Buzzfeed: “The Notorious MSG’s Unlikely Formula For Success,” by John Mahoney.
Umami, like "small-batch," "locavore" and "kale" is one of those terms that easily rolls off the tongues of foodies these days. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s the “new” fifth flavor, a sort of savory flavor created by the presence of glutamic acid to go along with the four longstanding flavors: sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Mohoney’s piece is long, but worth the read if you’re interested in a thorough and fascinating history of the development of the perhaps unfairly maligned umami seasoning ingredient, monosodium glutamate, and current chefs efforts to derive umami from new sources, particularly that of Momofuku’s David Chang.
Associated Press: “Ready for anchovies to move into the mainstream?,” by Michele Kayal.
Like a lot of people, for along time I thought of anchovies as the stinky little fish that you don’t want to accidentally appear on your pizza. Then, in the last few years, I’ve come around by learning how good-quality anchovies can enhance a dish with subtle meatiness. Kayal explores various ways chefs are using them, including D.C.’s Nick Stefanelli of Bibiana, and includes tips and ideas for using anchovies effectively.
Washington Post: “Mega-chain restaurants do some things right,” by Tom Sietsema.
By and large, the restaurants that Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema reviews are independent establishments—downtown places that generate buzz and occasional neighborhood favorites in other parts of the city. Rarely does he give much attention to national casual chain restaurants, and why would he? They are known quantities, virtually the same anywhere in the United States (I can tell you right now what an Olive Garden bread stick will taste like, no matter where I get it from and even though I haven’t eaten one in years). Here, he puts a focus on this important segment of the restaurant industry, discussing its efforts to remain current amid the expanding threat of the fast-casual segment. The food, alas, is often lacking, but Sietsema presents research that suggests that’s not necessarily what draws patrons to them anyway.
U.S. News & World Report: “What Papa John's Doesn't Want You to Know About Its Food,” by Melanie Warner.
Wanting more information behind Papa John’s claim that it boasts “better pizza; better ingredients,” Warner tried to get some details from the national pizza chain, and got the run-around, although she did get an interesting detail from an employee, who told her their supposedly “never frozen” pizza dough actually arrives frozen. The article has sparked quite a bit of debate, both from those who defend Papa Johns from these accusations and others concerned they may be true (check out this consumer law blog's post tagged "class-action investigation"). You may not think whether the pizza chain freezes its dough is such a big deal, but when big food companies make a claim about their product—especially a key claim like this—I think it’s important that it be truthful.
Thrillist: “Red, White & Food: Mapping all 50 states' most significant chain restaurants,” by Matt Lynch.
There’s something about maps that always manages to get me excited. I love Jasper Johns’ U.S. map especially. This Thrillist map represents each state with the logo for its most prominent fast food chain, making for a colorful statement about corporate American and food.
CNN Eatocracy: “12 weird, wonderful cocktails worth seeking out,” by Tamara Hinson.
If you think the infused whatchamacallit down at the corner hipster bar is weird, wait until you see some of these drinks. The strangest (and most foul) has to be the Sourtoe cocktail from The Yukon, which features, for real, a preserved human toe. Bottoms up!
New York Times: “Dressing Up the Loaner Jacket,” by Helene Stapinski.
Very few restaurants require men to come in jackets anymore. For the few that do, since diners might not be expecting that, they have loaners on hand. Stapinski examines some such fine dining establishments in New York and finds that they take quite a bit of pride in these jackets, many of which are custom-made.
Popsci: “Is Hair In Food A Health Risk?,” by Victor Zapana.
Zapana poses a rather excellent question, given how squeamish they can get over an errant follicle. It’s amazing the things some people will eat yet turn away in disgust if there’s something as benign as a human strand of hair on their plate. I won’t tell you the answer to the question, but he definitely explores the issue thoroughly.