Earlier this year, culinary experts were calling Korean the next “hot” trend. But in non-commercial markets, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesia and a variety of other exotic Asian flavors are already working their way onto menus and into the hearts and stomachs of customers.
Leading the charge are both nation- al and regional foodservice management companies, such as Pittsburgh-based Parkhurst Dining Services. As part of its Hemisflavors recipe collection, for example, Parkhurst chefs team up with chefs at client campuses to prepare foods from around the globe using authentic ingredients and food preparation techniques.
At Washington & Jefferson College, in Washington, Pa., Aaron Weaver, general manager for Parkhurst, says Korean tacos are the most popular item on the Hemisflavors menu. Shaved eye round of beef is marinated overnight with soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, water, minced garlic and ginger and cooked in a tilt skillet. “The protein absorbs those flavors,” says Chef Chris Hall. “We use a flour tortilla and add Napa cabbage coleslaw in the taco. It’s very popular with the 700 or 800 students we serve every day. We have 15 different items when we do Korean week. We’ll also do Thai and Vietnamese weeks.”
Thai dishes include shrimp in coconut soup, firecracker shrimp with basmati rice, Thai chicken lettuce wraps and Thai noodles with curry sauce. “Sushi is also popular and sometimes we’ll do fish tacos with Japanese seasonings and stir-fries,” adds Hall. Also popular is a Japanese stuffed cabbage dish with chicken, water chestnuts and chilis.
“Sourcing ingredients is not that difficult,” Weaver says. “If we don’t get them from our primary vendor, we’ll go to an Asian store in Pittsburgh to pick up spices, because we try to be as authentic as possible. It’s fun to see the different cultures on these field trips.”
Scott Keats, culinary director for the Business Services division of Aramark, is building a “globally influenced Asian menu” for the company’s new Lifeworks Restaurant Group, which creates branded restaurant concepts for B&I clients.
At a California Lifeworks site, for example, dishes include crispy fried bean curd, Vietnamese stir-fry beef with red curry, Korean bibimbop shrimp, Japanese sushi, Indian tikka masala and chili seared Pacific halibut with mantou, which are Korean fried buns. All dishes are prepared with responsibly sourced ingredients, says Keats, who adds that customers appreciate learning about new food cultures. In addition, natives of the countries being featured are happy to find a touch of home on the menu. “Our mantra is ‘inspiring life and work’,” he
At Marvell, in Santa Clara, Calif., the semi-conductor company’s employ- ees are served Indonesian street food by Sugijanti Sastradi, executive chef for Bon Appétit at the account. Sastradi prepares a variation on goat barbecue using lamb, and improvises from his own culinary background with pickled cucumber for sweet and sour notes.
“I’ll also make Singapore rice noodle with jicama salad,” says Sastradi. Malaysian influences, along with Chinese and Japanese, also are on the menus offered to the company’s 2,300 employees. “About 80% of my customers are Asian,” he adds. Responding to the ethnic makeup of their communities, many school foodservice operators have added various Asian flavors to their menus. For example, at Cedar Lane Elementary School in St. Paul, Minn., Cook Manager Sharon Childers serves a student body that is 65% Hmong. “We serve Hmong bean fried rice that was developed for us by people in the community. We do a lot of Chinese-style items and a Thai peanut chicken with noodles that is very popular,” says Childers.
In Boston Public Schools, many Asian ethnic groups are represented, including a large number of Vietnamese students. However, currently there are no Vietnamese recipes in the database. However, Foodservice Director Helen Mont-Ferguson says she hopes to add some soon. “We’re working with a few local chefs to develop more ethnic menus,” says MontFerguson. “One of the challenges we face is the culinary skill of my employees. We’re working on more skills training as well as customer service, food safety, etc.”
At Medford (Mass.) Public Schools, however, Foodservice Director Jeanne Irwin has created a cold Asian noodle bowl as well a new veggie lo mein recipe with egg rolls to satisfy her district’s Asian population.
