Chef Q&A

Cold Melon Soups

Q: Melons are at the height of their season—how do you use them?

Cold melon soups are a great way for diners to beat the heat. I puree these extra sweet fruits with fresh ginger, lemon juice, and herbs like Thai basil or mint. As an appetizer I like to offer it with shaved fennel, raw onion, and sweet watermelon served in bite-size Asian spoons—it’s sweet yet savory.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Markon Member Chef

Highlighting Summer Tomatoes

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

The summer months are when tomatoes really develop deep flavor. That’s why I always suggest highlighting raw dishes, especially salads. I toss multi-colored tomatoes of several varieties with a hint of mild sherry vinegar for balance and serve with fresh herbs and Mozzarella cheese. I also suggest offering gazpacho. It’s the perfect seasonal dish with a punch of bold, fresh flavor.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Markon Member Chef

Using Summer Fruits

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

It’s a toss-up between blueberries and strawberries. I like to keep them as simple and natural as possible. Another way I use them is to cook them in a simple syrup and serve over shortcake or baked in a cobbler.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

BBQ Side Dishes

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

Eggplant brushed with olive oil, seasoned with aromatic spices, and grilled. Watermelon salad with fresh mint, Feta cheese, and Kalamata olives. Grilled corn on the cob, brushed with mayonnaise that’s been seasoned with Chipotle pepper powder and rolled in Cotija cheese. Fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of smoked sea salt.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Dessert Fruits

Q: Popsicles, paletas, ice creams, gelati…what fruits lend themselves to these hot-weather favorites?

Delicious blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries. Also cantaloupe, dark cherries, and watermelon.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Seafood and Produce Pairings

Q: Fresh seafood gains menu prominence during the summer months. What are your favorite produce-fish combinations?

I’m in Boston….Lobstah and roasted/steamed corn on the cob are local favorites. Another popular combo is pan-roasted native cod served with a fresh tomato and olive salsa and marinated string bean salad.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Brunch Menu Staples

Q: Brunch is hot! What are your favorite brunch dishes?

Staples on my brunch menu include mango smoothies; French toast in a Grand Marnier batter stuffed with orange marmalade and cream cheese; salad Nicoise with seared tuna, marinated string beans, fresh tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs; roasted corn and fresh tomato salsa over scrambled eggs; mixed berries in cream; and grilled chicken and peaches.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Father's Day Meals

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

Since Father's Day falls in early summer, I recommend centering the menu around the char-grilled items. A large steak served with a bouquet of grilled summer vegetables will make Dad feel special. Green beans are at their peak and delicious when quickly blanched and char-grilled. Then mix in other favorites such as asparagus, eggplant, colored peppers, mushrooms, summer squash, or green onions. Brush them with a simple herbaceous, garlicky dressing before grilling. For another special side, boil small potatoes until tender, toss in oil, and char-grill them until the skins are crispy.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Warm-Weather Salads

Q: When the weather heats up, salads become a menu focus. What are your favorite spring and summer salad ingredients?

I keep my warm-weather salads light and crunchy. One of my favorite combinations is assorted leaf lettuces with watercress and frisee. No heavy, creamy dressing on this salad! In spring and early summer I also incorporate a lot of artichokes: steaming and quartering the hearts or shaving them raw if they're small. Later in the summer I move to tomato-based salads, both raw and lightly grilled. Fresh corn cut from the ear also works well.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Banana Drink

Q: Banana is a healthy way to add texture and sweetness to drinks like smoothies, shakes, and even cocktails. What’s your favorite banana drink?

Ever since I saw Fredo Corleone drink one in The Godfather Part II, I have loved banana daiquiris! If you have a "bullet blender," create a summer treat by blending together fresh banana with rum, lime juice, triple sec, and a few ice cubes.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Favorite Asian Paste/Sauce

Q: Miso, gochujang, sriracha…Asian pastes and sauces are an excellent way to pump up the flavor—what is your favorite combination?

