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Ethnic foods are taking off, according to FSD's current study, but how that plays out where the clientele is fond of their own ethnic or regional comfort food "therein lies the tale and the challenge. Through education, marketing and theme days, creative operators are generating sales with an expanded menu mix.
At 330-bed Yuma (Ariz.) Regional Medical Center, Sodexo's executive chef Carlos Ochoa caters to the tastes and preferences of his approximately 300 lunchtime customers, 65% of whom are Mexican. Although born and raised in San Francisco, Ochoa brings to the table expertise in creating the flavors from his own Puerto Rican heritage (on his dad's side), as well as influences from the small Italian restaurant his parents ran in San Francisco's Mission District.
A carne asada
At Yuma Regional, the menu he's developed is heavy on Hispanic-influenced dishes, yet also offers some traditional Italian staples and "in response to customer request and somewhat to his surprise" trendy, upscale California cuisine.
“Typically, every Friday we do Baja fish tacos from scratch, Ochoa reports. “We beer-batter and deep-fry two 2-oz. pieces of cod per portion, and put them into a flour or corn tortilla. Then, the customer takes them to the topping bar to add shredded cabbage and salsa bandera—it reflects the three colors of the Mexican flag with the red of chopped tomatoes, the white of chopped onions, and the green of fresh chopped jalapeños and cilantro. Priced at $1.50 per taco, it's a solid seller."
At this time of year, before the blistering heat of summer sets in, Ochoa is able to set up a barbecue grill on the patio and do carne asada as well as pollo asado (charred meat and charred chicken, respectively). “We have a jalisco, an outdoor deep fryer shaped like a wok. We'll also do beer-battered fish or shrimp tacos on the barbecue."
Although the authentically prepared comfort food of Mexico is the most popular “ethnic" offering here—and Ochoa has worked in Sodexo's corporate test kitchen to develop just such authentic recipes for the contractor's accounts nationwide—he finds sales are quite high for such Italian specialties as eggplant parmigiana and chicken Marsala. “But customers here are really interested in the newest California cuisines," he points out. They have developed a bacon-wrapped Gulf shrimp with a spicy orange glaze. The glaze is a mix of red chili and orange marmalade. When you simmer the marmalade in a pot it turns to syrup, then you add the chili."
“Folks rave about my almond-crusted medallion of pork loin served with mango puree," he says. “But they'll also accept Greek fare. Some items, such as miniature spanakopita—crispy phyllo dough triangles filled with spinach and feta—are in our catering book and are often requested."
Tour de force
Tipton (Ind.) Hospital is deep in the heart of meat-and-potatoes country, just 30 miles from Indianapolis. In fact, the town of Tipton is known for its annual week-long pork festival. But Andre Lipari, CDM, CFPP, assistant foodservice manager in this 25-bed critical access facility, has been on a mission since the first of the year to expand the culinary horizons of his more than 200 lunchtime customers. “We're introducing them to other ethnic foods by taking a one day 'tour' each month," he explains. “In January, our Italian tour went extremely well. Our chef, Patty Sheward, and I did pasta-to-order. Customers had a choice of three sauces as well as chicken, broccoli, roasted tomatoes, etc. Participation was fantastic although not as good as Greek Day in February, and we expect Polish Day in March will be even better."
Lipari sees interest building as word of mouth gets out. He's also spreading the message to the larger Tipton community through the local Chamber of Commerce newsletter that goes to about 600 locations.