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Interview: Chef Rosana Rivera and Ricardo Castro on upcoming Chef & The Baker

There’s an exciting new concept coming Friday, June 12th, 2020 to the Hall on Franklin food hall called Chef & The Baker from Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro. I had a chance to ask them a few questions about this new initiative and how things have changed since the pandemic began.

CARLOS EATS: First off – How have you guys been getting by during the pandemic? 

Chef Rosana: We pivoted early on in the pandemic through R2 Provisions, our ghost kitchen in Pinellas Park, to do delivery of products, Xilo Mexican favorite food items, bakery items like bread, and provisions like eggs, flour, sugar, yeast, and toilet paper. The response was phenomenal and we are so grateful that Tampa embraced the concept, no questions asked. 

Chef Ricardo: We continue to service via delivery from R2 Provisions. Customers can order through r2xilokofe.square.site.

Pastries from Chef and The Baker at Hall on Franklin.

CARLOS EATS: Chef & The Baker is a highly anticipated project considering your past with Piquant. How will this project be different?

Chef Rosana: The recipes have been tweaked and perfected. Chef Ricardo, over the past couple of years has really honed in on his talent and craft to become an even better baker. 

Chef Ricardo: We will have artisan breads, more viennoiseries (pastries), and a higher quality of patisserie items (cakes and European tortes).

CARLOS EATS: Who are some people you look up to in the baking world and is there any pastry or bakery chefs who inspire you? What are your favorite bakeries around the world?

Chef Rosana and Ricardo: Belinda from B Patisserie in San Francisco, Eric Kayser from Maison Kayser in NYC & Paris; Antonio Bachour from Bachour Miami; and the quintessential Francois Payard from around the world. However, there are a lot of up and coming pastry superstars that we are always following and trying to learn from like Johan Martin.

CARLOS EATS: When it comes to ingredients – What makes a quality baked good different? Does water make a difference?

Chef Rosana and Ricardo: Best quality of ingredients is crucial and yes – water quality makes a huge difference. There are some things we have little control of – but buying the best ingredients is something we can control, especially when it comes to baking ingredients. We buy flours that are unbromated, we use cage-free eggs for baking applications, all-natural products, European chocolates, filtered water, and butter with a higher fat content. It all makes a difference in the quality of the product you bake.  We never cut corners, you can taste the quality.

CARLOS EATS: Food enthusiasts have been making their own sourdough starters at home during the pandemic as people tried to find a way to get through being home constantly and still enjoy the things they love. What trends do you see emerging in the baking world and how will it change in the future? 

Chef Rosana and Ricardo: More at home baking for sure! Our plan is to launch a virtual cooking kitchen class in which we are able to share our knowledge with our audience on a digital, but interactive format. I think the love for the art of baking is going nowhere, on the contrary its getting better and better.

CARLOS EATS: Industry experts say the pandemic has changed how goods are bought and prices of food seems to be going up. How are you dealing with that?

Chef Rosana: We are sticking to our prices as much as we can, and if we can’t do that – we try to minimize the impact by increasing the price by 25 or 50 cents. Our margins are taking a hit and are reduced, but at the end of the day we want to be conscious of how people spend their money. We don’t want or need to abuse.

Koign Amann from Chef and the Baker at Hall on Franklin in Tampa.

CARLOS EATS: Which menu item would you say is the most complex or time-consuming dish you make? Can you tell us more about it?

Chef Rosana: Anything croissant, which is easily a 72+ hour process, but we love it and our guests love anything croissant that we do. My favorite item is the Kouign Amanns.

Chef Ricardo: That is how I make the croissants, not everyone follows that. It creates better flavors as the dough ferments slowly. My favorite item is The Morning Buns (citrus crispy laminated dough) is my favorite item on our menu.

CARLOS EATS: What made you both fall in love with baking? 

Chef Rosana: I fell in love for baking because of Ricardo. Every day I see him bake I am in awe of him!