Gochujang is a delicious fermented ingredient but also packs some serious heat. One of my favorite marinades combines equal parts gochujang and miso paste which cuts the heat in half. I whisk together the pastes with a bit of soy sauce and mirin, along with some chopped garlic, onion, and black pepper. The marinade is perfect for grilling vegetables—toss the vegetables and marinate before char-grilling.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Berry Trifle

Q: What is your favorite Mother’s Day dessert?

My favorite Mother’s Day dessert is one my own mom taught me called “Grammy Pammy’s Trifle.” It’s packed with blackberries, blueberries, MFC Strawberries, raspberries, and peaches. I layer the fruit with angel food cake, custard, and whipped cream to cream a stunning visual display that is quite delicious.

Eat well!

Chef: Mark Emery
Markon Member Chef

Reducing Food Waste

Q: The imperfect produce trend is helping reduce waste…how do you suggest reducing produce waste in foodservice kitchens?

The easiest way to reduce waste is by using Ready-Set-Serve products. Not only do you get 100% yield from these products, but you also reduce time and labor, get a consistent product, and have the backing of Markon's 5-Star Food Safety® Program. Another way to reduce waste is to use everything: in composts, purees, sauces, soups, and stocks. I even like to dry scraps to add flavor when smoking ingredients.

Eat well!

Chef: Mark Emery
Markon Member Chef

Cuban Foods

Q: Cuban foods are making their way onto menus. What is your favorite dish?

Ajiaco Cubano is a wonderful stew that combines the country’s African, Amerindian, Chinese, and Spanish heritage. It contains a variety of produce items such as corn, plantains, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, taro roots, and yucca. Simmered with a variety of meats and a pungent sofrito, this dish will give your customers an authentic experience.

Eat well!

Chef: Mark Emery
Markon Member Chef

Using Avocados

Q: Avocados are packed with the good fats—beyond guacamole, how do you serve these delicious fruits?

Avocados, a.k.a. alligator pears, are a healthy ingredient that can provide a decadent experience. I use them as a non-dairy base for mousse desserts, in dairy-free spreads, and as an ingredient in superfood shakes and smoothies for creamy texture. They also work well for upgrading salads and sandwiches.

Eat well!

Chef: Mark Emery
Markon Member Chef

On-the-Go Bites

Q: Snacking continues to grow as a taste trend—what produce-oriented recipes do you suggest for on-the-go bites and bar menus?

Produce makes a great carrier for items already on your menu like dips with raw broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and radishes or roasted beets, kale, sweet potatoes, and yucca. Pickled Brussels sprouts, chile peppers, cucumbers, fennel, and mushrooms are ideal on charcuterie and cheese boards. Remember you can also turn any salad idea into a mobile application by using RSS Lettuce Jammers instead of tortillas and bread.

Eat well!

Chef: Mark Emery
Markon Member Chef

Spring Asparagus

Q: Asparagus is especially prized by chefs in the spring months. What’s your favorite way to prepare it?

I love the grassy flavors of fresh asparagus. I like to keep it clean by blanching for three minutes and adding simple kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper before grilling or charring. This method lends a smoky robustness to this delicate vegetable—it’s even better when you add RSS Lemon Juice and the zest of MFC Lemons. Terrific in green salads or with fish and poultry!

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Vegetarian Menu Items

Q: What is your go-to dish to ensure there is a vegan/vegetarian dish on the menu?

Texas is the land of beef, but even here we are seeing the trend of more veg-centric dishes. I suggest offering at least one grilled vegetable pasta dish and one produce-laden flatbread on menus. Top a house-made crust with grilled portabellini mushrooms, bell peppers, sliced heirloom tomatoes, and plenty of garlic. Throw on some goat cheese and this is a crave-worthy dish.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Green Smoothies

Q: Green smoothies are more than a passing fad—what produce do you use for vitamin-packed, tasty drinks?

I like the freshness that cucumbers and mint add to green smoothies. Other favorites include kale, spinach, Granny Smith apples, and celery.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Grilled Veg Sandwich

Q: Veg-centric sandwiches are becoming more crave-worthy. What’s your favorite?

