Chef Q&A

Fermented Produce Items

Q: Fermented foods continue to gain popularity for both their health properties/gut health as well as their pleasantly bitter flavors. What are your favorite fermented produce items?

Fermented foods are highly underestimated. They can be used to create a vibrant palate, something deliciously unfamiliar. My favorite fermented produce item is black garlic. It brings a sweet element to the garlic that we never knew was there before the fermentation. 

Chef: Kelli Welby

Using Turmeric

Q: Turmeric is hot as a spice in many global blends or as a grated root. How do you like to use it?

I like to use turmeric in a similar fashion to ginger. Like ginger, it’s very versatile, which allows it to complement many culinary applications. I personally like it best in tiny candied pieces—makes an excellent garnish! 

Chef: Kelli Welby

Featuring Citrus on Winter Menus

Q: Citrus is in season all winter—how do you suggest featuring it on menus?

Our palates need sour more than we think! As long as the citrus balances the dish, I think it is a great addition to winter menus. I would suggest using citrus in the winter to combat bitter flavors like in an orange cranberry glaze for brussels sprouts or a lemon gelee on a mocha flourless torte. 

Chef: Kelli Welby

Winter 2018 Trendiest Items

Q: Based on last season and the many predictions out this month, what do you think will be this winter’s trendiest item?

I really think that this year we are going to see an increased use of Brussels sprouts. I believe people have become less intimidated by their bitter umami flavor. The cores can be braised while the leaves can be fried, creating a very texturally appealing vegetable for many types of cuisines. 

Chef: Kelli Welby

A Twist on Traditional Pies

Q: Traditional pies are getting chef makeovers to stay relevant. What are your go-to combinations that modernize the classics?

I update apple pies with orange zest and sharp cheeses, add ginger and Szechuan pepper to peach versions, and stir lemon, mint, and cream into blueberry pies. I also like to add brandy or bourbon to cherry pastries.

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef

Popular Produce Item for 2018

Q: Which produce item do you hope gains more popularity in 2018?

Buzz buttons are a bright yellow edible flower bud which contains a natural analgesic that leaves a tingling/numbing/cooling sensation on the tongue. I use them in cocktails, salads, and on top of desserts. The flavor is truly wild!

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef

Unexpected Produce Trend

Q: What produce trend from this past year did you not expect?

Jackfruit was an unexpected hit. Chefs have really taken this once-obscure item and reworked it into the ideal vegan meat alternative. I especially like when it is substituted as pulled pork in sandwiches…delicious!

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef

Favorite Holiday Recipe

Q: What is your favorite holiday recipe to serve?

I like to serve corn souffles made with kernels of corn, creamed corn, green chiles, cornmeal, a hint of honey, and whipped egg whites.

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef

Vegetarian Holiday Entree

Q: What do you suggest for a vegetarian holiday entrée?

Brush Acorn squash halves with maple syrup and olive oil, then bake until tender. Fill each half with a stuffing of quinoa, sweet potato, cranberries, raisins, carrots, celery, and thyme. Top with a black bean/corn relish and serve.

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef

Holiday Side Dishes

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

Sweet potatoes store well and are available all year, but the fall is when flavors and freshness peak. I love the finished texture of roasted sweet potato. One of my go-to dishes is roasted sweet potato with chunks of fresh pineapple in a hot oven, allowing some charring. This goes great with pork loin or a nice rack of Colorado lamb. When it comes to fruit, nothing beats an autumn pear. There are many varieties and textures to use. Pears are great in fall salads comprised of kale, Parmesan cheese, sliced pears, and honey-lemon dressing.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Late Fall Leafy Greens

Q: Late fall leafy greens can add color, nutrients, and bold flavor to a variety of menu items. How do you use them?
Greens are loaded with proteins, minerals, and nutrients and give our immune systems a nice boost going into the long, cold winter. I love a hearty soup made from spinach, Lacinato kale, and Swiss chard. Potato, heavy cream, and vegetable broth simmered and pureed also offers a fresh alternative to braised options.
Good eating!
Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Healthy Dessert Options

Q: With all of the decadent meals craved (and served!) during the holiday months, healthy dessert choices are a smart way to encourage diners to order something sweet. What recipes do you menu that are on the healthy side, yet delicious?

