Bringing a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables as a key menu component, leading chefs provided tips to increase fresh produce in foodservice operations at a United Fresh 2011 workshop, “Lessons from the Front Line.”
During the May 4 session, United Fresh Produce Excellence in Foodservice Award Winners reflected on how they make fresh fruits and vegetables a big part of their operations.
Focusing on a seasonal menu and healthy food has been a recipe for success for Chef Clifford Pleau, senior director of culinary and beverage, Seasons 52, Orlando, Fla.
Pleau said Seasons 52 offers seasonal menu changes four times a year, and big reliance fresh produce helps the keep everything on the menu under 475 calories.
While innovation and new items play a role — baby bok choy and watermelon radishes were in recent menu items — he said diners want brilliance with basics. That could mean cutting broccoli like a steak and seasoning it in a new way, or combining tastes like golden beets and wasabi sour cream.
“It is about finding good vegetables and preparing them right,” he said.
Looking to demystify vegetables for his patrons, Pleau said he does a lot of research and development at grocery stores, watching what consumers select and what they put back on the produce rack.
“I don’t know if you need so many new vegetables, but doing traditional stuff in the proper way,” he said.
Finding success in promoting produce in a school foodservice setting, Jenilee McComb, director of child nutrition programs for Provo School District, Provo, Utah, said that it can take time for kids to acquire taste for some fresh produce items.
“It took a year for kids to acquire taste for the spring mix salad, but they love it now,” she said.
McComb said the district has incorporated nutrition education into the classroom, with visits by a representative of the district’s produce supplier to sample new items with kids. The school has also set up special event days, with fun activities such as line dancing in conjunction with a focus on healthy meals.