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Ask The Trendspotters
Ask the Trendspotters is produced for StarChefs by

Laurie Blass and Pam Elder, e-learning designers specializing in web-based professional development programs for the foodservice industry. As food writers who have developed online continuing education courses for the Culinary Institute of America and others, they research up-to-date information on the latest trends and strategies busy culinary professionals need to know. (And ideas serious recreational cooks find interesting and useful, too.)

For Ask the Trendspotters, they'll be sifting through the best news sources on a regular basis to help you keep up with the latest in culinary concepts.

Just scan the Trendspotters' news regularly. You'll find information on the latest techniques and equipment, hot technology tips, and inspiring ingredient ideas. It's an easy way to jumpstart your creativity while improving your bottom-line.

Have a question? Ask the Trendspotters—your custom infoseeker for culinary ideas and answers!

Which one of the following topics interests you most?

tasting menus
restaurants critics' secrets
plate presentation
online resources for recipe and menu ideas

If you selected “other”, please email your ideas to us at


Issue No. 4 - Beyond Parsley
Parley sprigs and flakes make a bright, easy accent for many dishes, but they can become boring quickly when overused.
By plating as creatively as possible, you can visually stimulate your diner's appetite and imagination. The most exciting plate presentations arouse interest and a sense of expectancy, then present food that tastes as good or even better than anticipated.
Here are some of the principles to keep in mind as you design plates for presentation:

The Concepts
Plate presentation concepts are the same as those of fine art: the chef-artist works with a palette of different colors, shapes, textures, and flavors, and arranges them with the principles of artistic composition in mind: balance, harmony, and contrast.

And the rules are simple. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the main ingredients remain the focal point. The way you showcase them should never overwhelm, clash with, or obscure them.

Add to these simple concepts an attempt to avoid repetition and trite standbys (such as the ubiquitous parsley), and you'll be able to create attractive, enticing plates every time.

The Tools
The most important, most dramatic tool a chef can use is the plate itself. Wide choices in color, shape, and size offer a multitude of opportunities to create harmony or contrast, or simply serve as a blank canvas that lets the food speak for itself.
more >>


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  #1 Today’s Diners are Different
  #2 New Ways with Vegetables
  #3 Dishing up Holiday Cheer
  #4 Beyond Parsley

Q: Restaurant critics, particularly ones at big magazines and newspapers, hold a great deal of power and influence in the success or failure of a business. What kind of education or training do they have? What qualifications does someone need to be a food critic?

New York City
A: Hello, Ellen. Sometimes their reviews make you wonder, don't they? Most of the critics whose criticism we hold in highest regard are former chefs, restaurant owners, or at the least, very serious home cooks or diners. A few of the nation's best are simply talented writers who worked for publications that needed the restaurant beat covered. They developed their culinary knowledge through experience and study, and wrote with panache. In our view it is not enough to describe the food and atmosphere, but rather, to help the reader understand the complete experience of dining in that restaurant--to have a very real sense of what the owner or chef is trying to accomplish, and how well he or she is succeeding. Most reviewers visit a restaurant on several occasions over a few weeks' time to make their judgments. You may have your own favorites, but ours is Caroline Bates, who writes for Gourmet magazine. Large, metropolitan newspapers usually assign food editorships or restaurant criticism to staff or others who've had experience covering related stories, or who reveal a depth of knowledge of the food and wine industries. The ideal training might be multi-faceted: culinary school, restaurant experience (front of the house as well as in the kitchen), and broad dining experience throughout the world.

Q: What is the most popular microgreen? For salad, which type of lettuce leaf size is better--baby greens or 5-6" type lettuce leaves?

Manila, Philippines
A: Hi, Dwin. Microgreens rate high with chefs because they add color, texture, and a flavor that's a bit more intense than that of larger leaves. Used both as a garnish and in salads, there's probably no one favorite among chefs--we've heard of everything from micro arugula to microcelery. Commercial mixes often include mizuna, spinach, purple mustard, tatsoi, bulls blood beet tops, ruby chard, red Russian kale, and red cabbage. Regarding your second question, this depends on the salad. Classic Caesar calls for mature romaine. And in warm salads, such as spinach or arugula, the bigger leaves stand up better to the warm ingredients than baby leaves do. Baby greens work well in cold salads, especially when there aren't a lot of other ingredients for them to compete with.

Q: A big "tip of the toque" to both of you! Your answers to the multitude of questions posed to you were so well written and thoughtful. It is refreshing to me to see people in our industry who actually care about answering all questions and not passing the "buck". Keep up the great work! Sincerely, Jeffrey Harriman, CEC

Jeffrey Harriman, C.E.C.,
Lakeland, FL
A: Hi, Jeffrey. Thanks so much for your compliment! We love writing about food as part of the StarChefs team. And we've received great questions from all over the world that not only stimulate our curiosity, but broaden the scope of Trendspotters for everyone. We really appreciate your feedback. - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: where can I find a resource for cross referencing world wide names for cooking ingredients. example: I know that rocket is englands name for arugula. What is a 'sultana' other than a Sultan's wife? It is supposed to be a fruit. ( Is it a 'date'? )

Harvey Friedman,
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
A: Hi, Harvey. Perhaps the best references for cooking ingredients' names throughout the world are Alan Davidson's two volumes, The Oxford Companion to Food and The Penguin Companion to Food, and Sharon Tyler Herbst's Food Lover's Companion. By the way, the sultana (or officially, the Round Kishmish grape, according to Davidson) is similar to the more common Thompson Seedless variety (from which most California raisins are produced), but is a bit larger, has a little more acid, sometimes has seeds, and dries to a paler color. In Britain, "sultana" is often used to refer generically to any type of raisin -- a misnomer, really, but generally accepted nevertheless. - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: What all do we have to do after passing school to become a trained and professional chef? What cooking schools are the best in the world? Reputation does not concern me.