Fresh peaches are my go to fruit in the fall. One of my favorite dishes is a healthy version of peach cobbler. Simply grilled peach halves, rubbed with vanilla bean, topped with house made granola and frozen lemon yogurt.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Winter Menus: Cinnamon and Citrus

Q: Cinnamon and citrus are two ingredients that work well in winter menus—how do you use them?

As we get ready to entertain family and friends, our beverage selections change as much as our menus do. Blood Oranges are a great choice for making drinks. One I like is a blood orange margarita. I infuse simple syrup with cinnamon sticks to add fall-like flavors to this “out of the ordinary” cocktail.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Eggs, Eggs, and More Eggs!

Q: Eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore. From burgers topped with a sunny side up, to shakshuka, to modernized deviled egg appetizers, this ingredient shows no sign of losing popularity. How do you reinvent egg dishes and which produce items do you pair them with?

Eggs have been everywhere on menus this year and I don’t see this trend abating. They lend supple texture to trendy toasts and brothy soups like ramen and udon. Scotch eggs—soft-boiled and wrapped in sausage, then fried in panko—are delicious on top of green salads.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Fall Brussels Sprouts

Q: Brussels sprouts remain a classic fall ingredient. How do you like to serve them?

Brussels sprouts went from dreaded vegetable to the hottest side dish on the menu. I like to saute them with cranberries and Indian or Middle Eastern spices to balance their earthiness and lend some pleasant bitterness.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Pairing Ethnic Pantry Items with Produce

Q: Ethnic pantry items are becoming secret weapons for all sorts of menus. Extras like black bean sauce, tahini, panko, ponzu, and fish sauce can add salt, umami, and texture. What is your go-to and what produce do you pair it with?

I like the Turkish Baharat spice blend…especially ones that contain mint, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, coriander, and paprika. These disparate flavors come together to season meats, rice, and vegetables with sweet and smoky notes. Ideal for customers who are on low-sodium diets!

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Pairing Produce with Meat

Q: Meats like goat, rabbit, and duck are increasingly popular on menus. Which produce items do you pair with these and how?

These ingredients are gaining popularity, especially goat—which is the most consumed meat on the planet. Traditional Jamaican jerk or curry recipes are great year-round. I pair these spicy dishes with sweet plantains, stewed okra, “peas and rice” (beans and rice), and plenty of fresh mango.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Using Potatoes

Q: Potatoes are one of the most versatile ingredients in myriad cuisines. What’s your favorite way to serve this tremendous tuber?

Bar snacks are on trend—and reinvented appetizers like potato skins are extremely popular. I’ve seen menus featuring fingerling potatoes filled with hummus, Russets topped with spicy Buffalo chicken and blue cheese, and sweet potato skins stuffed with maple-mashed potatoes and marshmallow meringue for the holidays.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Sous Vide Applications

Q: Sous vide isn’t just for meat anymore… Many chefs are preparing vegetables in this manner for more tender texture. Which do you recommend and what other ingredients do you add to the bag?

I love sous vide, especially with vegetables! I really like the texture and flavor of doing sous vide on fennel paired with Pernod to kick up that anise flavor. Asparagus is another good choice—I add clarified butter and thinly sliced onions. Delicious! 

-Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Savory Pears

Q: Pears are a sign of a seasonal shift. What is your favorite savory preparation?

I love doing pan-roasted fennel with toasted pecans. I slice the pear very thin and toss with the fennel and pecans. A little stone-ground mustard and oil works very well with this dish. I top it off with blue cheese crumbles and chopped fennel fronds. The tartness and sweetness of the pear come piercing through all of the other extravagant flavors. It truly is the highlight of this preparation. 

-Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Using Carrots

Q: What is your favorite fall vegetable and how do you like to use it?

Carrots are by far my favorite fall vegetable! I love roasting tri-colored carrots with olive oil, sea salt, and garlic cloves. I make a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar, honey, cinnamon, paprika, and a touch of cumin. I gently toss the roasted carrots in the glaze and top it off with a little feta cheese—I could eat just that for any meal! 

-Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Adding Umami Flavor to Recipes

Q: How do you add umami flavors to recipes?
For me it’s always adding some roasted sweet corn kernels, asparagus tips, or even a touch of cabbage tossed lightly in red wine vinegar and sugar.
 
-Good eating!
Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Incorporating Melons into Your Menu

Q: Cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons are at their flavor peak—how do you use them?

