September 2009 -- On the National Menu

Betting on Bacteria
Seldom are bacteria mentioned in a positive light in foodservice settings. However, in the case of probiotics, these healthy bacteria are creeping their way slowly, but surely, into restaurants.

Red Mango, well known for its non-fat frozen yogurt, has announced plans to become the nation’s first restaurant chain to offer made-to-order iced teas fortified with probiotics. The three flavors of enhanced teas are Lemonocity (a lemonade green tea), Mysteaque (vanilla black tea) and Fanteasia (wildberry hibiscus tea), and all promise to be low in calories and to “contain a significant amount of probiotics,” as well as the natural benefits of antioxidants.

Red Mango opted to enhance iced teas, because it is “one of the fastest-growing segments of beverages, but [they] often aren’t very nutritious.” So, the chain sought to make iced teas that fit its image: natural and with the health benefits of probiotics.

Red Mango may claim to be the first to add probiotics to tea, but another company has been striving to incorporate the positive bacteria into its offerings. Last year, NakedPizza, formerly known as World’s Healthiest Pizza, introduced what it claims was the first delivery pizza in the U.S. fortified with a high-survivability probiotic. Incorporated into its Prebiotic Multi-Grain Crust, the probiotic purportedly had no impact on the taste of the pizza. As Jeff Leach, co-founder of the company, explains, “The addition of probiotics to our Prebiotic Multi-Grain Crust does not affect taste and enhances the nutritional profile of our immune-boosting pizza. This is a big deal for our business and consistent with our mission to demonstrate that pizza can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”  

Burger Emerger
To paraphrase a line from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “Looks like burgers are back on the menu, boys!” Granted, these may not be the burgers that traditionally come to mind. McDonald’s has recently added an Angus burger to its menu; Burger King continues to experiment with “angry” burgers and sliders. The latter can be found in a variety of forms at fast-casual restaurants, and short-menu burger restaurants, like Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger, are steadily emerging from cult status to national presences.

Even steakhouse chains are entering the fray, with Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar’s introduction of a Prime Burger. The 8oz of Prime beef is hand-shaped and then cooked, using the same preparation techniques as those used for the restaurant’s steaks: seasoned with kosher salt and coarse black pepper, seared on a flat-top to create a slight crust and then finished in a broiler. After being topped with Cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon, the Prime Burger is served open-faced on a knotted challah bun and presented with two colossal onion rings.

Increasingly, chefs are regarding the simple burger as something of a test of their culinary imaginations, explains a recent issue of Business Week. Richard Blais, well-known for his run on the third season of television’s Top Chef and chef-owner of Atlanta’s Flip, has a $35 Japanese Kobe beef burger with seared foie gras and truffle oil, as well as less-expensive options featuring burgers made from lobster, shrimp, smoked salmon and mushrooms. He has even incorporated his trademark molecular gastronomy into burgers with one option: they are prepared sous-vide (from the French for “under vacuum”), cooked inside an airtight plastic bag over a long period at a low temperature. While celebrity chef Bobby Flay believes burgers should be 100%-certified Angus sirloin and chuck, Blais’ beef burgers are a blend of brisket, hangar steak and short rib--the same blend as found at Larent Tourondel’s BLT Burger restaurants. pf