Category: restaurants

Breastfeeding in a restaurant? Shocking!

Photo by Flickr user Jared Klett, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Thanks to HuffPost, I recently read Tony Posnanski’s essay titled, “You Can Breastfeed in My Restaurant Anytime.” An assistant restaurant manager, he describes a recent Valentine’s Day dinner rush when a customer complained about bad service, bad drinks, and bad food, and then went one step further: He complained about a breastfeeding patron nearby, who had the audacity not to hide her feeding child under a blanket. As Posnanski describes,

let’s forget the fact that breastfeeding (or feeding a child for that matter) is important for the development of a child. Let’s forget the fact that Florida has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in America. Let’s forget the fact that it is a law that mothers can breastfeed their children in any public location in Florida without any ridicule, covered or not…

Do you think I would ask a mom to go to her car or somewhere away from her family because a man or woman is offended by a breast and nipple? A nipple and breast designed for feeding a child, not for pornography or the satisfaction of admiring them?

I would never make a scene about it nor would I ever allow anyone I work with to do so…. A mom has every right to feed her child anywhere public in Florida. Most people do not know that. Everyone should. It is a law. Moms should know that as well.

I was reminded of a similar story here in Madison that caused a bit of an uproar last summer when a well-meaning-but-in-the-wrong staff member at a just-opened restaurant didn’t respond in quite the same way. As Jessica Vanegeren reported for The Capital Times,

A breastfeeding mother dining at a new pizzeria in one of Madison’s most progressive neighborhoods was asked to leave her table and move to an area free of customers [after another patron complained], setting off a backlash against the owners that continues to spread on social media….

According to 2009 Wisconsin Act 148, or the right to breast-feed law that took effect in March 2010:

“A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be. In such a location, no person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child, direct a mother to move to a different location to breast-feed her child, direct a mother to cover her child or breast while breast-feeding, or otherwise restrict a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided in this section.”

In other words, the restaurant patron who is uncomfortable should be asked to move, not the mother and child.

The Madison incident is detailed in full here, the owners’ apology here, and photos of their “free pizza for moms and kids” peace offering here. (For the record, the Grampa’s Pizza is apparently well-worth a visit, despite the early law-breaking.)

Who pays for diners that dash?

GRAZE, Iowa City

Photo by Flickr user Alan Light, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

A couple months ago, Luke O’Neil penned a story for Slate about the practice of restaurants requiring servers to pick up the bill when one of their tables skips out on the check. As O’Neil details,

Many servers are forced to perform two jobs at once: delivering food and working as a severely undertrained and underpaid security force.

The dine-and-dash is often looked on as a harmless prank, without any serious consequences. Restaurants anticipate the occasional walkout as part of their business plan, right? They should, but instead they often pass the buck to employees—and when you learn that servers can be required to pay for the losses out of their own pockets, it doesn’t seem all that funny. The problem is that there aren’t strong protections against the practice in federal labor laws, and state laws prohibiting wage deductions for loss and theft are too often ignored by employers and unknown by workers….

[I]n many states, restaurants may legally dock wages from servers who’ve already been victimized by dine-and-dashers…. Even in states where the practice is technically illegal, the threat of being retaliated against … is so great that servers don’t stand up to bullying tactics from managers who see workers as disposable, precisely because they’re not required to pay them an actual wage, says Vincent Mersich, a labor lawyer in Pennsylvania. “Restaurants can transfer so much of their operating risk onto employees by paying them significantly less than minimum wage,” Mersich told me. Employers in these scenarios are essentially saying, “ ‘You haven’t assumed enough of that risk; you also have to assume the risk of people walking out on their checks,’” Mersich added. “At that point it seems exceedingly exploitative.”

The restaurant industry is messed up in many significant ways, as the recent fast-food workers strike has reminded us, but problems like wage theft, sexual and racial discrimination, and reliance on undocumented workers are at least explicitly illegal. Docking wages for walkouts should be illegal across the board, too, either via an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act or via more progressive laws at the state level.

Check out the full post here.

