MenuDirections 2013: Top Takeaways for C&U

Annual conference offered a variety of ideas for college and university operators.

During FoodService Director’s 11th annual MenuDirections in Tampa, Fla., general sessions and workshops offered an abundance of ideas for the college and university operator. From cooking tips to health and wellness, below are some of the best takeaways for C&U operations.

From Dessert Inspirations with Fruit
Chef Rick Perez, corporate chef, Dole Packaged Foods
Chef Dieter Preiser, corporate chef, Dole Packaged Foods

Chefs offered four dessert recipes. The first was a healthy milkshake made with frozen Greek vanilla yogurt and Dole frozen mango Chef Ready Cuts. Can be made with tofu and rice ice cream too.

•The second recipe was a very easy dessert made with Greek plain yogurt, crystallized ginger, honey, grated orange zest and Chef Ready Cuts frozen strawberries. The chefs encouraged attendees to bring in savory elements in desserts too, items like basil work well.

• Parfait tip: If you keep strawberries on bottom of parfait and yogurt on top, it can stay an extra day (past first day) in refrigerator

• Third recipe was Strawberry Coconut Drops, made with coconut flakes, dates, strawberries and almonds. To make the dish savory, add balsamic vinegar and shrimp with strawberries.

• Mashed dates rolled in crushed almonds and coconut makes for a great bit of dessert.

The Next Great Catch: A Discussion of Underutilized Seafood
Chef Barton Seaver, National Geographic Fellow and Sustainability fellow, New England Aquarium

• National Geographic Seafood Decision Guide deals with mercury data, sustainability ranking, Omega-3 content, etc. The guide takes all into account to make choices. Natgeoseafood.com.

• Cooking tips: Cook fish with vegetable to get more out of it. Then the fish will hold better on the line. If using strange species of fish to customers, plate it with familiar ingredients or sauces. Make a bed of vegetables and broth and cook fish on top of it. Chef Seaver used Alaskan pollack for one dish with a romesco sauce.

• Pink salmon is another innovative fish option. Seaver recommended cooking very slowly in the oven on a very low heat. That way maintains integrity of the flake. Seaver made a pink salmon "melt" by topping with cheddar—great alternative to tuna.

Lowering Sugar and Sodium
Chef Todd Downs, founder, Food Sense, Inc.
Dr. James Painter, Ph.D., R.D., professor, school of Family and Consumer Sciences, Eastern Illinois University

• Dr. Painter: Raisins concentrate the nutrients in grapes to pack a bigger nutritional punch. Practice nutritional seduction. Put items like raisins in dishes to make healthy and people taste it and are seduced.

• Chef Downs: Raisins add balance to spicy dishes because they help bridge gap b/w sweet and savory.

• Chef Downs: Look at Asian sauces, curried products and prepared items, as they are known for having "hidden" sodium. Think of how your mouth responds to sodium, and its role in the dish when considering how to reduce it or replace it.

Recipe Revamp General Session
Jet Tila, managing partner, manager food and beverage at The Charleston in Santa Monica, Calif.

• Tila was able to reduce calories in Thai curry by substituting tofu for beef and cut salt by using aromatics as flavor boosters.

• The second dish was chicken friend steak, mashed potatoes and gravy. To decrease calories chef Tila used cornmeal flour and cornstarch instead of pure flour for the dredge for the chicken. He also used skim milk for the gravy instead of cream and made a slurry with water and flour to add thickness. He cooked the potatoes in a steamer and riced them to make them fluffy. He also used sour cream in the potatoes instead of butter and cream. All these changes shaved off 471 calories from this classic Southern favorite.

• Never shake a can of coconut milk. Instead of oil use the cream from the top of the coconut milk to caramelize onions, shallots and garlic. It builds flavor.

Power Panel General Session
Dr. James Painter, R.D., chair, school of family and consumer sciences at Eastern Illinois University; Tara Gidus, M.S., R.D., CSSD, LD/N, of Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting; and Marie Spano, M.S., R.D./LD, FISSN, CSCS, of Marie Spano Nutrition Consulting

• Tara Gidus: Figs and raisins retain more nutrients when they are dried than dried cranberries. Dried cranberries have six times the sugar as a fresh cranberry. Dried fruits are excellent during exercise, especially for athletes.

New Twist on American (Gastropubs)
Andrew Hunter, Corporate Chef, Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc.

• Chef Hunter spoke about the ubiquity of gastropubs in the commercial sector and what non-commercial operators could do to “gastrify” their menus by focusing on pub fare like burgers, fries and pizza but elevating them with quality ingredients.

• Chef Hunter served Korean friend chicken and macaroni and cheese made with wasabi cream sauce.

• Gastropub ideas include making pizza in an oval shape to make it a little different. Drizzle fries with creamy Gorgonzola.

• Chef Hunter: Call anything a ketchup, from mango chutney to sriracha sauce, and it'll sell.

Discovering the Regional Cuisine of Italy: A Pasta Tour
Chef Lorenzo Boni, Executive Chef, Barilla America, Inc.

• Combine pasta and sauce and let it hang out to let the flavors mingle and when precooking pasta look at recommended cook time on package and cut it in half when you’re cooking in bulk and holding it for service.

• Extra virgin olive oil is very volatile so keep some of what recipe specs for the end to drizzle over pasta. This will get more flavor and aroma.

• Cooking tips: Start with a cold skillet so you can sweat vegetables and infuse with olive oil. Brown meat then deglaze with wine. Make sure to reduce wine to almost nothing. Brown mushrooms well to maximize flavor. Cut cream with broth to decrease richness and heaviness in cream sauces.

Cuban & Caribbean
Jorge A. Cespedes, Research & Development Chef, FoodIQ
Erik Henry, Director of Foodservice, Bush Brothers & Company
Cari Price, Corporate Chef, FoodIQ

• Moros y Cristianos (Cuban beans and rice) topped with eggs makes a great option for breakfast and, even better, late night.

Menu Trends General Session
Mark DiDomenico, director of business development for Datassential, which is a company that tracks more than 100,000 menus.

• The Watch List for 2013 includes charcuterie, pickled foods, maple, smoked cheese, poutine, grits and craft ice cream.

• Chef-driven menus are now about chefs as artists instead of trying to please everyone. It’s become the opposite of customization. Customers must now trust the chef.