Asian inspired

Dishes from the Sichuan province are cranking up the heat in U.S. kitchens.

Published in FSD Update


Though a lot of the items used in Szechuan dishes can be found at any grocery store, the peppercorns and really good five-spice powder have to be ordered from a specialty vendor, says Valencia, who sources from UNFI.

Kim agrees: “In order to give any cuisine flavors that are closest to authentic, using ingredients from that cuisine is integral.” As such, Kim orders a Chinese brand pure sesame oil, hot broad bean paste (doubangjiang) and chinkiang vinegar from a specialty vendor. Kim cautions against substituting sherry wine for traditional Shaoxing wine. “It doesn’t exactly yield the authentic result.”

The same goes for substituting standard hot sauce for the peppercorns. “In order to yield that tingling, often numbing sensation, the signature of Szechuan cuisine, you must use true Szechuan peppercorns—it’s what makes the cuisine so mesmerizing, if not addictive.”

Aubrey also sources specialty ingredients, like dried red peppers, fish sauce, palm sugar and hoisin, from an Asian purveyor in Chicago. “Asian purveyors require orders to be made via phone or fax, so we have our Korean-American chef place the orders because he speaks Korean and Cantonese,” Aubrey says, adding that the cost for authentic products can often be higher due to freight charges on imports.

Recipe development

Having native Chinese staff members is also helpful for more than just placing orders. “Diversity of our team lends to authenticity of our food,” Valencia says. “We really take advantage of the people from that region to bring that validity to the plate.”

But that doesn’t mean you have to hire new employees. Valencia recommends looking at your existing staff—when he did, he found two Chinese chefs in the dishwashing department. “They had the cooking skills and experience from generations of cooking at home in China and now they look at a recipe for a week and after that it’s consistent every time.”

Another method for incorporating authenticity is research. Valencia explored restaurants in Seattle’s Chinatown to truly understand Szechuan cuisine. “Szechuan doesn’t just mean spicy—Chinese cuisine is about balance and depth of flavors,” he explains.

More From FoodService Director

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.

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
bus advertising jagermeister

Because many locals use the bus system, we paid for some full bus wraps to advertise [job openings within] our dining services program. The buses go all over campus where students can see them, and to apartments where the public can see them. To top it off, the cost wasn’t much more than newspaper rates.

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