Women in the changing restaurant industry

April Bloomfield

Chef April Bloomfield. Photo by Flickr user Zagat Buzz, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Julia Moskin recently wrote a lengthy piece for The New York Times on advances women have been making in the restaurant industry. As she writes,

In culinary schools, women have long made up the majority in pastry courses, but are now entering general culinary programs at unprecedented rates. At the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute), the change has been striking: In 2012, nearly half the graduates of the culinary program were women — 202 of them, up from 41 in 1992. At Johnson & Wales University, the proportion of female graduates more than doubled over those two decades, and in 2012, men were the minority: 820 women and 818 men graduated that year. At the Culinary Institute of America, the percentage of female graduates rose to 36 percent in 2012 from 21 percent in 1992.

Many of these women have been drawn by an industry that seems newly glamorous, lively and creative. And smartly run restaurants are making new efforts to keep them by paying more attention to employees’ needs….

[For example,] at the nine branches of Momofuku in New York, employees who remain with the company for one year get free health insurance, paid vacations and maternity and paternity leave.

Sounds pretty good, no? Of course, as anyone who has worked in food service knows, it’s not all a rosy picture:

Still, in most restaurants, benefits are a pipe dream and pay is meager. Entry-level jobs, even for chefs with culinary degrees, can pay as little as $15 an hour, once 80-hour workweeks are factored in. Last week, the first in-depth study of business practices in the American restaurant industry confirmed that low pay and job insecurity have led to an exceedingly high turnover rate, compared with other businesses. This is costly for restaurateurs and chef-owners, who contend that they cannot afford to offer higher wages or benefits.

“Women are disproportionately affected by these problems that plague the industry as a whole,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an employee advocacy group….

Head here for the full piece, then check out my earlier post on Charlotte Druckman’s book, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen,

Food trends to expect in the year ahead

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The end of one year and the start of another is a popular time for prognosticating about what trends will catch fire in the coming months. As reported at HuffPost Canada in a piece from AFP/Relaxnews, “consultants at the New York-based Baum + Whiteman have curated a list of buzzwords and foods they predict will shape the culinary landscape in 2014.” These include more nose-to-tail dining in the form of boneless lamb neck (?) and sweetbreads (!) along with eco-friendly trends like “crackdown on food waste.” Head here for the full piece.

As Lois Abraham reports in another piece posted at HuffPost Canada,

Cauliflower is the new kale, salt is the new pepper and doughnuts and burgers are going gangbusters.

Food trend watchers are bidding adieu to sliders, those small sandwiches made of beef, chicken, pulled pork or fish, cupcakes are waning while quinoa, now that everyone has learned to pronounce it, has gone mainstream.

There are oodles of noodles, from ramen to pho, while salted caramels, flavoured waters and roast chicken are taking off.

Coconut, too, is exploding this year, prepared sweet and savoury. Look for it in sugar, flour and vinegar.

Vegetables continue to be centre of the plate, edging out meat.

Find her article here.

Finally, the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” trend forecast, which is based on a survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs, includes in its list of Top 20 Trends of 2014 [PDF] many of the issues we regularly touch on here at the blog. For example, locally sourced meats and seafood tops the list, followed by locally grown produce at #2, environmental sustainability at #3, healthful kids’ meals at #4, hyper-local sourcing (like restaurant gardens) at #6, sustainable seafood at #9, and nose-to-tail and root-to-stalk cooking at #11. Ancient grains even make the list, coming in at #15.

Any food-trend predictions of your own for 2014? Any trends you hope take off? Maybe some trends you hope fade away (like puff pieces in the media about trends)?

Best of 2013: Food books

In our final retrospective (and my last post) of the year, I thought I’d offer a roundup of some “best of” lists that focus on food books. Whether you need a little reading material for yourself or a gift for a loved one, check out suggestions from

One book that I’ve been eying but just haven’t gotten around to yet is Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure by Samira Kawash. As Bridget Thoreson writes in her review for Booklist, “In this lively, engaging, and deliciously descriptive work, Kawash fills the gap left by culinary histories that don’t consider candy a food, revealing how the American mass production of candy in the twentieth century paved the way for the highly processed—and nutritionally problematic—foods we eat today. For a small, seemingly innocuous treat, candy has a turbulent history and much-maligned reputation.”

