Small Plates of Insights from MenuDirections 2012

A roundup of informational nuggets from our conference.

MenuDirections abounded in ideas, some so self-contained that it’s difficult to lump them into categories or one of our larger themed stories from the conference (which you’ll find here.) Here, then, is a mixed assortment of those notions and insights. We like to think of them as small plates of brain food:

Nuts, contrary to the assertions of some pop diets, can be healthful additions to diets in moderation. Nutritionist James Painter noted that they make a particularly good replacement for meats.

One of the ideas floated for making soybeans sexier called for pureeing the beans, saucing them with some ponzu and serving the whole thing in a martini glass.

Tacos made with tempeh were also saluted, as was the substitution of silky tofu for ricotta in lasagna.

One of Mediterranean food’s operational benefits is its durability as a takeout food. It holds for long times at ambient temperatures, and many versions are meant to be eaten without reheating. That makes it “a great way to stretch your dayparts without having to keep the doors open all the time,” noted LifeWorks’ Marion Gibson.

An Italian meat platter—basically rolled salamis and other cold cuts presented cheek-to-jowl with sliced cheeses on some type of open-faced Italian bread—is a good way to get $20 from a couple of sharers who might otherwise buy two $5 sandwiches. It’s twice the money for half the food, and everyone’s happy, said Gibson.

The new frontier in the use of beans is getting them into breakfast and dessert items, said Chef Tom Smith of Food IQ. He noted how the menu-idea lab is tinkering with such products as waffles, breads and white custards made from ground-up beans. He also asserted that beans would be accepted by more “customers” in K-12 if the industry could brainstorm ways of enabling the beans to be eaten neatly on the go in hand-held products.

Rhubarb can give new color, literally, to margaritas served in catering situations. It can be a good sour base for the popular drink, and delivers an attractive, unusual hue, said McCormick Chef Kevan Vetter.

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