Sunday, January 27, 2013

New York

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Little Lost
Little Learnt
Little Gained

a small collection of photographs

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Braised Hanger Steak Parcels

Braised hanger steak parcels rolled with roasted eggplant, thyme and mustard.
Served with pureed cauliflower and eggplant on pan fried polenta cakes

This warm meal is one of my many favorite braising recipes; it blends a lot of wonderful flavors and textures. For winter, with a bottle of wine and friends, you can’t go wrong.

Serves Four
8 pieces of Hanger Steak
1 large Eggplant
½ Cauliflower
1 Brown Onion
1 Carrot
4 Cloves of Garlic          
2 cups Heavy Cream  
1 cup Madeira
1 stick of Butter
8 cups Beef Stock
1 cup Polenta
½ cup of Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Chilli Flakes
½ cup Cheddar Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Take the hanger steak and place cling film over each piece as you flatten it with a clever. Slice eight thin slices of eggplant and half roast with salt for the parcels. Also roast the remaining pieces. While roasting, dice carrots, onions and garlic roughly and place in pot with madeira and beef stock. To assemble the parcels, place one slice of eggplant over the steak, place a few sprigs on thyme longways, smear with mustard and sprinkle chilli and pepper. Roll from one end, tightly and tie with cooking string. In a hot pan, melt butter and brown all eight parcels evenly. Place parcels into pot with a knob of butter, a heap of mustard with salt and pepper to taste and cook for three hours at 400F degrees.
Boil cauliflower and follow by pureeing with remaining eggplant, one garlic clove, olive oil, half a cup each of heavy cream and cheddar cheese. This should have a smooth consistency yet firm enough to hold two parcels when plating. Set aside for flavours to meld.

Polenta always intimidated me, but not surprisingly, it was quite easily cooked. Start by brining two cups of water and one cup of heavy cream to boil. Add polenta and reduce and stir constantly for twenty five minutes, or until quite firm. Add butter, salt and pepper and mix in well. Follow by placing into a tray and sit aside to solidify further. 

Just as the meat is nearing melting point, cut polenta cakes and fry with butter or olive oil until well browned. Make sure the pieces cut are large enough to support the cauliflower puree and two parcels.
Once all is cooked, reheat cauliflower puree. Start plating with polenta cakes, making a diamond shape. Follow with a smear of the puree and place parcels on top after removing string. The thyme is more for visual presentation so feel free to remove after serving.
Drizzle with carrots, onions and remaining broth from the juices.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Free Range Bird is Always Best for Roasting

A simple winter roast to warm even the coldest of hearts.

I've been getting well into bird bastin’ and roastin’ this season. I’m pretty sure this is the coldest I've EVER been in my life and it’s been a great time to get back into the kitchen. I always remember thinking growing up how ‘meh’ I felt about roasts, the only thing I truly loved was the leg of the chicken, the soft tender meat! And maybe a spud. Now I’m experiencing a renaissance of passion for a good roast.

Rule # one: Always use a free range chicken at the very least. Caged birds never roast as nicely. Free range is generally more robust in size and flavor.
Rule # two: Keep the sides simple. Chuck your favorite winter vegetables onto a tray with some olive oil, salt and pepper herbs of choice and call it a day.

Rule # three: Get the butter involved. Butter brings a lot to the table. Place inside the chicken, between the skin and meat and even over. This creates a wonderful flavor all over and you can keep the juices for accompanying gravy.

Rule # four: Always make your own gravy!! 

1 Large Free Range Chicken
Baby Beets
Mixed Baby Potatoes
1 Lemon
1 stick of butter
Garlic (lots)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Let’s start with the bird. The skin, like the meat are both make or breaks so I like to start by separating the skin from the meat by stuffing with butter. This moistens the meat and makes it super juicy and tender. Don’t be too aggressive, just slide between gently. If you've been given the insides to the chicken, keep them inside the chicken, stuffed with garlic, a halved lemon, thyme, rosemary and butter. For the skin, coat in butter with salt & pepper and chopped thyme and rosemary. Don’t be afraid to use your hands! Place in oven and cook for one hour and thirty minutes at 400 degrees.

For the vegetables, a rough peel and wash will suffice. I placed them on a separate tray, but some like to roast together. Splash liberally with olive oil, herbs and cloves of garlic. Remember to salt and pepper.  Cook for forty five minutes, give or take to your liking. Be sure to rotate once or twice.

Keep an eye on your bird and baste half way with butter and some cider if you’re keen. After the chicken has roasted and the meat has been cut, you should be left with a surplus of juices. To this, add a little salt and pepper, a splash of cream and some flour to thicken into gravy.


Brand Power Versus Celebrity Power

The importance of mapping endorsements against a broad brand lifecycle. What is the dollar value versus the brand value?

Endorsements are a given, nothing new to the market, but still remaining a huge influence as brands close in to marry their product to a personality, an aspiration. Chain stores and luxury brands alike are becoming increasingly interested in the dynamics between the celebrity and the consumer.

