Beyond 'usual' rice

Whether you're serving elementary school–age kids or sophisticated corporate types, Mom's edict— "Try it, you'll like it!"—holds true when it comes to rice beyond the standard white, Spanish and fried varieties.

A Culinary Table set up once a week at the cafeteria entrance at Credit Suisse First Boston, a Eurest Dining Svcs. account in New York, serves to educate customers by offering tastings and recipes of food items the approx. 650 lunchtime customer might not use at home. "One of our education items focuses on making sweet rice pudding using purple sticky rice plus a demo of how to use a rice cooker—although we don't usually use them here for large amounts of rice," notes exec. chef Jim Campbell.

"The key to getting rice popular is to put it on a tasting station which encourages customers to buy it. On our Culinary Table in April we had rice flake crusted sea bass over truffled risotto and roasted salsify (a parsnip-shaped root vegetable) with dried fig topping. Approx. 15% of our lunchtime customers will pay $7.99 for this special meal vs. $4.99 for a regular entree," he says.

Overall, some type of rice is menued daily at this Credit Suisse location, with the most popular rice dishes being from the Asian stir-fry selections offered once-a-week, especially when a new variety such as red, purple, Thai or sticky rice is introduced.

Basmati the favorite: At the Asian Rice Bowl station, part of Eurest's daily Menutainment cook-to-order program, basmati rice is currently the customer favorite. Customers choose their stir-fry ingredients from a wide selection of Asian vegetables, beef, chicken and pork, plus two choices of rice, all for $5.69.

Meanwhile, the made-to-order Fajita Bar features Spanish rice, while the Curry Bar—with its array of Indian dishes—offers basmati rice exclusively.

"We regularly pair up different rice sides with the main entree. When we make Asian lacquer pork with ginger lemon grass, for example, Chinese black rice is the choice. This medium grain, unmilled rice has a bran coating that actually looks black and when cooked it becomes a dark purple. For Southern cuisine, we do a 'dirty rice' with onions, paprika, garlic powder and seasonings. That's really authentic served with chicken livers. Of course, steamed white rice is traditional with stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage," Campbell points out.

Annual encouragement: Each year the USA Rice Federation sponsors a National Rice Month Foodservice Promotion Contest encouraging a wide range of f/s operations across the country to participate in celebrating Natl. Rice Month in September. The first prize for 2002 of $2,000 was awarded to Notre Dame (IN) Univ. Food Services North Dining Hall.

There, g.m. John Glon spearheaded numerous promos including a "Great American Rice Race" (students carried a sack of rice from one dining hall to the other), cooking classes and contests. During September, the dining hall served 322,880 servings of rice, a 55% increase over the previous year.

"Riceland Foods gave us ideas for different looks with basmati and jasmine rice and provided samples and giveaways. We also purchased giveaways such as cups, pencils, aprons, T-shirts, hats, key chains and little rice cookers from the Rice Federation. Plus, Notre Dame f/s gave us a small budget to offer a prize of a mountain bike, a CD player and some gift certificates. Everything was a huge success," Glon reports.

A manned rice table with a stir-fry bar offered almost 75 items to be combined with hot or cold rice items. "It was another opportunity for them to experience different rice dishes. They like them all but especially white, jasmine and basmati. We also did orzo portabella, rice casseroles and rice desserts," he says.

A 50% increase: The $1,000 second prize was awarded by the USA Rice Federation to Harmon High School in Kansas City, KS. Nutritional mgr. Lori Danella promoted rice with the patriotic theme, "Stars, Stripes and Rice Forever." She even had local firefighters serving lunch in the cafeteria one day. Overall, the promotions helped increase rice consumption 50% over the previous year.

"The high school and six elementary schools participated and at the high school one rice item was menued per week (vs. the usual once a month) during September. In general, Spanish rice is the high school favorite while for the younger kids it's rice pilaf with peas and carrots. On our special 'Rice Madness Day,' lasagna with beef and rice was very popular," Danella says.

Special events: Throughout the school year, special events provide numerous menuing opportunities. For example, for a Chinese New Year celebration in February, fried rice with mixed vegetables, sweet and sour chicken over white rice, as well as beef and broccoli over steamed white rice is served. And, for Cinco de Mayo, a special Spanish rice recipe is prepared. Since three-quarters of the 12,000 students are Hispanic, it's always a favorite.

The Harmon f/s staff finds serving rice is extremely economical and typically prepare it in convection ovens. But fried rice is done in a braiser for faster-than-stove-top preparation.

On balance, most of the elementary school children really like rice, Danella finds, but rice pudding was a novelty. "Most had never had it. With encouragement—and samplings—they loved it."

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