Sakshi Malik,
A: Thanks for your question, Sakshi. Assuming that "after passing school" means following secondary school graduation, the best way is to do a full professional chef's training course at an accredited culinary training school or college. Next, you can work as a line cook and through various stations, and then gain experience as a sous chef -- ideally, under the direction of successful, professional chefs who foster development of your skills while increasing your responsibilities. Many aspiring young chefs like to take a short break from their regular jobs to do a "stage" (a short, often unpaid, stint) at a renowned restaurant to add to their skills. From such an experience, they can broaden their perspective, gain new ideas, and improve technique while adding to their resumes and making good contacts. An executive or head chef is wise to encourage the innovative thinking that's fostered by allowing staff to work in other top quality kitchens. An excellent way to develop your skills at every stage of your career is to take part in certification courses. The CIA (Culinary Institute of America; see and ACF (American Culinary Federation; both offer a wide range of continuing education courses which, along with a lot of hard work and dedication, can lead all the way to the highest acclamation of Certified Master Chef. Many other fine programs at cooking schools throughout the U.S. offer professional development courses for a variety of interests at all levels. For opportunities in the U.S., see Petersen's profiles of culinary schools at (We are compiling a list of schools in India and will post it soon.) Lastly, participating in ACF-approved culinary shows and competitions will also help you develop your skills and allow you to learn from other talented chefs. For a calendar of this year's events, see Best of luck with your career and thanks for writing. - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: Is the use of microgreens for garnish something that is here to stay, or is it a fad which will soon blow over?

A: Hi, Adriana. Many chefs like to use microgreens to add flavor, texture, and an extra element of freshness. Their continuing popularity will depend most on cost and availability. As long as a product yields a good return while adding value and interest, it will remain popular. - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: is there a good source for tracking down chefs and their current restaurants. I am a freelance food editor and need this information occasionally. Thanks.

lisa holderness,
des moines, ia
A: One somewhat limited, though growing, list is "Dine With An ACF Certified Chef." This new online dining guide provides a free listing for any chef who's certified by the American Culinary Federation. (See We've also tried to find a comprehensive list, but without luck. Readers, can you help? Thanks for writing, Lisa. - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: Where can I find the El Bulli cookbook in the U.S.?

Ken Naron,
Denham Springs
A: Hi, Ken. Many of us here in the United States would love to get a look at this publication from one of today's most exciting chefs. We've searched all over here in the the U.S. and even on Spanish and Spanish-language online book sites, but it seems the only way you can get Ferran Adria's cookbook is by ordering it from the El Bulli website ( The book has yet to be translated into English, but the site promises an English version by summer of 2003. Currently, you can order the Spanish edition and accompanying CD-ROM for 60 euros. If you check back this summer to see if they've made the English version available, please let us know what you find out. Thanks! - Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: Just a quickie. . . Have you had the pleasure of trying Curvware? It was just presented to me and I thought it was just great, but I was wondering why I had not heard of it before now throughout the industry? Thank you.

A: Hi Henry. No, we haven't tried Curvware--a new style of eating utensil with a curved, ergonomic handle based on the lever principle--but we're intrigued by its innovative design and promising functionality. The manufacturer claims that it's easier to use than traditional "flatware" and comes out cleaner in washing because it doesn't nest. The lag in its catching on, according to its designer, Mark Wilson, may be people's discomfort with replacing such a familiar item as flatware with something so radically different in look and feel. For more info on Curvware, visit their website at & Pam, The Trendspotters

Q: How do you substitute tapioca for flour as a thickening agent? Thank you.

Jersey City
A: Hi Liz. Great question! Tapioca, a starchy powder extracted from the cassava root, is an excellent substitute for flour-based thickeners. You can find natural tapioca powder, such as TapiOKTM Organic Tapioca Native Starch ( and quick-cooking tapioca products such as Kraft Foods MINUTEŽ Tapioca. According to Kraft, MINUTEŽ Tapioca should be allowed to soak approximately 5 minutes in the liquid prior to heating. This allows the beads to swell and soften and maximizes its thickening quality. Kraft recommends that you use equal amounts of tapioca for the cornstarch in recipes, but use slightly less tapioca (1 tsp.) for flour in recipes. Some cooks find that while quick-cooking tapioca thickens soups and sauces and gravies, it can leave some of the tiny bits of tapioca floating in the liquid. To avoid this, they process the quick-cooking tapioca in a blender until it's powdered. Try both and tell us which you prefer. We look forward to hearing from you.--Laurie & Pam, The Trendspotters

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