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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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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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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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.

Beyond the Trend: How to Get More Ethnic Flavors on to Your Menu

Restaurants are closing in on ethnic flavors to inject interest - and sales - into their dishes. Why? There is a real demise of many single ethnicity spots; broad strokes of ethnic colors up and down menus are, in part, responsible and, in part, a response. How many purely Italian restaurants are left in your city’s little Italy neighborhood?

How many straight-up Chinese restaurants are lingering in nearby Chinatown? Moving beyond the trend, ethnocentric menus are fading across many segments, while diversity blossoms.

Three asian pork tacos |   Shutterstock

Three asian pork tacos | Shutterstock

One great, big tossed salad of colors and flavors

Course by course, there are flavor swirls that excite interest and broaden customers’ addiction to lessening boredom. Arbitrarily mixing two, seemingly unpaired cuisines is not the plan. Rather, plays on conventional constructs that are grounded in, well, sense is a starting point. Remember when the cronut was a novel idea? Start there. Or here:

In Philly’s red hot glow of a burgeoning food scene, Cheu’s matzah ball ramen is a favorite. How does Japanese and kosher fare get to the front of the rope line? Carefully.  

The Nashville-hot tofu taco in Texas at Velvet Taco is a confetti of flavors that hail from all parts. We can argue that tacos are a likely vessel for about as many flavor combinations as a sandwich. To doodle with so many elements is exactly the stimulant for food sales and to pluck customers’ strings.

Paneer tacos aren’t that far off from the cheese’s comfort zone. Typically eaten with some form of bread, jamming the cheese of Persian origin into a flour or corn tortilla is practical. Dressing the paneer in Latin flavor, as they do at Roxie’s Tacos in Boulder, Colorado elevates and excites the omnipresent dish.

Chicago’s Saucy Porka wraps a puffed pillow of a traditional Japanese bao around taco fillings. The endgame? A baco. A Latin-Asian sparkle isn’t too far-reaching and makes sense for diners looking at mash-ups to keep up with interesting flavor adventures.

Fusion vs Confusion

What pre-dates the drive to embed co-mingled ethnic flavors? Remember fusion in the 1990’s? That glittery dive into rubbing together two - or more - obviously unrelated ethnicities in an effort to intrigue. What happened? Just whacked-out combinations that were strings of ingredients in non-sequiturs that did more to confuse customers then it did to make things attractive. Restraint lacked and diners fled the scene. Chose wisely, young Jedi!

Case Study: Brooklyn’s Shalom Japan

In Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, Shalom Japan is the litmus test for what can work when a (literal) marriage of cultures blooms. Japanese and kosher is an ethnic food unpredicted intersection. So what’s the appeal? Deliberate combinations boost flavor opportunities, like the restaurant’s Sake Kasu Challah French Toast, as well as offer guests traveling in a pack to not settle for one profile. The Sesame Temomi Mazemen and Lox Bowl live on the same menu. Not every meal needs to be an adventure into some nether region of whacked-out foodisms. Instead, well planned and expertly executed flourishes provide growth opportunities, for guests to get excited and operators to cast off the same ol’, same ol’.

The key to not being locked into one ethnicity? Research, flexibility, and testing. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Sriracha was a head-scratching mystery of an ingredient. Now? Sriracha ketchup to dip your cheesesteak rolls. That’s what we are talking about.

If we want absolutely geographic authenticity, then we need to travel. But being out front doesn’t mean mixing all the colors together. Avoid a grey abyss of confusion by doing homework. Put flavors together and pull them apart.

The grace is gone from trying to hide mash-ups. Maybe fusion was ahead of its time. Rather than startling customers now, echoing ethnic specialties throughout a menu is now good business sense. Fearless dining isn’t quite as terrifying. Maybe it’s because we have come of age. We understand tempura and shwarma. Maybe not on the same plate, but on the same menu? Not unheard of. We are rather smitten by food that is thought-provoking. Ethnic embellishing is yet another element of a well-engineered menu to give guests an opportunity to wander.

Want more tips from Chef Berman? Listen to the latest episode of The Barron Report where Host Paul Barrons finds out what Chef Berman thinks about food. You also get a sneak peek into what to expect from the first season of Chef AF, a new podcast with Berman as the host.

