Wraps and pita bread are like the bow ties of the sandwich world. They are neat to eat even when holding extremely moist fillings.
Tortillas “wrap all the ingredients in a tight little bundle,” says Robert Laken, chef manager for Flik International at Lowenstein Sandler, a law firm in Roseland, N.J. “When you have an attorney walk up with a beautiful tie, you don’t want to see barbecue sauce [spill] on that tie.”
Also, Laken explains, Lowenstein Sandler’s employees are often on the move, so they appreciate portable sandwiches. “We sell the daylights out of wraps.”
In addition to one daily wrap, Laken offers eight sandwich options, half of which are geared toward healthful options. Wraps also work well for catering at Lowenstein Sandler’s 20 conference rooms and meetings on campus.
“Our menu is seasonal,” Laken adds. “In the summer I may do a seared tuna steak. In the fall I do heavier items.”
Diners “love when we toast the sandwiches,” Laken says. “It really excites all the flavors in a sandwich. It has a whole new profile” when served hot.
For hot and cold sandwiches, Laken’s spread options include a housemade hummus, artichokes and olive tapenade. Chipotle spread enhances Laken’s barbecue spice-rubbed chicken pita with bacon and avocado.
Tricks of the trade: Laken says a technique he uses with pita sandwiches is to place all of the fillings on lettuce and then slip the ingredients in the bread all at once. He notes that the pita can crumble if it is not handled gingerly.
In Louisville, Ky., at Sullivan University, Executive Chef Nathan Roe finds the key to working with pita bread is starting with fresh product. Roe requests that his bread be baked daily at the school’s bakeshop, since Sullivan houses a culinary arts institution with a production classroom/bakery. If fresh-baked pita is not available, Roe orders the dough and bakes the pocket bread himself to help ensure freshness.
When it comes to tortilla wraps, Roe, a 2004 graduate of the college’s culinary school, says that tortillas work best when they are heated before use because the heat makes them easier to roll.
“Just warm them up in a steamer for 15 to 20 seconds or let them come up to about 100°F in a hot box,” Roe suggests. “This will make the tortillas more pliable and not crack or break when rolling.” Roe’s top-selling wrap is a chicken fajita wrap with crisp tortilla chips, corn and black bean salsa.
Craving creativity: Pita pizzas are “definitely what the students love” most, Roe says. He makes a pita pizza by using fresh mozzarella, marinara sauce, sliced banana peppers, pepperoni, sausage and a garlic butter topping. Roe says this is the most popular pocket sandwich at Sullivan.
Roe is on a mission to do more than just feed diners; he also wants to expose the students to good cooking and foods that they may not have tasted in the past.
“We strive to make extremely nice food that is within our price range and so the culinary students can learn new things,” Roe says. “Even though we aren’t instructors, we try to open up the students’ minds to new types of food and have things they may not have experienced before.
“Because we’re in the middle of the country and a lot of our students come from around Kentucky, a lot of them have not had experiences with seafood,” Roe explains. “So we try to do exciting dishes with mussels, clams and calamari.”
Roe menus a cold salmon wrap to help expand students’ culinary horizons, because he says many of his students don’t eat the fish cold. A bourbon glaze adds extra sweetness to the salmon.
Also in the sweet department, Roe prepares a mini dessert pita filled with fruit salad bound with yogurt and flavored with honey. The pita also is served cold.
For a savory vegetarian option, Roe offers an apple, wine-poached pear wrap with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese that’s dished up warm. A whole-wheat wrap encases the filling, and a balsamic reduction is drizzled on top. Roe says the sticky balsamic reduction helps seal the wrap and keeps it closed. He also suggests tightly wrapping the filling for best results.
Catering to the crowd: In suburban Houston, at the Spring Independent School District, Assistant Director Laura Mason says she tries to offer foods that also are popular outside of the school setting, like in restaurants. She says wraps can sometimes fit the bill. “Students are real familiar with tortillas, especially in this part of the country,” Mason says.
Mason attempts to make the district’s wraps as healthful as possible. For instance, she uses a low-fat cheese in a club wrap. The cheese is rolled with turkey, turkey ham and turkey bacon. Students can select from ranch, mustard and light mayonnaise to dip or spread on the sandwich.
Gorditas are another kid favorite at Spring. For this wrap Mason uses a whole-wheat “loco” bread. She says the 8-inch gordita is a little thicker than a tortilla, similar to a flatbread. She tops the gordita with heated pork or chicken fajita that she purchases premade. The spiced fajita meat is layered with shredded American cheese, salsa and sour cream. The gordita is then folded and served warm.
At Atria’s Campana Del Rio, a senior living facility in Tucson, Ariz., Kirk Brooks, director of culinary services, serves chicken salad wraps, classic gyros in pita and chicken shawarma pitas.
“I can’t go too wild here,” Brooks says, “as we have an older generation to serve.”
“Wraps continue to be popular with our customers,” says Jeffrey Perry, a regional chef with Sodexo B&I accounts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. Perry finds that diners appreciate a variety of flavored wraps, with a spinach version being the most popular. “People see the green and they gravitate toward it,” he notes.
Sodexo chefs also use tomato and pepper jack tortillas, in addition to the standard white and whole-wheat varieties. “Tortillas are easy to use,” Perry says. “You can do a chopped salad and put it in a wrap. If you put that chopped salad in a roll, it will fall out.”