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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


As summer slips away, I console myself with warm mouthfuls of socca. You may have eaten socca in the streets of Nice, its hometown, or as farinata in Genoa, or even as panisse in Marseilles. Never heard of it? It’s time you tried this easy cure for the late-summer blues.

Socca is an unleavened flatbread staple sold on the street in countries around the Mediterranean basin.   Add a topping, and socca becomes a pizza that you can fold up into a handroll, or use it as a plate-liner for a stew or salad. Socca is so flexible and absorbent, it can also replace a fork. Thin out the batter with more olive oil and socca becomes is as pliable as a crepe. Thicken it with more chickpea flour, and it morphs into a focaccia. Socca’s earthly, vegetal sweetness is comforting in any role. 


A socca, salad and poached egg supper

To develop its flavor possibilities to the fullest, socca requires a few minutes rest once the batter is assembled so the flour can completely absorb the water. It tastes best when its surfaces are well browned and the edges are crisp, a condition which favors a broad, flat shape. I sift the dry ingredients and slowly whisk in the water and oil to minimize lumping

I’ve added my Socca Recipe to archive on my website. If you’re curious to learn how to make the classic Nice pizza, pissaladière, with its socca crust, join our online class this Saturday.


  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel




An ambitious pilot project to sell fresh, locally-sourced salad using a automated assembly line opened in downtown Naperville, Il in May.  Sweetgreen is the first salad franchise to introduce its computer-controled ‘Infinite Kitchen’ in fast food casual setting.   A diner enters a quiet corridor-like space that runs parallel to an illuminated assembly line and selects a salad from a menu on an electronic pad. Within 5 minutes a salad arrives on a pick-up counter sealed in a recyclable paper bowl. Service is a fast, seamless process without any human interaction. 


This innovative venture appears both timely and foolhardy in view of current economic conditions.  Hospitality has always been a people-driven business, but food service help is currently hard to find and the turnover rate for hourly workers is over 100%.  Automation requires a huge investment, the retrofitting of an existing kitchen and staff that can handle equipment failures should they occur.  The restaurant business itself is highly competitive and profit margins remain stubbornly low, a situation that has kept it historically risk averse.  It's no surprise that 1% of restaurants now use automation in their kitchens. 




The Sweetgreen concept grew out of frustration shared by three Georgetown business school friends with the poor quality of fast food and the time-consuming nature and expense of preparing fresh, healthy food.  In 2007, with funding from family, and friends, the partners began to open restaurants on the east coast. 


In 2015 Sweetgreen introduced an app, the first of its kind, to supplement online ordering capability already available on its website.  Soon the demand overwhelmed their restaurants, forcing the company to create off-site kitchens called Outposts and a courier service to deliver the salads. Online sales now account for more than 60% of the chain’s orders. 


In 2021 the company bought  Spyce, an automated assembly system, designed by four MIT graduate students who originally cobbled it together from parts of abandoned appliances in the basement of their fraternity.  The Naperville Sweetgreen is the second outlet to open in 2023 using an updated ‘Infinite Kitchen’ to assemble salads. 



Human employees are on display washing and chopping vegetables in the storefront window at Naperville’s SweetgreenBehind the scenes, they maintain the restaurant’s 60 ingredients, most of them stored in tall, glass silos that resemble a bulk food display in a grocery storeThese cylinders form the assembly line over which laser sensors monitor the portioning of an ingredient into each recyclable paper bowl that passes beneath it.  First the dressing goes in, followed by the greens and, with a slight rotation after every addition, the other ingredients are dropped in to form an even layer.  An employee at the end of the line checks the bowl to make sure it's filled correctly, adds an herb, nuts or cheese from a table of recessed containers, covers the bowl, seals it and places it at the pickup point.   


On a recent weekday visit to Naperville, I ordered a ‘Shroomami’ salad of kale, a portobello mix, tofu, wild rice, cucumbers, raw beets, sunflower seeds and basil with a miso sesame ginger dressing on the side.  My daughter’s ‘Modern Green Goddess’ salad contained kale, spinach, black lentils, cabbage, chickpeas, cold sweet potatoes, raw beets, raw carrots, spicy broccoli, roasted almonds with green goddess dressing.  The tab for the two salads was $30 and came with a label requesting they be consumed within exactly three-and-a-half hours to the minute.  The salads were tasty and generous but too pricey to become a weekly habit. 



For 17 years, Sweetgreen has been growing and evolving without having ever shown a profit. One can only say it has become less unprofitable with time.  The brand’s three owners identify their customer as a “conscious achiever” whose “maximized life” requires a dining experience as efficient and accessible as everything else in his or her digital-driven world.  It appears that the large millennial market the chain has attracted continues to draw investors and venture capitalists. The company has enjoyed numerous partnerships with celebrity chefs, fed hospital workers during Covid, and underwritten several music concerts to rally its customer base.  There are plans to broaden the protein choices on Sweetgreen's menu beyond trout, chicken and tofu and to add a dessert line. How this will roll out with fewer employees and sticking to fast food pricing is this innovative chain's next challenge.


  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


This summer I intend to enjoy eating beautiful, healthful, inexpensive meals outdoors as often as possible.  It's time to retire the tired brown paper bag routine and move its jumbled contents into comfy compartments in a Bento box.  My granddaughters have generously offered me a used box from their school lunch collection to get started.  I've watched them make better food choices as they pack their boxes under the influence of the Japanese Anime series they follow.  I figure grownups could use these health benefits, even learn some new basic techniques and enjoy the eye appeal of a curated meal.  But, where to begin?

My first inclination was to fill my Bento box with summer salads from Chez Madelaine's recipe archive.  This collection of simply dressed vegetables has served me well for decades.  They keep well, don't require sauces and taste best eaten at room temperature making them ideal for outdoor dining.  The Bento's separated cubbys also offer tempting places to tuck slices of left-over meat, berries, pickles or a couple of Girl Scout cookies.


The official Japanese Bento box, on the other hand, is no haphazard affair. Its contents are prescribed: 4 parts rice or noodles, 3 of protein, 2 of vegetables and 1 of fruit or sweets. The color palette must include red, yellow, green, black and white.  Japanese parents make lunch fun for kids within this rigid structure by molding sticky rice into animal faces detailed with nori cutouts. A few cuts with a paring knife turns a hot dog into a smiling octopus propped up on its tentacles.  Multicolored food pics fill in as utensils.

The adult version of the Japanese Bento is just as healthy (ditch the hot dog) and require a minimum of new technical skills. Best of all, a Bento box has great visual appeal.  It is beautiful to behold, fun to assemble and easy to eat.  

I look forward to sharing recipes for both Western and Asian Bento boxes in two online classes in June. 

Hope you will join me to reset your outdoor dining.