Beyond The Trend: How to Differentiate your Spring Menu Offerings in 2019

Buffing out some bright spots in the kitchen can lift a tired menu. Ingredients are always going in and out of season. Capitalize on that!

The Spring season is an exciting time in and around the kitchen. The little glimpses of green, the arrival of less hearty vegetables, and the departure from root vegetables are excuses alone to get back into the kitchen.

Spring is as good of a time as any to evaluate your menu. Any time is a good time to evaluate your menu, right? Let’s not do a full-on menu engineering project right now, but take a look at the bottom performers. What dishes aren’t moving? Why? How can you kick-start sales with a few tweaks? A little social media mojo, perhaps, and a flourish across the menu may give a righteous lift. Spring is about new beginnings. Differentiate your menu with some seasonal ingredients. Go in your own way and find your own way out.

Berries

Despite what appears to be year-round growing, strawberries actually have a season. For many parts of the country, look for local, flavorful berries in late April and into May. Strawberries come from the big rig distributors in January, too. But buying in season means better quality and equitable pricing, keeping in mind produce is one of the few commodities that has an indirect relationship with the price; quality is up when prices are down. Take advantage of both elements. Dot in-season strawberries in salads, across desserts, and scaled into breakfast breads.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Spring in the Sea?

Seasonal fish really is a thing. Pay attention to sustainability and seasonality. Do the right thing; customers are watching. What is doing well to add color to your spring menu revisions? 

Oysters will wane as the waters warm, but they are plump and reasonably priced along with briny clams from Long Island, for instance. Bluefish and rockfish/striped bass are doing their thing right about now. Crabs are also becoming an option along the Mid-Atlantic. Seasonal salmon is still a bit off for the Alaskan harvest, so take a look at some seafood that is different from other times of the year - and take advantage of strategic pricing. Arctic Char is popping up on menus but has a tight season somewhere in the middle of the summer. Look to sustainably farmed seafood options to fill the gap.

Greens, shoots, and sprouts

Just after the coffee, spring peas are a reason for getting up in the morning. A short growing season, English peas are ingredient stars with minimal fuss. This is one of those times when you want the flavor of the vegetable to outweigh the creativity of the chef. A quick blanch, sauté, or steaming of just-shelled English peas is like standing on a rooftop shouting that warmer days have arrived.  

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Ramps, fiddlehead ferns, and nettles make up soft spots in cooks’ underbellies. “One of the key edibles for a midwest spring,” says Michael Tsonton, chef at Chicago’s Ravinia music festival, excited about nettles.

In the Pacific Northwest, pop-up Chef Sebastian Carosi is amped about the growing season coming out of hibernation.

“Around these parts, we are just starting to enjoy the shoots, tips and spring things that come with the end of winter. We are harvesting licorice fern root, grape hyacinth, nettles, magnolia buds, and blossoms, [and] truffles,” says Carosi.

Why not blend spring greens and the pickling/fermenting trend wave?  

“We are also picking young dandelion, chickweed, dead nettle, wild field mustard and plantain leaves that we turn into wild greens’ kimchi with a slight ferment,” adds Carosi. 

Look at Lamb

Lamb is a great option to pump up the flavor. Lamb works in tacos, meatballs, burgers, and more.

Spring lamb is symbolic in holiday celebrations and, fundamentally, a glowing point on a redecorated menu. Depending on where your lamb originates, pricing on imported, frozen product can be effective to boost margins.  

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Soon enough sweat will run down your chin and the chore of getting through summer will be a reality. For now, look for the little garden treasures that are still covered in the chill of the morning. Pluck with care, waste some time, see things from a better side. Your customers will appreciate the extra attention. And keep the inquisitive cooks reeling with field baskets of new toys.

Want more tips for Chef Jim Berman? Listen to this recent episode of Chef AF where he sits down with Chef Hari Cameron, a semi-finalist for the James Beard “Rising Star Chef Of The Year” award in 2013, and they chat about the reality of cooking with the seasons, best chef practices, and why local-only isn’t going to work.

These Chef Innovations are Poised to Breakout in 2019

Let's face it, restaurant customers are finicky. And we are all customers. We want trusted dishes. But we want new dishes that are interesting. We want to be entertained. But we don’t want every meal to be an adventure. We like some pieces of the menu to be thought-provoking, but don’t want to be confused and frustrated with whackadoodle inventions.

Let’s all agree that innovation has a place, albeit controlled and calculated. Innovation does not mean the latest kitchen gadget, either. Innovation is as much technique as it is the tools in your hand.

So, how can chefs stir customer interest when they want it to be stirred in 2019?

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

3-D Food Printing

Definitely not something that will ride the wave of tenacity and ubiquity, but interesting, nonetheless.

Think of 3D food printing much in the way chocolate fountains were kinda cool when they first started dribbling their goopy chocolate all over tablecloths at weddings far and near. Novel? Yes. Technology-driven? For sure. Practical? Debatable.

But there are serious chefs latching on to the technology. For example, Paco Pérez at Barcelona’s Enoteca has unleashed 3D printed dishes. The Michelin-starred chef uses printing technology in place of design work that would be nearly impossible to accomplish by hand.

