The 2016 Chef Survey, developed by Restaurants Canada, revealed Top 10 menu items to look out for in the upcoming year. The list includes many interesting and unique edibles that can enhance any culinary dish. With that being said, we want to emphasize ‘food waste’ within the top food trends to further enhance your restaurant menu. Yes, you heard us right – we encourage you to put food waste on the plate!
We chose to focus on 5 specific food trends from the list, and we’d like to share with you some key strategies for reducing and preventing food waste at the production level – that is, food prep and cooking. We will share tips for reducing food waste at the consumption and storage levels in later posts.
So, without further due, here are the top 5 trending foods and corresponding tips to maximize the use of valuable ingredients in your menu.
1. Leafy Greens
Ah, those beautiful, crisp greens. Whatever leafy green vegetables you are using at your restaurant or catering establishment – whether it is Asian spicy greens, baby romaine lettuce blend, frisée, arugula, or dandelion – you must think outside the box. All leafy greens taste absolutely fantastic when wilted using a little bit of olive oil and roasted garlic; added to a Spanish tortilla omelette; stir-fried; or incorporated into a rich pasta sauce. So, if you have any extra leafy greens, throw them into one of these dishes and make it your “daily special” to offer to customers.
With larger greens such as mature kale, or broccoli, think of creative ways to use the stems. You can steam or bake them whole, or chop them finely and use in soup or as a garnish. The bottom line is that no food should go to waste. This approach will save you money and energy in the long run. Your goal should be to maximize the use of commonly discarded vegetable ‘scraps.’
And finally, don’t forget about the forgotten greens. These include radish leaves, beet greens, and wild foraged greens such as purslane and callaloo (amaranth). All of these greens are edible and delicious when wilted. Not only will this provide an additional edge to your menu as people will be excited to try something new or not commonly used, but it will reduce unnecessary waste. How much can you save on food waste? Well, think about it this way: half of your radish bunch is made up of leaves! Poaching greens is another option and can add beautiful colour to your existing menu items. Green leafy vegetables are also full of flavour and offer a nutritional punch. Just remember to keep the temperatures low for delicate greens and stop cooking when leaves turn bright green.
2. Gluten – Free/ Food Allergy Conscious
Gluten free and other allergen-free options are popping up in many restaurant menus. This is based on a supply and demand of consumer needs and wants, and the evolution of our diets in general. Allergy-free menu dishes can allow you to be more creative in offering different taste and value to customers. Here are a few suggestions on how you can save on food waste with allergy-free, gluten-free menu alternatives:
Instead of using sprouts as garnish, use it as one of the main ingredients and incorporate it into the star dish of your menu. Use a combination of larger and smaller sprouts to fill up the plate. For example, you can use sprouted sunflowers with kale and basil micro greens for a nice salad base. Sprouts can be pricey and they do not usually have a long shelf-life; hence they spoil quickly. For this reason, you may choose to purchase a larger quantity with a plan to use it in a few different dishes.
B. Ancient Grains
Sure, you can go for the gluten-free pasta and pizza dough. But even better, you can create your main course around whole grains with a vast variety to choose from – teff, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet and wild rice varieties. Make a sweet or savory pilaf dish, or a warm root salad using whole grains. As an added bonus, you can set the price for whole grain dishes at a higher level because they are unique (not commonly used) and they are naturally gluten-free (make sure there is no cross-contamination with other gluten grains). To prevent unnecessary food waste, portion out your quantities and soak grains before cooking.
C. Spiralized Noodles
Spiralized vegetables such as yellow and green zucchini and squash (including spaghetti squash) make great gluten-free noodles that present well on a plate. Use as an appetizer or main course dish. To prevent food waste, consider getting the right equipment (i.e. Spiralizer) and invest in a commercial product. Also, skip the peeling, especially for soft skinned vegetables.
D. Mini Vegetables
Yes, smaller is better! You may pay a little extra for smaller versions of commonly used vegetables, but you also save more as it does not require peeling and chopping (which tends to produce some waste). Smaller vegetables also look really appealing on the plate, and they offer a great fresh taste in one small bite. This option may be more suitable for higher-end restaurants who put a lot of emphasis on presentation and flavour. Some excellent choices include mini beets, radishes, and carrots.
When I travelled to the Canary Islands a few years ago, I visited Tenerife where I came across a dish known as “papas arrugadas,” or wrinkly potatoes. The dish consisted of mini whole potatoes boiled in sea salt water. The dish was slightly expensive (although it sounds simple to make) since it actually costs more money to grow these small potatoes rather than the larger varieties. But it also looked much more appetizing than a similar dish made of chopped or mashed potatoes.
3. House-made Condiments/ House-made Artisan Pickles
Our favorite pickled items are dilly pickled carrots and naturally fermented turnips. We suggest skipping the peeling. Simply wash your root vegetables under cold water and scrub lightly with a paper towel to remove any dirt. By preserving the skin you are maintaining nutrients and reducing waste. The process of fermentation also tends to soften the vegetable, including the peel. If you choose to peel your vegetables or fruits for aesthetics or other reasons, have a plan B. For example, use the peels for stock, cooking liquid, or sauce. Beets and carrots can also add vibrant colour to other dishes, if desired.
4. Unusual/ Uncommon Herbs
There are many examples under this category including chervil, borage, Thai basil, lovage, lemon balm and pineapple mint. Herbs are so diverse and versatile with a distinct flavour even within the same plant family. Instead of using herbs as the garnish, why not make them the center of your dish. To reduce waste, use both stems and leaves and even flowers if there are any. Any extra parts can be dehydrated or air dried for extended shelf life and later use. Freezing is also an option. Baking or wilting can add a brighter green to your dish and a milder flavour in some cases. Any unwanted pieces, such as stems can be turned into a rich pesto or mojo sauce. Certain herbs can also be used to make homemade teas, or for infusing water and iced drinks. Again, think about maximizing the use of your products with the goal of enhancing your menu and offering something of value to your customers.
5. Alternative “Pulse” Proteins
Incorporating alternative protein sources into your menu can be a wise choice both economically and environmentally. There are many varieties of pulses currently on the market; pigeon peas, French lentils, cranberry beans, and many more. Another exciting item on the market is chickpea tofu. Yes, soy-free tofu! Pulses are very filling and can be used as a allergy-free substitute on their own or added to an existing recipe. Whatever pulses you are cooking with, create a practical plan for food waste reduction. In order to reduce and reuse food waste, you have to adapt alternative ways of thinking while also practicing new habits in the kitchen. So, for instance the liquid leftover from cooked pulses is a great base for soups and stews, and certain sauces. It can also be used as a thickening agent in other recipes. Likewise, the leftover liquid from steamed greens can be used to cook your beans and lentils. Sometimes, the key to reducing food waste means investing in the right tools such as a good knife.
Remember to use all of your key ingredients as a reference point to design your main dishes, rather than simply planning your menu without a clear plan to maximize the use of your edible products. As a rule of thumb, you should come up with 1-3 uses for each purchased ingredient (including all the stuff we call waste). This approach will help you save money in the long run, create efficiency in your business and support environmental sustainability.
We will help your business tackle food waste – guaranteed! Contact us today for a FREE initial assessment. Let’s chat: 416-997-4046.