Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Truth in Menus---not so much in the golden corner   

As a restaurant owner/manager, you have the right and obligation to  represent your food in the most attractive way--- in such a way as to entice customers to make choices that benefit your bottom line.  But, in addition to the obligation to the business, there is an ethical and legal  obligation to your customer.  For that reason, we have Truth in Menu laws, much like the truth in advertising laws with which we are all familiar. 

As part of every culinary curriculum across the U.S. there is a class that teaches menu management.  Yes, we are taught how to graphically create a menu, but that is a very small part of one chapter of a very large textbook.  So, what is in the rest of the book?  With the menu as the hub, we are taught how to plan and execute the business model based on that menu---the food, service and concept in that menu, everything from kitchen and front of the house design, to human resource requirements, ingredient sourcing, food preparation, to cost control as well as sanitation and safety.  Unfortunately, there is little or nothing about truth in menu.  Perhaps that is why there are so many Untruths in Menus, here in the Golden Corner of South Carolina. 

The purpose of Truth in Menu laws is to protect the consumer---to ensure that the food is represented in such a way that what the customer gets is what the customer expects.  For example, if a menu item is described as gluten free, then it MUST be that.  If the cooking method is described as char-grilled, then it cannot be pan fried.  If the price is $ 9.00 for one dozen mussels, then there MUST be one dozen mussels served.  If it specifies, Prince Edward Island (PEI) Blue mussels, then it must be one dozen, PEI Blue mussels.  Do you see where I am going with this?

During our hiatus from Beyond the Bull, and on our quest to find a new location, we have spent a great deal of time eating out, mostly to see how our competitors do it, but sometimes to consider purchasing the business or equipment.  So we get to see a lot of horrifying kitchens as well as unsafe practices.  But, what disturbs me the most is when I am the customer and I have to pay for something that is NOT what I expected.  Although I would like to list the restaurant name, address and all of the specifics in each of the examples that follow, my business ethics got in the way and prohibited me from doing so.  I am certain that in some cases, the menu is not meant to mislead, as certain as I am that in some cases, it is. 

On the other hand, I feel an obligation to blow the whistle on behalf of my fellow diners in the Anderson, Clemson and Seneca areas.  So here is my list of the most frequently published untruths from some of the most popular menus in the area.  The next time you see one of these, you might want to ask the server for the truth in the menu:

Food ingredient source
This is perhaps the most often published untruth on local menus.  From a well established downtown Anderson fast casual restaurant, local ingredients are promised, but not delivered.  Produce suppliers do not deliver “garden fresh” tomatoes, eggplant and basil in October.  In Clemson, a popular fine dining restaurant claims their starter mussels are from Prince Edward Isle---not!  They are Chilean cultured, yummy, but not PEI.  FYI, Beyond the Bull serves Chilean rope cultured mussels as well, but we are proud of them and don’t lie about it.

It is understandable that sometimes in order to provide a standardized menu, a restaurant has to source ingredients from away.  At BTB we strive to keep a consistent menu selection in order to protect our guests from disappointment.  If South Carolina farmers grew Brussels sprouts, we would buy them and make the claim that they are local.  But, our Brussels sprouts come from farms in Santa Cruz, California.  With our modern transportation systems and refrigeration, they are pretty good! We’re proud to serve them and don’t try to fool our customers into believing they are buying something they are not getting.  

Item name
If I order a menu item that is called roasted lamb lollipop, I want ground lamb on a stick, and I want it roasted.  But this fine establishment in Anderson served me mini lamb chops, with grill marks---what?  Call it what it is!

Made from scratch
Made from scratch or house made, is harder and harder to find in restaurants these days with the ease of use offered today by major restaurant food suppliers.  Revenue wise, it is sometimes more cost effective for a restaurant owner to buy it already prepared.  But, buying frozen pizza dough which is then turned into a pizza “pie” is not from scratch, nor is crème brulee from a box, to which you add milk and bake, or a dessert cake made from a package mix to which you add eggs and oil then sugar coat with frosting to which you add flavoring, or soups and sauces to which you add stock from a box, or frozen produce with additives to ensure “freshness”.  Scratch cooking means from  fresh ingredients, produce, meat and fish, rice and dried beans from start to finish.  At BTB, all menu items are made from scratch, even our salad mix is made by us from fresh heads or bunches of greens, stocks, sauces, soups, dressings, sides, all from scratch as are our signature pot de creme desserts.   