Chef Ricardo: I fell in love with baking when my Mom AKA Chef Cookie, would teach me how to bake things since I was 9 years old. Later, Chef Rudy from Austria took me under his wing and taught me everything European pastries. The right way and the best way!

Don’t forget to check out Chef & the Baker when it opens on Friday, June 12th at 11AM at the Hall on Franklin at 1701 North Franklin Street Tampa, Florida, 33602.

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Articles News Restaurant News

NEWS: Tampa restaurants and Black Lives Matter have a complicated week

This week there were a number of stories happening around Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd and in Tampa’s restaurant restaurant community it was no different.

A number of restaurants were navigating how to address the rising movement and protests or how to deal with the fallout of communicating about it to their customers.

The week began with a post from Lanfranco Pescante of Nocturnal Hospitality Group. A message posted online by him said “shoot them all” and drew condemnation from the local community including black leaders, bloggers, and others, led to Franco’s resignation, brought 500 protesters to Downtown Tampa at Franklin Manor, and eventually ended up leading to Celebrity Chef Fabio Viviani cutting ties with all associated restaurants from the group including many upcoming concepts around the Tampa Bay area.

This fiasco ended with the indefinite closing of all properties including Franklin Manor, Osteria Tampa, Mole y Abuela, and upcoming concepts like Shibui and La Pergola. News reports have shown that Franco is now under FBI and state investigation. Investors and employees found themselves caught in a firestorm that led to almost 200+ people losing their jobs after months of COVID-19 lockdowns.

A former investor shares this:

Next, Oxford Exchange – a popular South Tampa eatery worth millions decided to wade into the debate happening and posted that they support all lives and African-Americans, but refused to say that “Black Lives Matter” which led to people fighting in their comments until eventually the brand relented and put #blacklivesmatter into the description.

It’s important to know that when your brand has decided to take a stand on an issue, you must think about the cause you are supporting. Black Lives Matter is an issue where you must actually say it to be effective and show your solidarity.

The important thing about politics is always that if you don’t want to get involved, simply say nothing at all.

After that, popular eatery Datz in South Tampa also found themselves in a social media controversy after an employee put up Black Lives Matter on their famous signboard without talking to the owners of the business.

This led to confusion and allegations and in the end the owners decided to go forward and post it on their page and explained that they felt it was “distasteful” for their employee to add the words without thinking about how it would be displayed first since the original sign was advertising breakfast.

Finally – an employee at Seminole Heights General Store told Creative Loafing that they were fired because of posts they made online supporting Black Lives Matter.

That was a long week.

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Articles Dining Guide

List: Black-Owned Restaurants and Businesses in Tampa Bay

2020 has been one of the craziest years. It has been especially hard on our black-owned small businesses who may not have the same access to capital that other businesses do and who are dealing with the fallout of the Coronavirus and now racial tensions after the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

None of these things are new. Disparities in support for black-owned businesses has existed probably since the beginning of our country. There are ways to help make a difference though.

Here is a list of black-owned restaurants and businesses that you can support in Tampa Bay. If we all do our part, we can help our fellow businesses get through this storm. Consider supporting them.

Tampa:

Tarpon Springs:

  • The Jerk Center. 405 S Pinellas Ave, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689. (727) 940-5343. thejerkcenter.com

Largo:

Gulfport:

St. Pete:

Here’s a list you can save to your phone’s Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@27.9708346,-82.5722641,10z/data=!4m2!11m1!2smZUS7CD-RcuPjB6Jx5gIAw


If I missed one feel free to e-mail me to have it added to the list.

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Articles News Restaurant News

NEWS: GoFundMe Created for Saigon Bay Damaged During Protests in Tampa

Last night the nation witnessed another night of protests across the country after the death of George Floyd and many of them became violent in the evening.

