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28 posts categorized "In the Kitchen"

April 2, 2019

Lighter Menu Ideas for Spring

By Piet Jones

Spring_menu_saladWinter menus are filled with deeply flavored braises, heart stews and chilis, and rich roasts that are perfect for the cold months. But as winter begins to wind down, they’re beginning to taste a bit too heavy and cloying. Spring is coming and taste buds are crying out for lighter, brighter fare.

The obvious answer is to dust off and freshen up the salad section of your menu, and that’s not a bad place to start.  A beet salad that sold well over the winter can give way to crisp spring greens, say arugula or watercress.  Candied pecans used as a sprinkle might be replaced with the tangy tartness of grapefruit slices—or the more exotic pomelo.

But don’t limit your spring cleaning to just the salad section.  Early spring greens can be incorporated into many other dishes, be it small plate or entree, to complement or contrast the main taste of the dish.  Dandelion greens may add a little welcome bitterness while tender pea shoots bring sweetness to the plate.

While the seasons are transitioning, try serving up those greens lightly tossed in a cold vinaigrette or slightly wilted and warmed to retain the freshness and texture.  This is the perfect opportunity to use exotic oils, like walnut or hazelnut, to add a hint of flavor since wilting will mellow the flavor of the greens.  Create an emulsion with the oil and a little butter to help keep it from feeling too greasy while still adding an appetizing sheen.

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January 28, 2019

Cold Weather Desserts

Winter_dessert1By Piet Jones

Seasonal menus have been the rage for a while now, and for good reason. Not only do they allow you to make the most of seasonally available ingredients, but they also let you match your offerings to how diner’s tastes change over the course of the year. In the warmer months, many opt for lighter, brightly flavored plates while heartier dishes are appealing when it’s cold.

For many, the routine is well ingrained, and the menus roll out seamlessly. But are you overlooking one sweet part of your dining puzzle in the process?

All too often the dessert menu becomes static with the same three or four dishes year-round. While there’s nothing wrong with having a signature dessert or two, some dishes may not excite during the darker cold months the same way they do in warm weather. This might be the perfect time to add a little heat to your sweets.

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January 7, 2019

Soups That Help Your Bottom Line

SoupBy Piet Jones

Look at almost any menu and there’s likely to be at least one or two soups featured. Soup is a well-loved option and, besides being a comfort food, can be an endlessly fun exercise in different flavors and ingredients. With a little planning, soups can delight your diners and benefit your bottom line.

Restaurants produce a staggering amount of waste. Much of that waste is dollars out the door with nothing to show for the expenditure.

Chickens are a prime example. Buying whole chickens and breaking them down in house can produce a huge savings per pound over pre-portioned birds. However, they leave a healthy number of trimmings and parts like necks, backbones or wings that don’t always end up on plates.

The good news is those parts are seriously packed with flavors and can be the base for an amazing stock that can be used in all manner of soups and stews. Other parts sometimes left behind, like legs and thighs, help add meat to those dishes. Try roasting for chunk meat or slow braising for a pulled meat preparation like in a Brunswick Stew.

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December 5, 2018

Holiday Vegetarian Dishes

Vegetarian_dishes_inlineBy Piet Jones

With 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.


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 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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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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February 6, 2018

Create Custom Condiments

By Piet Jones

Condiments newYou spent months experimenting with different cuts of beef to get just the right amount of fat content for your grind. Hours with different seasoning combinations. Visits to every artisan bakery within driving distance for just the right bun. Finally, all the components of your signature house burger are ready and you’re going to top it with a dollop of… Heinz ketchup?

No, probably not. Like many other chefs and restaurateurs, you’re going to make your own condiments from scratch. That is what your house burger and specialty sandwiches are crying out for. The nice part, you’re only limited by your imagination as to what you can do.

Traditionally, a condiment is a pickled or preserved food that is used to enhance and complement the flavors of a dish. In America, we’ve narrowed that down to a few. For burgers and sandwiches it’s ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. Add relishes for hot dogs and then cocktail and tartar sauces for seafood. But there’s a certain sameness to all those and, in the competitive world of dining, you need to stand out. Fortunately, there’s a way to make condiments that will help you separate from your competition.

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