Heatlthy
No one should make this claim on a menu unless it is proven by a dietician and documented.  Yet the word “healthy” is used somewhere on half of the menus I have read in the last three months.  Not only is it most likely an untruth, but it can be a harmful claim to an uninformed consumer with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.  

Grilled or roasted
Last month we dined in a restaurant in Ram Cat Alley that offered a grilled fish selection.  What I expected was grill marks from a char-grill.  What I got was a blackened fish cooked on the flat top, basically fried in a butter flavored oil.  An order of roasted lamb came out as a chop with grill marks, a grilled chicken breast was roasted and an order of wilted greens were steamed or boiled. 

Fresh
Fresh frozen is not fresh!  This is an especially common untruth applied to seafood products.  In case you haven’t notice, The Golden Corner of South Carolina is not on the coast.  Unless it was flown from the dock to the restaurant, it is not fresh.  That is not to say that there is anything wrong with fresh frozen.    And in my opinion, fresh frozen at sea will beat fresh in quality, texture and flavor.  Even on the coast, if it’s not from a day boat, it ain’t fresh, folks.   

Farm to table
Farm to table, local, fresh, sustainable, all have different meanings, but to most consumers, they may as well be synonymous because most consumers think they are getting food right from the farm without any middle man or additives.  Advertising your restaurant as farm to table simply because you use local suppliers is an untruth.  Farm to table only exists where the food ingredients, basically protein and produce, are farmed, processed and prepared for dining---from the farm to the restaurant table.  How many of those are in the Golden Corner? 

Buyer beware!  The next time you dine out, read the menu with a new perspective and ask your server for the truth.  If you are like me, I work hard at making a living and if I am buying a dozen steamed-in-lager, farm-raised littleneck clams from South Carolina, with house made heart healthy cocktail sauce, don’t serve me less than a dozen, boiled in salted water, wild littlenecks, with ketchup (not healthy) to which you add bottled lemon juice concentrate and horseradish sauce from a jar.  And if you do, I am not paying for it!

EAT SMART, and speak up, America!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB



P.S. For those of you following Beyond the Bull, we have narrowed our search for a new location to two, both in Clemson---stay tuned!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

There’s a fly in my soup   

This summer marked a momentous occasion for the restaurant industry in South Carolina.  For the first time ever, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control  (SCDHEC) adopted the current 2013 FDA Food Code model in its entirety.  That means stricter controls for food safety in this state and I say it is about time.  

No, I didn’t really find a fly in my soup, but I did find a hair in my eggs, the tip of a latex glove in my chili and an animal claw in my salad, all within the last year, right here in the golden corner of South Carolina.  So I am thankful to SCDHEC for mandating that beginning this summer, all restaurants must have a certified food safety manager in addition to a person in charge at all times, one who can demonstrate knowledge of food safety.      

As a graduate of a culinary college, a chef instructor, a certified food safety instructor as well as a restaurateur, my views of public dining experiences are a bit skewed.  The saying that ignorance is bliss is no doubt true.  Knowing as much as I do about restaurant kitchens, it is impossible for me to close my eyes and open my mouth to accept whatever fare is on the plate in front of me in whatever manner it is served.  Wish that I were ignorant!

Due to the hiatus from Beyond the Bull, while we continue our search for a new, permanent home, I have had some time on my hands away from our business, which has allowed my husband and I to participate in the dining scene around Clemson, Seneca and Anderson.  Dining out is not the most pleasant experience for me, to which I have already alluded, but never the less, I do it anyway to learn as much about the dining scene in the golden corner as I can, and especially to sample the menus of what might very well be our competition.

