Monday, February 27, 2012

Online Reservations

In an increasingly fast-paced world, more restaurants are beginning to provide online booking systems. Most of the time, this is convenient for both the customer and the restaurant. The restaurant doesn't have to answer the phone as often, and the customer can check on availability without commitment. Park Kitchen uses Open Table, which not only makes online reservations, but also maintains a database about the customer, when is their birthday or anniversary, or whether they have food allergies.

Some of the world's most famous restaurants have customized booking systems with servers that can accomodate high volume. I recently made a reservation at Noma in Copenhagen, which opened its booking for the month of May at a precise date and time, three months in advance. I later learned that in just two hours, over 30,000 people were competing for a mere 1,500 seats over the entire month. In Chicago, Next launched their season tickets last month, including the coveted El Bulli tribute menu. Co-owner Nick Kokonas said that within the first 10 seconds, they had received 1,500 requests for tickets. When they opened the restaurant, they had decided to sell their tickets like a theater or concert venue, with a similar price structure based on peak demand, and now using similar booking technology. Yet another example of merging industries in a world that spins faster each day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Farmer's Market

Having a vibrant winter farmer's market demonstrates several things about the Northern Willamette Valley that we should all be thankful for. First of all, there is a strong agriculturual community that is willing and able to grow and harvest in the cold and rain. These crops are typically not as highly valued as summer crops, yet the work and the conditions are much more difficult and unpredictable. Roots, tubers, brassica's, and chicories may not be as glamorous as asparagus, tomatoes and peppers, but for those of us who enjoy cooking with the seasons, we know there is a time for everything, and the hearty and robust cooking of winter foods is a satisfying comfort. As with any other ingredients, quality shows at the table. Take a look at this huge celery root! It's almost the size of a basketball, and yet its incredibly dense, with no soft, spongy, hollowed interior, as often happens with poorly harvested or stored roots.

How beautiful is an arrangement of carrots of all colors? These are coming in to the city from the rural surroundings of Portland twice a week, even in the winter. There are some logistical reasons that make this possible. We do have relatively mild winters here in the maritime Northwest. Also, the proximity to the city is manageable. In larger cities, like Chicago, Seattle, and New York, it's simply a longer drive for the farmers, ranchers and cheesemakers to bring their product into the city, time and transportation costs that few small scale producers can afford. I hope you will all continue to support the wealth of our fortunate surroundings.