Chef Q&A

Delivery Dishes

Q: Delivery is transforming foodservice as we know it. UberEats, Postmates, Door Dash…more than ever, customers want to enjoy their favorite restaurant dishes at home. What dishes transport best and why?

The best foods for transporting are typically salads (leafy greens, healthy grains, or marinated vegetables), and braised or grilled vegetables (especially Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and radicchio). The main reason salads travel best is because they typically stay cold and are not altered with dressings yet. Braised or grilled produce will also travel well because the preparation method permits longer holding times.


Modern Burger Makeovers

Q: The traditional burger has been given many modern makeovers. Today’s chefs must offer more than just a beef patty to meet customer expectations. How do you incorporate fresh produce in your burger menu?

When enhancing my beef patty, I love using roasted beets and mushrooms. Not only does it maintain moisture, but it provides layers of flavor and give the dish a wow factor. 


Pairing Produce with BBQ

Q: It’s BBQ season—what exciting produce side dishes do you pair with the sticky ribs, Nashville hot chicken, and pulled pork that are trending on menus?

I’ve been seeing more grilled and chilled fruits and melons to counter the rich flavors of spicy bbq sauces.


Summer Veggies

Q: What is your favorite summer vegetable? How do you use it?

I love to cook with Ready-Set-Serveb Brussels Sprouts—either whole or halves. I grill, roast, or pan-fry them, then toss with minced RSS Peeled Garlic and creamy, tangy goat cheese.

Chef: Gary Hill
Gulf Coast Division Chef/Produce Specialist, Ben E. Keith

Markon Essentials Vegetables

Q: Markon Essentials brand focuses on flavor, not appearance. What preparations do you target with this line of vegetables?

The Markon Essentials line of vegetables is perfect for when appearance isn’t a high priority, for example when slicing or chopping into soups or sauces. I love the ugly produce movement—preventing food waste—and these items are a part of that.

Chef: Gary Hill
Gulf Coast Division Chef/Produce Specialist, Ben E. Keith

Produce and Seafood Pairings

Q: With many people eating less meat, seafood has exploded as a category. What produce items do you use to highlight fish and/or shellfish entrees?

I love a medley of Japanese eggplant, baby carrots, zucchini, and squash. The combination of bitter, sweet, and earthy flavors brings contrast to seafood options. The bright colors also add dimension to plate presentation.

Chef: Gary Hill
Gulf Coast Division Chef/Produce Specialist, Ben E. Keith

Pantone 2019 Living Coral-Colored Foods

Q: Living Coral is the Pantone color of 2019; what foods do you serve that are in this shade?

Ingredients such as cantaloupe, mamey sapotes, salmon, peaches, grapefruit, and papayas are naturally vibrant and packed with flavor. 

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Healthy Fats

Q: Healthy fats are delicious and part of many trending diet plans. What ingredients do you suggest?

Fat is no longer the villain, as long they are the right fats. I like to incorporate plenty of olive oil, avocados, and salmon in my recipes. Nuts and eggs are also good sources to add in smaller amounts.

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Reducing Single-Use Plastics

Q: Plastic is the latest villain of sustainability. How can operators use less plastic in their kitchens?

The goal for foodservice operators should be to reduce single use plastics, especially straws and cutlery as well as switch to lower impact packaging made with sustainable materials. Markon is taking the first step by leading the produce industry in plastic reduction. It will be an evolution, but first up is replacing the clamshells for MFC Strawberries with new, recyclable cardboard cartons. 

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Fresh Berries for the Win!

Q: Fresh berries add color, texture, and sweetness—how do you use them?

I macerate fresh berries with a fortified wine such as port or madeira, palm sugar, vanilla, and RSS Lemon Juice to bring out their flavor and force the juice from the berries into the maceration. Allow to set for a few hours, strain, take 3/4 of liquid into a hot saucepan with a little sherry vinegar and cook to a gastrique state. With the remaining macerated juice, add some heavy cream and egg yolks then temper over a water bath to make a sabayon. Build parfaits with layers of berries and sabayon with drizzled gastrique throughout the glass. Chill before service. Garnish with halved MFC Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Father's Day Dishes

Q: What veg-centric dishes do you offer to counter traditionally meat-focused Father’s Day menus?

