When COVID-19 limited hospital visitors and pared down service at Bryan Health, Executive Chef Nazim Khan seized the opportunity to finalize plans for a new plant-forward station. The concept launched June 1, 2020, and has been growing in scope and sales ever since.
“Nebraska is meat-and-potatoes country, and I thought the new station would contribute about 3% to 5% of revenue, but on some days, the items account for 17% of sales,” Khan says.
Before the launch, plant-based demand from doctors and nurses had been growing steadily. “Every Thursday and Friday, I had been offering salads made with locally sourced produce, topped with a choice of protein,” he says. “Increasingly, customers were asking for vegetarian proteins, such as falafel, instead of chicken and beef.”
Growing up in Bangladesh, Khan was exposed to a broad and flavorful range of vegetarian dishes. Through his years in culinary school and hotel kitchens in the U.S., he educated other chefs on the variety of flavors and ingredients that can make plant-based eating exciting. He borrows dishes from multiple global cuisines, creating plant-forward items that appeal to mainstream tastes. For example, he menus tostadas topped with avocado mousse, black beans, fire-roasted corn salsa, shredded lettuce and queso fresco—a customer favorite—on Taco Tuesdays.
Khan’s Lebanese-style falafel is also a bestseller. He soaks and cooks dried chickpeas, then blends them with cilantro, parsley and chiles. The prep is paired with tzatziki, cucumber-tomato salad, garlic hummus and warm naan.
Once the plant-forward station caught on, Khan saw to upgrading some of his raw materials. For his kofta, he combines unprocessed tofu with three kinds of lentils—beluga, pink and green—and a bit of plant-based meat to hold it together. Customers can opt for the kofta as an add-in for bowls, tostadas, pita sandwiches and salads.
To improve the quality and taste of seitan, Khan adds chickpea powder, cuts it into cubes and threads it on skewers to cook tandoori-style. It’s become popular to add to salads in place of tandoori chicken, he says.
The success of Bryan Health Center’s veggie-forward station convinced Khan to go entirely plant-based when he took his exam to become a certified master chef. He created three vegan dishes for the American Culinary Federation competition—a first for the judges—and passed.