Christopher Ranch

  (Gilroy, California)
Gilroy's finest. Family owned since 1956
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A Little Culinary Insight From Chef Heinz Lauer – Local, Artisan, Small Plates, Garlic, Las Vegas & More

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone utter the word, “trend,” in the weeks leading up to 2010, well, you could dub me the new Warren Buffet.

Now, it’s not that I don’t trust these projected trends – The Food Channel, American Culinary Federation and Food Network are very trusted, notable resources. However, like anything, there can be a lot of hype and speculation surrounding trends, and – at times – they don’t materialize.

In a world as unpredictable as today, it’s difficult to gauge what’s going to transpire day to day, let alone year to year. I mean, who thought mohawks or denim on denim would make a resurgence? The ’80s are calling – they want ‘em back.

So – until I talk to an expert, I’m not a firm believer.

Therefore, I decided to consult Chef Heinz Lauer, the executive chef and culinary program chair of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, whose longevity – more than 35 years – background and success – including the ACF’s 2009 Western Region Chef Educator of the Year – in the field, definitely qualify him as an expert.

Here’s what Chef Lauer had to say about upcoming culinary “trends” – a word he opposes – the art of cooking, personal culinary inspiration, the rise of Las Vegas – aside from gambling – and his favorite food, as interpreted and in no particular order.

Me: “First off, Happy New Year! So, what culinary trends are on the horizon in 2010?”

Chef Lauer: ”Well, I’m not a fan of the word, trend. I do see flavor profiles changing…flavors you’ve never seen before, like Ethiopian flavors from Africa. However, I don’t see ethnic cuisines ever going away – Italian food is still the No. 1. In general, though, all ethnic foods are Americanized…they often cannot be replicated, as flavors vary by region, there are many things that can’t be brought into the country and the ambience (of where you’re eating cannot be redone). For example, sitting on a beach in Mexico and drinking a margarita – you just can’t recreate that experience back home.

I do see sharing plates/family style eating and larger appetizer plates/tapas (gaining popularity). People are more inclined to try something new in smaller portions; I think it’s born out of the craving to try new things, peoples’ adventurous side coming out, traveling more…

I think comfort food will always be here. It had an incredible comeback after 9/11 – there was an urge for family and friends and being together, and what better way than food? Food is the most wonderful thing we have…the memories we have with food reminds us of friends and family. It’s more connected to the brain. And – comfort food brings diners to the table; people are much more inclined to sit down when they recognize what’s on the menu…macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, etc.

Now, there’s a trend that’s coming, but it’s far from being here…(drum roll, please – I haven’t waited in such eager anticipation since I miscounted the New Year’s ball drop). It’ll be chefs going to small, local farmers to get produce and using what’s in season and what’s grown around them. There’s a few places doing it, but there’s a high cost involved. (Availability) will vary, depending on where you are; I’m not saying you’re never going to have to bring produce in, but you will see more local farmers and farmers markets coming back.”

(This concept was featured in last night’s Iron Chef episode, wherein First Lady Michelle Obama invited Bobby Flay, White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse to square off using fresh produce from the White House garden. See article.)

Me: “What are the most important techniques you think culinary students should be taught?”

Chef Lauer: “I think it’s important that students learn the basics – they need to know techniques, and they need to be good at them. If I teach you to braise, you need to be able to braise everything with your eyes closed.

Also, the artisanal craft – I think, and hope, it’s a craft that will find a renaissance. Such as, how to make bread from scratch, how to make sausage, how to cure meat…I show the students (the entire body of a chicken), and they look at me like I’m from the moon. They’re used to going to the grocery store and buying just a chicken breast. It’s a craft falling by the wayside; everyone wants instant gratification. It’s very important from a business standpoint…it’s much cheaper (to buy whole chicken, as opposed to parts). You get a higher return on your investment.”

Me: “What ideals motivate your cooking style?”

