Life Lessons From the Kitchen: Q&A with Food Network Star Kaimana Chee

Life Lessons From the Kitchen: Q&A with Food Network Star Kaimana Chee

By Adria Valdes Greenhauff, Editor-at-Large

Kaimana Chee knows a thing or two about working under pressure. The 39-year-old chef gained major attention after appearing on several popular cooking competition shows, including Master Chef with Gordon Ramsay, Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen, which he won back in 2016.

We recently caught up with Chef Chee to talk all things culinary, including the biggest lesson he learned from cooking competitively and how he’s sharing his passion for healthy, sustainable cooking.

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Specialty Food Masters: What They Offer Over Non-Artisanal Purveyors

As the consumer continues to develop a more sophisticated palate and higher expectations about what they consume, premium food product sales are at an all-time high. 

We partnered with the Specialty Food Association to cover one of the best food shows of the year, the Summer Fancy Food Show, where we got to chat with the most innovative food companies elevating the food industry by selling high-quality products. 

So what makes these products so unique and why are customers willing to go a little out of the way to get them?

At Raffetto's Fresh Pasta, the NYC-based store provides customizable pasta and cuts it right there in front of the customer.

"We offer fresh pasta and one of the coolest thing you can come in and see is a 101-year-old guillotine machine that cuts noodles to order. There's a flavor board where you pick anything from eggs, spinach, to rosemary to lemon or pepper, even chocolate. Then you pick a width like linguine, fettuccine, etc and we cut it up right in front of you. So it takes about 30 seconds or less and cooks in two to three minutes and it's around $3-4 a pound and that feeds three people," said Sarah Raffetto, retail manager at Raffetto's Fresh Pasta to Foodable host Agnes Chung. "People like to cook less, whether it's my generation or not. Whether people are more lazy, more busy, or whatever– it's an easy place to stop by to either get a quick meal to cook at home or something prepared that you don't have to cook at all."

The NYC store Malt and Mold is known for its artisanal cheeses, gourmet food products and beer growlers. As one of the partners points out, customers continue to visit the stores because of the shopping experience and the knowledge the staff offers. 

"I think it's the expertise. When people are walking around a grocery store, a grocery giant mega store might have a wonderful selection of cheese, but there's no one there to really talk them through everything and explain how it's produced, what the milk type is, why it's seasonal, and why the flavors are the way that they are. For us, that's what we offer, that personal interaction," said Caitlin Nish, proprietor and chief cheesemonger at Malt & Mold. "They are looking to us for guidance and how to navigate the now huge artisanal world."

Di Palo's Fine Foods is a family-owned shop in NYC's Little Italy that has been around for over 100 years. The current owner has a hands-on approach to selecting the store's products. 

"I sell mostly Italian products from Italy. In 40 years or so, I must have made about 80 or 90 trips to Italy, developing relationships not only with producers of product, but also with where they source their raw material," said Lou di Palo, president and owner of Di Palo's Fine Foods. "For me, it's very important to see it from the ground-up. I need to see the farmer. I need to see the person who handles the production in the case of the animals, the cheese maker, and all the way down the line to develop a relationship. This is so they understand who I am, what I am looking for in terms of the quality, and also so I can understand how the product is supposed to be so I can present it to the American consumer."

Another NYC gem, Beer Table started as a tasting room for beer, but now offers an array of craft beers & snacks. Catering to commuters, Beer Table has one store located in Grand Central station and the other at the Westfield World Trade Center.

With a huge selection of craft beer to pick from today, how does the store select its products?

"Today, I would say most of our decisions are based on deliciousness. Beer, in general, it's a loaded subject. We can get really political about where we buy from because who just got bought out from Anheuser Busch and we could think about that constantly to decide what were going to put on the shelf," said Justin Philips, owner of Beer Table. "But what it comes down to for us in a practical way is when we taste and taste it blind, it's about what's delicious. That's the key for us." 

Learn more about these specialty food masters in the videos above! 

Top Fast Casual Chefs in the Country  

Top Fast Casual Chefs in the Country  

Fast casual dining is huge all over the country, with some of the best chefs behind the concepts. Creating the perfect mix of quick service with quality food, it's clear why so many chefs are onboard and why diners are coming back for more. Here are some of the best fast casual chefs cooking up delicious gourtmet eats right now.

