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Pleasing both the eye and palate, this healthful composition has it all — grilled and raw veggies, sharp and silky flavors and a satisfying crunch from nuts and crispy garnishing.ALMOND BOARD OF CALIFORNIA
PRODUCE TRENDS SALAD DAYS Have Arrived Chefs are upping the flavor proposition for greens to meet consumers’ demand for bold, bright flavors BY KATIE AYOUB The overarching menu trend toward bigger, bolder flavors is sparking chefs to get innovative in creating more-interesting, delicious salads. “Many consumers say that a better overall variety of salad options would encourage them to purchase more salads at full-service restaurants, particularly at bar and grill (37 percent) and family-style concepts (35 percent),” finds Technomic’s Salad Consumer Trend Report. And chefs are responding to the data by viewing the category as more than a home for Caesar salads and house greens. They’re building salads with uncommon ingredients, like burdock root and green peppercorn. They’re embracing kale’s bitterness while mellowing its toothsome quality. And instead of limiting protein components to chicken and shrimp, they’re adding quinoa, or perhaps duck confit. From composed salads to greens, chefs are telling intricate flavor stories, weaving the plot with textural play, exotic ingredients and unexpected combinations. THE CULINARY ADVENTURE “The trick in offering dishes outside the comfort zone, of course, is tweaking, but not going too crazy,” says Nathan Sears, executive sous chef at Vie in Western Springs, Ill. “You also build trust with your diners.” Vie runs a roasted and fried sunchoke salad with lettuce greens, cheddar cheese and duck confit. Sears pan-roasts the sunchokes, getting a good caramelization and a sweet, nutty flavor from them. He also adds raw sunchokes to the salad, slicing them thinly on a mandoline and then deep-frying for a lovely mouthfeel and crunch. The greens mix includes red oak, green oak, mustard greens, pea shoots and tatsoi. Duck confit and cheddar finish the profile. “We were using duck confit elsewhere in our menu, and whenever we can, we like to utilize product in-house, so we developed this salad,” says Sears. “The sunchoke and the confit are warmed together onwww.flavor-trends.com www.flavor-online.com 2011 • Issue 3 FLAVOR & THE MENU 43
PRODUCE TRENDS THE ROOT OF THE MATTER Cutting-Edge CROUTONS Culinary adventure in a root vegetable? When it’s the unfamiliar burdock, yes. With Chefs are paying attention to the crouton, seeing it as more than an the consistency of a carrot and mild, earthy afterthought of texture and tradition. Today, the flavor story is told with tones, it’s got a lot to offer. In Japanese each and every component on a plate, ratcheting up dimension and cookery, where burdock root goes by the distinction along the way. name gobo, these attributes are brought out. At Sen in East Hampton, N.Y., General PUMPKIN-BREAD CROUTONS finish a panzanella salad Manager Jesse Matsuoka tweaks a family — Vie, Western Springs, Ill. recipe for the restaurant’s popular cold side WARM POLENTA CROUTONS top a Caesar salad salad. He marinates the burdock root in soy, — Houlihan’s Restaurant mirin and sugar, then woks it on high heat. He adds soy, mirin and sugar, letting the root GOLDFISH CRACKERS replace bread croutons on the kid’s stew on low heat for almost an hour. He then menu Caesar salad adds shichimi togarashi, a spice mix that — California Pizza Kitchen typically combines roasted orange peel, chile FRIED GOAT-CHEESE PEARLS top a crispy duck salad pepper, sesame and hemp seed, Szechuan — The Lazy Goat, Greenville, S.C. pepper, nori and ground ginger. “The spice mix rounds out the earthiness of the burdock root really nicely,” says Matsuoka. pickup, and they’re just really nice against each other.” FAMILIAR…BUT BETTER Although kimchi has gained traction, Chicken salad stands familiar and loved in thanks to Korean food’s inroads with the pantheon of composed salads. Chefs are barbecue and fusion dishes, it’s not often seen adding ethnic touches, turning them toward outside of that context. At South Edison in India or the Mediterranean with different Montauk, N.Y., chef/partner Todd Mitgang build-outs. But what about making the serves a hearts of palm and kimchi salad with