Chef Lauer: “Simple. Low executed. Good. As long as it’s done right. It’s better than, what I call confusion cooking, where you put 75 ingredients in a dish, and it becomes crap. (Me: Sounds like my cooking.) If you prepare properly and take the flavor of food and season properly, usually just a little salt and pepper, that’s all you need to do. If I can identify an ingredient, than there’s too much. There are, of course, exceptions, like curry. I tell my students, ‘Be realistic. You are cooking for the masses, not for yourself.’”

Me: “What is the role of garlic in cooking today?” (A little shameless self promoting never hurt anyone.)

Chef Lauer: “Garlic has a role in seasoning and flavoring and, used in the right concentration, is great. It’s here to stay. Depending on what you’re doing with garlic – if you roast it and put in a potato, it’s going to be sweeter. If you sauté it with butter, it’s going to be more pungent (just make sure you’re using it in the right capacity).”

Me: “Do you have a mentor (s) you look to for guidance in your cooking and/or teaching?”

Chef Lauer: “I’m blessed to have 37 terrific chefs, culinary experts, management – and the students – around me everyday. I learn more from my students and their questions everyday.”

Me: “What kind of influence do you think Las Vegas chefs and restaurants wage on the culinary industry?”

Chef Lauer: “Las Vegas is the new culinary capital of the world. What’s happening here is mind boggling. You have 35-40 of the best chefs and restaurants on a three-mile street…where else can you go in the world and find that? I mean, the banquet room in The Palazzo can seat 7,000 people.”

Me: “With that being said, who do you think are the best chefs in Vegas, and where would you choose to eat on the strip?”

Chef Lauer: “What’s the best wine? What’s the best water? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. These chefs have big names for a reason – they’ve worked very hard and long to get where they are. It truly depends on what you’re in the mood for…there’s The Venetian’s Valentino and Luciano Pellegrini, there’s Caesar’s Bradley Ogden, there’s Joel Robuchon at MGM, Emeril Lagasse’s two restaurants (Delmonico Steakhouse and Table 10), Spiedini, Mesa Grill, Mon Ami Gabi, Fleur de Lys, Gallagher’s Steak House…”

Me: “Ok, now I promise, last question…I know you can’t mesmerize me with your food knowledge all day. This is very important, though – what’s your favorite dish?”

Chef Lauer: “Hungarian Goulash…beef stew, lots of onion, some garlic, Hungarian paprika.”

(Mouth watering…)

Duty called, as Chef Lauer was summoned to educate the future culinary leaders of America. His insight, however, left me excited to see what culinary “trends” continue developing and emerging, in what direction the culinary world spins throughout 2010 and inspired me to hop a flight to Vegas for an eating binge.

Small plate, boasting local produce and artisan breads, at Bradley Ogden, anyone?

 
 

Culinary New Year's Resolutions - More 2010 Trends & Christopher Ranch Still on Track