Do you really need a sneaker printed out of marzipan? No. But you also don’t need a big-ass block of ice carved into the likeness of King Tritan leaking water all over the floor, holding up chilled shrimp. But we still do it.

For now, it is something to talk about it. We did the same thing with those pictures printed on rice paper and layered onto sheet cakes. Why? Because we can. And, yeah, it sells.

Plant Proteins

Tofu. Chickpeas. Almonds. Hemp seeds. At casual dining restaurants like Firebird’s, Red Robin and Chili’s, healthy halo dishes are flourishing. And it isn’t just vegetarian dishes. It is the dynamic flavoring as much in demand as their meat-based counterparts.

Zaytina, for instance, menus a stew of green chickpeas and tomatoes. Not a timid offering for the likes of José Andrés. Then there's the flourishing fast casual darling, Honeygrow, big on noodle, rice, and greens as the basis for their popular bowls, but takes tofu one step further with a roasted, spiced treatment. Veg-centric is a macro-trend that is pervasive with strong ties to plant protein menuing.

Digital/Continuous Temp Logging Tools

A real piece of technology that we can - and should - hook our food safety talons into? Anything dealing with improved food safety. And a technology piece that takes some of the human factor (translation: labor) out of the cost equation is definitely on the menu. T

aking temperatures of refrigerators, freezers, low-boys, and walk-ins is a forgettable annoyance at best and tedious at worst. But it needs to be done. Or should be done!

Logging temperatures is a health department requirement in many municipalities or shortly will be. And it is good business sense to keep an eye on equipment performance to prevent failures and hella costly repairs or replacements. Continuously record temperatures of in-place equipment and get alerts to keep things smooth. While it takes 30 seconds for a cook to log temps, he can forget or fake it. Yes, I am looking at you. Take the risk out of this risk factor and sleep easier.

Tableside Cooking - What’s Old is New. Again.

Not every innovation is new. Some developments are reinventions from the by-gone days. Remember Dover sole prepared tableside? Or crepes in a copper pan set aflame to the "oohs" and "ahhs" of onlookers? The novel element of tableside cooking is much akin to the allure of open kitchens.

Guests like to see the action that it takes to make Aunt Stella’s alligator pie get flambéed. If Chicago’s Tony Mantuano is doing tableside dishes at River Roast, then it must be cool.

The Wayback Machine

Classic French fare is not going to replace braised short rib, jackfruit tacos, or quinoa bowls today. But it is getting a refreshed nod. The demise of jacket-and-tie restaurants is no secret. Like tableside cooking, though, what is old is new again. Elevated French food is the highwater mark for classically trained chefs. But what about for the new crew of kitchen renegades? Well, they appreciate - and execute - a good confit like their predecessors. Most recently, a refresh to French-grounded menus with structured appetizer, entrée, dessert formats is reemerging.

Small plates, shareables, and communal dining are not fading. New York’s Benno, the recently opened namesake of Chef Jonathan Benno, brings acclaim to classical French (and a dollop of Italian) to the notorious trend epi-center of the U.S. The turn to classic dining as a mainstream option is still a ways off. But it does hold enough novel individualism that it is new to people that grew up without fitted suits, button downs, and carpeted dining rooms devoid of Edison lights.

A little flourish to the ordinary keeps customers interested. Yes, eighty-percent of sales will still come from the top 20 percent performers. But giving customers something to keep them involved is what has chefs, customers, and Instagrammers asking for the “what’s next.”

Are you a Chef? You Should be Looking at These Opportunities in 2019

Are you a Chef? You Should be Looking at These Opportunities in 2019

Call it innovation, call it being ahead on trends. Either way, there are untapped opportunities to grow business, impact sales, and develop as a professional.

What’s next for the astute chef that is looking to build fiscal strength and operational mastery?

Delivery is its own segment

Menu engineering that accounts for the booming delivery segment is emerging. But not all dishes do well when they grow legs; Delicate fried items, for instance, get soggy before they make it home. Some dishes, on the other hand, are marvels of transportation efficiency. More of these items are making their way onto menus because these dishes travel best.

Why? Unless you have been unplugged for the last few years, you can’t help but notice that delivery is big, with over 8% growth in the segment projected for 2019. Third party transportation operators are ubiquitous and those with disposable income - yes, millennials - are all abuzz about good delivery options.

Read More

A Chef's Day Off And How to Make the Most of it

A Chef's Day Off And How to Make the Most of it

A day out of the kitchen is the opportunity to learn and explore. Most days' challenges include a broken dish machine, two call-outs, and the spastic general manager going crazy about the latest safety audit, leaving you little time to bend the pages of Bread is Gold or Food Lab or Ivan Ramen, or a kick over to the GreenMarket. 

So how do you keep up and make the most of sacred days off? 

Jostling every drop of the often-sparse time away — “What is a day off?” said Aughtum Slavin, event coordinator at Emery’s Catering in Providence — from the restaurant, it means exploring new learning opportunities, doing street-level research, and uncontrived downtime.

Books Still Rule

We love our internet connectivity and the easy answers we can fetch with it. Exploring other cooks’ narratives is often the spark to branch out. And, yes, we still love the classic, bound, page-turning, printed book format. These books should be owned to pass along to your newest restaurant kin. 

Read More