South of the Border

Operations use staff’s Latino background in menu development.

Published in FSD Update

What’s the one thing your kitchen has in common with nearly every other kitchen? An international staff. “When you work with these people, they not only influence your food, they become part of your professional family,” says Aatul Jain, retail operations manager at Saint Clare’s Health System, in Denville, N.J. “It starts with eating their cuisine for family meals, then you add dishes to the menu as an acknowledgement.”

For Jain, this meant paying tribute to not only his Latino staffers but also the large Latino population in the Northeast. “Grilled tortilla dishes are great for vegetarians,” says Jain, who recommends using leftover veggies and proteins. “It’s easy to implement because most ingredients are something you already have on hand—poblanos, chipotles, cilantro, cumin. These aren’t exotic anymore, they’re part of our everyday life. [Latino] food’s popularity and presence in mainstream America is only going to increase.”

David Davidson, managing director of dining services at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., agrees. As part of the university’s annual dining event series, Harvard held a “festive meal” focused entirely on Brazilian food. “We wanted to highlight the background and culinary knowledge of our Brazilian staff, who contributed personal recipes that embodied their home cultures,” Davidson says. “Every item on the menu fit the theme and made it feel like a restaurant or destination experience."

“For many students, the foods were all new, but given our diverse student population, for some this food tasted like home,” adds Davidson, who admits it wasn’t difficult to get the students to try new dishes. “Special events are an opportunity for undergraduates to enjoy a special, unusual meal together, one which may generate new tastes, conversations and connections.” 

Cuisine characteristics

So what characterizes Brazilian cuisine? “We’re very influenced by Europe and Africa,” says Brazilian native Luiz Da Costa, chef/production manager at Harvard. “Lots of slow braising and spices, like cumin and paprika, rather than pepper and chilies. We also don’t use a lot of tortillas or fried foods.” 

The highlight of Harvard’s event was the churrasco carving station, which featured roast beef, grilled chicken and cured sausage. The event also included vegetarian feijoada, a black bean stew; caldo verde, a potato- and kale-based soup; a variety of composed salads, including a Brazilian potato salad and a raw beet salad; and a dessert station featuring a Brazilian banana cake. Brazilian cuisine also relies heavily on toppings, so Da Costa created a station for tomato sauce and toasted yuca flour. 

“Though the dishes use a lot of ingredients, the preparation is simple and the ingredients are easy to find,” says Da Costa, who has since added many of the dishes from the event to the menu due to their popularity. 

Pnina Peled, executive chef at  Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, says that compared to Mexican cuisine, Central and South American dishes use “a lot more meats and seafood with lots of garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs and spices and pickled items.” Peled creates custom dishes for patients requesting the cuisine of their hometowns, which are frequently in Latin America. 

“It’s a no-brainer—people in a hospital are either experiencing or are surrounded by a lot of heaviness, and the first thing people think about is comfort food,” Peled says. “We’ll go out of our way to prepare what they miss, whether it’s empanadas, paella or chimichurri.” In the cafeteria, Peled offers dishes like arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), tamales and fried plantains. 

Joshua Sheets, chef de cuisine with Metz Culinary at Smuckers Corp., in Orrville, Ohio, offers many Latin American condiments, like Salvadorian curtido (fermented cabbage relish), chimichurri and guasacaca, a Venezuelan avocado-based sauce. “These sauces are a good accent to the offerings where I try to fuse cuisines across several cultural lines,” says Sheets, who puts his own spin on these classic condiments, using chimichurri not only as an accompaniment to grilled meats but also as a marinade for vegetables. 

For some customers, it takes a bit of persuasion to try a new cuisine. “People are [often] unfamiliar with a lot of the ingredients, names and preparations I have offered, but for the most part, they have all been well received,” Sheets says. “Researching foods, their history, cultural traditions and preparations is important [so you can relay that to] your customers, [building] trust, which makes it much easier to get them to try new things.” 

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., will soon switch over from magnetic strip-based student ID cards to chip-based ones, The Observer reports.

Along with being more secure, the new cards will allow students easier access to dining halls, enabling them to simply tap their cards on a reader to gain entrance. Students will also be able to add flex points and Domer Dollars—which can be used at eateries on and off campus—to their accounts via a mobile app.

The new cards are expected to be available by the time school begins next fall.

Read the full story...

Industry News & Opinion

University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., has replaced a fajita bar in one of its dining halls with a superfoods bar, Tommie Media reports.

Aiming to provide more options for athletes and students with dietary restrictions, the new bar offers diners a choice of protein with a variety of toppings, such as beans, fruit, couscous and quinoa.

The superfoods bar has made a few appearances on campus since it was first tried for the school’s football players last summer.

“Word of mouth is getting out, and every day I get a few more people,” Ryan Carlson, a cook at the...

Sponsored Content
gluten free diet

From Stouffer’s.

A large part of menuing allergen-friendly cuisine is deciding which gluten-free items to serve.

In particular, college dining hall operators must decide whether to make gluten-free items in-house or to order gluten-free items from a manufacturer. Some factors to consider are: the size of the university, the demand for gluten-free options,and the ability to have separate gluten-free storage and workspaces in the university dining hall kitchen.

According to FoodService Director , 77% of college and university operators purchase their gluten-free...

Industry News & Opinion

Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., is using robots to help deliver patient meals, BCTV reports.

The eight robots, named TUGs, will be used to transport meals from the hospital’s nutrition services department to patient floors at Reading HealthPlex for Advanced Surgical & Patient Care.

Moving at three miles per hour, the robots will follow preprogrammed routes to the HealthPlex, where room ambassadors will remove room service carts from the TUGs and deliver them to patients. The TUGs will then return to nutrition services with dirty dishes for cleaning.

The...

FSD Resources