In place of a traditional meat-based burger, I suggest offering marinated MFC Portabella Mushrooms with savory vinegar, high quality olive oil, fresh herbs (such as MFC Basil or MFC Tarragon), lots of ground black pepper, and kosher salt. I roast them in the oven or grill on a charcoal fire. Remove the gills with a spoon to create a type of cup to hold the above ingredients and cook until mushroom centers are tender. Top with aged Provolone cheese and melt under the broiler or on the grill. Slather with pureed peppadew peppers, mayonnaise, and RSS Lemon Juice, then pile high with grilled RSS Sliced Onions, RSS Better Burger Lettuce, and sliced MFC Tomatoes all on toasted brioche buns. 

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Craveable Hybrid Dishes

Q: Hybrid dishes, think cronuts, ramen burgers, and sushirittos—are craveable and extremely instagrammable. What hybrid dishes have you seen?

Here are a few hybrid dishes that I have seen recently

  • Sushi tacos are trending; I fill seaweed shells with sticky rice, tempura vegetables, sliced RSS Avocado Halves, pickled ginger, and red onions.
  • The squashleekotao a.k.a a Vegducken combines MFC Zucchini Squash, leeks, and sweet potatoes rolled into a vegetarian masterpiece.
  • A phoritto is a house-made tortilla filled with pho beef, rice noodles, MFC Basil, bean sprouts, chile peppers, and MFC Limes. Don’t forget the dipping sauce!
Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Creative Alcohol-Free Beverages

Q: Alcohol-free beverages made strong in-roads on menus last year and show signs of even more popularity this year. What are your most creative beverage ideas?

Here are my versions of some zero-proof classics

  • Blackberry Mint Tea is a mixture of blackberry shrub, honey lemon tea, and MFC Mint.
  • The Caesar Verde combines roasted tomatillos, clam nectar, coriander, lime salt, pepperoncini, green olives, and MFC Celery.
  • The Rose Water Soda contains edible rose ice cubes, rose water syrup, and ginger beer.
Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Mother's Day Produce Dishes

Q: Mother’s Day is a huge foodservice opportunity—what produce dishes do you suggest for this holiday menu?

Mother’s Day for me means brunch. Here are a few suggestions that I think Mom would like

  • Serve a lobster mushroom benny with poached eggs, buttermilk fingerling potato cakes, burnt butter hollandaise, and parsley salad.
  • Create a summer squash noodle bowl with marinated heirloom tomatoes, fresh MFC Basil, garlic confit, white balsamic, and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Drizzle grilled cabbage wedges with rainbow carrot and ginger dressing, mint yogurt, and garam masala bread crumbs.
  • Offer a fingerling potato salad made with candied onions and sweet & sour mustard sauce.
Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Healthy Carbs

Q: Carbs are back. What healthy carbs do you suggest and how do you like to prepare them?

The variety of textures and flavors in ancient grains makes them interesting to eat and versatile for every meal period. Cook grains like kamut in the low & slow heat method, then mix in caramelized MFC Apples, strained yogurt, salt & pepper, toasted pecans, and rosemary-infused honey. Prepare an ancient grain salad with red quinoa, charred MFC Zucchini Squash, pickled raisins, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, coriander, and harissa vinaigrette. Put a spin on risotto by using bulgur wheat with sugar snap peas, preserved lemon butter, wilted sweet pea tendrils, and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Incorporating Ugly Produce to Reduce Waste

Q: The Ugly Produce movement has momentum. What do you suggest to maximize kitchen scraps or use of less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables?

Markon has a line of products specifically for this use: Markon Essentials (ESS). For items like bell peppers, cauliflower, cucumbers, and citrus that are often chopped, juiced, and pureed, appearance isn’t first priority. I also like pickling the odds and ends or extras, like beets, beans, and carrots. And stems that are normally trashed can be used in dips like hummus or added to soups and stocks.

Chef: Jack Bretzke
Member Chef, Ben E. Keith

Using Za'atar

Q: Za’atar is a popular Middle Eastern spice. How do you use it?

This spice mix consists of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. Add the dry mix to house-made bread dough, vegetable sautes, hummus and other dips or use as a poultry and seafood rub. Combine with olive oil and serve with pita!

Chef: Jack Bretzke
Member Chef, Ben E. Keith

Satisfying the Gluten-Free Crowd

Q: Gluten-free foods continue to rank among popular food trends. What veg-forward dishes do you suggest for operators that want to meet the needs of these customers?