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Hedge Fund Third Point Takes $3.5 Billion Stake in Nestlé

Hedge Fund Third Point Takes $3.5 Billion Stake in Nestlé

The NYC-based head fund of Third Point, founded by American investor Daniel Loeb has revealed that it has a 1% stake in Switzerland's Nestlé. The 3.28 billion Swiss francs (3.4 billion in U.S. dollars) stake is the largest by a hedge fund, making Third Point the eighth largest shareholder in the food and drink company. Third Point wrote a letter to investors this week outlining some of the challenges that Nestlé is facing and some recommendations for the company to thrive better in today's market. 

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The Food Market of Tomorrow: What Premium Stores are Looking For on the Summer Fancy Food Show Floor

Specialty food markets, like Whole Foods and smaller grocery stores are offering customers not only premium, fine products, but also a more enjoyable shopping experience.

Foodable has partnered with the Specialty Food Association to cover this year's Summer Fancy Food Show where guest host and Supermarket Guru, Phil Lempert sat down with leaders from some of the grocery chains elevating the food retail space. 

So when these individuals go to a show like this with thousands of different products to explore, what are they looking for?

"The best thing we can do for our customer is find that thing that they don't know they want yet," said Trip Straub, president and CEO of Straub's Markets. "Sure, we want to get the latest trend type items, the best selling type items and bring those to even St. Louis where they will sell. But those items that we can source, that we have tasted, that are phenomenal and we know the story behind the producer...we need to bring that to St. Louis because they may not have heard about that if they don't leave town. Those are the winners we are looking for on the show floor."

Although the Fancy Food Show is a great place to discover new products from all over the world, Whole Foods has a program where the chain partners with local foragers. 

"We have a great local program where we have established that credibility in the community and in the regional levels, so right now we have 11 autonomous regions and we have representatives who are out on the field seeking not just produce, but other types of opportunities to integrate into our portfolio of products," said Cathy Strange, the global executive coordinator at Whole Foods Market. "We have had great success with brands that now have turned into big commercial brands and were proud to be a part of that success."

Guests also discuss how important it is to keep the trust of today's highly-educated consumer.

"In the last 10 years, what I have experienced at Kings, is about building that brand trust and that trust with the consumer that when they come into your store they know it's going to be fresh, it's on point, it tastes delicious, it's healthy for them, and it meets their needs, "said Scott Zoeller, vice president of deli, meat and seafood at Kings Super Markets.

Learn more about how food markets have evolved and what the future holds in the video above!

Shen Tong, Founder of Food Future Co., Predicts that Food Will be More Readily Available in 2050

Today's consumers have higher expectations when it comes to the food industry as a whole. This has influenced the massive growth of specialty food companies, causing the specialty food sector to quickly grow into a $127 billion industry.

But this doesn't appear to be just a trend, these specialty food companies are helping to drive a movement. These businesses are doing their part to change the future of food for the better. 

A post shared by FoodFutureCo (@foodfutureco) on

At the 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, Foodable's Paul Barron sat down with two leaders that are right in the thick of this movement to discuss what factors are propelling the sector, where they see the industry going, and how their companies are making an impact. 

Shen Tong, founder and managing partner at the Future Food Co., has created a business that fosters unique food companies. He points out that the millennial generation is driving the movement.

"There's several forces. One is that the millennials and even Gen Z, those digital natives born after 1988, they just love food. They spend more money and attention on food than anything else actually..." said Tong. "They really have this need to break things down. Food is one of those commodities that is so important to them and that they can still break down."

On the topic of future of food, Alvyn Severien, CEO of Algama Foods, chimes in on how it's up to innovative speciality food companies to change the industry for the better.

"If you were to ask me, 'what is the future of food?' I can definitely tell you that I don't know. I have no idea what's going to be a trend or something that will stick forever. This why we are doing what we do," said Severien. "Since we don't know, actually nobody knows, we need to build it."

Paul points out that the global population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2050 and he asks how the industry will address the issue of keeping the massive population fed in the future. 

"There is no problem in feeding the population. That perspective is actually the cause of our problem today. We have an over supply of production," said Tong. "It's not about feeding the world, it's about readjusting our relationship with nature."

Watch the video above to learn more about what the future may hold for the food industry.

Fine Tuning the Customer Experience: Training, Brand Perception, & Reviews

Fine Tuning the Customer Experience: Training, Brand Perception, & Reviews

Customers go out to eat looking for a way to escape the everyday humdrum, to let loose, laugh, and enjoy a good meal (possibly paired with equally delicious cocktails). Marketing types usually delegate customer service and experience to an operations group. Go above and beyond that by synchronizing operations and marketing together with the right training, branding, and reviews. 