chicken less of the star? Indeed, we’re seeing a preserved Meyer lemon, green onion, toasted movement toward entrée salads in which sesame seeds and crispy shallots. protein shares the spotlight with produce. “The preserved lemon adds a salty citrus Randy Zweiban, chef/owner of Province flavor that is familiar yet foreign,” he says. restaurant in Chicago and now Phoenix, “Kimchi adds heat in a fermented, turns a chicken salad on its head, making At Chicago-based mouthwatering way. Hearts of palm bring in a apple the lead, with rotisserie chicken taking Province, deconstructed different texture with a subtle brininess.” For a critical supporting role. “It’s been on our chicken salad puts the focus on crisp apple and crunch and a little heat, Mitgang adds Easter lunch menu since we opened, and I can’t take jicama, with pulled chicken egg radish. “The salad has salt, heat, citrus it off; the lunch regulars really like it,” he says. as an accent. and texture,” he notes. The salad is composed of seasonal apples, candied olives, jicama, toasted almonds and pulled chicken, finished with an apple-cider vinaigrette. “Opposite ends of the flavor spectrum play well together, so candying the olives combines briny notes with sweet beautifully,” Zweiban says. He adds jicama to mirror the texture of the apples while introducing a different flavor. Beets and goat cheese are a classic combination, where earthiness meets tanginess in a beautiful flavor match-up. Eric Sayers, executive chef at CQ’s Restaurant at Harbour Town, located at SeaPROVINCE Pines, Hilton Head Island, S.C., serves beet 44 FLAVOR & THE MENU 2011 • Issue 3 www.flavor-online.com www.flavor-trends.com
PRODUCE TRENDS Lettuce PLAY carpaccio with goat-cheese quenelles, candied walnuts and strawberries. He makes When it comes to thinking outside the box, chef Brian Overhauser of the salad more approachable by mellowing the aggressive flavor of goat cheese with Hahn Family Vineyards in Soledad, Calif., readily takes on the whipped cream. challenge. Overhauser’s go-to salad prep is a “heritage blend” with “It’s one of my best-sellers,” he says. vinaigrette and goat-cheese fritters. “People don’t prepare beets at home, so they In a recent innovation aimed at maximizing utilization of a lettuce like to see them on the menu.” By slicing them thinly, carpaccio-style, the beets deliver mix, he put his heritage blend to work as a base for soup. beautiful plate presentation. Overhauser infused the mix into chicken stock, accompanied by “But it also helps with food cost,” Sayers garlic confit. He then pureed and strained it and adjusted the says. In the fall and winter, he changes out the consistency and flavor profiles with cream, white truffle oil, salt and goat-cheese quenelles for blue-cheese mousse pepper. “I added a little Kitchen Bouquet to give it a brown note,” he and replaces the simple vinaigrette with a says. He served the soup in a demitasse cup topped with truffle foam. warm bacon vinaigrette. “Because this particular blend is chicory-based, it worked. I wouldn’t SLAW INNOVATION do it with radicchio,” he says. “It has a nice earthiness and richness.” Slaws are no longer relegated as an Then Overhauser took the usable menu life of the lettuce mix a step afterthought side dish that mimics the further; he strained the infused lettuce solids from the soup stock, mayonnaise-laden fare found at family picnics. Indeed, chefs see slaws as another opportunity mixed in goat cheese and stuffed the resulting mixture into ravioli. He for unique flavor profiles—exhibiting texture finished it with an heirloom tomato bisque reduced to a bright sauce. and seasonality with each refreshing bite. For Overhauser, the idea of a lettuce soup isn’t too far a stretch. Zed 451 is a high-end, all-you-can-eat “Where I studied in France, there were numerous lettuce soups, and concept from San Francisco-based Tavistock Restaurants. At both its Chicago and Boca they all had a really nice flavor profile,” he says. Raton, Fla., units, the restaurant prides itself Minimizing waste while maximizing usage and profitability inspires on fresh and seasonal fare. Instead of a salad Overhauser’s innovations. “When you’re rotating your lettuce-mix bar that offers greens with a selection of toppings, Zed 451 offers its Harvest Table, a inventory, use the