2010 Menu Development survey: In menus, diversity rules

Chefs and operators are becoming more adventurous with their menus but there are still limits to what they can achieve.

Cost versus value
Sometimes, cost is not the issue so much as it is perceived value, according to KU’s Traver.

“I would like to incorporate more small plates into our menus,” Traver says. “The greatest obstacle is cost versus perceived value. The assumption among our students is that portion size should be directly proportionate to cost. Unfortunately, they don’t understand that packaging and production costs do not decrease in direct proportion to the portion cost.”

When cost isn’t the issue, space is—and sometimes that is true for even the simplest types of menu enhancements. Watson would love to be able to do more cooking to order in front of customers at her Utah hospital. “But that requires more resources and space than we have available,” she says.

Dwight Collins, executive chef at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says he’s working on a noodle house/dim sum concept. The challenge: where to put it.

“Because of space limits, adding this concept means that something else has to go,” he explains.

Cathy Babbs, foodservice director at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System in Illinois, faces the same challenge whenever she wants to try something new. “Space is the biggest obstacle I have,” she says. “When I add something I have to take something away.”

“I would love to add a breakfast all-day concept,” says Kevin Camarillo, executive chef at Central Washington University. “The problem we are running into is raw space. We don’t have room for it. I would love to add on, but we can’t now.”

At Cornell University, Chef Miller says a lack of equipment almost scuttled a popular menu item: tandoori oven-baked goat cheese naan bread. “We needed too many ovens,” he says. “We couldn’t get enough product cooked to sustain the concept.” Cornell’s jerry-rigged solution: “To go to a freshly cooked bread option that wasn’t naan but was close enough to give us a freshly cooked solution.”

Culinary training
Staffing new concepts with trained people presents another challenge, one that is true whether the concept is simple or exotic.

“We would like to make more use of action stations, making food that is simple and freshly made,” says Orange Regional Medical Center’s DeNicola. “Our challenge is finding talented labor with limited resources.”

Reid at Valparaiso says that in order for him to introduce new cuisines such as Asian he will need to train himself.

“We would love to do Thai and Japanese and get a better understanding of Korean food,” he says. “Personally, I need to spend more time with chefs from those countries to gain the knowledge to be able to train my crew to execute a great product.”At the University of Richmond, Executive Chef Glenn Pruden says adding sushi made to order is a goal, providing he can convince his staff.

“This will require staff willingness to learn to make sushi,” Pruden says. “We need to train them on technique: cooking the rice, cutting of items, how much to put in each roll, how to roll and cut, etc.” He says he plans to bring in Asian chef/restaurateur Jet Tila for three days this spring to provide training in both sushi making and Asian cooking.

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