But, this is not about the kitchens.  This is about what we in the industry refer to as the front of the house---where guests are served in various styles, buffet, fast food counter, fast casual table side, table cloth fine dining, window or bar.  It is occupied by bartenders, servers, bussers, hosts, cashiers and sometimes an owner or chef who has occasion to leave the kitchen to meet and greet.  Unfortunately, most of what goes on in the front of the house is not subject to DHEC regulations or its food code.  It is a reflection of restaurant policy and the reason why I am writing today. 

One would hope that since kitchen management must now show knowledge of food safety in the kitchen, that the same management would show common sense in relating food safety concepts to the front of the house.  After all, the food does not go directly from the kitchen to our mouths.  It travels on uncovered plates, in cups and glassware, past children and grammas, farmers and lawyers who are sometimes covered in outerwear donned at home, guests walking in and out, sneezing, coughing and talking on phones, carried on trays or balanced at arm’s length. 

So what, you say?  I say this:

French fry snatched from a plate on its way to a guest
Lemon wedge dropped into a water glass
Ice scooped with bare hands
Ice scooped with a glass
A dessert pie openly displayed (uncovered) on a shelf beside the restroom door
Olives and cherries from the garnish tray that sits open upon the bar
Money and credit cards handled alongside the olives, twists and onions
Street clothes
Nose, tongue, ear piercings and necklaces
Long hair unrestrained
Personally, the most off putting--- facial hair, full bushy beard, mid chest length stopping just short of the plate of appetizer wings

Those of us who have taken the time to earn the food safety manager designation recognize these situations as potentially harmful to our customers.    It is NOT okay for you to serve me while wearing the same clothes you wore to walk your dog.  It is NOT okay for you to pick up a garnish with your bare hands and pop one into your mouth before placing one in my glass.  It is NOT okay for the dessert to sit out in a hallway exposed to guests who walk by.  It is NOT okay to handle credit cards and money before cutting a lemon and tossing it in my water.  It is NOT okay for you to stick your hands in the ice that you want me to consume.  It is NOT okay for you to wear jewelry that might fall from your body or continually push your hair off your face or behind your ears or play with your piercing in your nose.  And it is MOST DEFINITELY NOT okay for you to serve me while your beard hangs precariously over my food on its journey from the kitchen where they are required to wear beard covers.

If it is NOT okay for kitchen staff to do any of this, then why is it OK for servers, bussers, hosts and bartenders to do it? 

I think it is time for me to go back to my kitchen…

EAT SMART, and speak up, America!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Culinary Bytes…

How To Cook Lobster Tail:   A Beginner’s Primer


Dining on lobster is as ritualistic as eating can get.  Generations have learned to crack, puncture, rip, dig and suck out every piece of flesh from the smallest knuckle to the honeycomb chambers of the innards, always leaving the best for last---the tail.  But for ordinary folks, why not just cook and eat the tail? 

The gold standard of lobster tails is the one that belongs to the Homerus americanus, the North Atlantic lobster also known widely by lobster aficionados as the Maine lobster, or in Gloucester as the Massachusetts lobster, in Providence as the Rhode Island lobster or in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, you guessed it, as the Canadian lobster.    The bountiful seafood of the cold water of the North Atlantic ensures that the meat of the Maine lobster is succulent and sweet.  After all, Maine lobsters feast on many of the same sea creatures for which we humans pay dearly at top of the line, fine dining establishments.    Crabs, scallops, clams, fin fish, shrimp, mussels, seaweed and sea urchins as well as the ever present plankton are all part of their diet, the resulting buttery flavored sweetness of cooked lobster substantial proof of the phrase you are what you eat.  

If this is your first time dining on lobster tail, I recommend you cook the whole live lobster, skip the ritual and go for the tail.  You will be rewarded with the freshest, sweetest, most tender lobster meat possible.   So, if you want to know how to cook lobster tail, and find out what all the fuss is about, pick out your North Atlantic lobster from a tank in a store, order it online from a lobster pound or take a trip Downeast and wait at the dock, but whichever you do, forgo the ritual, go for the tail.
                    
