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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

Pumpkin Spice Is Overrated. There We Said It... But These Recipes Are Not

Pumpkin Spice Is Overrated. There We Said It... But These Recipes Are Not

Autumn’s most eponymous squash, pumpkin, has much more to offer this season than a hurried rush of spicy latte in a green and white cup in one hand and the Instagram machine in the other.

There is reasonable certainty that what we like about pumpkin spice latte is not so much the latte, nor the pumpkin, but all the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove and vanilla that makes coffee devotees clench their fists in spasms of caffeinated angst.

Pumpkin is inexpensive, abundant and swollen with complex, deliberate flavor that is celebration-worthy rather than tucked under too much spice. Loaded with plenty of naturally occurring sweetness that can be coaxed with a long cook time, pumpkin flavor can be lost under the clove of darkness.

In the North End of Boston, for instance, Giacomo’s North End Ristorante lifts their pumpkin game with pumpkin tortellini in sage-mascarpone sauce. The subtle Italian cream cheese works as a velvet canvas for the pumpkin to be the star. Just around the corner, in the very same neighborhood, La Famiglia Giorgio gets all Italian with their pumpkin treatment, too. Pumpkin is tucked into pasta pillows and dressed with marsala in pumpkin ravioli.  

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Consumers Demand These Culinary Innovations

On this episode of On Foodable Weekly, culinary trends are taking the stage. Just a few years ago, many diners hadn’t heard of exotic dishes and ingredients like kimchi or ostrich steaks.

In an effort to keep their art interesting, chefs are constantly innovating to provide their customers with experiences that WOW diners. However, today's customers are more educated and more adventurous than ever. This is pushing chefs to continue experimenting and is certainly keeping chefs on their toes!

Mark Garcia of Avocados From Mexico says the new consumers’ well-traveled palates are pushing guests to ask for more from their dining experiences.

“We’re really experiencing those flavors when we travel and we expect them when we come back home,” said Garcia. 

Chef Eileen Andrade of Finka Table and Tap adds that social media also encourages innovation.

“Social media has been a huge influence, for sure. I mean, now you have everything at your fingertips. It’s like, you’re sitting in Miami and you see something cool trending in LA. Then you’re like ‘I wanna do that,’ so you do it in Miami.”

Chef Andrade continues to explain how chefs must build trust to allow customers to step out of their comfort zones. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort but at the end of the day, the customer's experience is what matters.

“We have alligator on the menu. We have ostrich. We’re trying to do things a little differently and kind of present these ingredients and these flavors to people who normally haven’t had it. And we do that by gaining their trust at the table saying, you know, ‘If you don't like it, we’ll take it off the bill but just try it.’ So we’ve been successful in changing people’s mind[s].”

Watch the episode above to learn about even more culinary trends we’ll be seeing this year.