I actually just added a grilled vegetarian sandwich to a menu I developed. I love grilling MFC Portabella Mushrooms with RSS Peeled Garlic. Stack on slices of charred MFC Red Bell Pepper and several spears of grilled MFC Asparagus; top it all with an avocado aioli for a sandwich with fresh flavors and a smoky finish.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Spring Produce

Q: What spring produce are you looking forward to using? And how?

When I think about spring, I think fresh peas, white asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and rhubarb (which brings back memories of growing up in the Northeast). I love to make strawberry rhubarb pies and rhubarb compotes to serve with both sweet and savory dishes. Fennel is another item I love to use in salads or saute for a side dish.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

St. Patrick's Day Green

Q: Green is mandatory for St. Patrick’s Day—what green vegetables do you serve?

Of course green cabbage, but also asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. I like to make salads with shaved asparagus tossed with RSS Lemon Juice, olive oil, minced shallots, pine nuts, and grated Parmesan cheese. I also like blanching, then grilling asparagus and tossing with sea salt and RSS Lemon Juice.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

MFC Broccoli Crowns

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

MFC Broccoli Crowns! This is a great product for many reason—it makes a lot of dollars and sense. With the stems removed there is 100% yield on each case, making labor and recipe cost analysis much more accurate. Plus there are a thousand different ways to prepare broccoli—steamed, sauteed, roasted, stir-fried, puréed—even raw with dips like hummus.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Cauliflower

Q: Cauliflower had a popular year—will it continue? What do you pair it with?

Cauliflower is still going crazy and I think it will continue for some time. People are seeing the true versatility of this cruciferous vegetable. It can be grilled, pureed, sauteed, seared on a griddle, steamed, and even used as a rice substitute. I take a cleaned head and run it through a food processor until it is the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs—then I cook it like fried rice. It’s also delicious to roast large chunks with olive oil until browned.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Pizza and Flatbread Toppings

Q: Pizzas and flatbreads show no signs of slowing down in popularity…what are some unique topping combinations on the trend front?

Flatbreads continue to be a popular item because of their versatility. You can top them with just about any combination of items. I will start with a spread like strong basil pesto and top with thinly sliced prosciutto, shaved Parmesan cheese, arugula, and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. The sweetness of the balsamic syrup balances the bite of the arugula. Skip the prosciutto and voila! A vegetarian version! Other good combinations include pureed white bean spread with truffle oil, caramelized sweet onions, roasted red peppers, and crumbled goat cheese as well as balsamic fig reduction spread topped with roasted grapes, blue cheese crumbles, bacon, and shredded kale.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

No-Waste Cooking

Q: Kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts have all been extremely popular on menus. What do you think will be this year’s trendiest item?

The big trend I’m seeing is chefs reducing waste by using the entire product. Much like the snout-to-tail style of cooking, we are trying to use as much of a product as possible for more layers of flavor and less shrink. For example, instead of only using broccoli crowns, chefs are putting the leaves in salads and shaving stems into slaws. Now more than ever, with global demand and changing climates, foodservice operators need to utilize whole plants. With all the time, water, care and resources used to grow our produce, it’s the right thing to do.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Dahling, Shamrock Foods Company

Functional Foods: RSS Super Slaw

Q: Functional foods like vitamin-rich produce are extremely hot right now…which are your favorites?

I like Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Super Slaw made with shredded kale, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. It’s a great way to upgrade cole slaw and makes a fresh, healthy garnish in ramen soups.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Dahling, Shamrock Foods Company

Valentine's Day Ingredients

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

I love to make a simple appetizer/salad called roasted beet carpaccio with radishes and Bull’s Blood micro greens. I layer roasted, sliced beets with paper-thin rainbow and French breakfast radishes. I top all with the bright micro greens, creme fraiche vinaigrette, and shaved Reggiano Parmigiano. The vibrant red colors from the beets and the pinks of the radish scream Valentine’s Day.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Dahling, Shamrock Foods Company

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

Q: What is your new favorite product? How do you use it?