Simply Boiled Lobster 
           
This recipe is the primer for how to cook lobster tail.  It uses two 1-1/4 pound live lobsters.  Cooking time depends on size of the lobsters so if you go for a larger or smaller one, you will need to adjust the cooking time.  Even though you are only going to eat the tail, cook the whole lobster.  Like any fish or meat, cutting it (or in this case, dismembering it) after cooking, always provides a more tender piece of flesh.  Since you are only going to eat the cooked tail, break up the rest of the cooked lobster into pieces, leaving the shell on, bag it and freeze it.  Lobster bodies are great for stocks, soups, and sauces. 




Yield  :   2 servings     Preparation Time :  5 minutes             Cooking Time:  10 minutes

Ingredients

2-1 ¼ pound lobsters alive and kicking
Large pot of boiling water
Unsalted butter
Seaweed  (if possible get seawater and seaweed to add to the boiling water)
No salt, spices or herbs are used.  If the lobster is alive and fresh, the saltiness of the shell is all you need.

Directions

Bring the water to a rolling boil.  Place the live lobsters in the water leaving enough room for the water to maintain a rolling boil.  In other words, don’t pack them in.  Do not remove the rubber bands from the claws.  It isn’t called the crushing claw for nothing!  Boil for 10 minutes, remove and let the lobsters rest for 5 minutes.   The red color is the result of a chemical change that takes place in the hot water.  It is not indicative of doneness.  

To remove the tail, pick up the body and hold it in one hand.  With the other hand grab onto the tail where it meets the body and tear it with a downward twist.  The tail should easily dislodge from the body.   Do this over a bowl as the body cavity will be filled with water.  Turn the tail on its back and lay it flat.  With a sharp knife, cut through the underside of the shell, but not through the meat.  Widen the opening enough to pull the meat out in one solid piece. 

Recommended service:  Have unsalted butter melted and ready for dipping!  Serve with corn on the cob and a creamy cole slaw for a traditional Downeast meal. 

Eat smart, feel good…

Chef Angela Bell








Sunday, May 4, 2014

Community Shared Use Kitchen to Benefit Upstate, South Carolina Food Entrepreneurs
 If you are an eager, overachieving entrepreneur with a great idea for the next food fashion, you no longer have to put your business plan aside until you can finance your own certified professional kitchen.   Very soon there will be a way for you to start production and earn revenue without funding a DHEC approved facility. 
When I  moved to the upstate South Carolina to open the first eat smart kitchen, Beyond the Bull, located at the entrance to downtown Central, it wasn’t just another restaurant in an already over saturated market that I was planning.  As a Servsafe certified instructor and proctor for Tri-county Technical College (TCTC), I soon became a sounding board for frustrated budding entrepreneurs who had great ideas, strong business plans and experience, but lacked the funding and training needed to operate a professional kitchen.  The students were not young and inexperienced.  They were mature adults with years of experience in business management or marketing, mostly women, mostly unemployed and unemployable because of their age or outdated skill sets.  The only other thing they had in common was a desire to start over and be successful once again.    
For those students and others like them, I am hoping to bridge the gap from idea to reality by opening the first community shared use kitchen to serve Anderson, Greenville, Oconee and Pickens counties, a DHEC “A” rated facility equipped with everything one needs to prepare food products for market.  Although the Bull has outgrown the location at 233 W. Main Street, Central, the building is the perfect venue in location and size for a kitchen incubator.  The opening date for the kitchen incubator is July 1, when the public will be offered the use of the facility, training and food service business management consulting.  
It is my hope that the community shared use kitchen will become a focal point for food service professionals and nonprofessionals as well, from home cooks who need a place for canning to farmer’s market vendors, food trucks, caterers, future retailers of gluten free brownies and pizza dough to food photographers and especially for new product development.   The main focus will always remain on the small business development of food related products and small business start ups.

Opening date for the shared use kitchen known simply as Chop Chop is July 1, 2014.  Reservations are being accepted now.   Early registration will be rewarded with a discounted rate.  For more information contact Chef Bell at 2birches@att.net , call her at 207 251 3947 or message her through www.facebook.com/chefangelab or www.facebook.com/beyondthebull.
EAT SMART, America!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB


 P.S.  The Bull is relocating to a larger venue, not going away!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014



FIVE MORE REASONS OUR GUESTS KEEP COMING BACK

On March 29, Beyond the Bull, the first "eat smart" kitchen will celebrate its first year.  We have to thank our guests who keep coming back.  In an earlier blog, I listed ten reasons why they do it.  Since then, there are more---reasons that it is, to keep coming back!

