There is a reason vegetables used to have a bad reputation, and frankly it stems from bad preparation that often includes overcooking, poor seasoning and lack of creativity.
“A poorly cooked pepperoni pizza will win every time to a freshly prepared but poorly seasoned vegetable dish,” said Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, at a recent Food Foresight meeting.
As plant-forward diets gain momentum and many consumers want to include more fruits and vegetables in their diets both at home and on the go, those of us in foodservice need to drive culinary creativity if we want to keep consumers coming back to plant-forward dishes.
While produce has long had the benefit of a health halo, for today’s picky consumer, being healthy is no longer good enough.
“There’s definitely room for improvement in terms of taste ...” said Bret Yonke, manager of consumer insights for Technomic, when talking about vegetable centric offerings at foodservice. “Yes, consumers want to be healthy, but foodservice occasions are often driven by ‘craveability,’ so anything to spice these (vegetable) dishes up and make them more exciting or tasty is an opportunity.”
By doing so, we can attract the growing number of consumers who don’t consider themselves vegetarian, but rather aim to double down on produce and limit meat consumption.
Grower/shippers who offer products ready for foodservice and with an eye on food trends can make an appealing case to customers about the ability of produce to keep consumers coming back. Consider the following tips for foodservice operators:
- Explore different cooking techniques — Sautéing, broiling, braising/stewing, poaching, roasting, a gratin and pickling are a few ways to turn up the flavor profile. Many chefs are exploring cooking methods traditionally used for animal proteins.
- Explore sauces and global spices — Kung Pao carrots and Buffalo broccoli are just a few examples of ways chefs across the country are getting savvy with sauces. Trends also show a move toward world cuisines and spices, providing another opportunity to create interest with bold flavor profiles.
- Use meat sparingly — It’s not “all or nothing” when it comes to animal proteins. Many chefs are integrating smaller meat portions as a way to enhance flavor and texture.
During the recent holidays, many households were dishing up the yams and green bean casseroles. While there is nothing wrong with the classics, professional chefs and home cooks should be more creative when it comes to produce.
By doing so, consumers will enjoy fruits and vegetables that are good for their health and craveable to the palate.
Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative.