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December 5, 2018

Holiday Vegetarian Dishes

Vegetarian_dishes_inlineWith the holidays upon us, it’s time for chefs to dust off their old holiday menus as they begin to tweak and update their recipes for the coming season. Dinner specials, private party and catering menus, or special holiday luncheons, all are vehicles for you to serve up holiday cheer on a plate.

This season is filled with rich and savory foods, but vegetarian diners often get overlooked during the menu creation. All too often, the vegetarian offerings are an afterthought and are something less than a main dish that ends up looking like a square peg not quite fitting in that holiday tree hole. This year give your menu some new options for those vegetarian diners. Seasonal tastes and cooking techniques are easily translated into appealing vegetarian dishes that are exciting not just to vegetarians but also those diners looking for a healthier option among the indulgent dishes.

Roasting

From turkey to quail, a roasted bird with a drizzle of gravy might be the quintessential holiday dish. Try replacing these roasted meats with a mushroom such as the maitake, or hen-of-the-woods, that is prized for its deeply rich flavors and meaty mouthfeel. As the centerpiece on the plate, it’s a winner that can pair well with seasonal sides and not lose its place.

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November 7, 2018

Cheese Trends to Make Your Customers Melt

Cheese_boardBy Piet Jones

Cheese sales have been on the uptick for the last 10 years, and changing palates, especially among the millennials, has shifted tastes away from processed cheeses and toward more natural offerings. This trend is evident on the menus everywhere from fast food giants to your corner dive to the uptown swanky bistro. Fortunately, there’s been a huge increase, 40% by some estimates, in domestic cheese production—driven mainly by small producers churning out both the familiar and the unusual to appeal to this seismic shift in tastes.

This increase in options isn’t just limited to cheese varieties, there’s also been a huge increase in how cheese is delivered. Instead of just blocks, many are now available pre-sliced or shredded, something that used to be limited to the processed cheeses. All that’s left is learning how to take advantage of this surfeit of options.

Burgers and Sandwiches
In the age of Instagram, the last thing you want is a picture of your burger tooling across the internet with a piece of cheese that is visibly releasing its oils. A trademark of being processed and high heat, separation is never pretty.

Natural cheeses not only stand out on the menu but also stand up to higher heats, melting beautifully over the patty or the lunch meats. Switch up your burger with slices of smoked gouda for a deeper, smoky flavor or add a kick to your roast beef sandwich with a caraway Havarti.

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October 3, 2018

Perfect Your Pepperoni

Pepperoni2By Piet Jones

If you have pizza on your menu, then chances are you offer pepperoni as one of your toppings. It’s an American classic, ubiquitous enough for the name to be nearly generic. The problem is that pepperoni is hardly uniform and can vary widely from one brand to another. Choosing the right one is paramount, both for consistency and food cost, to ensure you’re putting the best choice on your pies.

So, how do you make sure you have the right pepperoni? First, you need to know the right questions to ask. Answer those and you’re well on your way to ensuring you have the right piece of cured meat to work with.

Flat vs Cup
First impressions mean a lot. Do you want your pies going out with flat pieces of pepperoni, where the oils have been allowed to form a sheen across the cheese, or curled and cupped where the pepperoni captures its own amber liquid in a gorgeous little pool?

There’s a bit of a debate as to what causes cup-n-char and how to properly achieve it but most agree the major factors are thickness (a medium thickness helps promote cupping) and using a natural or collagen casing. Having a slice that is too thick or too thin or removing the casing will lead to flatter slices.

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August 29, 2018

Host a Wine and Beer Dinner

Wine_dinner_inlineBy Piet Jones

If only every night could be Friday or Saturday filled with reservations, people willing to wait to grab a table, and strong check averages. Sadly, you’ve got Tuesday every week with empty tables and your well-functioning staff stuck in low gear looking for something to do.

In the past, you could save money by trimming a few hours here and there but with such a tight labor market, cutting hours is a sure way to watch your expensive training investments update their resumes and search for a more stable gig. There’s got to be a way to pump up your volume, so to speak, and get enough guests in your seats to make the soft spots in your week less of a drag on the bottom line.

Why not wine and beer dinners?

Maybe you’ve tried them in the past and they didn’t work out for you, but things have changed in the last couple of years, and it may be time to give them another chance. First, people are looking for a little something more from their dining experience. The explosion of local craft breweries, cideries, and wineries has people clamoring for evenings where they don’t just enjoy a meal but also have an immersive experience in the food and drink they’re enjoying. Second, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have made getting the word out easier and more effective than ever. As a bonus, you can sell tickets in advance through these sites, giving you the opportunity to better plan and prepare for the big night.

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August 3, 2018

Trend Alert: Shakshuka

Shakshuka_redBy Piet Jones

Restaurants have probably never had such a wonderful advertising medium as Instagram. Not only can you put your dishes out for all to see (for free!) but your customers are taking word of mouth buzz to a whole new level by snapping pics and sharing them with their friends and, potentially, tomorrow’s new customers.

Instagram also gives you the opportunity to look at what your competitors are up to and what hot dishes are getting the most buzz. Sometimes, though, the dish you see leaves you just a tad befuddled. What exactly is it you’re seeing? It looks like eggs floating in some kind of sauce. Some sauces are red, some are green. It looks tantalizingly appetizing, but what is it?

In this case, the mystery dish flooding Instagram is shakshuka - an Israeli dish of baked tomatoes, onions and peppers topped with eggs and flavored with earthy cumin. Popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s been introduced here by American chefs who have been scouring the globe for inspiration and adding their own twists to the traditional dish.

