How to ramp up summer menus
Although the pace of the summer months may be more relaxed than during the school year, foodservice marches on in summer in some colleges, universities and K-12 schools.
Summer is actually a golden opportunity for foodservice directors to offer excitement by playing to trends such as street foods, global flavors and fresh, seasonal produce.
Tortillas can be staples of the creative summertime menus that tap those trends. Forty-three percent of C&U operators and 21 percent of K-12 operators feature tortillas, according to the market research firm Datassential. However, those percentages may be slightly low, Datassential says, because some menu item descriptions do not mention a tortilla—it is assumed that a taco or burrito includes a tortilla.
As versatile carriers, tortillas are the backbone of the globally inspired tacos, burritos and wraps that food trucks and street-food eateries have popularized. The lively flavors of such items shape the eating habits of students in noncommercial venues as well as the tastes of commercial restaurant patrons. In fact, 66 percent of the professional chefs polled in the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast pegged street food/food trucks as a hot trend for this year.
A look at food trucks around the country illustrates the menu possibilities for street food inspired items. Taceaux Loceaux, a food truck in New Orleans, has a lineup of signature tacos that includes Seoul Man, with bulgogi chicken, shredded cabbage and sriracha aioli on flour tortillas and Jane Deaux, with seasoned braised greens, potatoes and cotija cheese on hot corn tortillas.
But the street-food trend has propelled tortillas beyond Mexican food into the global realm. Today, it’s easy to find wraps and tacos with Korean, regional American barbecue or even Vietnamese flavors, such as a banh mi taco.
In K-12 foodservice, tortillas, often in whole-grain formulations, are widely used as wraps and mini-pizzas as well as tacos and burritos. The build-your-own taco bar at some high schools with open campuses invites students to choose meats, cheeses, vegetables and salsas to be tucked inside tortillas. It encourages them to eat lunch on campus rather than patronize outside restaurants.
Another trend that tortillas match up with is ethnic-inspired breakfasts, which also happens to be influencing American street-food culture. Big D’s Grub Truck in New York City menus breakfast burritos filled with eggs, peppers, onions, breakfast meats and cheeses. And Taco Cabana, the San Antonio, Texas-based fast-casual chain, serves a pair of warm flour tortillas with breakfast items such as the Chorizo & Egg Plate and Barbacoa Plate.
Another high point of summer in noncommercial kitchens is the abundance of fresh, seasonal produce—think ripe, juicy locally grown tomatoes. The odds are high that they will be tastier and lower in price than their off-season counterparts.
Summer weather also means al fresco service on umbrella-shaded patios and courtyards and special outdoor events such as cook-outs, barbecues and picnics. All are perfect settings for firing up the grill and menuing fresh and flavorful fare.