new box for your salads and get creative with collection of 18 composed salads. Its most anything you have left,” he says. “It’s all about cost efficiency. I don’t popular? Pad Thai Slaw. care what level you’re at in foodservice, if you don’t think like that “It’s really big with businessmen. It’s every day, you’re making a mistake.” — T.C. comfort food and a dish people can relate to,” says Patrick Quakenbush, executive chef. Green and red cabbage, carrots, cilantro and peanuts are dressed with a pad Thai dressing (peanut butter, plum sauce, sweet Thai chile, cilantro, garlic, shallot and lime juice). “Our diners like it even more than the high-end stuff that costs us much more to produce. They’re looking for the same, but different — and this delivers beautifully,” he says. South Edison’s Mitgang serves a Gala apple and Brussels sprouts slaw with coriander aïoliRIVER RANCH FRESH FOODS and warm heirloom beans. “I love how the sweetness of the apples brings out the mild sweetness of the sprouts, and how they match each other texturally,” he says. “The aïoli adds just the right amount of sharpness to bring the beans together with Chef Brian Overhauser extends the menu life of his lettuce mix by transforming it into a soup topped with truffle foam. the slaw.” 46 FLAVOR & THE MENU 2011 • Issue 3 www.flavor-online.com www.flavor-trends.com
PRODUCE TRENDS THE PERENNIAL CAESAR PROTEIN Over the Top The Caesar salad is a solid performer on a salad menu, but not very interesting to a lot of While entrée salads are nothing new, topping them with a greater chefs. Some refuse to menu it; others carry it, range of premium proteins is. One of the largest salad chains, but reluctantly. But Province’s Zweiban San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., which operates 112 features a Caesar salad and makes it his own. Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation concepts, is just coming out of the “When I opened Province, I said that we’re first phase of testing six premium-protein salad toppers for guests to first and foremost a café, so I wanted to carry choose from, adding $2.99 to $3.29 to the regular price of the buffet the standards: a good burger, fresh oysters, a meal. The options include marinated and grilled sirloin, three kinds of great rotisserie chicken dish and, of course, a marinated grilled chicken (salt and pepper, Asian and balsamic- Caesar salad,” he says. vinaigrette-marinated), tofu and edamame. But he branded it with a Province “Were viewing this as a first step,” says Joan Scharff, vice president of signature, extending his sustainable brand and menu strategy. “Opportunities for additional premium commitment by sourcing romaine from a proteins — such as shrimp and salmon — are endless.” grower that employs aquaculture, using only a The idea for the toppers came out of Garden Freshs trial of a new tiny fraction of the water used in express unit that opened in January. There, 50 percent of guests conventional methods. Zweiban replaces the opted to add a protein. During full-sized-unit tests to date, 10 percent traditional Parmesan in the Caesar with of guests purchased the add-ons. Manchego, which fits better into his pan- Latin sensibility. He adds chile to the mix. “Were thrilled! We looked around the market and realized that a lot And his croutons get a flavor boost from of fast-casual concepts had the option of adding-on proteins to their smoked paprika, cumin and coriander. All salads,” says Founder/CEO Michael Mack. “Doing it at Garden Fresh elements combine to change up the classic just fits who we are, creates more choice for our guests and takes Caesar and make it memorable. their experiences over the top.” Because grilled is the favored preparation-flavor profile for the WARMING UP TO KALE proteins, Garden Fresh is adding grills in central kitchens that serve Kale can be a tough sell. It’s a pretty hard-core all its regions. The grills open up the opportunity to add a greater green, infamous because of its strong, range of grilled proteins to Garden Fresh’s composed salads, soups, somewhat bitter flavor and rigid structure. pastas, pizzas and flatbreads — “a black-and-blue salad, for But its health halo glows brightly, attracting example, cross-utilizing the grilled sirloin,” says Scharff. the attention of diners seeking