It’s important to provide a balanced menu for all customers. Ensuring grain-free dishes packed with plenty of fresh vegetable options will cut back on gluten-oriented ingredients. RSS Cauli Creations is an ideal substitute when making fried rice, pizza crusts, and risotto.

Chef: Jack Bretzke
Member Chef, Ben E. Keith

Inspiring Kids' Menus

Q: What suggestions do you give operator customers for healthy, fun kids’ menu items?

It’s important to increase offerings of fresh vegetables, both as chilled veggie sticks and/or grilled (more flavor) as alternatives to fried options.

Chef: Jack Bretzke
Member Chef, Ben E. Keith

Cabbage the New Cauliflower?

Q: Is cabbage the new cauliflower? What are modern chefs using it for?

To fill the gluten-free niche, I like to wrap enchiladas with cabbage leaves instead of tortillas. The same works for lasagna—substitute large, overlapping leaves for the noodles. Another healthy idea is to bake smaller pieces and use for chips.

CEC Executive Chef, Ben E. Keith Foods

RSS Sweet Baby Broccoli

Q: Sweet baby broccoli is a hot ingredient. How do you serve it?

RSS Sweet Baby Broccoli can be used in the same ways one would prepare asparagus or broccoli. I like to roast it to bring out its inherent sweetness while creating smoky, charred bits. Sauteing with garlic and chopped hazelnuts is also easy and makes a delicious side for poultry and meats.

CEC Executive Chef, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Texture in Recipes

Q: Texture, especially crunch, is something diners seek. What are your favorite crunchy, produce-centric recipes?

Texture is so important—it can make or break a dish. I especially like when the same vegetable is used to create different textures. For instance, cauliflower can be smoked and left crunchy, pureed with some honey and apples for a sauce, and riced for a couscous texture all on one dish. Charring vegetables is another easy way to bring in added texture. You can char a carrot for smoky flavors, puree it for sweet notes, and use the tops to make a pesto. Produce as the star is going to continue to be the trend, so we must get the most out of every vegetable we are buying. Try dehydrating, roasting, making use of the peels, frying, etc. By getting more from less you create new and unusual/different combinations and textures that will elevate your dishes.

CEC Executive Chef, Ben E. Keith Foods


Q: Alcohol-free beverages continue to gain popularity on menus. What are your most creative beverage ideas?

With warmer weather ahead of us, it’s time to start thinking about lighter drinks and spring time produce. Cucumber water with some fresh mint in it is a light beginning to a meal, but what about adding in some peach or raspberry and making a fantastic mojito mocktail? Use a little simple syrup, a splash of RSS Lime Juice, and top with sparkling water. The most important thing to keep in mind with mocktails is to make sure that you are using the best produce at the best time of year. Don't be afraid to add in some savory ingredients; beets or red bell pepper juice can give a punch to drinks, without being a “bloody Mary” rip off.

CEC Executive Chef, Ben E. Keith Foods

Cost-Effective Soups

Q: Soups are cost-effective menu items that often reduce in-house food waste. Which soups do you see as on-trend this season?

I think that the ever-changing consumer palate is looking for something familiar, but with bold touches. I believe that matzo ball soup will be coming back with modern additions. This is a hearty memory-inducing dish with a flavor profile that generates a love for simplicity done well. Chicken and dumplings is another one of my favorite comfort recipes that could be adapted—say with vegan ingredients or Mexican flavorings.

Chef: Kelli Welby

Vegan Snacks

Q: Vegan snacks are a growing category. What do you suggest serving on bar and/or appetizer menus?

Vegans are a growing part of the foodie community. Eggplant adovada street tacos are by far my favorite vegan dish. It consists of eggplant braised in red chile sauce, then placed in a jicama shell with pickled onions, avocado puree, and topped with micro cilantro. It can satisfy anyone’s palate, vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore. 

Chef: Kelli Welby

Using Ramps

Q: Ramps continue to gain popularity for their bold flavor and limited season. What’s your favorite ramp recipe?
Ramps are an amazing spring produce item that have a unique flavor as well as a dedicated following. I am a big fan of utilizing as much of a product as possible, especially when the season is short and availability is limited. A chimichurri or a pesto that utilizes the entire product (as well as showcasing its beautiful flavor) is the way to go. 
Chef: Kelli Welby

St. Patrick's Day Menus

Q: Irish menus are perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. How do you upgrade traditional dishes for modern menus?