In Tulsa, Okla., the foodservice department at St. Francis Health System makes a popular sweet and sour chicken as well as bul- gogi from a recipe created by “an old Chinese lady who used to work here years ago and had a great recipe,” says Melinda Fogg, produc- tion coordinator. “We cook beef knuckle in bag in a giant water bath. The meat is marinated in soy sauce, black peppercorns, onion, garlic, oil, white or brown sugar and water. It cooks for eight hours at 180 degrees and then is chilled.”
St. Francis also recently introduced sushi in its demo area, Fogg adds.
At the University of Maryland, Dining Services is planning to do an Asian stir-fry station, according to Senior Executive Chef John Gray, who says: “Asian is definitely at the top of the list right now.”
Gray has been going to seminars on Korean dishes and is thinking about introducing Korean barbecue this summer. “Students are so food-wise right now, and Asian is growing in popularity,” Gray says “The big challenge is training cooks to do it properly. They got so used to pulling stuff out of boxes that they for- got how to cook and lost the willingness to learn.” A local company comes in to the dining halls twice a month to serve fresh sushi, and Gray’s also doing old favorites such as shrimp lo mein and sweet and sour chicken. “We may add Vietnamese pho in our c-stores, where it would fit well with sushi we carry there.”
In Colorado, Mike O’Brien, executive chef of 80-bed Mercy Regional Hospital in Durango, offers his cafeteria customers a Thai orange roughy salad and Oriental chicken.
“We use a lot of Asian ingredients like Thai chili paste or miso paste,” O’Brien says.
From Kansas to Nepal
Playing off students’ adventurous nature, chef experiments with exotic Asian cuisine.
Traditionally, Kansas is thought of as a "meat-and-potatoes" kind of state, but at the University of Kansas, Assistant Director and Executive Chef Janna Traver is changing all that by introducing Asian flavors to the student population—including the foods of Nepal.
This past winter, Traver did a dinner for a special Nepali guest using different curries and Szechuan pep- pers. From that event, she went on to create a seasonal menu incorporating a Nepali theme. Entrées included chicken marinated in coconut with yogurt, coriander and cumin.
“We’ve been integrating these dish- es into things that people in Kansas won’t be too afraid of,” she says. “Lawrence, being a college town, is a bit more adventurous.”
Other dishes include a cucumber and cilantro salad on a bed of lettuce, and grilled chicken with yogurt and curry served with steamed new pota- toes. Dessert might be a mango cheesecake. The dishes mix touches of the exotic with the familiar, Traver points out. “They know chicken so they’ll try the yogurt and curry, and cheesecake is a favorite, so they taste the mango. You need that familiar item in each dish.” In the school’s sit-down restaurant, other Asian flavors are on the menu, including rice noodles in a miso broth with fried tofu and edamame, topped with seafood salad.
“We’ll do Thai peanut chicken and run a lot of different curries when we can get local produce for them,” she adds. “We do a red curry with Japanese squash and sweet potatoes that we get from a local farmer.” The squash is starchier than butternut or acorn and more like a yam, she explains. “It’s purple with flecks of white and has a very earthy taste.”
A yogurt chicken with tomato sauce is also very popular and Traver is thinking of varying it by serving it on skewers or cold in a salad.
She also uses a lot of lentils in her Asian dishes. “We do steamed yellow lentils with basmati rice, spiced turnip, collard greens, mustard seed, turmeric and Szechuan peppers.”
