TrendWire, September 2010

TrendWire, September 2010

Food & Drink

TrendWire, September 2010


The Food Channel Trendwire
September 2010 • Volume 24, Number 6 •

Gulf Seafood After the Spill: What’s a Restaurant to Do?

Gulf Coast Seafood

Now that the catastrophic Gulf oil spill has finally been capped (thankfully), restaurant owners along the Gulf Coast and all across the nation are left with a dilemma. Do they dare serve seafood from that area when many consumers are still skeptical as to its food safety?

An AP poll taken last month showed that more than half of the people surveyed, 54 percent, said they still weren’t confident that it is safe yet to eat seafood from the spill areas.

Federal and state government agencies have gone on record to declare that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. The FDA, the NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have exhaustively tested more than 2,000 seafood samples for traces of oil or the chemical dispersants that were used in the cleanup. So far only two samples have exceeded allowable limits.

Just last week, Dr. Jean Weese, a food scientist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and science, who worked in cooperation with several federal and state agencies entrusted with safeguarding these products, said, “The bottom line is that seafood is safe and you can return to eating Gulf of Mexico shrimp and other shellfish.”

Earlier this summer President Obama tried to assure Americans that seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat. “We’re certainly going to enjoy it here at the White House. In fact, we had some yesterday,” the president said. Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass, after enjoying shrimp that came from off the coast of Louisiana, said it was “some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had.”

But Americans aren’t so sure, and many restaurants are training waitstaffs on how to deal with the frequent guest questions—“Is the seafood clean?” “Is it safe?” and “Where did it come from?”

Some restaurants, due to safety concerns or skyrocketing prices, are replacing certain Gulf seafood menu items with new alternatives, such as alligator at one New Orleans eatery. Others have switched to farm-raised fish, are simply bringing in their seafood from other parts of the country or are importing it.–is-safe-99106579.html

Then there are those restaurants that have put up signs or have tweeted that they do NOT serve Gulf seafood.

One prominent chef, Tom Colicchio, has elected to promote and serve Gulf seafood on the menus of his many restaurants. Colicchio is well known for his appearances as a “Top Chef” judge and respected within the industry as a five-time James Beard Award winner.

“What’s interesting is, seafood typically is not tested,” Colicchio said in a CNN interview. “It goes from the fishermen to a distributor and gets to restaurants or supermarkets, whatever. There are no USDA inspections. But the fish coming out of the Gulf now, every bit is being inspected. Since May 5, I think there has been over 330 samples taken from 11,000 different fish, all of it 100 percent clean,” Colicchio said.

Colicchio said he went down to the Gulf to inspect the seafood personally, even after assurances by his supplier that it was safe. He came away convinced.

Other restaurant owners may not have the time or the means to embark on that kind of personal undertaking. Most seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, gathering as much information as they can and gauging the attitude of their clientele. Undoubtedly, it will be a long, slow process for those in the Gulf seafood industry to win back the confidence of consumers. But we’re not betting against the folks down on the Gulf. In fact, quite the opposite. We see them gearing up for yet another comeback.

For more on what’s happening on the Gulf Coast, visit, which is recapping some of the best stories from around the Web that will help us all learn more about the true situation there. Here are links to some of those stories.

Rotten Eggs: Working to Strengthen Food Safety

A couple years ago it was contaminated tomatoes, then jalapeños. Peanut butter and spinach scares. Tainted hamburger.

And it continues. Last week more than half a billion eggs were recalled. This latest salmonella outbreak makes us wonder if there’s a need for a major overhaul of the federal food-safety system.

A recent editorial in The Denver Post argues for such an overhaul, urging for Senate passage of the food-safety bill that has already been passed in the House as an important first step.

The House bill would set up a system of more frequent FDA inspections of food facilities based on the level of risk of contamination. High-risk operations would be inspected every 6 months to a year, medium-risk every 1 to 3 years, and low-risk every 5 years.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a similar editorial, says the FDA needs more authority to regulate the large agribusinesses that dominate the U.S. food market, and calls for passage of the House version of the food-safety bill rather than the comparatively weaker Senate version.

Paul W. Chang, writing for The Huffington Post, says, “It’s not just the frequency of food contamination that is troubling; it’s the difficulty the U.S. government has in identifying the culprits quickly enough to protect people from products still on supermarket shelves and in consumers’ kitchens.”

Chang argues for more inspectors, but admits that would not be enough. He suggests that we could augment the inspectors “with systems that can remotely monitor food production facilities” to be sure they are up to code, along with more predictive analytic technologies.

While the ongoing investigation of the recent egg outbreak is still seeking answers, one thing has become clear. Though the vast majority of food in the U.S. is perfectly safe, we still need to do much better.

Jeff Sinelli: Gutsy Restaurant Visionary

When Jeff Sinelli was still in his twenties he was already a risk-taking entrepreneur, opening several nightclubs and bars in the Dallas area, including a biker bar. He co-founded a Mongolian barbecue concept, Genghis Grill, and founded the Which Wich sandwich chain in 2003. Nation’s Restaurant News named Which Wich a Hot! Concept in 2007, when the chain had 30 units. Sinelli recently opened his 100th Which Wich store. Not content to sit back and collect accolades, he created yet another restaurant concept, Burguesa Burgers, a Mexican burger joint that opened in Dallas last year. Sinelli says he often shoots from the hip. We’d say that takes some guts.

Sinelli offers these comments in an in-depth video interview with Ellen Koteff, editor-in-chief for FoodChannelPRO™.

  • When asked why he decided to develop his new Mexican burger concept while he was still working hard to build his growing Which Wich chain, Sinelli pleads a “temporary state of insanity.” He says he wanted “to see if he could do it again”—wondered if he could “still step up to the plate and hit the long ball.”
  • Sinelli then goes on to tell the story of Burger Burguesa’s moment of creation. While on the way home from the hospital after the birth of his daughter, Story, he noticed a little shack by the side of the road with a real estate sign. He pulled off the road with his baby in the back seat, called the broker and leased the property. “I got back in the car and said to my daughter, “Story, your dad’s gonna build you a hamburger chain.”
  • On the subject of risk taking, “The bigger the risk, the more the worth,” Sinelli says. “Some people build concepts to sell, I build things to have a legacy for.” Check out the full interview series at

Upcoming interviews in the “Leaders with Guts” video series include Phil Costner of la Madeleine, Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings, and Todd Graves of Raising Cane’s.

FoodChannelPRO is the new beta site where food professionals can go for inspiration, menuing information, education and more. Partners in the new venture include Johnson & Wales University, CultureWaves®, MenuMax, Mintel International, Penton Media, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), Manifest Digital, and Noble.

The Food Channel® also publishes a great consumer newsletter, called FoodWire®. To receive a copy, please register your email address at

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The Food Channel® TrendWire™ newsletter is published by Food Channel. Editorial comments, project consulting inquiries and subscription inquiries may be directed to Kay Logsdon at Additional trend-focused editorial comment and blogging is available at The TrendWire™ newsletter is distributed electronically once monthly, or 12 times per year. Its contents, in whole or in part, may not be copied or reproduced in any form without permission. All quotations must credit The Food Channel TrendWire as the source. Comments are the opinion of the editor and do not necessarily represent the views of Food Channel, LLC, its parent company, Noble Communications Company, and/or its subsidiaries or associates.

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