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  • Archive | January, 2008

    McDonald’s to give out “A-Levels” in the UK

    From the BBC:

    Fast-food giant McDonald’s has become one of the first firms to offer its own nationally recognised qualifications.

    It will offer a “basic shift manager” course, training staff in skills such as human resources and marketing.

    The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said the company had been approved to develop courses up to the equivalent of A-level standard.

    Not being from the UK, I have limited ideas on what “A level” actually means. I was of the belief that it was a combination of “College prep” classes I took in High School which, upon successful completion, would help you get into an appropriate University or College. Wikipedia somewhat bears this out by stating that “The qualification is recognized around the world and is used as a sort of entrance exam for some universities.”

    So it sounds as if McDonald’s has been given the go ahead to be used as a specific college entrance criteria. For those in the know, am I right? Lord knows how I’d feel if McD’s had taught my college prep classes.

    Apparently the teacher’s in the UK are none to happy about this. From The Independent:

    Teachers unions have condemned Gordon Brown’s plan to allow McDonald’s, the hamburger chain, to take part in A-level-style qualifications as a ‘farce’.

    The decision to allow McDonalds, the airline FlyBe and Network Rail to issue management training certificates up to the equivalent of A-level or degree level was seen by some critics as dumbing down qualifications. Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, said although the union supported the need for transferrable qualifications, it was concerned about qualifications that were “narrow and specific to one organisation, like McDonald’s”.

    There’s one thing that everyone should remember about corporations. Their first and primary concern is how to increase the value of their corporation, which in turn will increase the value of their stock. Any decision they make, whether it’s their decision to sell healthy food to lobbying governments to allow them to be used as General Certificate of Education qualifications boils down to one thing “What’s in it for me?” Not “What’s in the country’s or society’s best interest?”

    I cannot, for the life of me, see how this is good for anyone but McDonald’s.


    The Risks of Late Reservations

    Sam over at Becks & Posh asks a poll question based off a recent experience she had at a restaurant. After acquiring and accepting a late reservation (10:15pm) to a restaurant, upon arriving and being seated, she was informed by the waiter that “Their orders would have to be rushed”, as the kitchen would soon be closed.

    Sam’s question translates roughly to “Is this acceptable behavior on the part of the restaurant?”

    From a pure customer service point of view, I don’t believe this is acceptable in any regard, especially from a place that accepts reservations. It shows an inordinate lack of discipline from the restaurant staff, both front of the house and back. Unless Sam is paying less for her meal when compared to someone who has a 7pm reservation, then she deserves the same level of service.

    However…

    Human nature is a naughty beast, and when the day comes to an close to an end, there is a level of anticipation that comes from knowing that one will be done working soon. Think about how you feel at an hour prior to your end of day quitting time. Now think about how you feel if someone comes to you (boss or otherwise) and requires that you stay an extra hour. It sours your mood.

    This “souring” likely increases in jobs with higher stress and those who have later closing times – both of which are part of the restaurant worker’s every day life. In the several restaurants I worked at many ages ago, this was always the case.

    Good Management should be aware of these human behaviors. Some mitigate it by explicitly stating that the kitchen closes at some specific time. But if a restaurant does this, they should stop seating customers at least 30 minutes prior, in order to prevent their customers from feeling rushed.
    Many places that close the kitchen at specific times also have a similar policy regarding the seating of their customers.

    This only further illustrates my point. If one restaurant has policies to prevent customers from feeling rushed, then it demonstrates the inadequacies of those who don’t. Clearly the restaurant Sam found herself in had no such policy, or if they did, it was ignored.

    In a perfect world, a person with a late reservation should receive the same service as a person with had eaten earlier. A restaurant that doesn’t treat customers equally based on time has different approaches to their discipline. It’s up to you as a consumer to determine whether or not this is acceptable behavior. I personally don’t think it is.


    Not that George Costanza Cares

    Apparently double dipping does transfer bacteria from the mouth of the initial double dipper to all subsequent dippers.

    On average, the students found that three to six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from the eater’s mouth to the remaining dip.

    Each cracker picked up between one and two grams of dip. That means that sporadic double dipping in a cup of dip would transfer at least 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with every bite.

    But whether this is a health risk is still debatable.

    via Kottke


    My Ireland/Scotland Itinerary

    After much planning and consternation, my friend Krysta and I have finally finished the pre-planning for the Ireland/Scotland trip. All the hotels are booked, the airline tickets purchased, and the car rentals secured. The schedule is as follows:

    As you can see there are still some days that can be filled up. Any suggestions or requests will be much appreciated.

    Ireland

    • Feb 16: Arrive in Dublin. Get bearings and deal with any possible jet lag. Enjoy hotel and explore neighborhood where hotel is located (Trinity College/Merrion Square area). A trip to a pub is also likely in order.
    • Feb 17: Dublin. Visit a whiskey shop (yet to be determined) and do some non-whiskey, touristy stuff (we’re probably head to the Guinness brewery).
    • Feb 18: Antrim. This will be the toughest day the entire trip, with about eight hours of driving. We’re heading to Bushmills, spending a few hours there, and then looking at the giant’s causeway and then heading back to Dublin. It’ll easily be a 12 hour day.
    • Feb 19: Cork. Leaving Dublin early in the morning, we hope to be in Cork by noonish. We’re likely to visit the Midleton Distillery and other scenic touristy stuff. No fools us, we’re spending the night in Cork. I also want to get a picture of the Father Mathew statue.
    • Feb 20: Kilbeggen and Tullamore. Another 3 hour plus car ride from Cork to just about an hour west of Dublin. Spend the day in this area before heading back to Dublin for the night. I have one interview in this area.
    • Feb 21: Dublin. I have one interview tentatively scheduled. I also hope to do the Jameson distillery tour (although I suspect it won’t be that much different from the Midleton tour).

