Some of today’s best menu innovations come from a simple reframing of a familiar idea. The creativity behind dishes like chicken and waffles drives home that point, where chefs are retooling that classic to make it fit their concepts. Why bother? The answer is pretty clear to foodservice professionals: modern upgrades energize menus. The challenge is, as always, finding the flavor pathway that leads to the best dish—the one that’s craveable and helps a brand’s positioning in today’s competitive landscape. Commodity boards devote a lot of their resources to helping solve this challenge. We tapped a number of them to give us their best ideas that showcase creative strategies in this realm.
The SoCal Pork Caldera (above) is an adapted version of pork caldereta, a traditional Filipino stew. This dish features soy-marinated pork ribs, slowly braised with bell peppers in chicken stock. Stewed tomatoes are then blended into the braising liquid, fortified with American Jasmine rice. Popped sorghum, finely sliced green onions and lime wedges as garnish provide another layer of flavor and texture, completing the dish. This gluten-free dish boasts an easy execution, low cost and virtually waste-free addition to any menu. Possibilities to turn this hearty dish into a signature also abound, as Lauren Kuhn, culinary center manager for CSSI Marketing + Culinary, on behalf of the USA Rice Federation notes: “Its versatility makes it easy to adapt into a number of signature dishes, focused on any regional cuisine desired. By adding red curry, coriander, cumin, eggplant and okra it can easily be a unique option at an Indian-inspired restaurant. Or, for a dish inspired out of New Orleans, add Cajun spices, red beans and shrimp.”
This hearty dish, Noodles with Ginger Chicken and Grapes, finds a refreshing twist in the addition of grapes, both pickled and fresh. Ground chicken is sautéed with garlic, ginger and zha cai (pickled mustard plant), then simmered with chicken stock, rice wine and oyster sauce for a savory base. Fresh grapes are added at the end for a delicate sweetness and body, and the whole mixture is tossed over thin Asian noodles. The pickled grapes are prepared with red and green California grapes, Serrano chiles, ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar, and served as a distinctive topping for the dish, adding a nice sweet-sour flavor with a bit of heat. “This dish epitomizes the possibilities that a chef has with flavors—from balanced to bold,” says Courtney Romano, RDN and foodservice consultant for the California Table Grape Commission. “It also shows how to use contrasting textures in a way that comes together in an appealing bite.”
On the Cobb
An update to the classic salad, the Grilled Avocado Wedge Cobb Salad combines the flavors of a traditional Cobb with a creamy, slightly charred avocado wedge as the centerpiece. The dish also features bacon, Roquefort, Campari tomatoes and scallions, but lets the avocado take center stage, melding all the ingredients together with its creamy texture. “Avocados add a healthier halo and fresh, contemporary appeal that modernizes classic dishes,” says Mark Garcia, head of foodservice marketing at Avocados From Mexico. “The avocado spin reinvents a classic steakhouse salad and demonstrates the versatility of avocados,” he adds. “The grilled flavor kicks it up a notch. Grilling avocados is an innovative prep method that works across a variety of disciplines—from salads and sandwiches to grilled entrées and more.”
A new spin on a classic barbecue sandwich, this recipe has turkey thighs carrying the classic flavor. The Carolina Pulled BBQ Turkey Thigh Sandwich features a signature sauce created by Tony Seta, director of culinary services at Butterball, on behalf of the National Turkey Federation. It combines the sweetness of Memphis-style barbecue with the vinegar of a traditional Carolina sauce. The pulled turkey is topped with a vinegar-based Carolina slaw, candied bacon and smoked Gouda. “A dish like this plants a seed for alternative proteins on today’s restaurant menu,” says Seta, “Turkey serves as an excellent canvas to absorb the bold flavors in barbecue.”
Tart It Up
Combine comfort and convenience with a pinch of nostalgia in this mash-up of Pop-Tarts and shepherd’s pie. The Shepherd’s Pie Tart at Ted’s Bulletin in Washington, D.C., can be prepared with ground beef or lamb sautéed with classic shepherd’s pie vegetables such as onions, carrots and peas. The pie crust envelops the meat mixture to create visually appealing, tasty tarts, which are then baked and topped with mashed potatoes. “This savory tart takes pie crust in a whole new direction, from a dessert or breakfast treat to a handheld light lunch,” says Don Odiorne, VP foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission. “What I love about the Ted’s Bulletin execution is that it can be prepared in off-hours or well before a lunch or dinner shift, giving operators the flexibility to simply heat in the oven when ordered.” The dish also presents the potential for adaptability in that the options for fillings between two layers of pastry are infinite.
With the Grain
The Roasted Mushroom and Wheat Berry Salad with orange curry vinaigrette is a warm, nontraditional alternative to a typical salad, with roasted mushrooms front and center over wheat berries, tossed with dried cranberries and green onion. The burst of umami, interesting texture and well-balanced flavor make this a winning dish among vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners alike. This grain salad is also versatile—it can be featured on lunch and dinner menus or served as a side, salad or main dish. “There are many ways to customize this dish,” says Steve Solomon, foodservice outreach director for the Mushroom Council. “Chefs can substitute the wheat berries with any favorite grain, such as farro, pearled couscous or brown rice. You can also add protein such as steak, fish or chicken to make it into a main dish.”
