In 20156, when Joshua Applestone introduced vending machines at his butchery, Applestone Meat Company in upstate New York, a global pandemic not on his mind. “I wanted to eliminate one stressful thing from people’s lives: getting to the butcher shop before it closes,” Applestone said. The refrigerated vending machine allows customers to select and purchase meat cuts without human interaction.
Now, due to social distancing rules amid the coronavirus outbreak, Applestone’s meat vending machine is serving as a model for other butchers and grocery stores. Customers enter the storefront to find vending machines filled with various cuts of beef, chicken, lamb and pork. After selections are made and a payment card is swiped, the appropriate door opens so that the meat can be retrieved in a contactless transaction. “We thought society might take a while to warm up to these machines,” said Applestone, “but for the situation we’re all in, they’re the perfect solution. A lot of technology makes things more complicated. But vending machines? They’re here to help us.”
Shorter afterward, Kevin McCann of McCann’s Local Meats in Rochester, New York, opened his meat vending machine. McCann, who is a friend of Applestone’s, was surprised at how quickly customers grew comfortable with the vending machine, adding “the response has been unbelievable.” .
Quarantine shopping has expanded the market for bulk purchases of basic items like coffee, butter, beans, and canned goods. A new survey from the world’s largest grocery store chain, Kroger, reveals that 39 percent of its customers have purchased more ingredients in bulk than they did before the pandemic. Canned soup sales increased 63 percent in March and April compared with last year. As consumers limit grocery store trips, bulk buying has contributed to limited availability of certain items like pasta, flour, and some cuts of meat.
Many shoppers say they have turned to bulk purchasing because they now have more people at home to feed, more meals to cook, and more groceries to buy, especially with restaurants closed or limited to takeout. Shoppers like New Jersey resident Stephanie Ormaeche (pictured) say bulk buying is cost effective and reduces the monthly restaurant bill. She and her husband aren’t used to buying two shopping carts worth of groceries but now feels the need to as she limits shopping trips. Others like Vincent Ader in Chicago see increased grocery shopping as an opportunity to get creative. Ader buys herbs in bulk as a way to experiment with new flavors. His meals typically use the same core ingredients, and the variety of herbs now allows him to vary the taste of each meal.
Chef Jeremy Umansky, owner of the acclaimed Larder deli and bakery in Cleveland, Ohio, has been aging meat and curing food with koji for years. Likewise, co-author Rich Shih has extensive food preservation experience and is Exhibit Engineer for the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in New York City. In Koji Alche_my, the two preservations explorers demystify the science and techniques behind using koji to ferment and culture a wide variety of umami-rich foods from soy sauce and miso to sake, cheese, and charcuterie. They explain how to cultivate this fungus, Aspergillus oryzae_, as well as how to harness it in applications such as speeding up the curing, brining, and aging of meat with improved flavor.
Koji Alchemy includes an introduction by celebrated fermentation expert Sandor Katz as well as 35 recipes for various ferments, pastes, and foods like Popcorn Koji, Roasted Entire Squash Miso, Korean Makgeolli, and Amazake Rye Bread. In this primer, both home cooks and professional chefs should find plenty of inspiration and all the information needed to create all kinds of new and interesting cultured preparations.
In the past month, more than one-third of Americans ordered groceries online for the first time ever. Online grocery spending has also increased nearly 50% each week since coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March. To capitalize on shifting buying habits, online retailing giants Amazon, Walmart, and Target have all invested more in grocery sales. Walmart been slower to grow than Amazon and Target, despite being an established competitor in online retail. But Instacart has emerged as the online grocery leader. Instacart’s chief advantage has been partnering with numerous grocery chains, while its competitors mostly sell their own grocery products.
FreshDirect and Peapod have not had as much success, according to Earnest Research, a firm that tracks credit and debit card transactions. FreshDirect operates primarily in large cities like New York, and the company has suffered from staffing shortages due to COVID-19. Peapod also had to make untimely cutbacks just prior to the outbreak, which has proved to be poor timing in the continuing online grocery race.
With more people cooking at home during the coronavirus lockdown, shelf-stable foods are more popular than ever. Sales of Goya’s canned foods have increased by 400 percent. If you’re looking for the best-quality pantry items you can find, professional chefs have some recommendations, including everything from top-notch tuna to shelf-stable asparagus. Michael Schall, co-owner of Bar Camillo and Locanda Vini e Olii in Brooklyn, says his restaurant chefs are “addicted” to the oil-packed anchovies from Agostino Recca, which are so good they often snack on the fish right out of the jar. Connecticut chef and farmer Phoebe Cole-Smith is also a fan of the Agostino Recca anchovies, while Nick Perkins, partner at Hart’s, Cervo’s, and The Fly restaurants says that Cabo de Penas is his restaurant’s go-to when it comes to tinned fish. “They’re just old school and really solid,” said Perkins, calling out his favorites, the Cabo de Penas’ sardines.
If you’re looking for fruit preserves, you may want to take the advice of Annie Shi, co-owner of Manhattan’s King restaurant, and get some Kayanoya Yuzu Fruit Preserves. Shi likes to mix these high-quality preserves into a variety of cakes and desserts. Among other sweets, Smitten Kitchen founder Deb Perelman suggests Lyle’s Golden Syrup from the U.K., especially drizzled over pancakes or hot cereal. Julie Cole, chef at Nom Wah Nolita, even recommends her favorite canned soup: Campbell’s Cream of Celery. Cole claims it is “the Ferrari of canned soups.” To see more than 50 pantry staples preferred by chefs, read more here at Eater. Or see the full story here at New York Magazine.