Traver also plans to serve a dish with chicken and shrimp on a bed of basmati rice and lentils (dal bhat) garnished with cur- ried greens. She’s added some oil and vinegar to the tomato achaar for the vinaigrette, she says, and simplified the protein by using only shrimp for initial tastings with staffers. In a recent Asian-inspired lunch special, Traver experimented with bamboo rice, an ingredient being used for the appetizer salad of sticky rice cakes on micro greens with hearts of palm and grace tomatoes with rice wine vinaigrette planned for the new chancellor’s inauguration. “Not wanting to waste produce, we are serving it under black and white sesame seared grouper and scenting the rice with ginger and green onion accompanied by roasted cauliflower and yellow bell peppers with spring mix and Szechwan pepper vinaigrette”
“Bland Is Gone”
Martin Breslin won over Harvard students by aiming high when it comes to Asian flavors.
Since 2006, Martin Breslin, director for culinary oper- ations at Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) has occupied a special place in the hearts of students, faculty and administrators. These individuals created a Facebook page—Friends of Harvard University Dining Services—and named Breslin their “fearless leader.” Over the years, Breslin has won numerous awards, among them Restaurant Associates’ Chef of the Year in 2001 while at Harvard Business School’s foodservice operations. He over- sees 13 residential dining facilities and various retail outlets and he’s set a goal of keeping Harvard’s food offerings var- ied and interesting for the 6,400 undergrads.
“Bland is gone today. We did an undergraduate dining survey and asked the students what they wanted to see on the menus. They said Korean. We were surprised, but we created a self-serve Korean barbecue station. Cooks grill thin slices of marinated meat, and the students make wraps with the meat, red bean paste, sticky rice, green leaf lettuce and kimchi. They absolutely loved it. We got the spices from a huge Korean market, and also went to several Korean restaurants to research the food.
We hadn’t imagined they’d ask for Korean. It’s a very mixed student body with a deep interest in health and wellness. We serve 5 million meals a year to students from 100 different countries. Only 8% are vegetarian and less than 1% are vegan. We give them complex and simple carbs.
With the Korean barbecue station, we put up signs showing how to roll up the ingredients and eat it like wraps. We did this in the 13 residential halls and it was the most popular station. Food with flavor is the biggest trend.
The students in the residential houses are on a mandatory meal plan. Harvard’s resident house system gives us a captive clientele and it’s challenging to keep things exciting and fresh for them. Today, Korean food is replacing meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The flavors are simple—less complex than Indian foods—but they have a zing.
We did barbecue for the winter menu cycle this year, and some Korean dishes will continue in the spring for the last few weeks of school.
Asian flavors are very popular with our students. In one retail gradu- ate hall, we do a traditional Vietnamese pho at lunch, which we developed with the help of a Vietnamese cookbook author. The pho is a big favorite.
We also have a bunch of Asian stations. One is a rice bowl concept, and we do a mu shu wrap station—wraps with chili and garlic-glazed tofu and scallions, crispy lo mein with Hoisin sauce, Mandarin pancakes and a spicy tofu lettuce wrap with mint sprigs.
Another one that the students like is the soba noodle station, where the noodles are tossed with miso sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and scallions. There’s a grilled chicken option there too. A Thai wrap station has tortilla wraps with brown rice, and we have a Southeast Asian sticky rice bar where we’ll do teriyaki tofu and veggies with toasted coconut and sesame glaze.
We offer green and yellow Thai curries and pad Thai also. Every March, we run a ‘recipe from home’ program where the students or their parents can send us recipes. We replicate them in the dining halls. As a result, we’ve featured a lot of stir-fry and Asian dishes. On our regular menu cycle, we have quite a few since Asian foods and flavors are so popular with the students. A typical dinner menu’s entrées might include Buddha’s Delight, pork dumplings and crispy flounder with daikon and soy sauce. Or we might offer chicken tikka masala, basmati rice or sriracha chili sauce.
Every Friday, we do internationally themed dinners like Japanese, Thai and Chinese. We’ve changed how we market to the students and now use Twitter and Facebook to advertise specials and events.
I think that the biggest challenge is to make sure that the dishes are au- thentic and that the flavor profiles are correct. We also monitor all of our kitchens with taste test sheets to ensure that the recipes that were developed in the R&D stage are being correctly executed.”