Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chopstick canoe

You know those disposable wooden chopsticks you get in Japanese restaurants? The ones attached at the top end that you have to break apart? Well, as you can imagine, in Japan they are used (and thrown away) in great quantity.

Shuhei Ogawara, a former municipal employee in the Japanese city of Koriyama, had been working with the local forestry industry, and it disturbed him to see so much wood going to waste. So he spent two years rescuing thousands of used waribashi (as they are called). He glued 7,382 of them together to form a canoe shell, which he then made watertight with a polyester resin.

The canoe will be launched (Ogawara is confident it will float) in May 2008 at Lake Inawashiro, not far from Koriyama.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crazy, crazy lunchboxes

If you haven't seen a book called Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes by Christopher Salyers, you have no idea what a really tricked-out lunchbox could look like. The art of arranging food artfully in a bento box (compartmented lunch box) is an age-old Japanese tradition. Now combine this with the current Japanese obsession with cartoon (manga) characters and you have something called charaben (a mash-up of the words bento and character).

You sort of have to see this yourself to understand what charaben is all about. There are sample pages of the book on the publisher's site. Check it out. Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So who else was real?

OK. Chef Boyardee was real. But what about all those other food icons?

Aunt Jemima was an invented character that the company hired actresses to play. The first Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, who was born into slavery in 1834 and signed a contract that gave her the exclusive right to play Aunt Jemima her whole life.

Betty Crocker was invented in 1921 so that the company could answer letters they received with a more personal touch. The Crocker came from the last name of a company executive, William Crocker. The name Betty was picked because it sounded warm and friendly. The actual signature on the letters came from a secretary who won an in-house contest to do so. Her signature is still used on Betty Crocker products.

Harland David Sanders (1890-1980) was the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Although he sold the company, his image is still used.

Duncan Hines (1880-1959) was a traveling salesman who wrote a guide, in 1935, to good restaurants around the country. The book was so popular that restaurants he included in the guide would hang a sign in the window that said "Recommended by Duncan Hines." In 1953 Duncan Hines sold the rights to his name. It was licensed to a number of food businesses, including ultimately the company who made the cake mixes.


In the early 1900s, Amanda Smith of Pottstown, Pennslvania, was famous in her town for making delicious pies. Her son Robert saw an opportunity and began selling slices at the lunch counter of the local YMCA. This escalated to whole pies sold door-to-door, and finally to a factory, and then several factories. By the 1950s, the company had begun selling its trademark frozen pies.

MRS. T.--Real
Mary Twardzik of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, used to make pierogies for church fundraisers. Her son, Ted, took his mother's recipe and started the company in 1952.

The Kitchens of Sara Lee was a small company that sold frozen baked goods. It was founded by Charles Lubin, a bakery entrepreneur, who named the company for his 8-year-old daughter Sara Lee. The company was bought in 1956 by a large food company called Consolidated, who kept both the name and their frozen cheesecake, which was a best-seller. The Sara Lee brand thrived and by the 1980s, Consolidated changed its name to the Sara Lee Corporation.

UNCLE BEN--Not real

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chef Boyardee was a real guy. Who knew?

Chef Boyardee ravioli was a part of my childhood, much to the dismay of my mother who always offered to cook fresh pasta with homemade sauce. But her silly children craved the pasta in a can. Anyway, even though I liked the stuff I don't think even as a youngster that I believed this canned meal had ever been anywhere near an actual chef.

Well, oops. Turns out that there was a chef named Boyardee, though his real name with Boiardi. The spelling on the label was to make it easier for Americans to pronounce his last name.

Italian-born Ettore Boiardi arrived in America in 1914 at the age of 16. He worked in the restaurant business for a little over a decade before he opened his own restaurant, Il Giardino d'Italia, in Cleveland, Ohio. He had a loyal following and customers often asked for his recipe for spaghetti sauce. This eventually led to an actual packaged product that was produced for Boiardi by a local factory. By 1938 the business had gone national and Boiardi was selling his products under the name Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.

The company was eventually sold and Boiardi moved on to other endeavors, but the brand name was retained and to this day, a portrait of Ettore Boiardi is on the label of Chef Boyardee brand products, which is currently owned by Conagra.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spoon sisters construction utensils

When my son was little he was fascinated by construction equipment. He really, really wanted to operate a back-hoe. I wish I could have given him these very cool eating utensils. Come to think of it, I'm not sure he wouldn't still enjoy using a front loader for a spoon, a fork-lift fork, and (a great addition to any set of eating implements) a pusher that looks like a bulldozer.

The set is $19.95 from The Spoon Sisters.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


What would you get if you crossed an Atari video game with a restaurant? Well, first you would get Chuck E. Cheese for kids, and then uWink for adults.

The former CEO of both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese now has a Los Angeles-based digital entertainment company that develops interactive software for restaurants (and bars). At a uWink restaurant, touch screens sit at every diner's place. The screens are used to order food (with the orders going straight to the kitchen) and also offer interactive games.

The two existing branches of uWink are both in L.A. The rest of us will have to wait and see if a video-game-oriented restaurant has mass appeal. My personal guess is that if the game features are that appealing, the customers may never go home.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Soap vs. food

I would not have thought that the line between soap and food could actually be blurred, but a store in Manhattan called Bathropolitan sells handmade soaps that are definitely toying with the boundaries.

For example, they make an exfoliating soap called Big Apple Cider Soap that is scented with green apple and "garnished" (their word) with crushed fennel seeds, anise, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar and apple chips. Ohmigod, I want to eat this soap. No, stop. OK, I'm over it.

There is also a soap called Columbian Spice Coffee Foot Scrub, which is scented with vanilla and garnished with coffee beans, cinnamon and rock sugar. Or Cabo Cucumber Melon Soap, garnished with English cucumber, mint, black pepper and cantaloupe chips.

And it's not only food flavors that are fair game, but shapes, too. For example, there's the soap that looks like french fries (see photo) and little soap bars that are shaped like pieces of meat and vegetables and skewered like a kebab just off the grill.

You can order some of their soaps from the Bathropolitan website, though it's difficult site to navigate.