A culinary specialist from The Humane Society of the US offers strategies and innovations
With more and more customers interested in ordering plant-based dishes in restaurants and foodservice venues, chefs are updating their menus to provide non-meat options. While most chefs are skilled at developing meat-based menus, many face challenges when creating innovative dishes highlighting plant ingredients.
Faced with this knowledge gap, chefs are going back to school or participating in virtual culinary training to learn the fundamental methods of plant-based cooking, such as meal composition, seasonal menu planning, allergen awareness, and ingredient substitutions.
And although culinary school can be pricey, one highly regarded program is offering its materials and training for free. The Virtual Culinary Training from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) helps organizations integrate more plant-based foods into their cafeteria and meal programs. Major universities, such as Harvard and the University of Michigan, have already adopted the program and subsequently increased their offerings of plant-based meals.
We invited Chef Jason Patel, culinary specialist for The Humane Society of the US, to enlighten Total Food Service’s readers on their plant-based trainings.
Chef Patel, could you give a brief background about food service innovation at The Humane Society of the US and the free plant-based trainings you provide?
One of our main goals is to improve the lives of farm animals. We have dedicated people who work on creating humane policies with food producers and legislation at both the state and national level. We also tackle this issue by looking at food service: what better way is there to improve farm animals’ lives than by not using them for food?
Our team of outreach coordinators, specialists, dietitians, and chefs work with self-operated institutions and major food service management companies to improve plant-based offerings on their menus. Our work focuses on college/university, healthcare, and K-12 institutions. Many companies and institutions choose to formalize their collaboration with us by signing a pledge that sets target goals for adding more plant-based meals to their menus, year over year. We know that students, patients and customers are going to continue to request more plant-based options. A collaborative agreement with The Humane Society of the US offers access to a host of free services, including culinary trainings, recipes, marketing assistance and materials. Our goal with the trainings is to provide education on common plant-based ingredients and the tools to create delicious and nutritious plant-based meals that lead to lasting menu changes for human health, for animals and for the planet.
How do you conduct the training?
Our trainings are conducted virtually and typically take place over one week. The first session lasts for an hour or so at the beginning of the week. In this session we have a presentation on the “why’s” behind our work, educational content on common plant-based products that are used, a background and walk-through on the recipes provided, and information about the chefs’ assignments for the week.
Tuesday through Thursday, the chefs work on their assigned recipes. While preparing the recipes, they take photos of the process and the completed dish and fill out a recipe recap form which details the flavor profile, their experience in creating the dish, and how they see it being integrated into their menu cycles. The chefs send us their photos and recap forms, and we create a presentation for the final session.
During the final session, we ask the chefs to speak about their experience and share the photos they took with the team. We encourage the chefs to share what they learned, provide areas of opportunity and specify how they would present this dish to their customers. We end by talking about how to market plant-based offerings to customers, providing examples of best practices in labelling new dishes and placement of new items for the best results.
What effective strategies have you determined for training chefs about successfully adding plant-based menus in foodservice operations?
We provide an education on common whole food plant-based products such as tofu, tempeh, flaxseed, and aquafaba. We want to open a discussion and take the fear away from using these products. Most often, the chefs and foodservice workers have all seen these products but rarely are they discussed in depth. We go over techniques that will help chefs use these products more effectively, making sure we hit on the most important aspect of our work – making tasty, beautiful food that customers are craving.
We have found that one of the most effective ways to make big changes on menus with little impact to labor and procurement is to swap whole food plant-based proteins for the animal-based proteins in recipes that the chefs already use. Accounts have popular recipes that the chefs already know how to create, so we just ask them to replace the protein. It’s a simple swap with a big impact. The chefs can see how easy it is to take out animal products from their recipe and the menu cycle can still continue. After the training, we encourage the accounts to make additional swaps on their menus with the recipes they have been provided. This empowers the accounts to make changes on their own after seeing how easy it is to do.
What types of kitchen cooking equipment would make plant-based menus easier for chefs and their staff?
Our work focuses on keeping recipes fairly easy and accessible for all, and that includes what type of kitchen cooking equipment should be used. The most common pieces of equipment are stoves, pots, pans, ovens, and food processors.
I don’t think of cooking equipment as the tool to make plant-based menus easier for chefs and their staff. I believe a lot of chefs and their staff get hung up on the idea that we are removing something from a dish. I try to think about how the other half of the world eats, without meat. How do they create beautiful and delicious dishes? They use the tools available to them: seasoning, marinating, smoking, charring, etc. Instead of focusing on what is not in the dish, focus on the creation of a flavorful dish first; it just happens to not have any animal products in it.
Please share innovations for plant-based menu planning.
I think our use of whole food plant-based proteins as swaps for existing menu offerings is probably our biggest innovation by far. We understand the struggles that chefs and their staff have these days with labor and procurement issues, so looking at the challenge of creating successful recipes for accounts to use without having to learn all new processes and ordering unfamiliar ingredients was paramount. Staff and customers know the menu cycle pretty well, so instead of creating brand new dishes from scratch which could have a variety of challenges on all fronts, we have them create dishes that are familiar, which in turn makes it easier on staff to learn and allows customers the opportunity to try something they already know.
Kindly provide two or three examples of successful outcomes of the
We had an opportunity to work with the University of Dayton and Washington State University this past winter because both accounts agreed to increase their plant-based offerings in all their retail outlets. We were able to reach about 60 participants between the two institutions. Not only were the participants wonderful to work with and learned a lot about plant-based ingredients and techniques, but they also came away with new versions of existing recipes by applying what they learned and creating new flavor profiles. They challenged themselves to create delicious food that would inspire their customers, and they walked away with the knowledge to keep innovating their menus for the health of their customers, the planet and to benefit animals in the process!
For more plant-based insights, marketing materials, and how-to’s for foodservice, take a look at what Meatless Monday offers at https://www.mondaycampaigns.org/meatless-monday/foodservice