If you discovered $1.6 million worth of inventory missing from your business, how would you break the news to your boss? That's what a sommelier at La Tour d'Argent, one of France's most historic restaurants, grappled with last month upon discovering that 83 rare bottles were unaccounted for in the wine cellar. Elsewhere in the restaurant world, Mexican food can now be found at 1 in 10 US restaurants, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Who doesn't love a taco? Just watch what you wash it down with: another study from Columbia University found that popular brands of bottled water contain nearly 250,000 potentially harmful nanoplastics per liter. Yikes. Those bottled waters include PepsiCo brands, which were recently pulled from the shelves of France's largest grocery chain due to, not health concerns, but price gouging. It seems even the French government is now tired of rising food prices. Thankfully, there's still one food item that sells for less than its actual cost: Kobe beef croquettes. Yep. You can buy a box of A5 Kobe beef for only $18.20. You'll just have to wait 43 years to receive it.
Short and sweet today! With all the holiday partying, December was a slow food news month. But McDonald's did open a new spinoff restaurant to compete with Starbucks. Scientists also introduced a computer model that adds chemical measurements to a wine's "terroir." 'Bout time. And one of 2023's great mysteries has finally been solved: Astronaut Frank Rubio did not eat the first tomato grown in space. He misplaced it. Or, rather, a lack of gravity did. Happy New Year!
Before we get into this month's issue, here's what didn't make the cut: Saveur magazine is coming back in print! That's good news for food lovers. Also, here's a twisted tale of rare Japanese Kit Kats worth $250,000 that were hijacked en route in a whole new level of porch piracy. What did make the cut? Yes, there are shiny new lists of Michelin-star restaurants in big US cities, the year's best new cocktail bars, best new cookbooks, and best new restaurants that Michelin didn't visit. But among the listicles you may have missed that a cookbook, Prison Ramen, is one of the most banned books in America. That Wisconsin has declared the Brandy Old Fashioned to be its official state cocktail. That half the country has shifted plant hardiness zones, according to the USDA. And that pasta and rice may actually be healthier when eaten as leftovers. Guess the food world still has a few surprises up its sleeves. Happy Holidays! —Dave Joachim
Move aside umami. Ammonium is now the sixth basic taste, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications. Those findings have yet to be widely recognized, but elsewhere in the food world, there is a new kid on the block that's 100% verified: Pepper X. This chile pepper is now the world's hottest, dethroning the Carolina Reaper with up to 3 times the tongue-scorching heat. Ouch. There's also a new World's Best Bar, a fun place called Sips in Barcelona, and in Atlanta, you'll find five new Michelin-star restaurants. What else is new? This year's winners of prestigious culinary awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. But some things never change. Like Carolina whole hog BBQ. Fourth-generation pitmaster Sam Jones shows you how it's done in this detailed video. And since today is All Souls' Day and Día de los Muertos (another thing that never changes), my condolences to the friends and family of Food Network star chef Michael Chiarello, who passed recently from a mysterious anaphylactic shock. Rest in peace Chef. —Dave Joachim
It's CookbookTober! Get ready for an onslaught of cookbook roundups and best-of lists. High on my list? Robert Simonson's Encyclopedia of Cocktails. It's also restaurant best-of season: the New York Times and Bon Appétit magazine have highlighted the year's best restaurants, and Food & Wine magazine unveiled its class of Best New Chefs 2023. Plus, Colorado now has 5 restaurants with Michelin stars, announced in the state's first-ever Michelin guide. More into pizza than tweezer food? Check out this new ranking of the world's 100 best pizzerias. Scotch whisky lover? Find out how US distillers are creating Scotch-style whiskies with novel uses of local peat. If you're a fan of all things smoky, you may also be itching to burn some wood, especially now that cooler weather is approaching. Take a look at what BBQ pros Rodney Scott and Bryan Furman have to say on the subject. Finally, if you cook with olive oil and see it on sale, now may be a good time to stock up. The cost of olive oil surged 130% over the past year, and prices are expected to keep rising. Thanks, climate change!
Apologies for the late food news this month. I've been on vacation! While I was away, a London neuropsychopharmacologist unveiled his new synthetic alcohol, Alcarelle, that purports to get you buzzed without the hangover. Thanks Dr. Nutt — I could've used that while I was downing cocktails like water on vacation! 😬 There were some developments in the BBQ world, too: boxy rotisserie-style smokers are apparently edging out traditional barrel-shaped offsets, especially in Texas. Go figure. Speaking of smoke, the classical Thai combo of aromatic smoke and sweet desserts has resurfaced, now with a twist from Modern Thai chefs. Bring on the smoky sweets. One thing I'm not as crazy about is a new surcharge on restaurant checks: up to 4% for using a credit card. Now, it's gonna cost me to rack up those airline miles! But I get it. Times are hard for eateries everywhere. It beats raising menu prices. Finally, in my lifelong quest to eat well without dying from it (thanks, Jim Harrison), a single vegetable has hereby been deemed the world's healthiest, the ultimate superfood, the one veg to rule them all, according to the CDC. No, it's not kale. Scroll on to discover this magical überfood!
