Right before the holidays, I received an email invitation from a sweet Emma at Panera Bread to a Broth Bowl tasting. Hmm, broth bowls… sounded interesting. And now with this frigid weather we’ve been having, what could be better? The formal invitation arrived, positioning the event as “An Evening of Umami.” A small group of folks interested in food, nutrition and cooking gathered in this lovely loft in Chinatown. We were treated to a terrific presentation from their Culinary Institute-trained and former teacher, Dan Kish. Dan and his colleague, Mark McDonough, (Director of Product Development) traveled the world (wouldn’t I love to be them!) to research and pull together umami tastes, spices and fresh ingredients to create the newest four dishes, these broth bowls at Panera Bread. Then they served us our choice of broth bowl(s) for dinner, along with some lovely wine.
Here’s what I knew about Panera Bread. They started in St. Louis as the St. Louis Bread Company! I am originally from St. Louis, so you know, they have to be good.
Here’s what I learned. They’re now huge (1,845 cafes) and an incredible company! I mean, having Culinary Institute trained chefs create their dishes and also be concerned about their green footprint, is BIG. For instance, they’ve considered the repercussions of transporting the broth (water is heavy) to all locations or deliberated if it should it be concentrated and then concerned if it can it retain the taste, as well as, considered how to efficiently make the bowls out of components and achieve the desired consistency, using the least amount of energy through all of the processes. Their ingredients are nearly all organic – no antibiotics in the chicken and nearly all cage-free eggs. That’s huge! This “fast casual” food has been designed to be genuinely healthy, even low calorie and totally delicious! I mean this company is really doing amazing things to feed our bodies and take care of our planet. It is not easy to create healthy food available in about 5 minutes after you order at their counter. But boy if they can change our fast food culture into something this great, wouldn’t that be way cool? Really!!! Having healthy energetic people walk the planet exuding wonderful positive energy is just what we all need.
The problem is, is that I never knew any of these things about Panera. (I think they need us to do their marketing and to spread the word, don’t you think?)
So what exactly is Umami? I wanted a succinct answer. Here’s what the Umami Information Center says. (Yes, it’s true, there is one. Just Google it.) Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious.
Could it be that fake Umami is monosodium glutamate – MSG? Well there’s none of that here.
Check out these broth bowls – they’re delish!!!
I particularly liked the quinoa lentil one with the hard boiled egg on top!