As 2009 nears its close, bracing to pass the baton to 2010, chefs and culinary experts alike are reflecting on 2009’s culinary influences and speculating about the impending year.
California heirloom garlic, interestingly enough, is on par with the majority of emerging trends.
Nutrition, sustainability and locally sourced ingredients are three concepts predicted to take precedence in 2010, according to the “What’s Hot in 2010? survey conducted by the American Culinary Federation.
Staf Chefs – a publication for the culinary world – released its 2009 Trends Report, highlighting such notions as “in-house” creation, “street food inside,” “pastry chefs emerging from the ashes,” “Bahn Mi blow up” and many more.
Finally, The Food Channel released its top-10 list for the new decade, reinforcing several ACF and Star Chef trends, while providing its own spin, including:
*Keeping It Real - The idea of reintroducing basic ingredients that will provide chefs – in restaurants and at home – with a high-quality, fresh, functional base to start from. Home cooking will continue increasing, and thus, people striving to create scrumptious, healthy food. However, the meaning of basic ingredients is likely to morph – rather than a tomato, perhaps an heirloom tomato? Rather than a mushroom, an enoki mushroom? (The same is true for California heirloom garlic.)
*Experimentation Nation - Restaurant overpopulation is facilitating a need for differentiation when eating out. The days of playing it safe are gone – consumers appear ready for a new approach, and restaurants are daring to distinguish. Taco trucks, gastropubs, fusion dining and communal tables are among the new faces of dining. In other words, eating out of a truck and sharing food are no longer passé.
*More In Store – The grocery store is revamping its style and selection, catering to an on-the-go lifestyle that is looking for flavorful, healthful “fast food” and fresh options. See delis, takeout sections and the modern-day butcher claim a renaissance, while the consumer brings back daily shopping, seeking fresher products and creativity in their cooking. Stores will likely begin appealing to the older generation, with larger aisles for mobile chairs, and the multi-generational use of social networking – like Twitter – will give stores increased instantaneous exposure. Stores like Whole Foods, HEB Central Markets and Ralph’s have found success in establishing an efficient deli/to-go area, with a plethora of delicious, healthy and convenient options. Watch out McDonald’s and Subway.
*American, The New Ethnic - A more global philosophy is sweeping the American pallet, with a bolstered desire for infusions from Africa, Japan and Asia, in addition to the traditional influences from Mexico, Italy and China. The melting pot that is the U.S. is truly beginning to show in menu options and will continue to do so in 2010. (California heirloom garlic is a popular, versatile ingredient for all cuisines.)
*Food Vetting – People are finally grasping the importance of food, where it comes from, how it was made and what steps it took to get to their plate. Are there pesticides? Were animals treated humanely? Fair labor? Any hormones? Organic? These are questions consumers will be asking, and those who want to meet newfound demands better have answers. (Christopher Ranch keeps its pesticide and fertilizer use below standard levels, abides by fair labor practices, including minimum wage regulation, and farms organically. We love to vet.)
*Mainstreaming Sustainability - Sustainability has been the “it” word for a few years, but, if you’re like me, there’s a good chance you didn’t really grasp the term for at least a year. Well, the idea of reducing waste, enhancing environmentally friendly practices and doing our part to create a better society has taken hold. Businesses are starting to make sustainable changes because it’s the right thing to do – as opposed to marketing advantages – and consumers are looking for sustainability in their dining and shopping decisions. Time to ride the green wave. (Christopher Ranch follows a comprehensive sustainable program throughout all levels of operations – read more here.)
*Food With Benefits - People traditionally like any “free” perks they can get, and their food is no different – especially if it’s a nutritional perk. Food with added nutrients – like probiotic-filled yogurt – or free of anything deemed harmful – such as preservatives and gluten – are on track to be mega hits among consumers. Awareness of food-related health issues has encouraged consumers to seek increased nutritional value from their food. (California heirloom garlic is 100% natural and FREE of any preservatives.)
*I Want My Umami – Umami, what? The flavor sense has been awakened and umami – a savory taste (considered the fifth flavor beyond bitter, sour, sweet and salty) naturally found in meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products – is becoming a fan favorite. As foodies – newly defined as someone who loves the culture of food – become more widespread, they also are becoming more adventurous in their quest for innovative flavors and food combinations. (The bold, sweet, smooth flavor of California heirloom garlic can enhance the flavor of nearly any dish – at least we think so.)
*Will Trade For Food - The days of bartering for goods along the Oregon Trail are upon us. The poor economy and technology spike – making people and products more accessible – have encouraged a barter-exchange system, wherein people are swapping skill and time for food – and the other way around. Companies like BizXchange are even redefining traditional monetary exchange with “trade dollars.” Hmmm….thanks for mowing the lawn – here’s a box of garlic. Not a bad idea.
*I, Me, Mine - We’ve been told we are our own best friends, and the Food Channel’s final trend caters to that concept. The rise of the individual – the personalized cupcake, creating our own wine, making our own breads, etc. – is paving the way for personal gratification. Nothing wrong with a selfish mentality, every now and then – particularly when it comes to eating.

