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Fine-Dining Chef, Fast-Casual Food

For the last few months The Connect Group has been helping Chef Marc Forgione open Lobster Press at the new Oculus in the World Trade Center.  This will be our second location of Marc’s fast casual concept and it’s just one example of many strong chef-driven fast casual concepts, a trend that’s quickly on the rise. Our society’s obsession with all things epicurean has become more than a fad, it’s a part of our everyday lives. And so it’s a no-brainer for chefs and restaurateurs to concentrate on opening concepts that provide accessible, yet still high-quality, food to the masses.

Fine-dining restaurants receive the awards and the accolades but fast casual is the best category to scale because it reaches the most people. What Danny Meyer started as a burger stand in a Manhattan park has grown to 100 locations nationwide. Chicago Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless has Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco. “Top Chef” alums Richard Blais and Spike Mendelsohn have FLIP Burgers and Good Stuff Eatery, respectively. And even highly-respected groundbreaking Chef Jose Andres has his successfully healthy fast casual concept, Beefsteak. It’s about creating a new, exciting food at a lower price point. People want an acclaimed Chef’s food for under $20 but, with the explosion of “foodie” culture and people expanding their culinary horizons, they expect something more than a turkey sandwich, plain burrito or typical cheeseburger. It’s not only that fast casual concepts have the potential to reach more people but also more (and different) locations: airports, food halls, shopping malls, transportation centers, etc.

When the National Restaurant Association released it’s annual list of menu trends for 2016, chef-driven fast-casual concepts nabbed the #2 spot. With sales at fast-casual restaurants growing 11 percent in 2013 with total sales of over $173.8 billion dollars, this is not a trend I see dying down anytime soon and I’m excited to see what other concepts some of my favorite chefs will come up with.

Great articles on the rise of the chef-driven fast-casual concepts:

“Why Fine Dining Chefs Are Getting into the Chain Game” – Eater

“2016: Year of the Chef” – QSR Magazine

- Cassandre Pallas

Culinary Virtual Reality??

Thought this was an interesting article yesterday in the NY Times (, about Virtual Reality and its future as part of the media and entertainment mix.  I recently received a pair of VR goggles (thanks Samsung) and have tried several of the apps, all with amazement and apprehension at the same time. The full immersion capabilities are ridiculous and, depending on the quality of the video, it really does feel like you are inside the experience.  The applications this could have, from E-Learning, visiting colleges, building kitchens/restaurants, seeing venues, going to concerts and everything in between, makes it hard to argue this won’t forever change our world at some point.  That said, the introverted nature of VR has tremendous risk for our next generations and if we aren’t careful, the art of conversation, shaking a hand and looking someone in the eye, will be lost forever.   

From a food & drink perspective, this gets a bit more complicated.  As the article highlights, when you have VR goggles on, you lose the ability to use your hands and obviously can’t eat virtual food, which is an essential part of the food & drink experience.  VR will  be an incredible tool for meeting planners to see venues, consumers to be immersed into certain food based TV shows (imagine Anthony Bourdain travel show in VR!), transparency in the food process (see where your food was grown/made) and some education content, but I will be very curious to see how the technology evolves to a place where people can use their hands while being immersed in the content as well (despite articles below).  Until then, keep your hands safe from cuts, the houses intact (don’t burn them down) and keep the VR goggles off when in the kitchen.

Here are a few more good articles to check out. - this is crazy!