I serve Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Cantaloupe Chunks with salty prosciutto or country ham and crisp Italian breadsticks. Watermelon works well with Feta cheese, red onions, and mint. And I pair honeydew melon balls with ice cold Baileys Liqueur and French vanilla ice cream for a sweet dessert.

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Late-Summer Veggies

Q: What is your favorite late-summer vegetable? How do you serve it?

Up here in the Great White North, late summer/autumn is a little different than in California or Florida, so I will say: roasted beets and parsnips with garlic, thyme, sea salt and cracked black pepper…all day, every day! 

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Produce to Grill

Q: It’s grilling season—what are your favorite produce items on the grill?

Coming from a classic French/Italian culinary background, I’m very fond of grilling rainbow peppers, Portabella mushrooms, yellow squashes, and zucchini that have been marinated in basil, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. More recently I’ve been grilling/charring broccoli, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms marinated in sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and lemon grass. 

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Fresh Produce in Burgers

Q: Burgers are more popular—and varied—than ever. How do you incorporate fresh produce in your burger menus?

My go-to burger accompaniments are Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Better Burger Leaf, vine-ripe or heirloom tomatoes seasoned with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and RSS Sliced Red Onions. If I’m making the classic Aussie burger, I add grilled pineapple, double-smoked Canadian bacon, pickled beets, and a sunny-side up fried egg.

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Using Summer Tomatoes

Q: Summer tomatoes are full of flavor. What is your favorite raw preparation?

I keep it simple. Summer tomatoes are so delicious, they can be eaten like apples. For my Italian tomato salad, I toss a variety of colored tomatoes with MFC Basil, olive oil, Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Peeled Garlic, RSS Sliced Red Onions, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper. It’s a classic that everyone loves.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Summer Breakfasts

Q: Breakfast continues to be one of the most successful day parts. Now that the warmer months are upon us, how do you adjust morning recipes?

We serve fruits like berries, melons, and peaches cold or toss them in smoothies rather than warming them up for the pancakes and waffle toppers or hot cereals.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Using Produce & Herbs in Summer Cocktails

Q: Using fresh produce and herbs in cocktails is de rigueur in many circles. What ingredients do you pair with summer drinks?

I love hollowing out whole fruits to use them as vessels to hold drinks. I use pineapples, coconuts, and most melons—with lots of ice and fresh sage—to a create refreshing summer cocktails.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Grilling with Produce

Q: It’s BBQ season—what produce side dishes do you pair with this fare?

I would say there is nothing better than grilled corn on the cob seasoned with a house blend of BBQ spices. I like to get a good char on the kernels for extra flavor. They pair well with chicken wings, burgers, and steaks.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Favorite Summer Fruit

Q: What is your favorite summer fruit and how do you like to use it?

I like to season seedless watermelons with salt, pepper, and garlic, then grill and use them in place of tomatoes in my watermelon caprese salad topped with Champagne vinaigrette, Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Wild Arugula, gorgonzola cheese, and crushed pistachios.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Robust Spice Blends

Q: The popularity of spicy flavors shows no signs of abating. What are your favorites?

I season vegetables with robust spice blends like chipotle, harissa, or shawarma mix before grilling. These bold flavors add another dimension to vegetables and summer salads.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Bold Flavors

Q: Unique, bold flavors are at the top of the trend list—what are your go-to ingredients to draw customers?

I suggest transforming thinly sliced cucumbers into bread and butter pickles. In general I like substituting pickled or marinated vegetable combinations for fries. Another great combination is citrus with spicy chiles—together they create a ying-yang flavor contrast.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Warm-Weather Salads

Q: As temperatures climb, green salads become a menu focus. What are your favorite spring and summer salad ingredients?

I like to combine lettuces like arugula, baby greens, romaine, and spinach with grilled vegetables such as asparagus, squash, and tomatoes. I give these salads balance with a hint of sweetness from fruits like blueberries and strawberries.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Must-Haves for Father's Day Menus

Q: Which produce items are must-haves for Father’s Day menus?

Tomatoes, corn on the cob, strawberries and watermelon are my favorite ways of adding flavor and color to what is traditionally a meat-centric holiday. Times are changing and families are making healthier choices when eating out. I like to grill these produce items to give them a smoky char and serve them as side dishes or salads.

