MenuDirections 2012 Day 2: World Cuisines

Attendees took a culinary tour of the Korea, Latin America and the Mediterranean.

LifeWorks' Marion Gibson teaches attendees about the
flavors of the Mediterranean.

On Monday morning of MenuDirections 2012, attendees were taken on a culinary tour—virtually, of course—of three regions of the world in the World Cuisines workshops. Mediterranean, Latin America and Korea were the areas visited.

Mediterranean: Marion Gibson, national culinary director for the Lifeworks Restaurant Group, a division of Aramark Corp., used the small plates approach to focus on five cultures in the Mediterranean. Using a map to point out that the Mediterranean region includes such far-flung countries as Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Syria, Gibson noted that when most people think of the region they think of Spain, Italy, Greece, the Provence region of France, and North Africa. These areas she referred to as the Mediterranean “sweet spot,” and were the target of her presentation.

She explained that Mediterranean food has become popular for several reasons, not the least of which is the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. She noted that most Mediterranean dishes are composed of low-cost ingredients with high perceived value that are easy to source. 

For example, she said, “you take feta, hummus, baba ganoush and maybe tzatziki with some pita and you’ve nailed Greece.”

Vegetables and seafood play important roles in Mediterranean food, while meat is used sparingly. Yogurt and cheese make the scene at almost every meal, and olive oil is de rigeur. Eggplant, artichokes, squash, tomatoes, onions and legumes are the most commonly seen vegetables.

For her culinary demonstration Gibson laid out an array of foods from the five cultures that can be combined in small plates for healthy foods in portion-controlled sizes that can provide profitability for operators even as they provide value for customers.

Her display and food samplings included a roasted beet root salad with cumin vinaigrette and pistachio, a Libyan goat cheese dip with sesame flatbreads from North Africa; grilled stuffed grape leaves and baba ganoush from Greece, and a tapenade from Provence. She also demonstrated how to make pan con tomate, a simple appetizer from Spain that consists of grated garlic and tomato spread across a bread such as ciabatta and drizzled with olive oil.

Korean: Becky Westby, director of sales for CJ Foods, and David Yeo, CJ’s corporate chef, presented “Craving Korean.” Westby began with a brief history, geography and culinary lesson of this northern Asian country. Culinarily, she explained, “fermentation really is the mainstay of all the Korean flavors. Fermentation creates true umami.”

Yeo added, “Korean cooking really promotes healthy because our flavors are really intense and the combination of ingredients are healthy.”

In his culinary demonstration, Yeo created two dishes: bibimbap and origami sea bass. Bibimbap, which in Korean means “mixed meal,” is a simple dish containing a variety of vegetables, bulgogi beef and either a raw or fried egg, topped with a spicy-sweet sauce called gochujang. As Yeo was preparing the dish, Westby explained the origins of bulgogi, an iconic Korean food that consists of marinated beef that is cooked on open fire. Historically, it was considered the exlusive purview of the wealthy and nobility.

While he prepared the origami sea bass, Yeo talked about the use of doenjang, a paste that is part of Korean cooking.

“To make doenjang, dried soybeans are boiled and then ground into coarse bits,” he explained. “That paste is formed into blocks that are allowed to ferment. Afterwards, the blocks are pressed and the liquids and solids are separated. The liquid is Korean soy sauce, while the solids become doenjang, which is thick and salty.”

Latino: Andrew Hunter, corporate chef for Kikkoman, made tacos the basis of his presentation to demonstrate the variety of flavors that can be woven into one simple dish.

“While I think the taco is timeless, it has really come of age,” said Hunter. “They have found a comfort zone in urban street food, offering high and lowbrow menu options at once.”

Noting the versatility of tacos—“they can have Thai profiles, Korean profiles as well as the traditional Latino profiles”—he broke down the taco into its various components.

“Think about the taco’s anatomy,” he said. “Workers are the tortillas, the unsung heros. They provide portability. They help bring everything together. But they are not the sexiest guy on the plate. Then you have the guts, which is the protein. It’s usually heavily marinated and seasoned, grilled over charcoal or wood so it is rich in flavor. The glory is the sauce. The sauce is what differentiates the tacos form the other guys.”

He added that naturally brewed soy sauce can be a critical element of a taco sauce because the Japanese flavor profile works to impact and enhance the Latin profile. To demonstrate, he served a New Mexican style chicken taco with traditional sauce enhanced with Asian ingredients.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
star wars storm trooper

My favorite event—because I’m kind of dorky—is our “May the fourth be with you” (aka “Star Wars”) day on May 4. The whole dining team dresses up, and we offer things like Chewbaklava, Boba Fettuccine and BB-8 Buckeyes. We had a guest cry because they got to take a picture with Chewy.

Menu Development
recipe revamp chicken soup

As a continuous care retirement community, The Garlands of Barrington in Illinois provides daily foodservice to 270 independent living and skilled nursing care residents, with the majority of sodium restrictions coming from the latter, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Instead of cooking two versions of chicken noodle soup—a favorite offered at least twice a week—he reworked his recipe into a flavorful lower-sodium version that appeals to all. “Everybody eats soup, so I created a homemade stock that uses no salt at all, ramping up the flavor with fresh herbs and plenty of vegetables,...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

Managing Your Business
line kings girl goat open kitchen

Open kitchen concepts satisfy guests’ curiosity and desire for transparency. But there are some caveats. Here’s how to create a positive experience for both staff and customers when the walls are down.

Train to serve

With the back-of-house up front, everybody gets hospitality training. “Our cooks understand the food and what they’re doing incredibly, but translating that to guests requires [soft] skills that need to be honed,” says Marie Petulla, co-owner of two restaurants in Southern California.

Dress for a mess

At Girl & The Goat in Chicago, chef-owner Stephanie...

FSD Resources