These rajas from the National Onion Association feature
chiles that have been roasted.With the rise of the Latino population, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau will reach 50 million this year, foodservice directors are reporting more interest in foods not only from Mexico but also Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Aiming for authentic: Aramark LifeWorks Director Peter Gilhooly says he sees ethnic diversity among the 18 B&I accounts he oversees and he designs concepts around the needs of those clients. “We do a street foods concept with Latino-infused cuisine that fits in nicely,” Gilhooly says. “It’s all about technique. We do tamales, tortas, empanadas and a trio of soft tacos. The soft tacos are filled with shrimp, and the mole we use is an authentic mole recipe popular in the Mexico’s Oaxaca region. The strips of cooked chiles are called rajas, which means “strips,” but in Mexican cooking it refers to strips of chiles. The chiles are roasted, peeled and cut into strips. These are smaller portions of traditional favorites and customers can pick and choose.”
Gilhooly says the department offers several salsas—salsa verde with tomatillos, cilantro and peppers; salsa negra, which has chipotle chiles and garlic; and salsa roja with charred tomatoes, roasted serrano chiles, onions, cilantro and garlic.
“We have a lot of success with street foods,” Gilhooly adds. “For the entrées we’ve gone deep into Latin American and Mexican cuisine to offer authenticity. We make pork tinga with potatoes, avocado and Cotija cheese, pozole verde, and a fish stew called moqueca de peixe, which is a favorite in Brazil.”
At New York Hospital Queens, Executive Chef Jerry D’Amico calls Flushing, N.Y., “the most diverse zip code in the U.S. There’s a lot of demand for Latino. When we do authentic Mexican food in the café, we do 1,800 meals.”
D’Amico says some popular dishes include a Cuban flank steak with tomato sauce, fried yuccas with beer, plantains and beef chimichangas made from scratch. Aztec corn, which is roasted under a salamander and served with tomatoes, cilantro, peppers and hot sauce and is served cold, also is a favorite at the hospital.
Ida Shen, assistant director and executive chef at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a Peruvian-inspired quinoa stew that she says is more like a soup with lots of chunky vegetables and, sometimes, feta cheese. During a trip to Mexico for a NACUFS sub-regional meeting, Shen was inspired to make chilaquiles, which are made with deep-fried leftover tortillas or tortilla chips, red sauce and eggs and served as a snack or breakfast item. “We never have leftovers of them,” she says.
At the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School district, Rafaelita Curva, director of student nutrition services, is moving the model of food prep to scratch cooking and makes pico de gallo and salsa from scratch.
“Our students notice the difference in our menus now,” Curva says. “We had a recipe we decided to make for National Vegan Month in the fall, and it came from ideas from our staff. We call it bean fiesta because it’s a Latino-influenced recipe and it’s a vegan side dish that can be served with any entrée. We needed to use beans from the USDA’s commodity program. Our staff came up with a recipe that is simple and full of flavor—cilantro, curry, turmeric and cumin are all in it along with garbanzo and pinto beans, peppers, zucchini and summer squash.
“It can be made from any combination of commodity beans and vegetables in season and lots of cilantro,” he adds. “It is flavored with cumin spice, which is a standard in Mexican cooking.”
Inspired by Chipotle: The proliferation of Latino-inspired fast-casual concepts, the most notable being Chipotle, has had an effect on many college campuses. Samuel Samaan, foodservice director at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, Calif., is expanding a concept that he says is very similar to Chipotle. The concept is replacing an older taqueria concept. The location is being doubled in size, and the bigger footprint is expected to double the transactions.
“We will use fresh ingredients and serve items such as burritos, tacos, Mexican rice bowls, quesadillas and taco salads,” Samaan says. “There’s high demand here for Latino foods. We have a chef from Nicaragua whose salsa is very popular.”
At Texas’s Corpus Christi schools, Foodservice Director Jody Houston’s staffers make salsa and egg taquitos with green chili sauce for breakfast.
“We’ll do a jalapeno wrap one day a week with turkey, cheese, romaine lettuce and a light ranch dressing, or cheese enchiladas with corn tortillas, low-fat cheese and low-fat beef chili gravy,” Houston says. “We offer brown Spanish rice, which gets baked off in our central kitchen. Sometimes we buy chicken burritos and serve them with the beef chili gravy and add tostadas to the mix.”