STORRS, Conn.—With Meatless Mondays, low-carbon diets and under 500 calorie meals, foodservice operators are always looking for the next food trend. At the University of Connecticut, it’s the raw foods movement. Dining Services has decided to embrace raw foods with a new grab-and-go line called Sain.
“Dennis Pierce [UConn’s director of dining services] came to me and said he’d seen raw food concepts in big city restaurants,” says Robert Landolphi, culinary operations manager. “I brought [the idea] to the culinary development team and we did a little research and found that not a lot of people have ever done a raw foods line in cafés. We did some more research and created Sain, which is currently available in two of our cafés.”
The line is made fresh daily in the department’s central production kitchen and distributed to each café. The Sain raw foods line includes grab-and-go items such as a cranberry nut compote wrap, a cashew cheese ravioli, a Caribbean pasta salad and cucumber flying discs, all of which are vegetarian and/or vegan.
Landolphi says the team has been overwhelmed with positive feedback about the line.
“Within a week we were receiving emails from people who loved the food,” Landolphi says. “We have done many different types of food lines before and usually we have an idea of how it’s going to go. But this was one food line where we really had no idea if it was going to be successful. After about three weeks, our person in charge of cafés said he wanted to expand the line to the other cafés and that’s where we are now.”
Landolphi says the menu development process was tougher than he expected, especially because no cooking is involved.
“We started by looking at fresh vegetables, herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, etc.,” Landolphi says. “We made a list of all the different ingredients that we use on campus that could work. We also started looking at different nuts for protein, but we had to remember we couldn’t use roasted nuts. So we started bringing in raw cashews and pumpkin seeds.”
Nuts ended up being an important ingredient in many of the dishes.
“For example, we created the cashew cheese ravioli where the ‘cheese’ is actually cashews that are soaked in water overnight,” Landolphi notes. “The next day, you put them in a food processor and the result tastes just like cheese. It was a big learning curve for us. As we made these raviolis, we were amazed at the flavor.”
Making a sauce for the raviolis also became a challenge for the chefs’ no-cooking mentality. To create an appropriate sauce, Landolphi says the team combined raw tomatoes, red onions and raw beets as well as basil, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic and parsley in the food processor. He says the result was a “wonderful” sauce that complemented the raviolis. The team is currently working on expanding the menu for next semester. Landolphi says they are looking at creating beet raviolis and a turnip and cucumber pasta.
“[The biggest challenge] was as we started to write recipes we had to make sure that everything we used was uncooked,” Landolphi says. “That was hard because as chefs we are so used to using different ingredients in certain ways. We quickly realized we couldn’t do what we were used to. We found that the food processor was our new best friend. [Raw foods] is just a whole other way of cooking. I think it’s here to stay. Based on some of the new information out there about how people are eating less meat and a more plant-based diet, I think there will be an increase in interest in raw food.”
Landolphi says the health benefits of the raw foods diet stem from the fact that it is plant based, especially for customers looking to get protein from beans or nuts rather than meat such as vegetarians and vegans.
“You see a lot of different people who just want to eat healthy and they look in our case and think, ‘I’ve never tried raw food before,’” Landolphi says. “Then they try it and they are hooked. They feel better eating it.”