Slow Brand

taking a slow approach to brands

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The difference local, simple foods make

10 November, 2008 (01:30) | food | By: Shannon Clark

I made myself some eggs and bacon for breakfast recently, nothing too fancy, a few slices of bacon, a couple of fried eggs, but as I ate I realized that what I consider “simple” is not – and that it is also a bit of a case study in the difference that a few simple things can make. What I put on my plate is a far, far cry from what you get as a few fried eggs and bacon from most breakfast places, even here in San Francisco, and for that matter is probably quite a different experience from what most people make for breakfast.

You might ask what this has to do with branding – but bear with me – I’ll get there – but first let me describe what I did to make my breakfast and as I do so, the things which though simple helped make it taste quite good. 

A great meal, like any great product, starts with the ingrediants you use. Instead of using foods from industrial farms, sold in a huge big box supermarket, my breakfast was purchased locally in my neighborhood from a merchant who, in turn, purchased from local farmers. The bacon I used was a local to the Bay Area brand, Niman Ranch, which is a relatively large firm that purchases from a large number of family farmers and offers very high quality meats. The eggs I used were also purchased from my local butcher’s shop and were free-range, cage free, farm fresh eggs from a local farmer. 

The prices I paid, however, were if anything less than the cost of industrial eggs and bacon available at my local supermarker, Safeway. At the butcher’s I paid ~$7.00 for 6 slices of thick cut bacon and a dozen eggs, the bacon was ~$7/lb and the eggs were $3.00/dozen. For comparison while prices varied a bit national brand bacon at Safeway was between $6-8/lb and eggs where also in the $2.50-4/dozen range (with some even more). 

A three egg, three slices of bacon breakfast at a typical diner in San Francisco would run around $7 before taxes with coffee, taxes and tip probably at least $10, often closer to $12-15.  

The second part of a great meal like making a great product, is in what you do with great ingrediants. I start with the bacon which I generally slice in half (to make it easier to manage as it cooks). I heat up my skillet so it is warm when I add the bacon, taking care to use medium heat not high heat so the bacon doesn’t cook too quickly. 

I then add the bacon slices to the pre-heated skillet. As a final touch I sprinkle a small dusting of maple sugar – a great and versitle product I buy at a local grocery co-op, if you don’t have granulated maple sugar a small drizzle of pure maple syrup would also do but the granulated sugar is inexpensive and easy to work with. This little dusting adds a hint of sweetness and cuts the smokeness of this particular brand of bacon. 

After the bacon has started to clarify a bit, to get a bit glossy, I turn it and let it slowly cook. As it does, i take out my eggs and let them sit for a bit as I prepare the rest of my meal – slice bread for toast, start water for coffee or tea. I try to avoid turning the bacon too many times, generally I flip it only two or three times letting it reach a nice golden color on both sides but avoiding getting too dark or dried out. 

When the bacon is done I remove it to my plate and then start the eggs. I cook them also on medium heat in the same griddle as I prepared the bacon. Cooking on a medium heat is a few minutes slower than using high heat, but results in a very nice flavor and texture to the eggs. I like my yolks mostly hard so I flip the eggs after a few minutes to let the yolks firm up, after about a minute I then transfer the eggs to my plate.

I finished my eggs with a pinch of pink salt from the Himalyas which added another layer of flavors but equally a pinch of any good salt and some fresh ground pepper would have been tasty. I prefer natural salts to finish my eggs for the extra flavor the minerals in those salts add. 

As you can see from the photos above, the color of farm fresh eggs cooked correctly will be quite vibrant. And it all tastes amazing as well. 

So what does all of this have to do with branding? 

All too often people are willing to accept low quality products in part because they have never had really good quality items. Take bacon it is such a staple item, often prepared in a manner than renders it dry and though still tasty fairly simple as a flavor. But there is a vast difference available when you get truly high quality bacon – the flavors are more complex, look and texture anything but dry or boring. 