1.       Chef on duty---Where else can you meet and greet the Chef who prepares and serves the food directly to you?  Want to know which items are gluten free?  Ask the Chef!
2.       Real seafood---no imitations or additives (STTP) here.  Real wild caught Icelandic Cod, North Atlantic Haddock, real blue crab, Canadian sea scallops (not the itty bitty flavorless bay scallops), Yellow fin tuna and best tasting mussels around (according to my Northern guests).
3.       Phone in and pick up---now even better with Saturday night take out pricing for early bird ordering (see our new Saturday night take out menu below!)
4.       Convenient location and parking---at the entrance to downtown Central, 5 minutes from thousands of student apartments, just down the road from Issaqueena and parking out front. 
5.       Still NO TIPPING---such big savings that it needs repeating!

Numbers 6 and 7 coming soon---
6.       Open for lunch Thursday and Friday 11 to 1, starting March 13.  Eat in or call in for pick up. 
7.       Outside seating---adding more this month!


                  Eat Smart, Feel Good!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beyond the Bull to join annual fundraiser to benefit Helping Hands of Clemson
In August 1984, an emergency shelter and foster home for abused and neglected children from across the upstate of South Carolina, opened its doors.  Helping Hands of Clemson received their first children into their House that was licensed to care for 16 children. Today the House is licensed to care for 54 children.  To date, they have cared for an estimated 8,000, the majority coming from Anderson, Greenville, Oconee and Pickens counties. 
If you have ever driven through the depot district of downtown Central, there, on Main Street, you will see a thrift store also named Helping Hands.  This retail outlet, staffed by volunteers and stocked with used merchandise donated by generous local citizenry, is the source of much of their funding.   But, the fundraising doesn’t stop there.  In addition to private donations and store revenue, Helping Hands of Clemson hosts an annual pub crawl, an annual Crawl for the Kids.
On Saturday, March 15, the Annual Crawl for the Kids Pub Crawl begins with check-in at 5 PM and will last until approximately,  11:30 PM that night.  Unlike other pub crawls, crawlers can choose to shuttle with a group or go out on their own to the various participants offering drink and food specialties in and around downtown Clemson.  This year, the crawl is expanding to include the newest downtown Central eatery,  Beyond the Bull (BTB), offering free duck chowder and chili to anyone from the Crawl who stops in.  In addition, BTB is donating $ 1.00 to the Helping Hands Building Fund for every entrée sold during that time. Downtown Central is fast becoming a dining destination with six successfully operating restaurants all within walking distance of each other from Mexican to Asian and now BTB, an eat smart kitchen specializing in wild game. 

The price to participate is $25 per person for a crawl tee which guarantees you various specials at each stop along the route.  To reserve your T-shirt, you must pre-register by Tuesday, March 4.  For more details go to Helping Hands.

                 Eat Smart, Feel Good!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB


Monday, January 20, 2014

YELP---Public service or big business


Beyond the Bull will no longer support YELP.  The city guide that claims it “helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax, and play, based on the informed opinion of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know” is not in the business of helping people.  It is in the business of advertising. 

YELP claims that an unbiased use of a very secret algorithm filters out reviews they consider to be unrecommended (aka filtered) in an effort to protect their readers from biased reviews that may be solicited or paid for by the business.  Is it true?  Who knows!

What I do know to be is this:

Shortly after Beyond the Bull received its third review (all positive) I received a phone call from an overly aggressive YELP representative who attempted to sell me advertising.  I declined.

The next day, two of the three reviews were moved to filtered status.  In other words, removed from the main page and only accessible if the reader knew enough to click on the filtered icon.  Since that time, Beyond the Bull received ten more highly positive, unsolicited reviews.  All ten were filtered (now designated as unrecommended). 

Recently, a two star (out of five) review was published.  Where do you think YELP’s algorithm placed it?  Yep!  Front and center.  Was it written by a “local in the know?”  No.  This particular reviewer has been registered with YELP since October with a whopping 2 reviews under his belt. 