For more gift ideas, check out yesterday’s post for cookbook recommendations.

And if you just can’t wait another moment for some fresh reading material, check out Saveur’s 2013 Best Food Blog Awards, which includes worthy finalists and triumphant winners. This particular list is from April, so it’s not an end-of-the-year recap, but who cares? Good content is good content, and all the nominated bloggers would love to have you as a reader!

Happy holidays to you and yours. See you in 2014!

The Judy Rodgers legacy

rediscovering zuni cafe cookbook

Photo by Flickr userTimothy Vollmer [tvol], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

I’m not in the habit of linking to obituaries (though I just did so in a post last week), nor am I generally one to focus on white-tablecloth restaurants. But, I think the recently deceased Judy Rodgers and her San Francisco restaurant, Zuni Cafe, are worth some attention. As Eric Asimov writes in The New York Times, Rodgers

helped transform the way Americans think of food through its devotion to local, seasonal ingredients meticulously prepared…. Ms. Rodgers’s cooking was noteworthy for its refined simplicity, hewed and tempered by an ardent perfectionism and a finely tuned palate. Not for her the sauce-painted plates and tweezer-bits of microgreens of the modern, high-end kitchen. Instead, at Zuni, a quirky, airy space on a triangular corner of Market Street, she presented dishes that were simultaneously rustic and urbane.

As Russ Parsons describes for The Los Angeles Times,

In an era when most chefs pride themselves on re-inventing their menus on a whim, Rodgers hewed to a strong central core of well-loved dishes. Perhaps the best loved of these is a simple roast chicken, cooked in a wood-fired oven. On the menu for decades, more than 350 a week are sold at Zuni.

This approach struck a chord in tradition-worshiping San Francisco. Though the Bay Area is full of restaurants to explore, Zuni Cafe was the place people called home, a place people went not to be amused, but to be comforted….

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “Serve dishes that weren’t just playful and amusing but were keepers. I like keepers.”

The NYT has a similarly emblematic quote from Rodgers: “the food you eat every day is the most important food. This is what we do at Zuni.”

Rodgers published an award-winning cookbook that featured her thoughtful, meticulous approach. (I’ve given it as a gift before; its best audience is folks who are really passionate about cooking and/or food.) For a consideration of the cookbook, check out this post from Eater National, which includes reflections of chefs from around the country, among them Madison’s own Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective:

I spent hours reading the essays in the Zuni Café Cookbook. It so influenced how I think about food. How when you work with simple ingredients, it takes incredible effort and thoughtfulness to fully realize the ingredients and processes. Her roast chicken recipe is something I think about every time I work with poultry….

For more, check out the links above.

Locavore bloody marys come to Marigold Kitchen

Breakfast at Marigold Kitchen

The only thing missing from this Marigold Kitchen breakfast? The bloody mary! Photo by Flickr user Mark Danielson [mrbula], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The fall issue of the REAP Reporter features a cool article about Marigold Kitchen‘s latest effort to serve its customers delicious produce from local farms. As the article describes,

Marigold doesn’t have the capacity to process and store enough tomatoes in-house, but Marigold Director of Operations Sam Mack hoped there might be a farmer nearby who could provide [tomato juice] for them. After a bit of research, [REAP’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Program Manager] Theresa [Feiner] successfully connected Marigold with Happy Valley Farms in Black Earth, 20 miles west of Madison.

Last fall, Happy Valley owner Kevin Lucey had an abundance of Mountain Fresh Plus tomato seconds – not quite good enough for retail, but perfect for processing or cooking. With this in mind, Kevin approached the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, a shared commercial kitchen located in Mineral Point. Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen worked with Happy Valley Farms to prepare, process, and package the tomato seconds into vibrant, flavorful, ready-to-sell tomato juice. When REAP made the connection between Happy Valley and Marigold, it was win-win solution for the grower and the restaurant. Marigold Kitchen is proud to feature Happy Valley’s tomato juice in their bloody marys and hopes to continue this relationship.

You can find the full article and other locavore news from South-Central Wisconsin in the current REAP newsletter [PDF].