    Scotland

    • Feb 22: We fly from Dublin to Edinburgh in the morning. I have a meeting at the Scotch Whisky Association in the afternoon. Settle into the hotel and chill.
    • Feb 23: Edinburgh. If we are unable to do the touristy bit of the Scotch Whisky Association tour on Friday, then we do it this day. I’m hoping to find a decent pub here as well. We’ll also likely do the Castle on this day.
    • Feb 24: Speyside. Today we drive from Edinburgh to Speyside and settle into the inn. Perhaps a dram or two at the attached bar. Yes, this is another 3 hour plus car trip that will take us directly through the Highlands.
    • Feb 25: Speyside. Light on the car travel today. Two distilleries to visit, Glenfarclas and Glen Grant. back to the Inn for dinner and sleep.
    • Feb 26: Speyside. Glenfiddich and Balvenie in the afternoon. I’m looking into Cardhu in the morning.
    • Feb 27: Speyside in the morning, and a visit to a cooperage (barrel maker). Loch Ness in the mid-afternoon. And then another 3 hour drive to Oban.
    • Feb 28: While we’re technically in Oban this day, I’d like to get over to Islay. The problem? Ferry logistics. Any advice here would be much appreciated.
    • Feb 29: Oban in the morning and the Oban distillery. Drive to Glasgow in the afternoon, with one scenic detour.
    • Mar 1: Glasgow. I have no plans for Glasgow as of yet. Looking to fill this day up with an interview or two.
    • Mar 2: Fly home to Seattle.


    Highland Eggs

    One of the primary problems in recreating dishes from recipes from other lands is that they are viewed through the lens of you own culture. So when a dish comes out…well…different, you’re not sure if the problem is with the recipe and how it was written, or if the problem is with your own expectations.

    Take, for example, this recipe for Highland Eggs, a Scottish breakfast recipe found in the book The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook. I followed the instructions as written, with one notable exception, and the dish came out…very wet would be the best description.

    It had mostly set, and I had left the dish in the oven for an extra five minutes to be sure that it had cooked the entire way through, but there were still parts that were very soupy. I’m unsure if this is how it should be.

    But the taste of the dish rates very high, getting praise from the entire household. So, make his dish at your own risk. It’s tasty. But it can come across as an unset quiche in its consistency if not made correctly…I think.

    • 2 cups fresh, whole wheat bread cubes
    • 1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
    • 8 strips of bacon, fried crisp, drained and diced
    • 5 eggs, room temperature
    • pepper, to taste
    • 1 cup light cream
    • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
    • Salt, to taste

    Pre heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch glass pie pan.

    Sprinkly one cup of the bread cubes over the bottom of the pie pan. On top of that , sprinkle 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and 1/2 of the bacon bits.

    Break the eggs over the bread cubes, spacing them evenly. Try to ensure that the yolks do not break. Cover with the remaining bread cubes, cheese, and bacon, in that order. Pepper to taste. Pour the cream over the ingredients.

    Place the dish in the oven and bake until set, between 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for another 5 minutes. Top with chives and serve.

    Serves 4


    A call to all Whisk(e)y Professionals in Ireland and Scotland

    I will be in Ireland between Feb 15th and the 22nd, and Scotland between the 22nd and March 2nd. If you are involved in the whisk(e)y industry (or know someone who is), and feel you can add your two cents to the book I am writing, feel free to contact me via e-mail (Kate AT accidentalhedonist DOT com). An interview may result and possibly a mention or two in the aforementioned opus.


    Your Super Bowl Menu Public Service Announcement

    Over the past four years or so, I’ve come to look forward to Super Bowl week and the various food-related press releases and public relation e-mails I receive. Not because they provide any great insight, but rather because they amuse me on how many people in the food industry simply do not understand what this week is all about. Having been born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, where football rates somewhere between God and Country, I have a decidedly jaundiced view upon all of the “football recipes” and “Super Bowl hints” that are sent my way.

    It’s quite simple really. When it comes to Super Bowl Sunday, the priorities are as follows:

    1. The Game
    2. The Beer and other Carbonated Beverages
    3. The Food
    4. The Commercials

    Some argument could be made that “The Food” and “The commercials” are of equal standing. My evidence for this? Super Bowl Sunday is the most profitable day for Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza. If the fans of the Super Bowl really wanted to focus on the food, it’d be just another day for these second rate pizza chains.

    The menu for Super Bowl Sunday is simple – Beer and bar food. Chips and dip is a good start, nachos with gooey melted cheese and guac and salsa on the side are also a nice choice. Sandwiches are okay as long as the emphasis is on sausages, burgers, or any item that might make your doctor wince and weep. Barbecue is okay as long as it’s either done by half time (or by kickoff if you’re tailgating). Tacos and pizza work wonders. The sports bar trifecta of Buffalo Wings, jalapeño poppers, and mozzarella sticks are also looked upon with a great sense of acceptance. Any other items in this vein are more than likely appropriate.

    Salads are right out….as are any dish with the words “Mango”, “Balsamic”, “Glazed” or “Reduction” in the recipe title. Desserts should be no where to be seen. Todd English is a fabulous chef, but his menu for Super Bowl Sunday leaves a little to be desired. Fried Chicken Salad? Sorry, even with fried chicken, it’s still a salad. His Crostini with White Beans and Basil-Marinated Shrimp? Oh please. Talk about missing the mark!

    Every year it’s the same thing. Yes, Super Bowl Sunday is a big food day. But it’s really not the food that matters. It’s the day that we celebrate football. If people walk away from your party singing praises of your cooking, but lamenting the football game, the day will be remembered as a disappointment.

    This is your yearly public service announcement from yours truly. I’ll keep making an issue of this until food celebrities start getting it right.