It’s a privilege to contribute this new column that will highlight tips and insights from experts who can enlighten and inspire foodservice and restaurant professionals about plant based cooking.
With the ever-growing interest in the category, it makes sense to keep pace with current practices with some plant based cooking tips, while being aware of profitable trends and opportunities.
Our first expert is Chef David Bruno, Associate Professor, Culinary Institute of America. Prior to CIA, his experience includes Executive Chef, Cripple Creek, Rhinebeck, NY; Ardsley Country Club, Ardsley-On-Hudson, NY, and Executive Sous Chef and Head Chef, Mayflower Inn, Washington, CT.
Chef Bruno shares these strategies:
- Create craveability by introducing new items, examples: New Wave plant-based Shrimp, Finless Foods Tuna.
- Try and create plant-based items with the same intensity that other menu items have.
- Use the yin/yang effect/balance push & pull cooking principle – Yin/yang is when complementary forces make up a balanced dish. The push and pull is how the ingredients work together to enhance the dish.
- Use acid, spice, and fresh herbs to create flavor.
- Use the umami flavor found in natural foods. Examples of plant-based umami-rich foods: kombu seaweed; fresh tomatoes; aged, fermented, and cured foods; balsamic vinegar; soy sauce; green tea; shiitake mushrooms, and grapefruit.
- Think themes: seasonal, or special-occasion driven.
- Use texture, color, and nutrients.
What advice would Chef Bruno give on what to ask distributors about plant-based products?
- First, research new items available in the marketplace. Then, talk to people who enjoy eating plant-based foods to find out what appeals to them. Their input combined with your research will help inform what you’ll ask distributors.
Our next expert is Peggy Policastro, PhD, RDN, Director of Rutgers Dining, Nutrition Services, NJ Institute for Food Nutrition, and Health/Dining Services. Dr. Policastro’s strategies are:
- Identify key personnel who have a passion for plant-based foods, then develop an interdisciplinary team (chefs, RDNs, foodservice directors) to get buy-in for all areas within the foodservice establishment.
- Hire a registered dietitian/nutritionist. RDNs can collaborate with chefs to plan plant-based dishes and help educate the population on why eating a plant-based diet is recommended for personal health and the environment.
- Offer a plant-based item that has a familiar component, for example, a plant-based mac and cheese that uses a nut cheese instead of cow’s milk cheese; portobello mushroom fajitas in addition to beef or chicken fajitas.
- Label plant-based foods as being good for the environment (climate-friendly). Avoid focusing only on the health benefits. Also label items with sensory descriptions focused on the deliciousness of the dish.
When working with distributors, Dr. Policastro recommends:
- Make sure distributors can supply the item in the amount needed over a period of time (supply chain issues). Confirm the dish is HACCP certified.
- The term plant-based may be misinterpreted. Plant-based has multiple definitions such as no-meat/dairy product (vegan) or more plant than animal product (plant-focused/plant-forward). Thus, it is suggested to be extremely specific on what you are looking for from the distributor.
Chef Dan Churchill, Executive Chef at Charley St, a fast casual restaurant in Nolita, NYC, and one of the Meatless Monday Culinary Ambassadors, shares his strategies.
- Most importantly, the menu has to taste epic. If not, it won’t get you anywhere.
- Ask yourself these questions: Is the product easy to cook with? It has to be so simple that it makes sense for your team to be able to dish it out effectively, consistently and with speed. What margin will I get by adding this dish to my menu? It has to make sense from a business perspective. In short, look for tasty foods with real ingredients that are super easy to cook with.
- Speak to your customers, ask what they think about bringing on a dish. They are so valuable to you and your business. I would also look to add options to dishes that are not plant-based. For example, our Charley St Chorizo began as an element to our Naughty Eggs with 2 poached eggs. We serve our Charley St Chorizo with roasted garlic hummus on sour dough. The Chorizo became so popular we were able to highlight it as its own dish and now it is available across the country. You can find information about our delicious Charley St Chorizo and Bolognese here.
- When working with distributors, find out: Where was the product made and why? What is in the ingredients? Is the protein easy to cook with? How long can you store it? How do you store it?
To drive in customers while taking a leadership position on health and climate, Dana Smith, Meatless Monday Campaign Director, offers these tips:
- Start with your most popular meat dishes and make them plant-based. So turn chicken tacos into tofu tacos or beef chili into three-bean chili. On Meatless Monday specifically, leverage the popularity of #MeatlessMonday to promote plant-based eating and attract new customers.
- Run a promotion to bring awareness for Meatless Monday. For the past two years, Starbucks promoted a discount on Meatless Monday to support their sustainability initiatives. In addition, New York Presbyterian Hospital added vegetarian and plant-based dishes to its hospital cafeteria, at a discount, to promote health and bring awareness for the connection between meat production and the environment,
For free recipes, social media assets, health and environmental resources, visit MeatlessMonday.com.