Going Small is Big

In both commercial and non-commercial operations, customers prefer to share.

Small plates and snacks are major attention-getters on menus these days. More and more customers prefer to share several distinctively flavored smaller items with their companions rather than confine themselves to a single large entrée.

University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.

University of Missouri students enjoy zesty tacos, burritos and quesadillas at the Baja Grill and lively Southeast Asian fare, including banh mi sandwiches, satays and rice bowls, at Sabai.

However, inquisitive palates should stay tuned, because more culinary excitement is ahead, reports Eric Cartwright, executive chef of Campus Dining Services at the university, which has an enrollment of more than 33,000. He returned from the Almond Board of California’s chef retreat at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley with a collection of new menu ideas for using almonds in distinctive small plates and snacks.

At the retreat, Cartwright created a unique small plate of almond-bacon “chips” based on squares of bacon cooked flat between two pans. He topped the chips with fresh goat cheese whipped with almond milk and a fresh salad of diced mango dressed with orange juice, fresh chives and honey. He crowned each chip with a sweet-and-spicy fried almond made by boiling whole blanched almonds, tossing them in powdered sugar and deep frying them until golden brown and crunchy, then finally seasoning them with salt, paprika and cayenne pepper.

“They have an interesting combination of flavors, with the sweet crunch and a little heat,” says Cartwright, who is planning to serve the almond-bacon chips as hors d’oeuvres at a campus event.

“While almonds are flavorful, they will enhance but not overtake a dish,” says Cartwright. “You can make them the star or a supporting ingredient. That versatility, I think, is pretty great.”

University of Missouri Menu Sampler

Spicy Noodle Bowl: choice of beef, chicken, pork or tofu with rice noodles, bean sprouts, onions and carrots in a spicy broth $5.95
Banh Mi: slow-braised pork shoulder (regular or spicy), daikon slaw and hot chile mayo on a sub roll $5.10
Quesadilla con Estilo: a crisp flour tortilla and melted Monterey Jack cheese with either grilled chicken, beef, pork or beans and corn salsa $3.80