How the Chef's Role is Changing and How Chefs Have Become the Voice Of Reason in Today's Industrialized Food System

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Chefs taking the lead in how — and what — we cook makes sense. Surround yourself with the best people you can afford and trust their decision making. With that, there is a gentle progress murmuring in kitchens. Chefs are making demands on the people that supply ingredients.

Although conventional wisdom says that makes sense, we still have brigades of kitchen staffers that are disconnected from the order guides, program money, and vendor agreements that hobble their ability to make logic of our food system.

A long, long time ago, there was a kitchen designed around the needs of the people that actually used the space. The sinks were in just the right place, the oven was exactly what was needed for firepower, the pick-up window was seamless and glistened with the efficiency of a smart, adept space.

Farmers would bring their toils to the stoops of the cooks. All was right in the world. The end-users were the decision makers. But somewhere along the way, cooks and chefs lost some of their say in policy. We moved more towards numbers and less towards, well, food. Packages got bigger, chickens got more alien-like, and apples stopped rotting. We pawned common sense for dollars and cents.

Fortunately, getting that voice back is happening. Common sense is not always common knowledge, yet we are an adaptable breed, and now we are demanding the systems with which we know we can thrive.

Efficiency Matters

Out in Colorado, agriculture opportunities are a bit more challenging than what we find in Nogales, Salinas, or Napa. Uncooperative terrain is only one hurdle. Alex Seidel of Fruition and Mercantile, among others, has been working with a local potato grower to get the supply with which his restaurants can depend. Working directly is the operative element of changing the relationship between vendors and customers. The big-rig distributors aren’t able to deliver the dialed-in specs that many chefs want. Nothing personal, but the products sometimes don’t work. Seidel stepped into the process by building an efficient relationship to shape the supply system. Not as easy as calling the 1-800 number to place the order, but the result is a local supply that performs as he wants.

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Free range, GMO-free, No Antibiotics, No nothin’

We created this market of consumer demands. We did! We created a field of consumers that understand all-natural. They understand local and antibiotic-free. Now, this more educated consumer base looks for clean labeling and we must comply. And it isn’t just boutique restaurants that are upending their ingredients’ profile.

Panera Bread, for instance, has evolved their menu over the past several years to full transparency, laden with clean ingredients. Why? There is a move from antiquated systems that are dependent on multiple layers of preservatives, unpronounceable ingredients, and monster-esque constructs. There is common sense at play here. The restaurant biz is showcasing food that customers want and the market is responding. Our evolving food systems are grounded in clarity and practical magic versus works of science fiction.

Door Dash & Grub Hub. For Farmers.

There are great farms trying to get their products to the restaurants that so desire to use local commodities. The problem? Distribution. Old Dirt Hill Farm can’t possibly be expected to grow, tend to, harvest, and distribute their crops. It just isn’t an efficient use of resources.

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In development, the FoodBank of Delaware is building a produce hub. Think of it like Door Dash, but for farmers. Not every restaurant wants or is able to deliver, just like every farm isn’t able to do the same. In steps the FoodBank’s hub. With an already existent system for gathering donations, the circle widens by grabbing produce from throughout northern Delaware. The produce then makes its way back to the FoodBank where it will be packaged or further processed by FoodBank trainees and then distributed. There are wins on many levels; farmers move produce, the FoodBank gets a share, and chefs get local produce delivered minus the distribution headache. A sensible solution that keeps a closed loop of local spending and, more importantly, an efficient system that isn’t dragging tomatoes 2,000 miles on a carbon-spewing eighteen-wheeler with under-ripe produce.

Ugly Produce

Speaking of produce, conventional wisdom has taken over when it comes to food waste on the production side. Blemished, misshapen peppers, tomatoes, and squash are set aside on the retail level as their more preferred contemporaries. As a result, a lot of waste.

Chefs, on the other hand, are embracing the ugly produce to capitalize on pricing and, more importantly, to use their culinary prowess to make appealing food within a system that shames sad looking potatoes.

Hungry Harvest, for instance, drops boxes of “rescued” produce on both the retail and wholesale levels in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond. Why? For restaurants, the impact on food cost is real. Bonus? It is marketable. And, there is no need to discard a perfectly usable product when we have populations around the country that are food insecure.

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As challenging as it may be to develop a relationship with a producer to birth a system, it is just as easy to run to the local grocery depot for products ticking in at a discount. The sacrifice, though, is that quality along the system.