Although Tampa saw a peaceful protest in the daytime with the Mayor of Tampa Jane Castor and Chief of Police Brian Dugan marching with protesters, as the evening approached the protests became more intense and led to several cases of looting including a burning of a Mobil gas station and then a fire at Champ’s across the street from the University Mall.

Saigon Bay is a local Vietnamese restaurant that has been a neighborhood eatery for decades and it’s location next to Champ’s led to damage of their building. University of South Florida students and staff, as well as those from the area know it well as a great place to enjoy a bowl of pho.

Bryan Huynh, whose family formerly owned Saigon Bay, shared this statement on Instagram:

“As you may know Tampa got out of hand last night. My parents owned and built this restaurant from the ground up ever since I was born. We sold it a few years back to some wonderful owners that took the restaurant to another level. I’m incredibly heartbroken about the events that have occurred especially to something so near and dear to my family’s hearts, but please please everyone be empathetic towards one another.

In the video of George Floyd’s death, there was a man of Asian decent that was in the wrong and it reminded me how different it is for our race. Yes, we still deal with racism. However police brutality is something our race does not have to deal with. I’ve seen with my own eyes how my African American friends get treated differently than me even though I am a minority just like them.

Whenever I hear “All Lives Matter,” it’s total bulls***. At the end of the day, we all have to be kind towards one another. Love really does cure all. As for Saigon Bay, I am communicating with the owners to see how we can help as a community to help put back their business that they put their blood, sweat and tears into. #blacklivesmatter #bekind

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/saigon-bay-vietnamese-restaurant-tampa

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Articles Product Reviews

Product Review: IMUSA Electric Coffee / Moka Maker 3-6 Cup

Full disclosure: This coffee maker was sent to me complimentary by IMUSA in exchange for a review on my blog. Any opinions expressed are my own and do not represent IMUSA or any stakeholders.

I’ve been looking for a new coffee machine lately during quarantine and was fortunate enough to receive one complimentary in the mail a few weeks ago from IMUSA. I’ve bought and used their smaller 3-cup aluminum moka pot in the past, but was looking for an electric solution.

This coffee maker allows you to make a 3-cup or 6-cup brew of espresso in less than 10 minutes. What comes out is a clearly superior brew that beats out even our Keurig machine at home (that costs nearly double the price).

Coffee is easy to make in this appliance. You simply add your water to the base and then add coffee to the filter, screw on and hit the on-button. You can watch your coffee flow into the eletric moka pot through the plastic which is an added bonus.

Before you know it you’ll have plenty of coffee ready to go. We even got a new milk frother to make some lattes at home. Being a regular at coffee shops, the pandemic has made it a little rough for me to enjoy my coffee favorites but I’m thankful there are solutions out there for those at home.

To clean out the machine: Rinse out the reservoir and use water and soap on the top part (after unscrewing). Make sure to dry fully.

I highly recommend the IMUSA Electric Coffee / Moka Maker. You can find it online at Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3cae1Ew

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Articles Recipes

Recipe: Mom’s Signature Puerto Rican Sofrito

Sofrito is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine and can be added as a base to rice, soups, stews, sautes, and anything you want. My Mom has been making sofrito my whole life and our recipe goes back generations in my family.

Not everyone makes it the same, but here is our family recipe for your use when cooking.

You’ll need a glass jar to store your sofrito inside after completion.

(Cubanelle pepper not pictured)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cubanelle pepper
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 4 mini sweet peppers / 4 Aji Dulce peppers or both
  • 1 garlic bulb

Prepration: Wash your vegetables before beginning the process.

Steps:

1) Peel garlic (do not mince) and cut vegetables to a size that will blend.

2) Pulse all ingredients in blender starting with onion and peppers, little by little to make the base until all combined. Do not add water.

3) If you prefer to have little chunks – keep pulsing until all combined or you can use the blend button for a smoother consistency. We choose to blend our sofrito so it will dissolve into our food.