Likewise with eggs, they are one of the most common items in any kitchen, but most eggs are as well fairly bland, basic items. But once you have had fresh eggs from a local farm which raises the chickens with care you will see just how much flavor you have been missing all this time. 

And remember though my breakfast may have taken a few minutes longer than a fast food version – I did not use a microwave and my eggs were not “minute” eggs, it cost the same, perhaps less, than the identical meal from a large supermarket, and much less than a breakfast from a local diner. 

What can you do with your products to shift from mass, good enough, incrediants to much higher quality components? Can you take a little bit more care, perhaps a bit more time, and end up with a significantly better product? Have you even considered what is possible, just how good your products could be?

And when you do, don’t then be afraid of charging for that quality. If I were selling my bacon & eggs in a restaurant, I’m fairly sure many people would be happy to have paid $10 (or more) for my breakfast.

Slowly building your (personal) brand part 1

23 May, 2008 (00:09) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

a smaller dinner party at my SF apartment

I am a serious food lover, have been for many years. I am lucky to have grown up in a household where we ate dinner together as a family every night and where my first memory of dining out was when I was 3 and learned to use chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant. And while I imposed Chucky Cheese on my family on many a birthday as a child (my family has a tradition where the person celebrating his or her birthday picks where we ate dinner as a family typically dining out) my parents also exposed me and my sister to a very wide range of cuisines and flavors as we grew up.

Before we moved to Chicago I remember teaching the parents and teachers at my 2nd grade school how to make Guacamole from scratch. I was a bit precocious but as I recall it also tasted quite good the way I made it (which I had learned from my mom).

In college I threw serious dinner parties every few weeks, typically where I cooked all the main dishes, friends baked dessert, and everyone helped clean or prep. Each week I would cook a different cuisine using a mix of recipes from cookbooks and the Internet (this was pre-web, so drawn from USENET or occasionally Gopher). But at almost every meal I would also improvise, adjusting a recipe to taste or often making up an entirely new dish from the flavors of a given cuisine and ingredients I bought. I had learned to cook from a combination of observing my Mom and my Dad as they cooked (and they both cooked as I grew up) and from a few “Home Economics” courses I took in the 7th grade.

Since college I have continued to be a very serious cook and dine out a great deal. In Chicago I was a highly active poster to Chowhound (in the days before CNET purchased them and upgraded the site’s software) and then on a website friends of mine set up after being frustrated by the forum software of Chowhound, LTHForum (the name stands for a Chinese restaurant we love in Chinatown, Little Three Happiness called that because there is a second and much inferior Three Happiness restaurant right across the street). The group of us and the forum grew quickly and we not only posted about food we also gathered together on a regular basis for meals and events all through out Chicagoland.

In Chicago and especially since I moved to San Francisco I have also become quite adept at the art of organizing large group dinners. Typically I pick the restaurant and very often arrange for all of the food, often ordering everything and arranging for a family style or at least a prix fix meal to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

Why do I mention all these details about my past and present life?

Because, and this is where it gets tricky, even with all of that which I have claimed (assuming you have read this far) you still do not have any particular reason to trust me, my suggestions, my cooking or my reviews.

Yes, I claim to be good, even an expert but that claim, by itself, no matter how often I repeat it is just words, just an unverified assertion.

In contrast for the most part anyone who has eaten at one of my dinner parties begs me for invitations to future events. People who have taken my suggestions for dinner locations and/or been to a meal I have organized, generally let me help them again in the future. To a lesser degree people who have been following me on Twitter for a long time have noticed that amongst my random rants and discussions I also twitter about food a great deal. Mini-reviews, observations about places I find, and occasionally small rants and even some raves.

With every event I organize this list of people grows, people who both trust my recommendations and in many cases refer people to me for advice and assistance.

In the next post in this serious more discussion on how to best build (or rebuild) your personal brand, especially as you also shift your job functions.