This summer is breaking heat records everywhere, particularly in Texas. Take a peek inside Louie Meuller's famous Texas BBQ restaurant to see how pitmasters endure 130ºF pit rooms day in and day out. Feeling oddly sick after eating your favorite BBQ brisket or any meat? You may be among the half a million Americans who now have a meat allergy linked to lone-star tick bites, according to the CDC. Yeesh. As if we need another new disease. Thankfully, Salmonella poisoning may soon become less common: researchers recently developed meat packaging that can warn consumers of Salmonella contamination. Meanwhile, in the upper echelons of the restaurant world, Michelin just released its California guide, adding six new restaurants to the Michelin-starred ranks. Congrats all! And around the country, it appears that restaurant diners now order more cocktails than beer, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council. Chalk it up to the pandemic and the taste that Americans developed for to-go cocktails, now legalized in 16 states. If you're among the converts, you may have recently sipped a cocktail crafted with fat-washed booze. Say what? Yes, it's rich, delicious, and makes a mean old-fashioned. Learn how to create your own fat-washed bourbon at home right here. It's simple. Cheers!
In honor of barbecue season now in full swing, we are introducing a new permanent section to Digest This. BBQ Hot Spot will feature top stories in the barbecue world all year long. This month's key BBQ news? A peek behind the jerk curtain of Caribbean barbecue. And now that the USDA has approved the sale of cell-cultured chicken in America, you can make your favorite jerk chicken recipe with lab-grown meat. Yay! Maybe you'd like to wash down that barbecue with America's best-selling beer? That would now be Modelo Especial, as Bud Light was recently dethroned from the #1 spot. Another recent #1: Central in Lima, Peru, has been named the #1 restaurant in the world by the "World's 50 Best" organization. Yes, it's award season, and you may be interested in the winners of the James Beard Awards announced recently in Chicago. If you're a fine dining superfan, you may also want to book reservations in Colorado, America's newest (and only 6th) dining destination to receive Michelin stars for its restaurants. Finally, it appears archaeologists have discovered that pizza may not have originated in Naples, Italy, after all. Maybe it can be traced back to ancient Pompeii. Here's to a world of new discoveries!
With Memorial Day come and gone, it's officially BBQ season. And time for a little quiz: What destination in China is sometimes more crowded than the Great Wall? Answer: Zibo, China's self-proclaimed "Barbecue Experiential Ground". Check it out if you're a die-hard BBQ lover. Question #2: How much water should you add to whisky to "open up the flavors"? Answer: <20%, according to the latest research. Question #3: What is the best bar in America? Answer: Double Chicken Please in NYC. Question #4: Where are those wonders of food science known as MREs developed? Answer: A fascinating military lab in Natick, Massachusetts. Question #5: Who holds the Guinness World Record for longest cooking session ever? Answer: Nigerian chef Hilda Bassey just cooked for 100 hours straight, setting a new record. Bonus Question: In US restaurants over the past year, how much change has there been in QR-code menu use? Answer: minus 27%. Thank you for playing—and hope you enjoy this month's food news!
Correction: In the last issue, I hastily referred to Czechia as Czechoslovakia, which it hasn't been since 1993. 🤦♂️ Thanks to Jakub Lutter for catching the error.
Let's get the sad news out of the way: Mimi Sheraton, the groundbreaking food writer, died last month at age 97. Over her six-decade career, she became the first restaurant critic to wear a disguise and ate more than 21,000 restaurant meals in 49 countries. Also last month, legendary chef Emily Meggett passed away at the age of 90. Meggett authored 2022's acclaimed Gullah Geechee Home Cooking and was famed as the matriarch of South Carolina's Edisto Island. Both amazing women. RIP. In better news, New York City food scraps have been converted into biogas and are now heating New Yorkers' homes for the first time. Here's to effective recycling. And the James Beard Foundation has released its full slate of 2023 Media Award Nominees. Congrats all! (Winners announced June 3.) Elsewhere in the fine dining world, you can now buy and sell restaurant reservations for hard-to-get tables, just like concert tickets. Many of those restaurants are also opting for service fees in lieu of traditional tips. When you dine out, check the bill's fine print to help calculate your tip. It may already be baked in. Finally, are you easily grossed out by food? You can now put a number to your level of food disgust thanks to this simple test devised by Swiss food researchers. FTR, my food disgust is pretty low at 20%.