4) Add Aji Dulce (also called Cachucha Peppers) if available. You can find this at Latin Markets although it can be hard to find in certain markets. Finish pulsing or blending depending on consistency preferences. We keep ours frozen as you can see above.

5) Move to a glass jar for storing in coldest part of your refrigerator (usually the upper back part). Freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray or ziploc bag. The sofrito will last a very long time in the freezer, but not so long in the fridge (about a month, 2 max) so keep that in mind.

Enjoy!

Mom's Signature Puerto Rican Sofrito

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Print

A staple of Puerto Cuisine. Add this to your cooking regimen.


Ingredients

  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cubanelle pepper
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 4 mini sweet peppers / 4 Aji Dulce peppers or both
  • 1 garlic bulb

Directions

  1. Peel garlic (do not mince) and cut vegetables to a size that will blend.
  2. Pulse all ingredients in blender starting with onion and peppers, little by little to make the base until all combined. Do not add water.
  3. If you prefer to have little chunks – keep pulsing until all combined or you can use the blend button for a smoother consistency. We choose to blend our sofrito so it will dissolve into our food.
  4. Add Aji Dulce (also called Cachucha Peppers) if available. You can find this at Latin Markets although it can be hard to find in certain markets. Finish pulsing or blending depending on consistency preferences. We keep ours frozen as you can see above.
  5. Move to a glass jar for storing in coldest part of your refrigerator (usually the upper back part). Freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray or ziploc bag. The sofrito will last a very long time in the freezer, but not so long in the fridge (about a month, 2 max) so keep that in mind.

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Articles

Guide: Restaurant Reservation Platforms during COVID-19

As several restaurants start to plan their reopening strategies during COVID-19, many restaurateurs may be interested in signing up for a restaurant reservation platform to plan out and control dining crowds, as well as to help with other priorities such as take-out.

I looked into a few platforms and found some useful information about what platforms are doing to help and how owners can take advantage of this as they manage Coronavirus.

  1. OpenTable: Arguably one of the most popular online reservation platforms is OpenTable. For years they have dominated the space, but also have been quite expensive for restaurateurs to use – which has led to their clientele being mostly high-end restaurants and diners. OpenTable is waiving subscription fees through the end of 2020 and cover fees through September 30th, 2020 as well as a 50% cover fee discount through the end of 2020 for restaurants who sign up for their “Open Door” pricing program. Standard subscription and cover fee pricing will be reintroduced in 2021. The large customer base that OpenTable has could be a draw for restaurateurs. Make sure to read the fine print though as always.
  2. Resy: One of OpenTable’s big competitors, Resy, is also offering no fees through the rest of 2020 for restaurants. It applies to both existing and new restaurant partners. They have added new features like a Mobile Waitlist, Automated Capacity Monitor, and Takeout and Contactless pickup are also in the works.
  3. Tock: Tock is a reservation and takeout/delivery platform that is ran by Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Several of the people running and advising the platform are hospitality industry affiliated names. Many of the members of Tock seem to be smaller, local restaurants. Fees start at $199 a month, Tock has waived fees through the end of May for restaurants.
  4. Yelp Reservations: One of the more expensive options has a flat rate of $249 a month, but is integrated with Yelp which is one of the busiest websites online for restaurants. There are no cover fees, setup fees, or web access fees added on for monthly service. Yelp offers table management and waitlist management. Yelp is offering 3 months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist through the end of May 2020 as part of their COVID-19 relief. Call (844) 889-1617 to sign up.
  5. Eat App: This platform has some features in place to help restaurants navigating COVID-19 including switching to reservations only, the ability to change floor plans, configure shifts to automatically restrict covers, manage capacity minute by minute, and waitlists. They also offer phone integrations, custom tags and notes, SMS capabilities, and contact list information as well as other features. Pricing starts at $129 a month which is one of the lowest in the pack.

These are just a few of the tools out there for restaurants looking to get back on their feet during COVID-19. You will also look into your POS system and see if there is features on there for reservations or if it is compatible with these services.

