On the Eastern front

Operators are translating classic Eastern European fare for modern audiences.

rush university medical center borscht

During this summer’s World Cup, Timothy Gee, executive chef at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in New Brunswick, N.J., seized the opportunity to serve a cuisine that most of his customers likely don’t see much of: Eastern European. On the menu? Kielbasa and sauerkraut, pierogies with caramelized onions and buttery braised cabbage. “It’s not the kind of food that we serve too often, but it is something we feature during theme days in our retail services,” Gee says.

Gee isn’t the only one serving the hearty peasant fare, which turns simple, inexpensive ingredients like potatoes, onions, cabbage and muscle meats into deeply flavorful, satisfying dishes.

Branching out

When deciding on an Eastern European-themed menu for his Globetrotter foodservice station, Kennesaw State University Campus Executive Chef Billy Skiber offered some dishes that felt familiar to students while still giving them the opportunity to try something new. “When people think Eastern European, they right away think Russian. So we try to show more than that to educate guests,” Skiber says. (Editor’s note: While three-fourths of Russia is in Asia, the landmass west of the Ural Mountains is in Europe.)

Skiber’s recent Romanian, Georgian and Armenian menu does just that. It serves up ciorba de fasole—a classic Romanian bean and smoked pork soup with white beans, chickpeas, mushrooms and whole smoked pig’s feet. For a protein, he serves Armenian-style lamb shanks braised in a tomato sauce along with eggplant, green bell pepper and onion. On the side there’s muraturi asortate, or Romanian pickled vegetables, and a rich Georgian cheese bread called khachapuri, made with yogurt, mozzarella, cream cheese and butter.

Playing to the seasons

At Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, Retail Food Service Operations Manager James Dravenack’s Friday lunch buffets often center around a seasonal or ethnic theme. And since Eastern European food’s inherent richness is the perfect antidote to cold weather, Dravenack often rolls out a Polish menu when the mercury drops.

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