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Healthy Drive-Thru Dining

Q: Fast food is getting even more competition with the increase in healthy drive-thru dining. What dishes do you feel lend themselves to take out and to-go options?
Everyone is “on the go” these days, looking for a quick bite they can take with them. They are focused on healthy food over heavily processed options. Offer these guests wraps or spring rolls filled with vegetables and that have a flavorful soy- or tamari-based dipping sauce or a spread on the inside. 
 
Include items that will lend a crunch for texture, juiciness, and flavor at the same time. Romaine lettuce, Sugar Snap peas, shredded carrots, cucumber, lime, and cilantro wrapped in rice paper that has been soaked. Add some nuts or shrimp if you like.
 
Soups and broths like Vietnamese Pho are all the rage these days. Packed full of vegetables, with or without meat or seafood, they are very profitable.
 
Good eating!
Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Photogenic Food

Q: Photogenic food is said to boost sales. In this age of Instagram, what ingredients do you suggest for maximum photo exposure?

Food pictures are the most shared photos on the internet! It is amazing how many people are taking pictures of dishes while they are out to eat, just so they can post them and let the world see what they are eating. Knowing that, make sure your food POPS when you serve it. That is free publicity for your restaurant! Anything that has great contrast or looks like you just want to “eat the picture” is what sells - things like roasted Brussels Sprouts with a balsamic drizzle; fresh tomato, basil and Mozzarella (Caprese salad); watermelon and Feta cheese salad with fresh mint. Fresh fruits and vegetables work great in these photos!

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Mother's Day Dish

Q: What is your favorite Mother’s Day dish?
Having spent 33 years in hotels, you can imagine the number of Mother’s Day brunch items I have made, but I also think about what my own mother liked and what my brothers and sister would cook up for her at that time of year. She loved strawberries and rhubarb and we grew rhubarb in the back yard. We would make strawberry rhubarb pie, or a salad with strawberries and rhubarb and fresh mint with some sugar and orange juice, add a few nuts for texture...delicious! My mother also loved Quiche; we would make many versions with either broccoli, spinach, onions, green onions, or a combination of all. 
 
Frittatas are a great Mothers Day recipe, since they are pretty much an “open faced” omelet. Sautee up the veggies you want as your filling and then add in the mixture of eggs and milk. Cook it slowly over low heat, being careful not to burn the bottom, then finish it in the oven or under a salamander.
 
Good eating!
Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Filipino Cuisine

Q: Filipino foods are rising in popularity. This cuisine is traditionally meat-heavy…what produce dishes do you suggest?
Filipino culture has had a very diverse influence over the ages which has had an impact on the traditional cuisine of the country. You can see influences from China, Spain, France, Southeast Asia, and even the United States. Filipino cuisine has some wonderful dishes that highlight vegetables along with the meat or seafood. One such dish is called “Lumpiang Sariwa” also known as a “Fresh Egg Roll” They start by cooking a mixture of tomato, garlic, onions and ground pork. Then they add in shredded jicama, sweet potatoes, and carrots. They cook this for a few minutes and then add in shredded cabbage just until it wilts. Remove from the stove and allow it to drain in a colander as it cools. Place a leaf of lettuce on a spring roll wrapper and fill with the cooled filling. Wrap it by folding the bottom up then the 2 sides around so the one end is open and the lettuce leaf is protruding. These are drizzled with Hoisin Sauce or sprinkled with chopped nuts.
 
Broths that are laden with vegetables and either shrimp or some type of meat are also very popular.
 
Good eating!
Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Mitigating Food Waste

Q: Food waste is a huge problem in our industry. How do you suggest operators utilize Markon Essentials items?

I always recommend that operators look at whole vegetables the same way grandmothers look at chickens—nothing is ever wasted. Take a head of Markon Essentials Cauliflower. Are we lumping all of the florets into the same dish or are we separating the largest for roasting, the smaller ones for pickling, and the stems for shaving into slaws or vegan “pappardelle”? 2016 Maines Food Show Presenter Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food even demonstrated how the small nubs of cauliflower (where the florets met the stalk) could be scooped out and seared like bay scallops! With a little perspective and creativity, food waste can be quickly transformed into memorable meals, revenue, and profit. 

Chef: Eamon Lee
Chef Eamon Lee, Maines Paper & Food Service

Using Fresh Herbs

Q: What are your favorite fresh herbs? How do you use them?