more- wholesome offerings. — Monica Kass Rogers At True Food Kitchen, with two units in Arizona and two in California, the Tuscan Kale Salad is a successful, craveable dish. Yes, craveable. “Really healthy food can taste really good,” says Michael Stebner, executive chef of this micro chain, which plans to grow to 20 units in the near future. The key to its kale salad: “We start with cavolo nero, or dino kale, and pull the ribs out,” he says. He then marinates it for at least 20 minutes in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, chile flakes and garlic. To order, he sprinkles the kale with bread crumbs and Parmesan. “The sum is better than the parts, like aMANN PACKING good Caesar salad,” says Stebner. “You get a great richness from the oil, and the kale itself is savory and wonderful.” Jenny Ross, executive chef/owner of 118 Greens become a complete meal when topped with marinated, grilled chicken. The extra price for add-on proteins still makes for an affordable dish. Degrees in Costa Mesa, Calif., says massage is 48 FLAVOR & THE MENU 2011 • Issue 3 www.flavor-online.com www.flavor-trends.com
PRODUCE TRENDS But her average diner seeks out healthful food; 118 Degrees serves food cooked below that temperature, and the focus is on nutritious, whole foods. So perhaps kale is an easier sell here or at True Food Kitchen, which shares similar philosophies. “But our greatest success is our wide array of customers,” says True Food Kitchen’s Stebner. “We have college kids who are political eaters; early retirement, who want to take better care of themselves; and middle- aged, who see their bodies changing and want to feel better about what they eat.”TRUE FOOD KITCHEN So, who does that leave? Who does kale not appeal to? Not surprisingly, it’s the 45- to 55-year-old male — “the steakhouse guy,” Stebner says. “That’s who we struggle with.” Toothsome, healthful needed to extract the true wonders of kale. BEST FRUIT FORWARD Tuscan Kale Salad is a She serves a marinated kale salad, which The idea of using fruit as a salad component hit at True Food Kitchen, combines black kale with avocado, walnuts, isn’t new, as fruit can lend sweetness, perfume featuring marinated black-leaf kale, finished kalamata olives and cucumber. “I dress the and rounded texture. But chefs are stepping with bread crumbs and kale in an olive-oil-based dressing, then add up their game here, too. Zed 451’s Parmesan. avocado, massaging the kale with the tongs, Quakenbush menus a roasted pineapple so the cell walls break down a little,” says “Madagascar,” where he sprinkles fresh Ross. For plating, she compression-molds the pineapple with crushed green peppercorn, salad, then tops it with fresh avocado. Out of then roasts it. Once caramelized, he finishes 15 salad offerings, the kale salad ranks No. 1. the pineapple with an orange-yogurt sauce. “Green peppercorn is not as spicy as black, so you get a distinctively different flavor,” he Take-Away TIPS says. “It adds a subtle spiciness and texture to the squishy, sweet pineapple.” At Valhalla Table in Costa Mesa, Calif., VARY THE MIX: Try adding unusual touches like burdock root, sunchoke, hearts of palm, even kimchi to assorted greens to create signature salads. chef/owner Ehrline Karnaga tosses romaine with mango, white quinoa, avocado, CRAVEABLE CROUTONS: Anything with a satisfying crunch will do, from fried cucumber and red pepper. She finishes it with cheese to crispy polenta cubes. If bread’s your base, jazz it up with zippy seasonings or a dusting of finely grated cheese. tortilla strips and dresses it with a mango vinaigrette (very ripe mango, rice vinegar, BEET THIS: Earthy, ruby-red beets and goat cheese are a salad combo made for each other. Thinly sliced beet rounds add drama and a better-for-you aura. lemon and orange juice, honey, red-pepper flakes and oil). “It’s a really fresh-tasting salad, and the quinoa is a great source for protein,” she says. “The way to increase your salad sales is to offer something familiar, but elevated — a salad with really great flavor.” &CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN KATIE AYOUB, an award-winning writer and former food-magazine editor, owns Katie Ayoub Editorial Services; www.katieayoub.com 50 FLAVOR & THE MENU 2011 • Issue 3 www.flavor-online.com www.flavor-trends.com