A Little Bit Country
This Country-Fried Ribeye Chop, developed by Ashley Christensen, chef/owner of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, N.C., highlights the versatility of the pork loin. The dish features fennel seed and chile-rubbed rib roast, using the loin only, which is then battered, pan-fried and crowned with a fried egg. A garnish of mayonnaise and chimichurri adds a bright herbal note to the dish. The ribeye chop can be served across dayparts—with an egg at breakfast, or as a dinner entrée with a side salad. “This is a flavorful and efficient way to menu pork loin across the menu, and it’s an underutilized cut, so its value is great for operators’ bottom line,” says Stephen Gerike, assistant VP of channel marketing, National Pork Board. “The dish can easily be adapted with seasonings in the batter or signature sauces based on each chef’s specialties.”
Breakfast pizzas, and breakfast items in general that combine sweet and savory tastes, are gaining interest. The Honey Drizzled Breakfast Pizza is a perfect expression of this trend. It features a craveable juxtaposition of sweet and savory, with honey, mozzarella, arugula, sausage and eggs, all playing together beautifully to create both balance and intrigue. Honey is added to the sausage while cooking and is also drizzled atop for a sweet finish. Chefs can adapt this dish in a variety of ways: changing up the cheese or the protein, or by letting customers create their own breakfast pizza from a selection of ingredients. “The breakfast pizza builds on familiar foods and ingredients and packages them in new ways to appeal to broader demographics,” says Catherine Barry, director of marketing at the National Honey Board. “With breakfast being a business driver, an innovative new offering like this could help boost incremental traffic and sales.”
The classic deviled egg receives a premium upgrade in these Bacon Truffle Deviled Eggs. The use of high-end ingredients such as truffle oil (added to the mayonnaise and yolk filling) and applewood-smoked bacon gives the eggs smoky, rich and earthy flavors. This combination of big flavor in a small, shareable package makes these bites ideal for modern menus. “Snacking has become so prevalent across demographics, and deviled eggs are perfect for snacking and sharing plates,” says John Howeth, senior VP of foodservice and egg product marketing for the American Egg Board. “Here, we’re suggesting Bacon Truffle, but they’re so versatile, a chef could make seasonal versions or tap into global food trends with an Asian Nori Deviled Egg or Shrimp Vindaloo Deviled Egg.”
A take on Latin American street food, this Arepa de Carne brings global flavor to the evolving palate of today’s diners. Made from precooked white cornmeal, arepas are about the size of a burger bun and are often split and used as a carrier for sandwiches. This particular sandwich features boneless country-style beef ribs, braised in a verde-style broth until fork-tender. The beef is combined with curtido (a Salvadoran cabbage slaw), salsa and refried beans, and garnished with avocado and sour cream. “With Millennials craving ethnic and umami-rich flavors, the Arepa de Carne provides diners with a taste of true Latin cuisine,” says Dave Zino, executive chef, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Chefs can easily put their signature touch on this dish and could serve it deconstructed or open faced. This is a perfect dish to create a build-your-own concept, making it interactive for today’s Millennial audience.”
Toast With The Most
Though traditionally prepared sweet, this Savory French Toast Sandwich features shallot, smoked sausage, bruschetta-style tomatoes and slices of Wisconsin fresh mozzarella. The egg-dipped and lightly pan-fried slices of Italian bread create the base for the savory toppings, taking the concept of the classic French toast to another level. In fact, the flip from sweet to savory opens a world of possibilities for customization. Additionally, operators can tap into the continuing trend of all-day breakfast and brunch, notes Rachel Kerr, director of events and public relations at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “This dish gives operators a way to extend their breakfast offerings with a flavorful item that’s suitable for brunch, lunch or even dinner,” she says.
These Short Rib Bar Bite Dumplings are bursting with big flavor. The Aussie beef is braised in miso and sake until tender, fried inside the wonton wrapper until crisp, and served on a purée of roasted eggplant, miso and black garlic, delivering deep umami flavors. Created in collaboration by chefs Jamie Simpson of Ohio’s Culinary Vegetable Institute and Maryna Frederiksen of Third Street Cafe in Mount Vernon, Wash., it could easily be prepped ahead and fired to order. “Opportunities abound for making this signature or seasonal,” says Catherine Golding, business development manager for True Aussie Beef & Lamb. “The wonton is simply a carrier for whatever flavor of braised short rib or lamb fits your style, from Asian to Indian or even a classic carbonnade or bourguignon treatment.”
Diverging from the traditional Japanese rice bowl, this California Donburi with California Avocado, served at Foundation Cafe in San Francisco, features ripe avocado, soy-pickled cucumber, watermelon radish, California kimchi, and less-than-hard-boiled eggs. The dish is sprinkled with Foundation Furikake, Executive Chef Blair Warsham’s signature topping of toasted sesame, fennel seeds and other seasonings. It’s served with a fresh tare sauce for dipping. This deconstructed format allows for varying ingredients by season and availability. “Every ingredient is exquisitely fresh and treated with Japanese-style respect,” says Jan DeLyser, VP of marketing for the California Avocado Commission. “With interest in ethnic foods skyrocketing, this presentation offers exotic elements in an approachable format.”