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Belgium: Beyond the Waffle

Kathleen Harsh is a Chicago based bakery scientist. On a recent trip to Belgium, she visited a handful of bakeries and reported back on what she found. Belgium is probably best known stateside to be the home of the waffle but it’s really a hub of food creativity. It was a great educational adventure for her, with much learning to be shared with the company. What follows are her words on what she experienced.

Traveling brings many great joys, amongst them the opportunities to fully immerse oneself in the food of a different culture and to consider the unique offerings places from around the world bring to the table. Belgian food extends beyond the Americanized Belgian waffle to offering a true feast for the senses for every eating occasion. During a trip to Belgium this summer, I explored traditional Belgian bakeries, chocolate shops, and cookie shops that have perfected recipes over centuries of dedicated practices. Belgian cities are also a hub for creativity in food, so I seized the chance to check out innovative food concepts happening in bustling Antwerp and Ghent.

In a lively square in Antwerp, a fourth generation family run bakery founded in 1884 called Goosens draws crowds for everyday baked good staples. Its small storefront only has room to order, pay, and gawk in delight at the rows of stacked baked goods. Some of Goosens specialties include crusty sandwich bread, Danishes, and roggeverdommeke, a rye bread with raisins. Himschoot, a bakery in Ghent, has a similar set up showcasing muesli bread and dense chocolate bread packed with pieces of real Belgian chocolate.

Right next to Goosens in Antwerp, Philip’s Biscuits is a popular stop for traditional Belgian cookies such as speculoos. Speculoos cookies have a graham cracker-like taste profile with ginger and cinnamon notes and a short, crisp bite. Belgium pioneered the cookie butter that is gaining traction as a popular food trend in America by turning speculoos into a spread the consistency of creamy peanut butter. Speculoos spread can be found in Belgian grocery stores and served alongside Nutella and jams in breakfast buffets.

Another notable food destination in this Antwerp square is Mary Chocolatier. One can find delicious chocolate at every turn in Belgium, but Mary Chocolatier stands out as a Certified Supplier of the Belgian court. The fanciful shop has artfully displayed truffles and small chocolates that make the perfect gift or treat to oneself.

Waffles in Belgium are considered an indulgence, more akin to ice cream in America than the Belgian waffle we are all familiar with as a brunch and breakfast staple. That American breakfast food is referred to as the Brussels waffle in Belgium, and while that is certainly a delicious baked good, the Liege waffle deserves tremendous praise as well. Made with yeast, pearled sugar, and a higher fat content, the Liege waffle has a slight sour flavor from the fermentation and a denser, chewier texture with a crisp exterior from the pearled sugar caramelizing during the cooking and reheating process. As a luxurious end to an evening out, I enjoyed a Liege waffle topped with fresh chopped strawberries and a dizzying amount of Nutella purchased from a small cart off the canal in Ghent.

Another Belgian influence in America is the rise of Le Pain Quotidien restaurants, a bakery chain and fast casual restaurant that originated in Belgium. I stopped by a location in Ghent to admire the breads and pastries on display, which interestingly included a basket of hard boiled eggs to the right of the baguettes for a complete breakfast experience. Le Pain Quotidien had some unique offerings such as savory pastries and a dragon fruit and raspberry chiller. The latte was a perfectly refreshing alternative to coffee on a hot summer day with the added benefit of antioxidants from the fruits.

Fries are a staple in the Belgian diet, and they are frequently used as a base or the main course for many meals as pasta is to Italian food or rice is to Chinese food. Frituurs or fry shops are ubiquitous in Beligum, especially in the Flemish region where small towns have a frituur every few blocks. Frites Atelier Amsterdam is quick service restaurant that is capitalizing upon the Belgian fry popularity. This chain offers fries as a snack with a variety of dipping sauces such as classic mayonnaise, truffle, andouille, and béarnaise, as well as a full meal with a variety of saucy stews and curries as a topping. I stopped at the Antwerp location to have fries with stoofvlees, a traditional Flemish stew made with tender, rich meat and hints of mustard and beer, topped with mustard seeds and microgreens. The fries were crisped to perfection with a delightfully tender inside and a crunchy exterior due to a double frying method. This was my favorite meal during my time in Belgium!

Over in the university town of Ghent, I had the pleasure of stopping by another restaurant where the idea of a traditional Flemish dish has taken some contemporary twists. At Balls & Glory, you can order from an array of ground pork, chicken or meat substitute meatballs filled with a variety of creative fillings and lightly coated in breadcrumbs. The meatballs are served on top of a rotating flavorful salad or on top of stoemp, Belgian mashed potatoes with carrots and celery. This modernization of the Belgian affinity for meatballs lends itself well to a unique, satisfying meal occasion.