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July 3, 2018

Globally-Inspired Kids' Meals

By Piet Jones

Kids_food_inlineExperts say the best way to raise a child to be an adventurous eater is to serve them the same food as the parents are eating. That’s a great rule at home but it can be a real problem when you go out to eat and see the same children’s menu over and over, populated with fresh from the freezer chicken nuggets and burgers. These dishes often look a little sad and neglected when sent out next to your expertly curated plates for the adults.

One way around being saddled with a boring, standardized kids' menu is to take a cue from the trend of globally influenced cuisine and use that for inspiration to help deliver meals the are both extraordinary and appealing to your younger clientele.

Rice Dishes - Rice can be a crowd pleaser for kids and it’s amazingly versatile and easy to use. Think a paella for kids. Perhaps not with shellfish, but chunks of chicken or a little sausage then mildly seasoned with paprika and turmeric, then garnished with some finely chopped cilantro. Or you could do a fried rice dish, flavored with soy sauce and a touch of sesame oil then tossed with crispy bits of your house cured bacon. Another option is biryani, fragrant garam masala and coriander flavoring the rice. The key here is to go mild, strong flavors can make kids a little hesitant, season accordingly.

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May 25, 2018

Picking the Perfect Pizza Crust

By Piet Jones

Pizza-smIf you ask the experts, they say the perfect pizza crust should only have four ingredients: 00 flour, salt, yeast, and water. That is all you need to make the dough for Neapolitan pizza which, fresh out of the right type of oven, makes a gorgeous crust. It's light and airy with crispy bubbles and is the perfect vehicle all manner of toppings, both familiar and exotic.

Of course, not every restaurant has a 1000+ degree wood fired oven and, despite what the experts say, not every diner is a fan of the Neapolitan crust. Those crispy bubbles? Some call those burnt. Then there’s size. Neapolitan crusts work great for a smaller pizza. For something larger? Not so much. And delivery? No way.

The options go way beyond just thick or thin. How will you accommodate the dietary restrictions of your guests? And what about staffing? Do you have the time or people to dedicate to making dough from scratch, with all of the mixing, proofing, and stretching?

What you need to find is the right crust that works with your equipment, pleases your clientele, and fits your business plan — dine in or carryout and delivery.

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May 1, 2018

Fresh Takes on Tacos

By Piet Jones

Tacos-article-newIt’s the end of another busy day. The last customers are gone. Kitchen is clean. Servers are all checked out and headed towards the door. Finally, a chance to take the weight off your feet, think about something other than food, maybe peruse a little social media. And there you see them: tacos. It’s not even Taco Tuesday. Pictures of friends making them at home. Snack specials at the bar at one restaurant. A build-your-own taco bar at another.

These aren’t thin layers of overly spiced beef, buried in iceberg lettuce, with an upcharge for a dollop of sour cream, and everything stuffed into a brittle shell that shatters at the first bite. Nope, these tacos are packed with the latest trendy ingredients and flavors lovingly encased in a soft taco shell and they’re flying out the doors of restaurant kitchens. Seriously. America has a taco obsession.

The beautiful thing about tacos, for the restaurant owner, is they are not only easy to place on into a menu (being endlessly customizable), but they are also perfect for keeping food costs down. Tacos often use less-expensive cuts, cooked low and slow to naturally tenderize the meat and intensify flavors.

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April 3, 2018

Incorporating Mushrooms into the Menu

Mushroom1By Piet Jones

Typically, we look at our food as only belonging to one of two groups: plant or animal. But there is a third group that we regularly consume, one that belongs to a separate branch on the tree of life and is, oddly, closer to animals than to plants: mushrooms.

One bite and it makes sense. The texture? More like meat than most any plant. The taste? Rich and deep, sometimes woodsy, a real departure from vegetables and unlike any meats. Perhaps that is why they are such a great compliment to nearly any dish and are increasingly taking center stage.

The problem for any chef is finding the right mushroom out of the myriad of choices, not to mention simply procuring them consistently. Mushrooms are notoriously hard to cultivate and many still must be harvested by hand in the wild. Science has helped, and exotic mushroom farmers have cropped up, but there’s still plenty of progress to make. 

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March 6, 2018

Creating a Flexible Menu

By Piet Jones

Flexible-menu-new2Nothing brings a kitchen to a screeching halt faster than a special order. Even slight changes can disrupt the finely-tuned rhythm of the line and, if the dish has to be touched by more than one chef, the odds of an unintentional fumble increase exponentially. Then there’s the twinge of disappointment at a well-orchestrated dish, one that the head chef worked hours to create and perfect, being re-imagined into something that may very well not reflect the culinary story he or she is trying to create.

Like it or not, special orders aren’t just here to stay, they are becoming the norm — the expectation, not the exception. But perhaps it’s time to embrace this change. Step away from the rigidness of an invariable menu and allow a bit of customization that ensures you maintain control of the dishes and can minimize disruption to service.

This doesn’t have to be a major change. Consider that much of the demand for menu customization comes from two sources; dietary allergies and lifestyle choices. Take a look down your menu. Are there any dishes which you could, with a couple of minor changes, make gluten free? Perhaps by forgoing the breadcrumbs or replacing the sauce with a compound butter? Of course, the modified dish might require a new ingredient or two that increases the food cost of a dish. In that case, don’t be afraid to impose a small upcharge. Increasing options, and clearly identifying that certain dishes can be made gluten free, will help steer people to those dishes. It will also likely reduce the number of requests for changes to other dishes that might not be so easily modified.

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