My personal favorite updated traditional Irish dish is shredded short rib Shepherd’s pie. I like to braise boneless short ribs overnight, shred them and add demi-glace instead of gravy, with finely chopped celery, carrots, and onions as well as peas. Then I like to top this dish with very cheesy mashed potatoes, baking it until the cheese has formed a yummy, crispy topping. I think these small changes take this very traditional comfort food and transforms it into a dish that will impress.

Chef: Kelli Welby

Seasonal Spring Items

Q: Spring is the season many specific produce items become available. What is your favorite spring item and how do you showcase it?

I really enjoy working with radishes. The radish has a large variety of flavor profiles from mild to spicy and I think using fresh radish as a garnish for salad or tacos is the best way to brighten a spring dish.

Chef: Kelli Welby

MFC Broccoli Crowns

Q: What is your favorite MFC product? How do you prepare/serve it?

I really enjoy working with MFC Broccoli Crowns. I like to roast them for deep color and flavor. I also like to make Gruyere cheesy broccoli gratins—bake them in large ramekins until golden and crispy. This recipe is a profitable side to add to your menu for sure!

Member Corporate Chef

Pump Up the Protein

Q: Protein is listed as something diners want in their meals—how do you pump up the protein in produce-centric dishes?

Utilize beans and legumes in purees and sauces. When incorporating protein in produce-based dishes, it’s important to provide the nine essential amino acids. This is achieved by combining a mix of ingredients: beans, lentils, grains, and plenty of produce.

Member Corporate Chef

Breakfast Anytime

Q: Breakfast anytime has taken the industry by storm. What traditional morning meals do you like to serve for dinner and how do you adapt them for the later time?

When it comes to breakfast later in the day, I suggest using the traditional egg ingredient, but not as in the classic ways, like omelets or scrambles. Instead, I serve eggs roasted with asparagus, bread crumbs, and cheese as appetizers, poached eggs atop burgers, yolks over pizza, and a special bacon and eggs using pork belly in place of bacon. 

Member Corporate Chef

Valentine's Day Dessert

Q: What is your fantasy Valentine’s Day dessert?

A great Valentine’s Day dessert would be a fresh-baked strawberry tart with pistachio gelato on top.

Member Corporate Chef

Pasta with Produce

Q: Which pasta dishes do you see as big this season? What produce items do you like to incorporate?

I love shrimp sautéed in olive oil with Sambal chile peppers and plenty of MFC Basil. Toss these ingredients with angel hair or fettucine and you have a flavor-packed dish.

Chef: Brian Funk
Division Chef, Reinhart Foodservice

RSS Better Burger Leaf Lettuce

Q: What is your favorite RSS product? How do you prepare/serve it?

I love RSS Better Burger Leaf Lettuce—it’s a time saver as well as a money saver. It’s a very consistent product that delivers strong positive results. 

Chef: Brian Funk
Division Chef, Reinhart Foodservice

Winter Citrus

Q: Citrus is at its peak flavor in winter—how do you suggest featuring it on menus?

Try grilling or charring your grapefruit or orange segments. This intensifies the flavor and adds smoky layers to the dish. Pair these with beets, goat cheese, and RSS Urban Blend for a unique salad twist.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Healthy Dishes in the New Year

Q: The first of the year is when many try to eat healthier foods. What dishes do you like to highlight for these customers?

I always suggest serving simple roasted chicken with winter vegetables, vegetable casseroles like roasted cauliflower and red peppers with smoked gruyere cheese, farro with roasted squash and pickled onions, and “rice” bowls with couscous or quinoa. I also like to substitute farro for oatmeal with coconut milk and cran-raisins.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

2019 Produce Item

Q: Which produce item do you hope gains more popularity in 2019?

I am looking forward to the day when the rutabaga gets its time to shine! I love them—they are extremely versatile. Try roasting, smashing, frying and pureeing. Plus, they are extremely healthy, full of potassium, fiber, and vitamins.

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

New Year's Eve Dishes

Q: New Year’s Eve is a special night out for many diners. What is your favorite dish to serve?

Pan-seared scallops with roasted baby carrots and a blood orange-Champagne beurre blanc and micro amaranth. 

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Winter Mash-Ups

Q: Mash-ups (think mashed potatoes and celery root) are on-trend this holiday season. What is your favorite combination?

I am a huge fan of parsnips and parsnip puree. They can be fibrous, so it’s best to puree them in a Vita-mix with a little cream, butter, and pure maple.

