This Asian noodle salad brings Asian flavors to seafood.It’s probably the most exciting time for Asian food,” says Mai Pham, chef/owner of the Star Ginger Restaurant Group, who just opened her first Star Ginger Asian Grill & Noodle Bar with Sodexo at a B&I account in Boston. “It’s one of the top trends right now.”
Pham, who last year rolled out an Asian food truck at the University of California, Davis, adds that other commercial entrepreneurs are adding to the buzz about Asian.
“We’ve heard about Southeast Asian food for quite a long time now,” she says, “but when leaders like Steve Ells [chef/creator of Chipotle] open [concepts such as] ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, it signals that [Asian has] arrived.”
Sodexo opened the Star Ginger unit in December 2011 in a food court at State Street Financial Center in Boston. The menu features Vietnamese pho noodle soup, salad rolls, wok-fried rice, pad Thai, curries and toasted banh mi sandwiches.
Why the new, greater acceptance of Southeast Asian in the U.S.? Operators say it’s because Asian is viewed as healthful, uses less protein and is based primarily on produce that’s readily available with the recent proliferation of farmers’ markets, according to Pham, who was born in Saigon and raised in Vietnam and Thailand. In addition, she says, the cuisine is highly “adaptable,” making use of bunches of herbs and whatever’s on hand.
Da Bowl’s da bomb: At Yale University, in New Haven, Conn., students are lining up 20-deep for “Da Bowl,” a dish based on using available Asian ingredients, according to Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence. Da Bowls are made to order and feature an Asian-spiced broth or sauce, noodles or dumplings, a protein such as duck or tofu and vegetables like “naughty peas,” which DeSantis says gained their name from their level of spice.
“The bowls are handmade in front of the students,” DeSantis adds, “so it’s not like they have been sitting around. There are vegetables in them that are crisp-tender. It’s all these things put together” that leads to the bowls’ popularity.
Da Bowl was developed by the kitchen team at the recently renovated Ezra Stiles & Morse Dining Hall, led by Alexa Martindale, the hall’s chef/production manager. It quickly has become the most popular item at the hall, with about 250 of the 350 lunches served there coming from Da Bowl. Martindale says her team likes the fact that it is easy to execute and fast to prep in the morning. In addition, it can help clean the walk-in of excess produce.
Asian cooking is so popular at Yale, extra wok stations will be added to the university’s dining facilities that are currently being updated, Martindale adds. “It’s just recently that we started to get into particular flavors of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.”
Corporate gig: Corporate Image Dining Services’ corporate chef, Salvatore Cantalupo, also has found success with banh mi prepared to order at his company’s dining facilities in the Stamford, Conn., area. He offers three versions: shrimp, sliced pork loin and—the most popular—lemon grass chicken thighs. The sandwich layers fresh whole coriander leaves, pickled carrot and daikon, soy-flavored mayo, ham, sliced cucumber and a touch of chili peppers on French bread.
“But the key is the layering process, so you get the whole flavor profile” in every bite, Cantalupo says. “The cherry on top is, we press it in a panini press.”
Malaysian stir-fry is another popular Asian dish that is prepared to order at Corporate Image accounts, according to Cantalupo. He combines cooked rice noodles, lapsang Chinese sausage, clams, calamari, shrimp and shrimp paste.
Besides the sausage and paste, of which he uses little, he says he easily acquires unusual ingredients from his distributor. He purchases the more exotic ingredients in bulk at area Asian markets.
Most recently Cantalupo introduced street-style tacos featuring Korean flavors with Venezuelan and Mexican accents. For the tacos, he teams cumin-flavored chicken and shredded pork butt with housemade cucumber kimchee and Venezuelan creamy guacamole sauce. The components are served on warmed corn tortillas. Combining cuisines and discovering lesser-known foods “fascinates me, and my customers are like, ‘right on,’” Cantalupo says.
Christopher Simeone, executive chef at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., says he also found success with an Asian-inspired dish that was created by Morrison Management Services as part of one of its regular healthful food promotions. Salmon was flavored with green tea and orange sauce that had been infused with green onions, ginger, garlic and lemon zest. Keeping it healthful, the fish was grilled using hardly any fat, and just a small amount of cornstarch thickened the green tea sauce.
Breaking out: “Asian cuisine is ready to explode,” predicts Mai Pham. “I think you will continue to see more regional cuisines. You’ll see Korean, Malaysian and Singaporean, which has become like the Spain of Asia because there is a crop of new emerging chefs who are very educated.”