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Who are your culinary grads of the future?

That answer and more at MenuDirections 2014 Kickoff Day: Sunday, February 23.

MenuDirections 2014 got off to a rousing start with the opening of the General Session by Dr. Pamela Allison, Ph.D. and associate professor of the Hospitality College at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C. Dr. Allison gave the crowd of over 200 foodservice directors insights on what to expect from today’s graduates of four-year culinary and hospitality programs.

  • Students today are looking to serve their community
  • Women are starting to take over in a lot of programs, with female enrollment continuing to rise
  • There is more ethnic diversity. About 41% of students are Afro-American.
  • There is more economic diversity. About 25% of students are first-generation college students.
  • There are more military men and women, who bring more maturity and experience to the college experience.
  • There are more career changers. Older students are starting the program, many of whom were laid off from previous positions and are seeking new careers.

These changes are bringing more challenges to the campus, and the curriculum has had to adjust to strive for new levels in education. “We no longer ask students to just spit back facts and memorize material. We now ask the ‘how’ and ‘why’ and analyze how to solve specific problems,” Dr. Allison told the crowd. Critical thinking is key to success. She also pointed out that students today are looking for the greater good and are eager to impact the social environment. But they are also interested in balance and stability—balancing their professional and personal lives and creating job security.

Dr. Allison challenged attendees to take all these characteristics into consideration when hiring graduates. “What’s your triple bottom line?” she asked the audience. Today’s young adults are looking for diversity and inclusion in the workplace; they want to be leaders; and they want to impact the social environment. Foodservice directors in the non-commercial sector should recruit students who are interested in sustainability, health and social responsibility—not the ones who want to make dazzling desserts in a restaurant kitchen. “Even when they are on the bottom rung of the foodservice career ladder, give these students a project that goes beyond themselves; a project that gives them a sense of ownership,” Allison says.

Culinary Workshops

Catering
What’s hot in catering … and what’s not? Chef Eric Eisenberg, of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, led off the Catering Culinary Workshop in a game show format, challenging attendees to guess the trends that were still in—and those that were played out in non-commercial catering. There were a few surprises:

Still in:

  • Locally sourced meat and seafood
  • Gluten-free cuisine (but instead of pointing out to customers what items are gluten-free, separate those that have gluten)
  • Sustainable seafood. McDonald’s has a Marine Stewardship certification on its filet of fish sandwich and even some cat foods have the certification
  • Environmental sustainability (but it’s been on the list for many years)


What’s out:

  • Ancient grains: not yet hot, but products made with spelt, millet, amaranth, etc. are in, such as pastas and breads
  • Greek yogurt: It’s so mainstream, it’s now longer on the hot list.

Chef Eisenberg went on to define local, in his words: “Local has more to do with proximity than miles … it’s more about the state in which you’re located and the surrounding states.” Some audience members described it as food sourced within five miles, while others said 200 or 500, so there is no definitive answer…and it’s almost become meaningless

These are his top tips for running a successful catering operation:

  • People love sandwiches. Breakfast sandwiches are especially popular. Try an open-face smoked salmon sandwich for a breakfast menu; a roasted vegetable slider with mayo for lunch.
  • Breads are really taking center stage, but don’t give up on the hamburger or hot dog bun; they are good platforms for sandwiches. We created a bahn mi hot dog. In the bun with a whole array of condiments. Not chili or cheese, but a nice bahn mi slaw.
  • Come up with food for vegetarians that appeals to meat eaters: Craveable Vegetarian. Use global flavors, pickled vegetables, pho and other enticements. Escabeche with pickled vegetables, and their roasted vegetable slider with mayonnaise both fit the bill.
  • Get the right packaging products. Corrugated containers with branded messaging are effective and recyclable.
  • To make pho and other Asian soups: Preset noodles in bowl, then encourage customers to go down the line, adding broth, sliced steak, fresh herbs and other goodies.
  • Tap into CSAs (community supported agriculture) to create seasonal specials. Go to localfarming.org to find a CSA in your neighborhood.
  • Customization rules…in both food and packaging. Allow customers to go off the menu and create their own item or personalize a dish.