This is not sour grapes.  I know some of you are thinking that I am just upset that Beyond the Bull received a two star review.  That is not the case.  Having been in the restaurant industry for decades, I know that sometimes good restaurants get bad reviews just like the best of literature, theatre or music.  What I am upset about is a business model that includes extortion, and that YELP uses that business model to unfairly solicit paid advertising from small business.  In my opinion, it is both irresponsible and criminal. 

Beyond the Bull submitted a request according to the YELP guidelines to close the account on 1/17/ 2014.  As of today, YELP has not yet complied.  For more BTB reviews, photos, location and information go to http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/158/1775983/restaurant/Greenville/Beyond-the-Bull-Central or https://www.facebook.com/BeyondTheBull

EAT SMART, America!
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB



Tuesday, December 31, 2013




Themed Dinners Springing To Life In The Upstate

It’s not just here’s the menu, take the order any more.  Themed dinners are making their way across the upstate.  From Greenville to the Golden Corner of South Carolina, restaurateurs are taking on the role of educators in today’s restaurant environment, offering new dining experiences to a more savvy and diverse diner as well as the home cook enthusiast.  Dinners pairing wine with classic Italian and French cuisine are being replaced with whiskey, cigar, craft beer and farm to table pairings as well as multi-course dinners with single food themes such as a five course feast starring several varieties of in-season tomatoes at their peak or regional themes showcasing foods that are not necessarily local.

Although it is absolutely essential to the success and longevity of local food producers, and to our long term health, from a fine dining point of view, serving farm to table severely limits dining choices.  As a chef and restaurant owner, I feel like I am short changing my guests if I do not stretch their palates and give them a taste of something out of the ordinary.  In my establishment there is a menu to which I must adhere, so breaking out a themed dinner now and then fuels my artistry and satisfies my desire to educate my guests.  

Diners and home cook food enthusiasts are generally limited to ingredients that are available at the local grocers or online.  It takes a great leap of faith for a nonprofessional cook to order a pound of baby octopus, a whole rabbit or sea cucumbers without ever having eaten them.  Even though there are videos galore available on the internet that show how to prepare everything from an antipasto to zucchini flowers, the world wide web  will never provide them with the aroma, flavor or texture of the ingredients properly prepared by a professional chef.  The themed dinner provides the opportunity for guests to expand their food and beverage experience as well as a chance for chefs to prove they are multi-dimensional.

Themed dinners in the upstate are generally pairings of five courses ranging from $ 45 to $ 150 depending on the venue and ingredients, and most are small, intimate gatherings.  At Beyond the Bull, we are hoping to lead the way in the Golden Corner with a monthly offering, the third Saturday of every month.  The venue is small, limited to 24, and casual enough so that if a guest wants to take a break and stroll outside to the fire pit for a breather, he can.  And, he just might meet the chef out there, taking a break as well. 

Will they catch on?  Our first dinner held on December 23, the theme of which was the Feast of the Seven Fishes, was a resounding success, so much so that we are already planning our January event, Cabin Fever Food Fest, featuring the best of Maine:  lobster, cod, blueberries and clams to be followed in February with a pairing of game meat and local craft beers.  Other themed dinners planned for later this year will include a fish and game collaboration with another popular restaurant also located in the old Depot District of Central, a New England lobster bake, an homage to the BBC Two Fat Ladies, as well as a collaboration with local farms, the best of the best.  
Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB
Beyond the Bulll (an "eat smart" kitchen)
233 W. Main St., Central, SC 29630


For more information on upcoming events go to www.facebook.com/beyondthebull or call Chef Bell at 864 508 1254.  

Chef Angela Bell is the chef owner of Beyond the Bull, an eat smart kitchen located at the entrance to the old Depot District, downtown, Central, SC.  In addition to her culinary duties at The Bull, she is a culinary instructor and food writer.  Her latest book, GOOD FOOD BAD FOOD, a how-to of anti-aging gastronomy is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Please Join Us in Celebrating the Feast of Seven Fishes 

December 23, 2013 one seating only at 6PM. 



Buon Appetito e Buona Salute, Chef AngelaB