Teaching Authentic Ethnic
Bon Appetit gives its chefs the skills to build authentic flavor profiles.
Culinary training is never on the back burner for the chefs and sous chefs at Bon Appetit Management Co. accounts such as Cisco in Petaluma, Calif., eBay in San Jose, Calif., Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif., American University in Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Law Center in D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Although hiring and retaining talented individuals is a prime objective, keeping them focused on creating authentic flavor profiles is the key to a successful operation today—no matter what the sector of business—according to Mark Zammit, director of culinary support for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based contractor.
When introducing a new ethnic cuisine, Zammit and his team aim to offer hands-on regional training well before the launch. “We give them a good geographical and historical perspective of the region where the food originates,” Zammit explains. “It takes about a year to write, research and develop a program with recipes that reflect the flavor profile. Then we hold sessions across the country.”
Prior to bringing in chefs for a session, Zammit identifies a local restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of focus. When the chefs arrive, dish after dish is brought out for sampling so that training participants can begin to understand the flavor profile. “We lay out an entire pantry of ingredients, plus we’ll hire a chef who is an expert in that cuisine to contribute to the development of the class training,” Zammit says.
Native expertise: In preparation for an introduction in the months to come, training will begin early this fall with the focus on the foods of India. Zammit has been working with Indian cookbook author and culinary instructor Raghavan Iyer to develop the training course; Iyer will also travel from account to account with the Bon Appetit team of instructors.
“We’ll demo techniques such as how to bloom spices and how to make a curry from scratch,” Zammit says. “We give each team—there are typically no more than five teams per session—a market basket and we basically say, ‘Go to it.’ The instructors, generally there are three in all, are there to see that, for example, the layering of flavors is done correctly or that the heat isn’t too high. It’s not about the recipe but rather about building the flavor profile and using the proper techniques. We’re including chefs and sous chefs in these training sessions—or whoever is really involved in cooking these foods. Introduction of the actual program will take place region by region, after training has been completed.”
When there is an immediate need to get up to speed with an Indian cuisine program, Zammit has a ‘Quick-N-Easy Indian Foods’ solution ready to roll. “We’ve come up with eight recipes and we send in someone who is expert in using Sukhi Singh’s ‘Quick-N-Easy’ products,” he says. “They’re truly quick, easy and authentic, and she has trained our trainers in the past. However, working with Raghavan will allow our chefs to form a much deeper understanding of India and Indian foods. We separate the teams with one at the entrée station, another at the grill and still another at the exhibition station, so at the end of the day they should have a good idea of the flavor profile and techniques.”
Beyond ‘culinary’: A similar three-prong approach featuring lectures, demos and the market basket concept was taken for Bon Appetit’s introduction of Zatar, which features foods of the Mediterranean region. Zammit and his team purchased the documentary, “Foods of the Bible,” from PBS in order to give chefs a feel for the rich history and culture of the region.
But chef training is no longer limited to strictly culinary concepts and techniques, Zammit points out. Now, they also must understand nutrition, healthful cooking techniques, why customers eat what they eat and what sustainability means. “It’s all covered in the same program,” he says. “We include a nutritionist on the training staff and talk about the statistics and why we, as a nation, are obese. They need to walk away knowing what nutrients are, where calories come from and what causes diabetes. They need to know how to cook healthy and make sure it tastes good, versus dried-out chicken breasts. Our answer is a focus on flavor presented in an eye-appealing way.”
Online requirement: Bon Appetit also offers an online training program with a focus on nutrition and healthful cooking that all chefs and sous chefs are required to take and pass with at least a score of 70%.
In addition, DVD training that details the techniques of made-from-scratch baking is now sent to all units along with recipe cards in English and Spanish. It’s a resource for those who feel the need. “We’ve done a Baking 101 series with Jim Dodge, who is well-known in the baking world for his award-winning cookbook, ‘The American Baker,’” Zammit says. “The series covers how to bake great muffins in volume, how to make desserts for catering, etc. Although there’s no test [upon completion], it’s been pretty effective.”
Raising the Bar for Seniors
As residents expect more culinary flair, Morrison targets its cooks for training.
In senior dining locations across the country, residents are more likely than ever to be well-traveled, nutrition-conscious retirees who expect their meals to be expertly prepared, well presented, flavorful and healthful.
To ensure that kitchen staff can satisfy those desires, Morrison Senior Dining has developed an Associates Culinary Training Series, or ACTS. The computer-based training modules detail basic culinary skills from roasting and sautéing to stir-frying. Sessions are taught at each account by a “Training Champion” certified by Morrison.