Building a Better Coffee Program
Steve Schnitzler, CEO, Port City Java presented the workshop on coffee. Port City is the coffee provider for NC State University and has a Southeastern U.S. base/distribution. He gave attendees these pointers for creating a successful coffee program:

  • People know a lot about coffee these days as far as quality goes. Once you improve the quality of the coffee you provide, it’s hard to go backwards
  • Your guests are constantly evolving as are their expectations, so you must be evolving too. Customer expectations are higher than ever before; Starbucks set the bar
  • Quality of coffee is important for drip coffee too, not just specialty drinks
  • Serving coffee is only partly about the coffee; it’s also about building relationships with your guests. Provide hospitality rather than service—hospitality has to do with the people you serve. You can get service from an ATM or a vending machine, but you’re not going to get hospitality
  • Upping your coffee game is all about upping your people game. Employee training is key to providing hospitality; you can’t just call someone a barista, they need to be trained
  • Know your employees and build a relationship with them. It takes time and training, but it will pay off

For your coffee program:

  • Determine who you are trying to serve and what your guests’ needs are
  • Upping your coffee level will cost more, but it doesn’t have to be a lot of money
  • It takes one week of employee training to learn, one month to get good and six months or more to get really good
  • Water quality is important—whatever is in the water will get in the coffee
  • Look to your providers for more information about your coffee, if they can’t tell you where it’s from, then find someone who can

Schnitzler then gave attendees some background on the economics and cultivation of coffee:

  • Coffee matters so much today—it’s the second most-traded commodity behind petroleum and the third most-consumed beverage behind water and tea
  • Wine and coffee comparisons are getting to be more appropriate as they relate to variety and our need to grow a quality product
  • Coffee grows around the equator throughout the world, generally in second- and third-world nations that are war torn and economically unstable
  • Coffee must be shipped on a boat due to its weight
  • “Every cup of coffee is a $5, $6, $7 cup” due to what it takes to grow it
  • There is a lot to know to “up your coffee game”
  • Two types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta.
    • Arabica: costs more, grows at higher elevation, is harder to grow, provides a higher quality but less yield, handpicked
    • Robusta: costs less, grows at lower elevations, is easier to grow, provides a lower quality but higher yield, oftentimes machine picked
  • It takes four to seven years to produce a quality coffee from seedling
  • Coffee pricing is volatile—it is two times less today than last year
  • Coffee is generally handpicked for higher quality; you cannot have unripe beans in the mix and beans do not ripen off the plant
  • It takes four to five weeks to complete a harvest
  • Processing coffee produces a lot of fruit waste—in Costa Rica the waste is dried and used for tea; waste can be ground and mixed with water for use as fertilizer on the fields; waste can be dried and formed into bricks and used for fuel
  • Coffee has to rest for 30 to 60 days after being picked to reduce moisture levels—the U.S. has moisture maximums on coffee
  • Roasting: After a lot of roasting, it doesn’t really matter where the coffee is sourced from as you will begin to taste the roast rather than the bean; darker roasted has slightly less caffeine due to the roasting process
  • Producers need to be taken care of in order for future generations to continue coffee production as a viable way of living
    • Certifications help this: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, USDA Organic (third-party certifications)
    • Most coffee is grown organically, but not certified by a third-party, so it isn’t referred to as such

Marketing and Merchandising: Action Stations
Bridget McManus-McCall, corporate executive chef and business development manager, Nestle Professional
Christopher Donato, corporate executive chef, Nestle Professional
Michael Taney, channel sales manager, Nestle Professional

Chef-inspired action stations are a proven way to keep customers excited about your foodservice program…and they can be very cost-effective. Setting up an interactive flatbread station, a soup/noodle station, or a mac and cheese station can maximize cross-utilization of ingredients; you can use the same mis en place for each, such as leftover cooked meats, roasted vegetables and dips.

Action stations are also a way to showcase global flavors; a soup station can change from Latin to Asian to Moroccan with a simple switching out of ingredients and a change in the flavor of the base broth. The presenters gave an overview of what customers are seeking today and how action stations can meet their needs:

  • Few guests are satisfied with healthy fare availability; even though healthy options are provided; they want more options and customization opportunities
  • Customers are more adventurous today and are demanding authenticity
  • Offer fresh ingredients in a customizable way, without added labor or waste
  • Customize stations as farm to table, gluten free and other hot trends
  • Easily offer ethnic dishes through the use of toppings and herbs
  • Easily change offerings to keep guests coming back
  • Offer a base ingredient, such as a soup broth, risotto or pasta, or flatbread—can be hot or cold offering
  • Offer toppings and proteins separately for customers to add to the base ingredient and customize the dish to their liking
  • Call out local produce/ingredients on station menus
  • Alternate between self-serve and manned stations. Either way, they don’t require much in the way of skilled labor
  • Challenge the manufacturers you work with to offer solutions

Attendees then had the opportunity to sample from two customized action stations: a flatbread station offering hummus, grilled vegetables and other toppings and a tortilla soup station offering two base broths (vegetarian and chipotle-black bean) with an array of condiments, such as pico de gallo, chopped scallions, cilantro, tortilla strips and other ingredients.

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