Asian food has reached such a level of popularity that, as Yale University Dining Services Director Rafi Taherian puts it: “Asian is no longer a category by itself. It has reached a level where one needs to be a bit more specific such as east, south, north...? Years ago when you said Asian cooking, everyone thought Chinese or something that has ginger, soy sauce, etc. Today, Asian could be Thai or Vietnamese with lemongrass and fish sauce.”
This year, Taherian is reaching out to three Asian celebrity chefs to work with and train staff in making East Asian/Indian, Vietnamese and Chi-nese dishes. “Continuing training is always good, and we will leverage the celebrity of these chefs,” he says.
Similarly, at Baptist Health South Florida’s Baptist Hospital of Miami, Executive Chef and Dining Services Manager Stan Hodes added a Pho broth to his oriental noodle bar because “Asian flavors are currently a trend and are healthier due to the lower fat and perceived fresh approach. They are on target with our cultural diversity initiative and add a nice touch of variety. This is a hit, with sales growing since the day it was launched last fall.”
Satisfying customers’ desire for popular Asian flavors can range from hiring culinary staffers with Asian culinary backgrounds to teaming up with local businesses.
For Cecil Junearick, executive chef at Huntsville (Ala.) Hospital, a partnership with local Sakura Japanese Steakhouse fits the bill.
When the hospital went self-op, he recalls, he had a space in the hospital’s food court to fill and began networking with local businesses. Sakura was selected, and it pays a percentage of sales in lieu of rent.
“They pay for their own supplies and they also have a grill they cook off of and a work area in our kitchen,” says Junearick. “They serve sesame chicken, Hong Kong chicken and hibachi chicken, beef lo mein, chicken lo mein, sushi, California rolls, fried rice, lo mein noodles, spicy tuna and salmon. Their first month’s sales were $14,000. Now, they do $19,000 to $20,000.”
East meets Midwest: Asian has become popular in the Midwest as well. At Ohio University in Athens, Director of Residential Dining Rich Neumann serves a rotating lunch menu at the Zen Asian concept in Nelson Hall. At Jefferson Hall, there’s a lunch and dinner wok bar set up Sunday through Thursday. At Boyd Hall, the concept alternates between lunch and dinner.
“In our retail area at the Student Union, we have Jade, where we alternate between Indian and Asian food and do stir-fries,” Neumann notes.
At Chicago Lakes Area Schools in Lindstrom, Minn., Foodservice Director Kathy Burrill offers a zesty orange chicken. The high schools also do orange chicken and chicken lo mein with egg rolls, an Asian salad and stir-fried vegetables.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City created a special Thai dish for a weeklong celebration of Human Rights Day last fall. Executive Chef Hilbert Stoelk Jr., made a Thai Coconut Milk and Red Curry Chicken with Kefir Lime Leaf and Galangal to serve in the cafeteria.
“I put my own twist on it by adding tomatoes and star anise to the sauce,” Stoelk says. The challenge was finding all the right spices and ingredients,
but the area, he notes “is very diverse with several Asian markets. We do some Asian flavors in our catering, and in another outlet we do a stir-fry station with rice bowls to which customers can add their choice of ingredients.”
Beyond Chinese: Cuisine from areas such as Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam is becoming much more mainstream across America, he adds, thanks to TV channels like the Food Network. “Ten years ago it was just Chinese. Now people are asking for Cambodian or Indonesian.”
Myriad Asian foods are offered at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in Princeton, N.J., says Chef Van Beutell. At this Whitson’s Culinary Group account, Beutell offers Pan Asian, Thai, Indian and Indonesian foods as well as Mongolian barbecue.
“We basically set up an American-style Chinese takeout on our serving line with General Tso’s chicken, spring rolls, chopsticks, duck sauce and soy sauce. We also do traditional Indian food—tikka masala, curried beef strips, even our own naan.”
This winter, he notes, “we’ll be doing a Korean market. It begins and ends with kimchi in a tilt skillet with wine, sesame oil, cabbage and fresh ginger. We’ll do it with a julienne of beef on skewers and rub them with sesame oil and a dry Korean rub, clove, coriander, red pepper, sea salt and star anise. Then we’ll sear them and finish them in the oven. Or we’ll do them with chicken and mushrooms, broccoli and baby corn.”
The challenge, he says, is giving traditional flair to Korean items “so people who’ve never tried them will not be isolated.”