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FSD’s Culinary Council chefs dish on their latest menu innovations

Chefs in every segment have been busy cooking up new offerings this year.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Foodservice at colleges, hospitals and other venues have resumed close-to-normal operations since September, signaling chefs in those segments to ramp up menu development.

So we checked in with the members of FoodService Director’s Culinary Council to see what’s cooking at their operations. Here are a few insights into the ingredients, flavors and trends these chefs shared.

Plant-forward and plant-based items continue to see growth. At Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa., Chef Jeff Varcoe added Vegan Fried Rice made with Just Egg, and it’s been very well received, he says. “We don’t use a lot of faux meats, but we feel the egg substitute is an ‘eggcellent’ vegan protein choice. Guests often don’t really notice the difference.”

Next year, he plans to introduce a vegan Breakfast Egg Bake that would be suitable across multiple dayparts.

Chef Chris Greve, corporate director of culinary operations for Cura Hospitality, dedicated a lot of training and resources to help his healthcare and senior-living teams bring vegetables to the fore.

“We’ve done some partnerships with the Culinary Vegetable Institute and are creating what we refer to as 50/50 recipes, where we utilize pulses to replace half the animal protein in some of our classic recipes,” says Greve. “We have also been leveraging all of our culinary talents across the country to create center-of-the-plate plant recipes, such as grilled cabbage with a spicy vegan cream sauce.”

Global and regional flavors are also taking off. At Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, Director of Culinary Operations and Corporate Chef Dusty Cooper is exploring Cajun and Creole cuisine. “Shrimp Creole is a classic Louisiana dish cooked in a loaded tomato sauce with just the right amount of Tabasco,” she says. Cooper serves the dish with a cheddar grit cake.

She is also focusing on Asian street food when developing LTO menus to test future concepts. “We’re looking at lots of handheld items that are geared to be quick pickups for our chefs,” says Cooper.

“Gochujang is the ingredient I plan on using more,” says Varcoe. “We have a Roast Pork Steamed Bun with Gochujang Sauce as a special now, and I plan on using it in a wing sauce and on fried eggplant.”

Labor-saving dishes are also top of mind, as operators remain challenged with the labor shortage.At Penn State, Varcoe changed the egg service at Sunday brunch to make it more efficient.

“We used to serve just plain scrambled eggs and were struggling with having the labor to offer omelets,” he says, “so we deconstructed the idea and made it into a bowl on our normal buffet line. We now have three different themed breakfast bowls with the flavors of an omelet without adding much labor.”

The bowls are especially popular when the team does a demo bowl at the beginning of the buffet line, Varcoe adds.

Kit Smith, Sodexo’s director of culinary operations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., expanded the college’s UCook concept to another dining location. “UCook is basically an action station where the guest prepares their meal based on the ingredients at the station,” he says. “This not only saves labor, it allows for more guest customization.”

Waste reduction is on the front burner. “With the inflated prices, teaching our teams to utilize, plan for and create new recipes from the products we are purchasing is a win,” says Greve. “We recently held a ‘Waste Nothing’ rescue recipe contest where our teams utilized leftover hot breakfast cereal to create scratch-made bread. We’ve had several great ‘rescue recipes’ over the last six months, and we are seeing stead improvement in our food cost and guest satisfaction.”

In keeping with Cura’s sustainability goals, Greve is also renewing the focus on local sourcing. “We’re even partnering with groups like Babylon Farms to create indoor micro gardens,” he says.

Slashing SKUs is helping with supply chain challenges. At Johns Hopkins Health, Cooper has removed over 5,000 SKUs from the inventory since the start of COVID.

“Our strategy is to consolidate inventory while keeping our menu robust,” she says. “Our inventory needs are still enormous, but more manageable.”

Cooper and her team have also established built-in substitutions to ensure patient food safety and overall consistency for retail and catering operations.

Editor's Note: We will continue to check in with the chefs on FSD’s Culinary Council in the months ahead. Stay tuned for more insights.

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