Showing familiar favorites in a new light

From Basic American Foods.

For decades, foodservice operators have counted on Basic American Foods potato and bean products for great flavor, consistency and quick, easy prep.

But the attendees of the Final Bites tasting at Chicago’s Centered Chef food studio, held during the Taste the Trends® Tour, saw a new side of their reliable standbys. The Taste the Trends® Tour is a restaurant tour and tasting event for foodservice operators held during the National Restaurant Association Show.

After visiting five of Chicago’s hottest restaurants to sample trendy dishes, more than 120 restaurant and noncommercial operators gathered at Centered Chef for the Final Bites tasting. Co-founded by Ryan Hutmacher, Centered Chef is an event space and recreational cooking school in Chicago that fuses the culinary arts with nutrition and wellness.

Creative new stars: For the Final Bites event, Hutmacher and Basic American Foods corporate executive chef Mark Graham presented unique recipes using Potato Pearls® Natural Mashed Potatoes, Santiago® Chili and Santiago® Black Beans in tasty and innovative nibbles with wide application for catering as well as menus in general.

These familiar products were the stars of creative new dishes that are on-trend with healthful cuisine and global flavors.

For instance, take the Zucchini-Potato Cakes made with Potato Pearls® Natural Mashed Potatoes and shredded zucchini, topped with Cuban-flavored Santiago® Black Beans and garnished with minced pickles and ham. According to Graham, it was inspired by a visit to La Mar, a cutting-edge Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco that showcases signature ceviches on dollops of savory potatoes.

“Why didn’t I think of this before?” says Graham. “Why can’t potatoes be the base for something really interesting?”

Another favorite at Final Bites was Hutmacher’s unique Potato Gnocchi. He made the gnocchi with a base of Potato Pearls® Natural Mashed Potatoes and rich 73 percent cacao dark chocolate and served them on individual spoons drizzled with raspberry coulis made with fresh raspberries and honey.

“We added antioxidants via the chocolate and fiber with the raspberry coulis,” says Hutmacher. “My approach was to add more nutrition and make it decadent while still being mindful.”

Tasty and healthy: Black beans had their moment in the spotlight in Mexican Chocolate Truffles made with Santiago® Seasoned Black Beans finished with smoked salt.

“There is no cream or butter in the recipe,” notes Graham. “The fat comes from ground cashews and there is very high quality cocoa powder in it as well.”

“We wanted something that came really close to being indulgent but was also kind of good for you to eat,” adds Graham. “They are absolutely delicious. I think if we didn’t tell people it was a healthier truffle, they wouldn’t have known.”

Both chefs emphasized the importance of offering diverse menu options.

“Maybe some days you are in the mood for a traditional menu item, but other days you are paying attention to your health and want to try a vegetarian item,” Graham says.

“When I think about the cultures evolving in the U.S., many of them eat a vegetarian diet,” adds Graham. “And I think about the aging consumer who is eating more healthfully. If you are a smart operator, you are offering them choices.”

Hutmacher says that operators who intend to serve the health-minded consumer should offer vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free menu options. But that is not to say they should turn their back on meat.

“The meat-and-potatoes people are still there,” Hutmacher adds. “But what is cool is they are aware of vegetarianism and veganism now and they don’t look down on it. In fact, they are actually intrigued by it.”

What’s more, dishes that are trendy as well as healthy may help operators attract food-savvy younger consumers.

An example is Banh Xeo, another Taste the Trends® item, a savory mung bean and coconut crepe layered with Santiago® Black Beans, shrimp, pickled vegetables and nuoc cham sauce.

“It is a nod to the sort of simpler foods of cultures that are influencing food in the U.S., like Vietnamese food,” Graham says. “Here is a great place where the street foods of the ancient cultures of the world are influencing our everyday eating habits.”

Catering convenience: Taste the Trends® Tour attendees also got a lesson in how convenient it can be to make a dish like Potato Gnocchi for catering. “It was super easy,” says Hutmacher, who says he basically added cold water to Potato Pearls® Natural Mashed Potatoes and some flour and egg for binding.” Literally, it was the easiest gnocchi I ever made.”

The alternative would be to peel, boil and mash fresh potatoes, “a long, messy process,” Hutmacher says.

Would the gnocchi have been better if they were made the laborious way with fresh potatoes?

“I think they would have been different, but not necessarily better,” Hutmacher says. “The flavor and texture that we got from the product were great.”

For recipes and highlights from the Taste the Trends® Tour, visit www.tastethetrends.com.