“Even for the cooks who have been with us a while, there are new skills we need to teach,” notes Curt Seidl, vice president of support services for the Atlanta-based contractor. “Since we compare ourselves to hotels, we try to do demo cooking at least once a week. Our chefs need to be confident when they get out there in front of residents and training gives them confidence.”
Specific tips and guidelines are provided, including in what order to cook items as well as how to make sure the pan is really hot so that the vegetables or protein component are stir-fried properly and the desired crispness or browning is achieved.
A range of needs: Seidl recognizes that there are many skill levels in any kitchen staff; while some cooks have a great deal of culinary training behind them, others do not. Chefs are competent in basic culinary techniques, but he believes that cooks need to know them as well—and he’s more than willing to teach them.
For additional training, Morrison locations also use the five DVDs in the culinary training series created by Compass Group, its parent company. “You see the whole recipe being done, with explanations in both English and Spanish,” Seidl says. “We have it available at every one of our operations, so if something comes up and the chef is off for the day, they now have another tool. Lenny [Scranton, vice president of healthcare] and I created a set for Morrison. We tweaked the four discs for healthcare, then developed a fifth specific to the needs of healthcare and senior dining.”
Among those special culinary needs, Seidl cites the importance of recipe compliance. “We also discuss how important it is not to overcook vegetables and to follow the right methods to retain vitamins,” he says. “There are also some demos on the disc detailing the preparation of no-sugar-added desserts, and the proper cooking of vegetables—get it in, get it out.”
Seidl notes that while DVD usage is not tracked, ACTS definitely is. “Those who aren’t using it get a little ‘love note,’” he says. “We set up a tracking system and it needs to be submitted monthly to the regional office.
Training for the Future
Correctional foodservice chief arms inmates with ServSafe training.
Since the foodservice industry has an ever-increasing need for trained workers and since the prison “industry” would like to see the recidivism rate decrease, why not teach inmates kitchen skills that will help them get a job upon release? Louise Mathews, chief of foodservices for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Santee, Calif., goes one step further: She believes that providing training leading to earned certification will make an even more positive impact.
“For years I’ve wanted to do a certification program to help inmates get a job upon their release from jail, but for years they’ve not been arresting those who commit misdemeanors [who typically would be of a more trainable type]. Now there’s a new ‘misdemeanor workforce,’ who are still felons, but they’ve done something relatively minor like screwing up their parole. So I realized I could get some inmates for the [cook-chill] production center for six weeks. I use 50 inmates there to tray food and clean—not for cooking or baking. We teach them how to handle food, how to work in a warehouse handling inventory, how to pack trucks and use large cleaning equipment such as floor cleaners, utensil washers, tray washers, etc.
In California they passed a law about two years ago that every foodservice location must have at least one ServSafe certified employee on site; therefore, a prospective employer would be interested in a certified applicant. Working through the Grossmont High School District, we hired a certified instructor. We award two certificates, one from Grossmont High School for competency in food handling, cleaning, sanitation, warehouse and inventory systems, and the second the ServSafe management certificate.
We decided to use ServSafe videos; it’s usually eight hours of video instruction but we spread it out over five to six weeks. We repeat these videos until they [understand] it. The instructor gives a pre-test, then we order copies of the actual test for those who show aptitude and want the certification. If I had gotten two or three [applicants] every six weeks, I would have been happy, but now we’re getting 12 to 15 who pass the exam out of about 20 who take it. Overall, more than 120 people have been trained in the past year. After release, some inmates have gotten jobs in Las Vegas and have said they used us as a reference—and that the ServSafe management certificate got them in the door.
We started the program in June of last year. Over the past year we’ve expanded the program to include the East Mesa Detention Center with short order cooking, and about a dozen inmates from George Bailey Detention Center. Then we expanded to our women’s jail, Los Colinas Detention Facility, and Camp Barrett Juvenile Probation Camp for incarcerated 15- to 18-year-olds [under the San Diego County’s Regional Occupation Program].
Some of our inmates pass the ServSafe exam with scores as high as 93, 94 or 95 and can then qualify as instructors. It’s not an easy test and I was amazed at the results.
I’ve already asked for additional funds from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department to get another instructor in order to expand the program I was so happy to get this accomplished before retiring from corrections. Our governor is funding jails with programs to give inmates skills so they won’t come back into the system and this program is a perfect fit.