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The Main Dish: Enhancing the Guest Experience, Building an Effective Marketing Plan, and Other Highlights

In the age of information overload, refinement is key. That was the thought behind The Main Dish — a quick compilation of the most bookmark-worthy links from the Foodable WebTV Network. Aside from our usual daily content, every Sunday, The Main Dish will serve a fresh batch of handpicked pieces of the most appetizing lists & literature that you may have missed.

How to Build a Cost-Effective Marketing Plan: The Next Super Brand

On this episode of Foodable's Front of House podcast, we talk to Pincho Factory CEO, Nedal Ahmad. He explains that you don’t need a million dollar marketing campaign to get customers through your doors. Find out how he did it by listening and following along with the show notes below!

The Foundational ABCs of Restaurants

Building a strong foundation is one of the most important things about creating your restaurant empire. It may seem obvious that you must have a foundation before you can build a house but too many restaurant owners will attempt to build their restaurant without one. 

The Importance of Secret Diners

Traditional comment cards and now online reviews play a large role in this industry, but only a very small percentage of guests actually fill out the forms and/or leave a review. Plus, it doesn’t always provide a measurable result. To get a truly unbiased, outside perspective, a secret shopper or ‘diner’ in this case, is the best option.

Fine Tuning the Customer Experience: Training, Brand Perception, & Reviews

At the chain-restaurant Dick’s Last Resort, customers expect obnoxious service as part of the experience. There must be a call for rudeness somewhere because Chicago’s stronghold of rude, Ed Debevic’s, will be reopening within the next year. Both establishments are not for the faint of heart. 

The Urban Farmhouse: Bringing the Farm to the City

Coming from a number of fast food chains, Kathleen Richardson knew a thing or two about the business, but she wanted to do something a little different. So she dove back into her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and opened a fast casual of her own, The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café.

Tips of Recreating the Customer Experience

When a guest walks into your restaurant you want them to have the ultimate experience. Everything from being greeted upon entering to getting their food served on time makes for a positive experience, but when these things lack (even if only once), it can turn a guest’s view from positive to negative.  

How to Build a Cost-Effective Marketing Plan: The Next Superstar Brand

On this episode of Foodable's Front of House podcast, we talk to Pincho Factory CEO, Nedal Ahmad.  He explains that you don’t need a million dollar marketing campaign to get customers through your doors. 

Nedal started his business manning all his social media from an iPod touch. Now, that same brand has seven locations (and more on the way) serving their cult-like following.

Find out how he did it by listening and following along with the show notes below!

Listen on:      iTunes   |   Google Play

Show Notes

  • 16:23 - Managing Loyalty
  • 18:58 - You STILL Don’t Have a Customer List?
  • 21:01 - S*** Happens. Here’s How to Deal With It
  • 25:48 - Your People Are Your Marketing Team
  • 29:41 - Nedal’s Advice

The Urban Farmhouse: Bringing the Farm to the City

Coming from a number of fast food chains, Kathleen Richardson knew a thing or two about the business, but she wanted to do something a little different. So she dove back into her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and opened a fast casual of her own, The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café. Founded in 2010, the mission behind The Urban Farmhouse is to bring the farm to the city and suburbs while providing customers with local, wholesome food. Though their menu is not outrageously unique, the way each menu item is made is what makes them stand out.

“For almost all of our salads, salad dressings, sandwich ingredients, we either prepare or cut here on the premises. That to me is a difference that I feel is important in defining fast casual.”

Redefining fast casual seems to be a theme here. Coming from McDonald's, Richardson knew a lot about limited time offers (LTO’s) but at The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, LTO’s don’t exist. Instead, Urban Farmhouse changes their menus seven times a year, in accordance with the Virginia growing calendar.

In addition to using local farmers and producers as their purveyors, The Urban Farmhouse expands on its dedication to local by showcasing local artisanal products like beer, chocolates, and almonds. As Kathleen explains, they don’t do anything the easy way. “You’re working with this local for this one product, this local… Doing that for 20 different products versus being able to call up one distributor and getting all of that there. It’s time-consuming, it’s a lot of paperwork but it’s kind of who we are. We can’t be any different.”

Learn more about The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café on this episode of Fast Casual Nation.