My favorites will always be a mix of three parts parsley and one part each thyme, chervil (or tarragon), and chives. That combination will always take me back to New York City in the mid-90s and the Park Avenue Cafe. It was their version of fines herbes and although a little different than the French stalwart, it was every bit as delicious. We used that blend to finish light pan sauces to accompany proteins such as beef, chicken, duck, fish, and shellfish like lobster. 

Chef: Eamon Lee
Chef Eamon Lee, Maines Paper & Food Service

Global Cuisine

Q: Global cuisines have never been more popular. Which world region is your favorite? What is your go-to dish?

I’m beguiled by Korean flavors, and am still unapologetically obsessed with gochujang. Toss RSS Baby Kale Mix with gochujang, RSS Lime Juice, sea salt, and RSS Washed & Trimmed Cilantro—then pair with cooked rice and pickled RSS Shredded Carrots and Cabbage. These ingredients are a great base for the very popular bowl trend sweeping the country. 

Chef: Eamon Lee
Chef Eamon Lee, Maines Paper & Food Service

RSS Heritage Blend

Q: How do you use Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Heritage Blend?

RSS Heritage Blend is the perfect blend of red and green lettuce varieties—and the leaf shapes and textures hold wonderfully in both traditionally and progressively composed presentations. The sweeter flavor profile really lends itself to practically any preparation. It’s quickly taking the place of commodity-driven blends on many of my customer’s menus. 

Chef: Eamon Lee
Chef

Favorite Middle-Eastern Flavors

Q: What are your favorite Middle Eastern flavors? How do you use them with produce-centric dishes?

When it comes to Middle Eastern flavors, I gravitate towards traditional ingredients like citrus, olives, and olive oil, and blends like sumac, zaatar, and harissa. I like to put a spin on traditional dishes like tabbouleh and fattoush by substituting parsley and common lettuce varieties with products like RSS Kale Color Crunch and RSS Shredded Kale  Blend. The difference that RSS products make in traditional recipes is amazing. 

Chef: Eamon Lee
Chef Eamon Lee, Maines Paper & Food Service

Reducing Kitchen Waste

Q: The imperfect fruits and vegetable trend is helping reduce waste…what other ways do you suggest reducing produce waste in foodservice kitchens?

There are so many uses for imperfect fruits and vegetables. I like to pickle cauliflower, carrots, chile peppers, and green beans. I also suggest making spicy chutneys, fruit compotes, pureed soups, and dessert sauces.

Good eating!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Markon First Crop Broccoli Crowns

Q: What is your favorite Markon First Crop product? How do you prepare/serve it?

I love using Markon First Crop Broccoli Crowns. I chop them finely and fold them into a delicious broccoli soufflé topped with strawberry crème fraiche. It always delights customers—and is a huge success.

Good eating!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Valentine's Day Meals

Q: What ingredients do you use for romantic meals served on Valentine’s Day?

On Valentine’s Day, I slice Ready-Set-Serve Avocado Halves like a fan place over lobster mousse. I top it all with a melting foie gras cube—delicious!

Good eating!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

2017 Trends

Q: What trend are you looking forward to experimenting with in 2017?

The veg-centric trend is big and I’m looking forward to promoting the values and benefits of this movement here. I plan to experiment with some of Markon's new products like Ready-Set-Serve Cauli Creations and specialty items like Chinese long beans.

Good eating!

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Serving Avocados

Q: Avocados are packed with good fats-beyond Super Bowl guacamole, how do you serve these delicious fruits?

Avocados are a staple for most of Texas. Because they have such subtle flavor, I give them a boost with citrus juice and/or zest, fresh herbs, exotic salts, EVOO, garlic, fresh mango, passion fruit, and fresh ground peppercorns. Avocados pair well with crabmeat, cucumbers, tuna tartare, shrimp, soups, sauces, and purees. They add brightness to any dish, from a quenelle for garnish to a mousse as a base for a crab salad appetizer.

Good eating!

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Produce Items in Hot Soups

Q: Hot soups like ramen and pho have exploded to cult status. What are your favorite produce items in these dishes?

I prefer rich umami flavors like Cremini and Portabella mushrooms that have been seared at high heat (to capture moisture and flavor). Also great are fresh micro cilantro, sliced jalapeno chiles, charred cabbage, green onion, daikon radishes, eggplants, hearty greens, seaweed salad, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and cauliflower florets.

Good eating!

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods