, honey, butter and cheese just isn’t in my realm of imagination.  For raw vegans even dark chocolate could be off limits if the cocoa beans were roasted.

Well good news for vegetarians, vegans and the many of us that strive to consume a little less meat.  In fine dining restaurants across the country chefs are adding vegetarian entrees beyond risotto and pasta.  At protein driven “Range” in Washington D.C., Chef Bryan Voltaggio makes his vegetarian guests feel welcome with dishes like kimchi linguine with maitake mushrooms and little wisps of kale or a lasagna that layers thin sheets of poached Yukon Gold potatoes with a tomato marmalade and garlicky chanterelles.  Vegetarian tasting menus are popping up at fine dining restaurants all over the country.  With dish options like Pommes Soufflés -  Sunny side up quail egg, marble potatoes, brentwood corn, summer squash and chimichurri (Per Se) have even the carnivores requesting the vegetarian option.

In the fast casual restaurant world, a growing category is the vegetable forward concept.  In the Dinova Marketplace we have Veggie Grill on the west coast and Beefsteak in the Washington D.C., area.  These are not “vegetarian” restaurants but they do put vegetables at the center of the plate.   The food is so thoughtful and creative; you won’t miss the meat!  Veggie Grill offers dishes like Thai tacos, smoky corn bisque, and an array of bowls featuring grains, nuts and fresh veg.  I had the B.T.L.A., tempeh and bacon took the place of pork and it was just delicious.  In D.C., Chef José Andrés has introduced Beefsteak.  According to their website the name “is a playful take on the power of vegetables — because a tomato, or any veggie, can be every bit as flavorful and robust as a cut of meat!”   At Beefsteak you can add meat if you’d like, but it won’t outshine the fresh vegetables.  Exploring restaurants like these make it easy to eat a healthier diet and should not be thought of as establishments for vegetarians only.

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Happy National Tequila Day!

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Happy National Tequila Day!

Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.

Sunday is National Tequila Day…like we needed an excuse.  I can’t tell you a quaint story like the one involving donut dollies as I’m uncertain of the origin, likely commercial.  Much like Champagne and Marzano Tomatoes “tequila” is a protected term.  Mexican law states that to earn the label, among other rules, tequila must be produced in the state of Jalisco (and a few other limited regions) and is made from the Tequila Agave ‘Weber Blue’ variety of agave, grown in that same region of Mexico.   There is a code (NOM) on each bottle of tequila that indicates which distillery the liquor was produced in. 

Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to export Tequila to the United States; his grandson Don Francisco Javier’s efforts led to the strict labeling requirements.  However, it was Jose Antonio Cuervo that received the first license to commercially produce Tequila, granted to him by the King of Spain.  

The tending and harvesting of the agave plant remains much as it always has, a manual process.  The stalks grow several feet tall from the center of the plant and are trimmed regularly to keep the agave from flowering.  This allows the core of the plant (piña) to fully ripen.  It is from this piña that the agave juice is extracted.  The giant plants are usually harvested between 8-10 years old.  Think about it, grapes grow from the same vines year after year and wine is made with each harvest.  One blue agave takes at least 8 years to get to maturity and is completely cut down when harvested.  This is a long term process!

The extraction and fermentation process is similar for most producers.  After the fermentation though several different versions are bottled.  If distilled once the product is called “ordinario”, a second distillation produces clear “silver” or “blanco” tequila.  From here the spirit can be bottled or aged in wooden barrels.  The wood barrels impart the amber color you see in “reposado” (rested) which is in barrels for 2-12 months and “añejo” aged one to three years.  In 2006 an additional category was added, “Extra Añejo”, which is aged over three years.   If you see a gold tequila that does not carry any of these terms on the label, you are likely buying “joven” (young) or “oro” (gold) tequila.  This is young silver tequila with the addition of caramel color and would fall into the category of “mixtos”, which can contain up to 49% additional sugars, think hangover.  Made in a similar fashion but not to be confused with tequila, mezcal can be produced using any of 8 varieties of the agave plant. 

As for the most popular cocktail made with tequila, no bottled margarita mix for me!  Three ingredients, tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and Cointreau, shaken with ice.  Some margarita aficionados use agave nectar to sweeten the cocktail, but I prefer the orange flavored liqueur.  There are countless ways to enjoy this complex spirit, neat for the purist, Paloma for grapefruit fans, and with Sunday Brunch how about a Bloody Maria?

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