Grilled Quesadilla from Princeton University.Grilling may be the oldest cooking style known to man, but some chefs are flaming interest in charred foods by grilling out-of-the-ordinary foods in some unusual ways. With the trend of cooked-to-order food going strong, grills have become the go-to way to satisfy demand for made-to-order stations.
Grilling may be the oldest cooking style known to man, but some chefs are flaming interest in charred foods by grilling out-of-the-ordinary foods in some unusual ways. With the trend of cooked-to-order food going strong, grills have become the go-to way to satisfy demand for made-to-order stations.
Sizzling ideas: At Princeton University in New Jersey, Executive Chef Rob Harbison says Himalayan rock salt slab cooking, where hot rocks are used to sear foods, has been a hit at catered parties.
“Every time we use the Himalayan rock salt ‘grills’ everyone is shocked when they hear the sizzle and see the food cooking,” he says.
Princeton’s execution of rock salt cooking is simple, according to Harbison. Rock salt slabs are heated in ovens as workers are prepping other foods, and the slabs remain hot in serving areas for about a half hour. Harbison says using rock salt slabs is actually easier than lugging cooking equipment to dining room receptions.
“There is no additional charge when doing these types of functions,” he adds. “It is simply a different way of cooking. [The slabs] impart a great flavor with each use. The salt [flavor] is subtle but present nonetheless.”
Also turning heads at Princeton is what was an out-of-date Mongolian grill that was recently turned into an exhibition griddle for quesadillas. Harbison converted the grill when he and Unit Chef Gary Bowlsbey saw that sales were flat on made-to-order Mongolian grilled dishes.
“Guests enjoy talking to the chefs, ordering exactly what they want and watching their food getting cooked in front of them,” he says. “They pick from a choice of flavored tortillas, proteins and cheeses. Quesadillas have overtaken sales of the grill area. It’s trumping hamburgers and chicken fingers. I think [the draw is] the fresh ingredients and there’s no mystery of where the food is coming from. And they see solid and cleaner proteins that are not processed.”
The department is selling about 150 quesadillas a day on the 10-year-old grill, which can cook a half dozen quesadillas at a time, Harbison says.
“It’s a well-seasoned Mongolian grill and once you season those things they are pretty much like a non-stick pan,” he adds. “We are thinking of it as more of a plancha grill, so we’re trying to test the limits of it. We started [using the grill like this] a couple of years ago with a quick service-style burrito. It knocked the socks off the students here.”
The new quesadilla also is helping the bottom line, Harbison says. It’s priced about the same as the burrito, but it is less expensive to produce.
Craig Tarrant, district chef at Eurest Dining Services, a division of Compass Group, at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Wash., also finds success with grilling in front of diners. He has four stationary flattops with two-ring gas grills that he uses for everything from cooking quesadillas to order to paellas.
“We focus on creating engaging atmospheres that connect customers with food,” says Paul Egger, senior services manager for Microsoft. “Exhibition cooking on grills really puts the culinary experience in front of the customers, as well as offers versatility in our menus.”
Tarrant currently menus two sweet and two savory crêpes that are cooked on the grills.
“One of the hot-selling sweet crêpes this fall was an apple cranberry crêpe topped with grilled sliced apple garnish,” Tarrant says. “Other crêpes include a bananas Foster, one with pumpkin and bacon, as well as an unsweetened leek, tomato and mozzarella rendition.
Back to basics: A new program for Microsoft is a concept called @burger, which will focus on burgers, hand-cut fries and shakes that will be similar to In-N-Out, according to Tarrant.
Since @burger isn’t scheduled to formally open until the spring, the concept is still being finalized, but Tarrant says the burgers will be cooked on a griddle with yellow mustard added after they are turned once. There also will be a secret sauce. The mystery spread will be similar to Thousand Island dressing prepared with mayo, ketchup, relish, a touch of extra vinegar and sugar.
The sauce, and toppings like American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and grilled onions, will be available to mix and match as requested. Local ingredients will be used when possible on signature burgers. “The Handyman” burger will feature hand-cut fries between two patties. “The South Beach” burger will have no bun and two patties wrapped in iceberg lettuce.
Burgers also are on the grill at Virtua Voorhees, a recently opened hospital in Voorhees, N.J. But the house specialty, a rib steak sandwich, is one of the attractions that is drawing diners from outside the hospital, says Steve Vincent, director of food and nutrition services.
“We do get people off the street from local businesses,” Vincent says. “It’s very reasonably priced. The average price of a meal is $3.50.”
For the rib sandwich, Vincent charbroils a five-ounce steak to order. He tops the steak with two beer-battered fried onion rings and melted provolone cheese and places it on a torpedo roll that is slathered with garlic butter and browned on the griddle.
serve them with the beef chili gravy and add tostadas to the mix.”