As always, be sure to read the contract terms before proceeding with any deal.

Good luck!

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Articles

What I’m Reading Food Media – May 14th

Many things have been changing lately in the food landscape. Here is what I’m reading lately in food media:

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Articles Food News

Why are landlords still raising rent on restaurants during a pandemic?

News has spread that Cafe Ponte in Clearwater is now permanently closed due to COVID-19 and leasing problems. This is the beginning of many stories that will soon be told about failing restaurants in Tampa Bay. Personally I did not dine there, but was constantly told about the place from those who love to eat in Tampa.

The owner told the Tampa Bay Times: “He wanted to increase the rent and we couldn’t come to a fair agreement.” Other projects are in the works, but this spot was running for 18 years and is now closed.

Unfortunately, this is going to be really common as the virus continues to persist.

One of the big reasons is because most restaurants in Tampa Bay are due for leasing renewals or may have recently signed one.

Many of the restaurants in Tampa Bay appeared during the last financial crisis or Great Recession in the early 2010s. Those leases expired in a market where Tampa real estate has swelled and become quite expensive as more people moved to Florida and companies began relocating to the region. It wasn’t as much of a problem until Coronavirus showed up and put ice on tourism in Florida.

This also begs the question, why are landlords still increasing rent in the middle of a pandemic? Who exactly is going to move into these empty units during one of the worst times of uncertainty? It is a problem that is plaguing both businesses and working class people already being squeezed.

Even Starbucks is asking for rent relief after their sales fell by 85% from their landlords. How can small businesses survive like that?

Restaurants have experienced a huge disruption with states closing their businesses for over a month and putting them into minimized operating capacity to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While this is important for public health and needs to be done, the same government who mandates closures should also be working to protect restaurants from rent increases, evictions, and other forces.

There’s a number of tools that can be used to help restaurants that still aren’t being used in Florida or Tampa Bay even get a little bit of help.

Cities around the country are putting caps on delivery fees to help restaurants that have lost much of their dine-in business and are seeing increases in delivery and take-out. Even with restaurants re-opening, studies show that most customers will not be dining in again until a vaccine is hopefully created for COVID-19.

OpenTable data shows that for the most part, dining has yet to recover and has hung stubbornly around -80% or higher for most cities that already opened their doors.

A viral photograph shows how Grubhub and the various delivery platforms actually take in a huge amount of profits from restaurants even during the pandemic as they struggle to survive. Uber Eats takes up to 30% of a delivery commission. Rumor has it that Uber is about to buy Grubhub for $6 billion, which will lower the bargaining power that restaurants will have on fees.

Although PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loans are being heavily floated as a way for restaurants to stay afloat, many owners cried foul after they realized that PPP loans are mostly for payrolls (as the name implied) and most of the money cannot be used towards rent or other costs. This is mostly good for workers which is important, but it will not fundamentally save the restaurants who now have the funds but still have numerous costs to figure out.

If cities and states really want to protect their small businesses and restaurants as they say they do, they need to come up with more tools to help those places stay in business. It’s unfair to ask restaurants simply to shoulder the burden of staying closed during this health emergency and to not offer them tools to survive the pandemic as well.

California has come up with a few interesting things like paying restaurants to help feed the elderly and more things like that might be needed nationwide.

Policymakers need to find ways to provide rent relief for restaurants and to help ease other issues plaguing restaurants now like supply disruptions, spiking food costs, the cost of acquiring PPE, and other issues at play. At the very least, landlords should not be raising rent on restaurants in the middle of a pandemic.

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Articles News Restaurant News

Coronavirus: Souplantion, Sweet Tomatoes fold under pressure

The first major restaurant industry casualty is Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes, many more are expected in the future as the restaurant industry is impacted by COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times posted a full story this evening about the closure. The chain has been plagued with troubled finances for years.

The reaction on Twitter was filled with mourning:

RIP to unlimited clam chowder.