It’s the advent of a new decade, and the culinary world is storming the globe like never before. Stay tuned to see which trends thrive – and how Christopher Ranch meets these concepts. The upcoming year is going to be an interesting, innovative, crazy ride, and we’re looking forward to it.

Happy New Year!

 
 

Sustainability, Locally Sourced Ingredients & Nutrition Hottest 2010 Menu Trends

 

Sustainability. Locally sourced ingredients. Nutrition.

These concepts ranked among the popular 2010 menu trends, according to the recent “What’s Hot in 2010? survey of more than 1,800 member chefs from the American Culinary Federation.  Here at the Ranch, we embrace all three.

Sustainable – Christopher Ranch follows a comprehensive sustainability program throughout all levels of operations, starting with our garlic, which is grown as environmentally friendly as possible. We rotate our crops every four years to preserve the quality of the soil, apply drip irrigation to one-third of our garlic crop – achieving 10% water savings annually – and apply fertilizer and pesticide levels that are 50% below suggested levels. Further sustainable practices include a packaging line that is 90% recyclable – moving toward increased compostability; transitioning one-third of our forklifts to electric; using an ozone cleaning system to minimize chemical use during equipment cleaning and more. To read more about Christopher Ranch’s sustainability practices, click here.

Locally sourced ingredients – We offer heirloom garlic, grown in California, year round. While opinions vary on what constitutes local, California-grown garlic is definitely more local than the alternatives from China, Argentina, Mexico, etc.

Nutrition – Fresh garlic is believed to offer tremendous medicinal value, equipped with various nutrients, like vitamins B and C, selenium, calcium, iron, phosphorous, allicin, potassium, zinc and many others. Research suggests fresh garlic can battle numerous health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, strokes, diabetes, obesity and others. Interestingly enough, studies conducted by the National Food Laboratory showed that California heirloom garlic contains higher levels of valuable oils and nutrients – vitamins, amino acids, proteins, etc. – than Chinese, Mexican and Argentine garlic, indicating a healthier, more flavorful garlic.

If you’re looking for an ingredient to help make your menu one of the trendiest in 2010, keep it sustainable, local, and nutrititious with California heirloom garlic.

 
 

White House Dinner Showcases Local Produce

 

The Obamas hosted their first official state dinner last night in the White House garden, and fresh vegetables were a key ingredient. The menu was created by First Lady Michelle Obama, White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, and NY celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson as a tribute to the best of American Cooking.
Some of the highlights included a potato and eggplant salad with arugula and onion seed vinaigrette; roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chickpeas, and okra; and green curry prawns with caramelized salsify, smoked collard greens, and coconut aged basmati rice.
Most of the ingredients were sourced from local farmers and purveyors. The White House garden provided fresh arugula for the salad as well as mint and lemon verbena for garnish. Chefs even used honey from the White House beehive to make some of the desserts.
Nutrition and healthy eating has been a top priority for First Lady Michelle Obama since the family moved into the White House, and one of her first projects was the creation of a vegetable garden on the South Lawn with the help of local school kids. The garden covers 1,100 square feet and features 55 different vegetables used by White House chefs to feed the first family or host official dinners.
Since ground was broken on the “first garden” in March, it has been applauded by proponents of sustainable agriculture by American farmers.
No word yet on whether the garden includes any garlic plantings, but we sure would be glad to run a truck up to Pennsylvania Avenue to deliver fresh, flavorful, and wholesome California-grown garlic!

 
 

Ingredients Matter

 

It’s somewhat ironic how quickly the Slow Food concept – and everything it embodies – is gaining momentum.

The Slow Food movement has caught peoples’ attention worldwide, by upholding the appreciation and awareness of quality, clean, ethical food and its origins; using fresh, sustainable, seasonal ingredients; and cooking in a manner that emphasizes flavor, health, patience and enjoyment. In other words, it is the antithesis to fast-food eating.

