It is a privilege to contribute to this new column which will highlight tips and insights from experts that can enlighten and inspire food and catering professionals on plant-based cuisine.
With the ever-growing interest in the category, it makes sense to keep pace with current practices with some plant-based cooking tips, while being aware of trends and profitable opportunities.
Our first expert is Chef David Bruno, Associate Professor, Culinary Institute of America. Prior to the CIA, his experience includes Chief Executive, Cripple Creek, Rhinebeck, NY; Ardsley Country Club, Ardsley-On-Hudson, NY, and Executive Sous Chef and Executive Chef, Mayflower Inn, Washington, CT.
Chef Bruno shares these strategies:
- Create palatability by introducing new items, examples: New Wave Plant Based Shrimp, Finless Foods Tuna.
- Try to create plant-based items with the same intensity as other menu items.
- Use the yin/yang/push & pull balance effect cooking principle – Yin/yang is when complementary forces make up a balanced dish. The push and pull is how the ingredients work together to enhance the dish.
- Use acid, spices and fresh herbs to create flavor.
- Use the umami flavor found in natural foods. Examples of umami-rich plant foods: kombu seaweed; fresh tomatoes; aged, fermented and dried foods; balsamic vinegar; soya sauce; green tea; shiitake mushrooms and grapefruit.
- Think about themes: seasonal or focused on special occasions.
- Use texture, color and nutrients.
What advice would Chef Bruno give on what to ask distributors about plant-based products?
- First, look for new items available in the market. Next, talk to people who like to eat plant-based foods to find out what attracts them. Their feedback, combined with your research, will help inform what you will ask of distributors.
Our next expert is Peggy Policastro, PhD, RDN, director of Rutgers Dining, Nutrition Services, NJ Institute for Food Nutrition and Health/Dining Services. Dr. Policastro’s strategies are:
- Identify key personnel who have a passion for plant-based foods, then develop an interdisciplinary team (chefs, RDNs, food service managers) to gain buy-in from all areas of the food service establishment.
- Hire a registered dietitian/nutritionist. RDNs can work with chefs to plan plant-based meals and help educate people about why a plant-based diet is recommended for personal health and the environment.
- Offer a plant-based item that has a familiar component, for example, a plant-based macaroni and cheese that uses nut cheese instead of cow’s milk cheese; portobello mushroom fajitas in addition to beef or chicken fajitas.
- Label plant-based foods as good for the environment (climate-friendly). Avoid focusing solely on the health benefits. Also label items with sensory descriptions that focus on the deliciousness of the dish.
When working with distributors, Dr. Policastro recommends:
- Make sure distributors can supply the item in the quantity needed over a period of time (supply chain issues). Confirm that the dish is HACCP certified.
- The term plant origin can be misinterpreted. Plant-based has several definitions such as meatless/dairy-free (vegan) or more plant-based than animal-based (plant-based/forward-thinking). Thus, it is suggested to be extremely specific about what you are looking for from the distributor.
Chief Dan Churchillexecutive chef of Charley St, a fast-casual restaurant in Nolita, New York, and one of Meatless Monday’s culinary ambassadors, shares his strategies.
- Most importantly, the menu should taste epic. Otherwise, it will get you nowhere.
- Ask yourself these questions: Is the product easy to cook? It should be so simple that it makes sense for your team to distribute it efficiently, consistently, and quickly. What margin will I get by adding this dish to my menu? It has to make sense from a business perspective. In short, look for tasty foods with real ingredients that are super easy to cook.
- Talk to your customers, ask them what they think about bringing a dish. They are so valuable to you and your business. I would also be looking to add options to dishes that are not plant based. For example, our Charley St Chorizo started as an item in our Naughty Eggs with 2 poached eggs. We serve our Charley St Chorizo with roasted garlic hummus on sourdough dough. Chorizo has become so popular that we have been able to highlight it as its own dish and it is now available nationwide. You can find information about our delicious Charley St Chorizo and Bolognese here.
- When working with distributors, ask: Where was the product made and why? What’s in the ingredients? Is protein easy to cook? How long can you keep it? How do you store it?
To attract customers while taking a leading position on health and climate, Dana Smithdirector of the Meatless Monday campaign, offers these tips:
- Start with your most popular meat dishes and make them plant-based. So turn chicken tacos into tofu tacos or beef chili into three bean chili. On Meatless Monday in particular, leverage the popularity of #MeatlessMonday to promote plant-based eating and attract new customers.
- Host a promotion to raise awareness of Meatless Monday. For the past two years, Starbucks has promoted a discount on Meatless Monday to support its sustainability initiatives. Additionally, New York Presbyterian Hospital has added vegetarian and plant-based meals to its hospital cafeteria, at a reduced price, to promote health and raise awareness of the link between meat production and the environment,
For free recipes, social media assets, health and environmental resources, visit MeatlessMonday.com.