H&M launched the face of H&M Winter 12 campaign with Lana Del Ray, relatively new ‘all-American’ music success. The advertising budget was a significant spend, and also an investment to draw in sales for the last quarter for 2012, just before Christmas sold the product itself. David Beckham, a key fashion sex symbol has gone from Armani to H&M. The question here is not just what this endorsement has provided in dollar and branding value, but more interestingly, what has been the market response, second time round for Beckham as an underwear ambassador? Has his time with Armani diminished or heightened his presence as at H&M? Recycling endorsements must be a very mindful manoeuvre. The chain store champion knows itself and its scope to procure correct endorsements that match the brand fit. Dollar value aside, it’s aligning value to its brand, equally.

 In a paper published by the University of Arizona, ‘Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements’, author Kevin Chung concludes that endorsements have a positive effect on profits if the company is mindful of the allocated endorsement time frame and behavioral evolution of the celebrity, making reference to Tiger Woods and the decline in Nike’s profits after his 2000 scandal.

To a lesser extent, Tom Ford pinup boy Jon Kortajarena was snatched up by Kenneth Cole in an attempt to resuscitate its lost brand personality and image. Kenneth Cole was viewed by many as on the decline and has since announced a move back to the premium clothing market. Giving a personality to your brand and marrying an endorsement to it does entail more carryover than acquiring the latest model, it requires a strategic shift in branding, an upheaval. These two cases really show the short shelf life endorsements have with a brand; the difference is who creates the stronger resonance? Tom Ford, at the height of global popularity launched with a personality before the model and the brand wore Jon. Jon wore Kenneth Cole for a campaign. Two separate markets to be sure, but Cole’s Winter Campaign spoke very little to the consumer of the brand and more of a popular face of the times.

No endorsement, no matter the scope or size, is ever long lasting, without a gamble. Revision is a must. It should always be periodic and mapped to the DNA of the brand at one given time. The key is to understand the power of the brand versus the power of the endorsements. You must be aware of each value and to play them with strategy. Mapping a brand life cycle against endorsers and understand that at each phase an endorsement can mean many different things and leave varying impressions. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Brand Protection and Retail Promotion Damage

It is late December and Barneys has already emailed consumers reminding them of a final 60 percent off international designer. It is January and Mr Porter has announced a final 80 percent off. Why would you go to a boutique and pay full price when it’s available in department stores or online at more than half the price at an earlier, more convenient time?
Mr Porter Final Sale
In a great effort to combat the ever expanding digital market, sale monopolies and to stand against the sluggish economy, many retailers are falling victim to ‘promotion addiction and dependency’.  A universal truth is that the market is more unpredictable than ever.

With such instant access to cross price checking online, cheaper substitutes and increased suppliers, the retail sector has no chance of coordinating sale seasons and commanding power over consumers. Consumers today hold more power than ever and retailers now must be in the bid to equal out the playing field. Falling into a cycle of constant discounting and price cutting is perceived as unavoidable by many retailers today. The only benefits are short term and the damages are all long term.

Walking through New York, a supposed fashion capital, a supposed fashion bubble economy, evidence of an aggregate fail can be seen everywhere, from luxury to lump sum chain stores, end of season sales are starting earlier and heavier. Signs of little growth over the last year are omnipresent and this conditioning exercise is training consumers to wait for sale season. What a brand is essentially doing by folding to sale earlier is diminishing a respect for the brand and its price points. Why would you pay full price when you can wait to get it half price or more. Department stores holding the monopoly on sale movements will suffer the most, but will also cause a domino effect, forcing all housed brands to match tactics or suffer. Any retailer should not bank on majority profits received from sales mark downs; it will only hurt the brand.

With such little coordination or an unspoken agreement for appropriate sale time frames, consumers have retailers cornered and margins will be the least of retailer’s worries in the long run. To resonate during sale time, retailers are aiming to leave greater impressions with heavy additional discounting; ‘save an additional X %’. This is now a widespread tactic and is loosing impact.

Leading Australian retailer Saba is a key example to the case at hand. Since the GFC and many earlier internal changes, the company has been a market leader in many ways but also an advocate for promotions that have diminished all brand value. The brand once held a premium positioning, it now is known for sales and repeat designs. Saba have a very active marketing team and are moving paces with their digital marketing and community building, but are still falling short of the legs needed to stand in an unstable market place, a heavier investment in branding needs to be understood as priority and key to business and brand longevity. A market with consumers that have little respect for a brand means no brand value and a dead brand.

Full priced season for Saba is aided with weekly discounts, spend drivers and gift with purchases. They were at one point buying Facebook likes with vouchers; you cannot buy consumers or a community. While the promotion mix is strong, there has been a heavy decline in full price customers over many years.
‘It will probably be on sale next week, I’ll wait until then’.

A middle ground solution is to invest priority in shifting the fashion seasons, moving them forward as many retailers have started rolling out with the ‘pre-collection’ movement. An earlier start to the season and a quicker finishing time to keep current and profitable. Keeping up with the Kardashians of retail will, like in real life, get you nowhere fast. Abstinence from regular discounting is the only real way to beat the addiction.