There are long-time pioneers who have been leading this crusade, such as Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” – a book questioning the sustainability, flavor, nutrition and structure of the current food system and praising the good old days, when people cooked from scratch and only had access to items in season, like apples in the fall, oranges in the winter, asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in the summer.

There’s also Alice Waters (chef, author and owner of Chez Panisse), who has revolutionized the food world in her mission to educate about the environmental, societal and health benefits in sourcing and eating good, clean, fair food that is grown sustainably and seasonally at local farms.

Most widespread, perhaps, is the Slow Food organization, which has chapters in more than 30 countries and represents 100,000 members – all of whom are united by their desire to practice, restore and promote the Slow Food concept through relationships, education and events, including farm tours, dining at sustainable restaurants, movie screenings and more.

One such screening, as offered by my local Slow Food Los Angeles Chapter, is the showing of Ingredients – the latest documentary highlighting the health, economic and environmental importance of growing and consuming local food, establishing relationships among local farmers, chefs and consumers and the dangers of continuing down an export-oriented, processed, genetically modified, mass-produced, tasteless food path.

Ingredients features input from all facets of Oregon’s supply chain, including several farms, such as 47th Avenue Farm and Ayers Creek Farm, chefs, like Alice Waters and Greg Higgins, agricultural organizations, such as Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, grass-roots movements, like Slow Food Portland, and community representatives, such as Lake Oswego mayor, Judie Hammerstad.

One of the major concerns in the documentary is that because food is “shipped from ever-greater distances, we have literally lost sight of where our food comes from and in the process we’ve lost a vital connection to our local community and to our health.”

The domestic garlic industry understands this, as the majority of fresh garlic in the U.S. is shipped from China, which can take between 30 and 60 days to reach U.S. markets, traveling 7,300 miles to get to California. There is little to no sight of where the garlic originates, there is a huge disconnection to the local community and farmer, and the garlic’s time travel eradicates health, flavor, safety and the environment.

As a family run farm that puts the land first in operations, grows our garlic as sustainably as possible and selected our heirloom seed (which originated in Italy) for its flavor – as opposed to volume capabilities – we support the Slow Food movement.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I’ve seen this film, but I’ve heard and read enough about it to know that I fully agree with its premise and am waiting in eager anticipation to see it. However, it’s only shown in select locations, or you can purchase the DVD on the Web site. (For local listings, click here.) So, in this case, do as I say, not as I do. I encourage everyone to check out Ingredients – it might transform the way you look at your food, for the better.

 
 

Foodservice Community Steps up to Embrace Local Agriculture

In recent months, several notable foodservice operations have launched programs to support community farmers and ranchers by promoting consumption of locally and sustainably produced ingredients. 

 

 

 

Bon Appetit Management Company is hosting its “Eat Local Challenge” on September 29 in locations nationwide.  The event, first held in 2005, encourages chefs to create a meal with ingredients sourced entirely within a 150 mile “food shed.”  Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced a local produce program which specifies that 35 percent of at least one bulk produce item must be sourced from local farmers.  The company hopes to establish partnerships with farms across the country to supply its 800+ locations nationwide.  Loews Hotels has an “Adopt-the- Farmer” program which encourages chefs in its 17 locations to establish relationships with local producers and create menus that feature regional and seasonal ingredients.  Many locations also maintain their own organic gardens with fresh herbs and vegetables that can be harvested as needed.

 

 

 

At Christopher Ranch, we applaud these efforts to explore the origin of our food supply and share the story behind how it is produced.  We’ve been growing the finest quality garlic in California’s fertile farmland for over 50 years, and have faced intense competition over the last decade from imports sourced as far as 3000 miles away. Locally grown garlic is generally fresher, more nutritious, and more flavorful than garlic that travels long distances from the point of origin.  As these talented chefs demonstrate, there is no limit to the variety of menu items that can be created with ingredients grown right in your local community.

 

 

 

Take the “Local Challenge!” Be sure to visit some of these locations to demonstrate your support of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity!

 
 
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