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Holiday Dessert

Q: What is your favorite holiday dessert to serve?

Roasted pear and almond tart. The sweetness of a Comice pear roasted with cinnamon, vanilla, and almond reminds me of the holidays.

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Vegetarian Holiday Entree

Q: What is your favorite, craveable vegetarian holiday entrée?

That would have to be sweet potato cakes with a candied walnut chutney, roasted parsnips and an arugula salad.

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Hard Squashes

Q: Hard squashes are packed with sweet flavor and hearty texture. Which is your favorite and how do you serve it?

I love the flavor and textures of them all: Butternut, Kabocha, Acorn, Blue Hokkaido, Delicata, Hubbard, and more. I chop and slice them. I roast, saute, grill, and turn them into spaghetti. I smoke and puree them…the applications are truly infinite and they are so crave-worthy!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Cauliflower Crumbles

Q: Cauliflower “rice” or crumbles have moved from a trendy item to a staple in many kitchens. What do you like to use them for?

Because they are already chopped or crumbled finely, I like to use them like a bread crumb to coat different types of meat, which I then roast in butter and finally finish in the oven. This golden-brown crust adds incredible flavor—delicious!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Late Fall Leafy Greens

Q: Late fall leafy greens can add color, nutrients, and bold flavor to a variety of menu items. Which do you use and how?

My absolute favorite is red chard. It has the texture of kale, but with more vibrant colors. I chop it and roast with autumn herbs and spices.

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Holiday Side Dishes

Q: The holiday season is approaching…what are your favorite fruit and/or vegetable side dishes?

I frequently use root vegetables such as winter squashes and beets. They can be grilled, roasted, or cooked sous vide. They work for the holidays because they are vibrant in color and rich in flavor—elevating your plate to a new level. I suggest putting these types of dishes in your regular winter menu rotation.

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Using RSS Green Beans On the Menu

Q: What’s your favorite way to use Ready-Set-Serve Trimmed Green Beans on the menu?

During the holidays, customers expect traditional applications like green bean casseroles, green beans almondine, and bundles with bacon. I serve these, but also offer fresh ideas such as blistered beans with red bell-almond pesto or sautéed beans tossed in black garlic.

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Cold-Weather Soup Ideas

Q: Soups are cost-effective menu items that often reduce in-house food waste...can you suggest some hearty cold-weather soup ideas?

Ancient grains and legumes are healthy and on-trend. I use them in soups as often as I can to give them a hearty texture and more fiber. I add broccolini and house-made croutons to my mushroom-lentil soups—then top with a fried or soft-poached egg. Ramen is another easy-to-customize, popular menu item—I mix it up with different toppings such as Kabocha squash, black radishes, kimchi, enoki mushrooms, and piles of fresh herbs. Kale is a great addition to chilis and meat stews, while coconut milk adds a subtle difference to vegetable purees.

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Fall Pumpkin Dishes

Q: The trend of pumpkin-spiced everything continues to have a massive following. Where and how do you incorporate pumpkin in fall menus?

The sugary, sweet pumpkin-spiced coffee drinks that kicked off this massive trend have little to do with the healthy, delicious recipes I like to offer in the fall, but they do share the craveable ingredient, pumpkin. Once the weather cools, I like to add roasted chunks to a variety of menu items, such as oatmeal, chili, beef stews, potato gratins, tamales, mac & cheese, ravioli, quesadillas, and veggie tacos

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Incorporating Produce Into Pasta Dishes

Q: Pasta dishes never go out of style. How do you keep this category fresh? What produce items do you like to incorporate?

Pasta is an easy platform for creativity because the noodles (or shapes) themselves serve as a blank canvas for sauce, toppings, and cheeses. Although most Americans think Italian when craving pasta, it could also mean Asian noodles, or even fusion dishes. I like to cook regional specialties like pasta alla Norma with eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta salata from Sicily or Cacio e pepe highlighted with asparagus or broccolini like they serve in Rome. I also like to add color to my homemade pasta recipes with vegetables such as beets, spinach, mushrooms, and carrots.

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Grain-Based Salad Ideas

Q: What are the most delicious grain-based salad ideas for this fall?

Farro is a grain that works well in many salads. It has a great texture and a nutty flavor. Farro pairs with roasted butternut squash cubes, cranberries, pomegranate arils, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Toss with some baby arugula and crumbled goat cheese, then dress with a honey-sherry vinaigrette for a delicious fall salad.

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods