Overheard at the Pillsbury Bake-Off

padmaI got home from the Pillsbury Bake-Off on Nov. 12, and the weeks since have been busy with a flooded basement, my husband’s cancer treatments, and a son’s wedding. Now that I’ve had a few minutes to look through my notes from the Bake-Off Food News Seminar and the cooking competition, here are some of the more interesting quotes:

Padma Lakshmi:  “This is just like the Emmys, except I’m in a much more comfortable dress,” gushed Bravo’s “Top Chef” host, as she announced the Bake-Off prize winners at the awards dinner. of the Bake-off. During the cooking competition, she was on the Bake-Off floor interviewing some of the finalists as they were prepared their entries. Usually, the host of the Bake-Off is announced weeks in advance, but this time, the news media didn’t find out about Lakshmi until the night before the Bake-off, despite our persistent questions. Recent Bake-Off hosts include Martha Stewart, Sandra Lee, Joy Behar, Dick Clark and Marie Osmond.

“To grow a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” — Roz Brooks of Las Vegas, who founded a five-acre community garden on an abandoned lot. As a health and wellness coach, she wanted to get people excited about growing their own healthy food. Due to the poor desert soil, Brooks has to bring in organic soil. She leases the raised beds to groups who want to grow food, and takes some of the produce to an assisted living facility. The purpose isn’t to sell the produce; it’s to get people to grow it themselves. Brooks has garnered many community service awards for the project, and was a featured speaker at the Bake-Off’s Food News Seminar.

The vacant lot had become a dumping ground, and clearing it off and readying the ground for planting required lots of volunteer work and countless hours of Brooks’ own physical labor.  “Dreaming the dream is so much easier than doing the dream,” she said. But the project has given her “the passion and courage to live out the purpose that God had for me.”

photo-4“Lemon and mint go together like shoes and socks,” — Chef John Ashton, as he made a parfait that combined sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice, with some mint garnish.  Ashton gave a presentation on foods for “Millenials,” the age group of Americans born between 1981-2000.  His parfait was an example of a recipe that appeals to Millenials — few ingredients with the “science experiment” of thickening the sweetened condensed milk with lemon juice.  Other ways, he said, to appeal to Millenials:

– Let them customize and personalize a basic recipe

– Make it shareable

– Give them an “experience,” not just food.

– Stick to no more than six ingredients.


CIMG0291“When everyone is talking about kale, our job is to figure out what’s next. If we are writing about kale today, shame on us,” — Phil Lempert, known as the Supermarket Guru, who forecasts future food trends. Lempert noted that the country is still feeling the effects of the recession, which prompted people to do more value shopping.

“Local is the biggest trend we’ve seen in the supermarket industry, but it’s not sustainable.” He said “locale” — knowing where it’s grown — should be more important than “local,” or being grown close to home.

“I don’t care if it’s on Bob’s farm 100 miles away, or 1,0000 miles away, if I know who is growing it,” he said.

He predicted that In the future, supermarkets will streamline the checkout process by using your own smartphone. He also foresees people ordering their groceries on their mobile device on the way to the store, and having them ready for pick-up as they pull up to the store.

While I enjoy reading Phil’s  weekly forecasts, I respectfully disagree with some of the points in this seminar.

First, I think it’s OK for food writers to write about a trend when it’s here instead of always looking for the next big thing. People are more inclined to read about a trend while it’s here.  In 2010,  I wrote a newspaper column predicting that kale would become an “in” vegetable, with a recipe for kale chips.  My readers pretty much ignored it because kale wasn’t on their radar screen at the time. Fast-forward a few years, and this healthy, leafy green is feeling the love. Now that supermarkets are selling small bags of  kale chips for around $5, more people are going to want my recipe to make their own kale chips for a fraction of the price.

Secondly, people who are into the localvore trend aren’t going to be satisfied with “locale.” Knowing where their food  is grown isn’t enough, if it’s somewhere 1,000 miles away. Localvores like the idea that the food is fresher since it isn’t transported across the country, and that it saves on fuel and other transportation costs.

Finally, supermarkets have already tried the concept of ordering groceries for delivery or pick-up. But most people haven’t bought into it. It’s fine if you are buying packaged goods. But when it comes to fresh produce, I like to pick out my own grapefruit, checking for ripeness. If the store staff  grabbed some bananas for my order, would they think to look for a few green ones so they wouldn’t ripen all at once?  Would I end up with misshapen potatoes that are tougher to peel?  And would the supermarket staff help me find the best price on products? I don’t doubt Phil’s stats that 53% of people dislike grocery shopping. But, I think the majority of people will continue to do it the old-fashioned way.

Slate is the new stainless steel, as far as fashionable kitchen appliances go.  General Electric unveiled its latest-and-greatest in kitchen appliances, including a fridge that dispenses both hot and cold water, and an oven that can be turned off and on by your smartphone.

People liked that “professional kitchen” look of stainless, but found that it shows every smudge and drip.  Slate, which is a muted gray, is also easier to mix-and-match with existing appliances whether they’re  white, stainless or black. GE’s company reps said they are also considering red, yellow and teal. That prompted one veteran journalist in the group to joke about the old harvest gold and avocado green appliances of the ’70s.

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