Chefs are the customers of farmers, purveyors, and manufacturers. So it makes sense that they get looped in on the decision making. Making sense of what is being produced based on needs is as fundamental as the blueprint of the kitchen. And, much like that particular blueprint, we have gone astray.

With the new fierceness of contemporary chefs taking the lead in systems, we are getting back the authority to make educated decisions. It starts with the end in mind. We know what we want to see from operations and systems and what makes sense. We are waking up and making plans to change the world.

Want more tips from Chef Berman? Listen to the latest episode of The Barron Report where Host Paul Barrons finds out what Chef Berman thinks about food. You also get a sneak peek into what to expect from the first season of Chef AF, a new podcast with Berman as the host.

Musselman’s is Taking Apple Butter to the Next Level with its New Fusions Line

Consumer tastes are constantly evolving. Today, guests are craving flavors that are exciting yet approachable. But they are also more discerning in their expectations that their dishes be made with clean ingredients.

With that in mind, at Foodable Network, we are consistently surveying products that cater to the consumer demand for both delicious and clean label foods.  

Apple butter remains a consumer favorite and Musselman’s Apple Butter is a leader in the category.

But Musselman’s isn't complacent in its success, choosing to take its apple butter to the next level. The company is shaking up the marketplace with the launch of a foodservice line of Fusions featuring on-trend flavors that have been blended with apple butter by chefs for years.  

Musselman’s Apple Butter Fusions Line |   Foodable Network

Musselman’s Apple Butter Fusions Line | Foodable Network

Musselman’s is Turning Simple to Signature 

“We wanted to make sure we were pairing apple butter with not only things that work well with it, but also with flavors that are on an upswing,” said Bob Fisher, vice president of marketing, Knouse Foods, the parent company of Musselman’s. “These items have a tremendous amount of flexibility and a wide range of uses. Far more than I think we anticipated when we first developed the idea for the product line.” 

Musselman’s launched the line to offer a solution for operators who are looking to pique the palate of millennial diners in the QSR/fast casual and family dining sectors. 

“What we love about the Fusions brand is it brings apple butter to the masses. It's making apple butter a younger, more vibrant, more exciting, and unique category than before. It’s our way of expanding apple butter into a segment that is far more engaging,” said Allie Canterbury, marketing manager of food service, Knouse Foods.

Not to mention, the Fusions’ squeezable bottles make them easy to use and cook with.

Like Fisher said Musselman’s selected its six Fusion flavors because they are flavors that consumer can’t seem to get enough of. 

In the video above, Foodable Host Layla Harrison is joined by Culinarian Andy Tilis where they discuss Musselman’s iconic Apple Butter and two of the new Fusion flavors.

One of Musselman’s new Fusions flavor they taste test is the Mango Habanero.

Musselman's Apple Butter Dijon Mustard and Mango Habanero Fusions |   Foodable Network

Musselman's Apple Butter Dijon Mustard and Mango Habanero Fusions | Foodable Network

In a recent Foodable Labs report on flavor trends, habanero ascended jalapeño as the most used pepper by chefs over the last year. As far as mango is concerned, it is one of the top two fruit infusions on chef’s menus today, according to recent Foodable Labs data.  

The Mango Habanero is vegan, gluten-free, and fat-free. It’s a triple threat of flavor with the tastes of apple, mango, and habanero all in one. It’s sweet yet spicy profile makes it perfect to pair with fish, especially salmon or cod. 

In the video above, Andi uses the Mango Habanero to glaze a cod to give the fish an extra burst of flavor. But she also demonstrates how the Fusion can be used as a dipping sauce for sides like sweet potatoes.   

It’s also popular as a savory sauce added to wings, sliders, chicken strips, nuggets and much more. See what other proteins and sides this Fusion pairs well with in the video above.

The other flavor highlighted above in the tasting video is the Musselman’s Dijon Mustard Apple Butter Fusion. This flavor, which is also vegan and gluten-free, offers a sweet base saturated with the spicy and tangy taste of Dijon mustard. 

“It takes an ordinary sandwich and makes it so much more,” said Fisher.

This Fusion isn’t only a great spread for sandwiches, but can also create an elevated taste experience for classics such as burgers, paninis, sliders, and of course, on soft pretzels. 

Stay tuned for our part-two video coming soon that showcases other new exciting Musselman’s Apple Butter Fusion Flavors that turn the ordinary to “oh wow.”

Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post.

Video Produced by:

Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa Rodriguez

Writer & Producer


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