Ghent is a very Catholic city dating back to medieval times, and the city has such a staggering number of churches that many are currently up for sale. In an exciting new concept, a food hall called Holy Food Market has sprung up in a chapel from the 16th century. The design element is striking, with cathedral height ceilings, stained glass and beautiful architecture juxtaposed against modern design elements like black and white stained woodwork, marble countertops, statement indoor plants, and string lighting. Food halls have sprung up in the U.S. too such as Revival Food Hall in Chicago and Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Their popularity here stems from offering quick service, trend driven, and ethnic and regional food options to serve everyone’s pallets. The Holy Food Market follows a similar approach by offering 16 different food choices ranging from Malaysian, Abruzzo (regional) Italian, Russian, and vegetarian friendly options. Each food stand holds its own between the columns and arches with a bar in the center of the first floor, and the top floor has been converted into a club and lounge type area. I loved the blending of cultures and foods from around the world housed in a familiar yet modernized design, creating a new way to visit a picturesque European church.

During your next European adventure, consider stopping by Belgium for much more than just their waffles. The plethora of traditional treats Belgium has perfected over centuries coupled with new flavor and form combinations in non-traditional settings gives every traveler an opportunity to relish in Belgian cuisine.

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A Bakery Tour of Paris

Kathleen Harsh is a Chicago based bakery scientist. On her trip to Paris, she visited a handful of bakeries and reported back on what she found. Paris is considered to be the home of innovation for the bakery scene so it was a great educational experience for her as well as invaluable for the company. What follows are her words on what she saw.

On a recent trip to Paris with friends, I made sure to take a tour of my favorite part of the “City of Lights”- bakeries! Paris is world renowned as the epicenter of baked goods, with a history that includes the creation of pastry classics such as the baguette and the croissant. Many bakeries in Paris have also embraced new trends and flavors to draw in the modern consumer and to cement their footing as the leading bakery city in the world. Here are some highlights from bakeries, patisseries, and cafés in the second and the tenth arrondissements (districts) that I had the great pleasure of experiencing on my trip.

Turmeric Bread from Eric Kayser

In the second arrondissement, I explored Marche Montorgueil, a market street tucked away amongst busy metro lined streets. One could spend multiple days on this street alone pretending to be a local strolling amongst the abundant cheese shops, florists, bakeries, fruit stands, and cafes. My destination was Eric Kayser, a bakery chain with a reputation as a leader in French bakery innovation. I purchased their turmeric bread, a crusty artisan style sandwich loaf made from sweet enriched dough laced with turmeric, walnuts, and hazelnuts. Turmeric is an on-trend spice being used in many different food categories in North America, with its health benefits and unique taste lending itself well to both the sweet and the savory realm. This is the first application I have seen in a bread loaf, and it worked tremendously well.

Also on Marche Montorgueil, I stopped in L’éclair de Genie, a storefront that only sells gourmet éclairs. This is a new trend in Paris, as the éclair is the ideal traditional vehicle to test untraditional flavor and texture combinations. Each éclair is truly a work of art and with prices ranging from 4.50-6.00 € per éclair, they are meant to be enjoyed as a high-end treat. Some impressive flavors I sampled were citrus and yuzu, a shimmery deep red raspberry éclair filled with chocolate cream, and a buttery caramel filled éclair topped with gold flake and Guérande salt. This store’s concept reminded me of the cupcake trend in the United States, and it demonstrates how focusing on one pastry vessel to present unique flavor combinations can be a niche market to capitalize upon.

L’escargot chocolat pistache from Du Pain et Des Idees

I made a point to stay one night in the tenth arrondissement, mostly for the purpose of exploring the food scene. The number one bakery on my list was Du Pain et Des Idees. This bakery has received their notoriety via Bon Appétit mentions and their Instagram- ready pastries such as the L’escargot chocolat pistache. This pastry is a laminated Danish swirl with a pistachio and chocolate chip filling. Calling the pastry “l’escargot” is a clever pun that pays homage to France’s affinity for snails. Du Pain et Des Idees also sells several versions of this pastry with different fillings- fresh currants, rum and raisin, praline, and lemon nougat. A couple other fascinating pastries I saw at Du Pain et Des Idees were Niflettes, a small puff pastry square featuring a dollop of orange water pastry cream in the center, as well as a banana chocolate croissant highlighted by fresh mashed banana and chocolate sticks in the center. With all the visually stunning and tasty pastries, Du Pain et Des Idees is a feast for the senses!

Liberté Patisserie Boulangerie

Also in the tenth arrondissement, I swung by Liberté Patisserie Boulangerie and Holybelly. Liberté Patisserie Boulangerie is an airy and modern take on the classic French bakery, with the production being visible behind a marble counter juxtaposed with antique looking ceilings and stripped down walls. This nicely demonstrated their simultaneous commitment to old world quality and modern transparency. Even in a city with a café on every corner, it is the type of restaurant that grabs your attention as you are walking down the street. Here I got some bread to bring back with me to Chicago-a cereal based loaf studded with an assortment of seeds and grains that held up shockingly well over the 12 hour travel time. Another stop I made in the tenth was at Holybelly, a restaurant specializing in American and Australian style brunch dishes. Eggs are typically served for lunch or dinner in France, where a croissant on the go is more common than the American multi-product brunch. Holybelly served Du Pain et Des Idees bread and a unique twist on the Hash brown patty featuring soaked spelt grains dispersed throughout shredded potatoes.