One of my new favorite go-to items is called cauliflower crumbles. I recently made a simple pasta sauce by blanching them in vegetable stock and pureeing with roasted garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and pinch of nutmeg, then toss with pasta and shaved Grana Padano cheese. I swear you would think it's alfredo sauce unless someone told you otherwise..with a lot fewer calories!

Good eating!

Chef Michael Dahling, Shamrock Foods Company

Favorite Produce Item

Q: What was your favorite produce item of last year?

All of the new kale items like RSS Baby Kale Mix, RSS Shredded Kale Blend, and Markon First Crop Kalettes. It’s very exciting to see value-added produce cross-pollinating with other movements like healthy, clean eating.

Good eating!

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

Sous Vide Cooking

Q: What trend are you looking forward to experimenting with in 2016?

I’m looking forward to working with cooking produce in the sous vide method. Protein usually steals the limelight when it comes to sous vide, but using this technique with fresh fruits and vegetables also produces amazing results.

Good eating!

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

Seasonal Citrus

Q: Domestic citrus is at its seasonal peak—how do you like to use it?

At this time of year, the North Atlantic water temperatures plummet and seafood flavors really start to shine. I love using fresh citrus, zests and juices, with raw or barely cooked items like seafood crudo in place of traditional mignonette.

Good eating!

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

Cold-Weather Salads

Q: What salads do you recommend for cold weather months like this?

I love to use kale, cooked or raw, with whole grains like farro and quinoa. I also like high-heat roasting items like MFC Eggplant, RSS Baby Carrots, or RSS Cauliflower Florets with olive oil and good sea salt, then tossing with kale, grains, and umami-rich dressings that use fermented ingredients like kimchi and sriracha.

Good eating!

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

Roasting Root Veggies

Q: What ingredients do you pair with root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and parsnips?

I like to roast root vegetables on high heat with local honey and hearty herbs like MFC Sage, MFC Rosemary, and MFC Thyme. When done properly, this technique brings out the deep flavor compounds that might otherwise go unappreciated.

Good eating!

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

Using Citrus

Q: Citrus can lighten up many of winter’s heartier dishes. How do you suggest using it?

Using acidity in a hearty winter dish will bring balance to the other components. Just a bit of citrus will help bring out the salt, sweet, and heat in a dish. Grate citrus zest over a dish just before serving to bring another sense to the dish—smell!

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Root Veggie Soups

Q: Root vegetable soups never go out of style. Which do you like to prepare and how do you keep them modern?

I'm a huge fan of the parsnip when making a root vegetable soup. Parsnips have a great flavor combination between sweet and savory that can be used to deepen the flavor of many dishes. The best part about parsnips is that they actually get sweeter after the winter frost, so it’s a great item to use when many products may not be available. I like to serve simple, but strong flavors like parsnip soup with truffle oil, caviar, or maple syrup.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Chicken & Waffles with Herbs

Q: What new produce item did you experiment with this year and how?

The classic we're seeing right now is fried chicken and waffles. I love to go a bit further and add the depth of fresh herbs, especially rosemary, sage, and lavender. Try combining them all and balancing with whipped butter, cream, or mascarpone. For sweet waffles, I like to dip them in chocolate or meringue, stuff with custard, and top with shaved coconut and fresh berries.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Trending Cuisine

Q: What do you see as the next big regional cuisine to trend? Which ingredients from that part of the world do you use and how?

This past year we worked on developing custom salad mixes. Now we’re seeing chefs move even more into custom blends, especially those that allow you to incorporate items that will build height and require less on the plate. The RSS Heritage Blends are a great example of this.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Pasta with Fresh Produce

Q: Pasta just might be the ultimate comfort food category. How do you incorporate fresh produce in these recipes?

My favorite way to use seasonal vegetables is to cook them on the grill, then incorporate them into light pasta dishes that use olive oil, fresh garlic, and seasonal herbs.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Fresh Fruits in Breakfast Menus

Q: Tell us how you incorporate fresh fruits into breakfast menus?