A bakery tour of Paris can never disappoint, but despite my high expectations the pastry game in Paris continues to blow me away. Many of the innovations happening across the pond can easily translate into trendy offerings here in the states, from the use of unique spices in an unexpected bread application, to stores selling multiple variations on one type of food product, to attention grabbing takes on a classic pastries, and storefronts that combine the modern aesthetic with an industrial chic backdrop. This trip to Paris provided a plethora of trend exploration, and I cannot wait to return and learn more!

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Student Food Choices Are Grade A

When it comes to eating, college students have a wide variety of options to choose from. They can buy groceries to cook their own meals, go out to eat, select pre-made food and snacks, or use meal programs available through the school. There are a lot of observations worth noting as students continue to reshape their eating habits. One of the biggest influences is the increase in food-related social media.

On social media hubs like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest there are many different groups that make video tutorials on how to create meals or snacks. These videos are short and very thorough in showing how to cook these dishes including the ingredients needed to make them. Students find these tutorials easy to follow and practical as it allows people without much knowledge to try their hand in cooking. The presence of these videos in social media has definitely increased the amount of cooking done by college students on a regular basis.

The younger element of millennials in college right now and they continue to mirror the trend of eating out on a regular basis. This stems from the perception of dining out as a social event to many of them and who are willing to pay more for the experience of eating out with friends. Incorporating phone apps like GrubHub with college-town bars and restaurants allows students to find weekly deals at establishments, encouraging people to venture out even more.

Another big trend with college students can be seen with the rising popularity in prepared foods. Students can be pressed for time with classes spread out during the day so many have been purchasing these products more regularly. Prepared foods for students makes sense because it is fast, and it allows for students without many cooking skills to still enjoy homemade-like meals. These foods are not just in c-stores and supermarkets, but also in regular food service stores like Starbucks where packaged snacks and sandwiches are offered.

Food service programs through schools have also seen some change recently. There are meal programs available to students (sometimes at a discounted rate), where students can eat at any of the dining halls using their meal program card. Many schools have been renovating their dining halls to more closely match the trending food themes like healthy, fresh, and variety. Some of the dining halls resemble the layouts and food options available in a Whole Foods food court or a Mariano’s. As more schools are changing the landscape of their food service programs for the better, more students might be influenced to continue to purchase meal plans as long as they match the growing trends of fresh, healthy, and fast.

Newly Weds Foods has the knowledge and capabilities to assist in the development of food products that address today’s trends as well that meet the requirements of distribution, through supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants and even school food service programs.

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Newly Weds Foods 2.0

Newly Weds Foods has been making a push into the digital realm for the past year. It started with the launch of a new website and continues on with a more social approach. Newly Weds Foods is on LinkedIn and Facebook.

keys-264595_640While most people consider LinkedIn a place to get a job it’s also a place for professionals to connect and share ideas. That’s exactly how we are using it, filling our news feed with the latest trend information, happenings at Newly Weds Foods, and of course…job postings. Get all the latest info by following us on LinkedIn.

Facebook is typically considered a place to share pictures with your friends and family, but we have found this to be an invaluable tool to reach out to everyone who interfaces with Newly Weds Foods, be it a trucker who needs some information on our facilities, or a prospective client who needs a more personal way to get in touch. Additionally we share the same trend info and news as we do on LinkedIn…just in case you prefer one platform to another; the choice is yours for all your Newly Weds Foods news. You can reach our Facebook Page anytime on the web. Give our page a like to get all the news automatically.

For those of you not on any social networks, we have you covered as well. We have two newsletters that come out on a regular basis. The trend E-books are a way to stay on top of the changing face of the food industry. We can help point your project towards the next big trend or for a more personalized approach you can contact us directly. For Newly Weds Foods news, look to our other publication, Tasteology. It’s provided on our website in a convenient downloadable PDF format. Sign up for free trend E-books on our website or check out Tasteology.

Additionally we have created a digital meeting room where we can bring our culinary, marketing and technical experts right to your video conferencing enabled meeting room. Customers interested face to face collaboration around learning and product trends (regional or global) can take advantage of Newly Weds Foods Kitchenconuters. Our Kitchencounters resource can save your company precious time and travel costs by opening up a world of ideas and possibilities through today’s high tech communications platforms. You can bring your team in contact with any of our team members, whether they are just a state away, or a continent away. Get global insights, ideation sessions, and interactive chef presentations beamed anywhere you are.

To set up an appointment contact your Newly Weds Foods sales representative. Once you indicate the desire for a Kitchencounters session, we collect all the information necessary on your project, and pull in the appropriate Newly Weds Foods personnel from Research and Development, Marketing, and Culinary to give you the best presentation possible for your next big project. All we require from you is a strong internet connection and video conferencing capabilities.

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