During the fall and winter months, I love roasting fruits and using them to make compotes and cobblers, stuff into crepes, and serve over pancakes. It’s also delicious to mix minced MFC Strawberries with cream cheese to create stuffed French toast, add to bread pudding, and to top waffles.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Favorite Produce Side for Steaks

Q: What is your favorite produce side dish for steaks and roasts?

For grilled steak I like to serve sauteed Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Baby Spinach with RSS Peeled Garlic and crumbled bacon. For roasts, I add seasonal vegetables like MFC Carrots, MFC Onions, MFC Potatoes, turnips, and beets to the roasting pan along with the meat so they absorb all of the delicious juices.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Nut Pairings

Q: Nuts like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts continue to grow as healthy snacks and recipe ingredients. What do you pair with nuts?

I like to add crushed or chopped nuts to seasonal salads, fruit cobblers (apple, blackberry, and pear), and quick breads such as banana, pumpkin, and zucchini.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Seasonal Ingredients for Fall

Q: What are your favorite seasonal ingredients for this time of year?

I adore cooking with apples in all forms. They are so versatile, they pair with a wide variety of seasonal items such as cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes with butter and maple syrup, Swiss chard with bacon and onion, turnips, and winter squashes like Acorn and Butternut.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

MFC Arugula

Q: What is your favorite Markon First Crop product and how do you like to use it?

I really enjoy MFC Arugula for its consistent color and strong flavor. Often I will toss it with lemony vinaigrette, top it with grilled asparagus, and a gently fried egg. A little drizzle of truffle oil goes well with the deep flavors of arugula.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

RSS Brussels Sprouts

Q: Brussels sprouts have been a huge hit on menus for the past several years. What are some new ways to showcase this product?

I love RSS Brussels Sprouts—they are ready to use right out of the bag and have consistent size and flavor year-round. Most menus I see pair them with salty meats like bacon and prosciutto, which is delicious, but for brighter flavor, I like to saute them with fresh cranberries.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

RSS Juices and Herbs

Q: What is your favorite Ready-Set-Serve Juice? How do you use it?

RSS juices are superior in any kitchen due to the clean natural flavors. I like to reduce the juice down to use as a citrus base for pork tenderloin prior to grilling or roasting. The acid also enhances the natural oils found in herbs like MFC Rosemary and Thyme.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Highlighting Fall Fruit

Q: Apples and pears are the epitome of fall fruits…how do you put them into the spotlight and highlight their inherent sweetness?

I like to keep it simple, clean, and very fresh. Baking them whole with a hint of butter, cinnamon, cardamom, and complementary fruits such as blackberries, cranberries, and figs allows their flavors to shine.

Good eating!

Chef: Tim Maness
Chef Tim Maness, Shamrock Foods Company

Using Potatoes

Q: What are your favorite ways to use potatoes? Any secret tips you’d like to share?

Potatoes are a fall favorite and make excellent side dishes for all types of proteins. My current favorite is the Hasselback potato—sliced multiple times and roasted with butter or olive oil. Delicious and a great presentation as well.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Fall Salads

Q: What salad ingredients work well in the fall?

As the weather cools down, salads get heartier. I like using cruciferous vegetables like roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower tossed with RSS Shredded Kale for a stick-to-your-ribs salad that is as healthy as it is delicious.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods

Flatbread Toppings

Q: What are your favorite flatbread toppings?

The flatbread category has exploded in recent years…these pizza-like appetizers and entrees can be topped with nearly any ingredients, but I especially like salty meats like ham paired with fruits like Markon First Crop (MFC) Pears, Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Pineapple Chunks, or shaved cantaloupe. I also like to pile them high with heirloom tomatoes, roasted RSS Peeled Garlic, MFC Basil, and Burrata cheese.

Good eating!

Chef: Bud Andersen
Chef Bud Andersen, Ben E. Keith Foods