Chef Q&A

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

Produce-Seafood Pairings

Q: Sustainable seafood is hot right now. What vegetables do you pair with this category?

I like to incorporate flavors like Butternut squash, roasted shallot, Thai curry paste, and coconut curry puree, hearty greens, root vegetable purees, roasted fingerling potatoes, or ancient grains such as farro as a base for fish served in wide, shallow bowls. Also try pairing a mild fish with cauliflower florets, EVOO, melted butter, garam masala, turmeric, onions, and garlic; roast until a deep caramelization and crunchy texture develops.

Good eating!

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Transforming Salads for Cold-Weather Menus

Q: How do you transform salads for cold-weather menus?

Always look for earthy greens such as arugula, kale, and chard tops; add in roasted nuts, beets, goat cheese, and tender pieces of protein. I believe this is the time to showcase knife-garnish skills and add a crunch factor to develop savory flavors and citrus finishes. Another way to add dimension is to toss small grape, multi-color, or cherry tomatoes with EVOO, garlic, fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, or oregano), then bake at a low temperature until tender—cool and toss into these hearty salads.

Good eating!

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Trends for 2017

Q: What do you think will be this year’s trendiest item?

Meals served in bowls that cross global boundaries with different flavor combinations will only grow in popularity. Also on the rise are cooking methods such as charring, pickling, toasting, smoking, and braising. Expect more condiment choices, ranging from romesco to chimichurri, to bring color and bolder flavors to dishes across the menu.

Good eating!

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Swiss Chard

Q: Which produce item do you hope gains more popularity in 2017?

I would love to see Swiss chard gain some more popularity in 2017. It’s not only beautiful and flavorful all on its own, but it’s a very versatile ingredient in many different recipes as well.

Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Stick-to-Your-Ribs Fall Recipe

Q: Stick-to-your-ribs recipes are in season. What is your favorite hearty dish?

I like to roast Acorn squash halves until tender, mash the inside and fill with barbecued pulled chicken, caramelized onions, kale, and pine nuts. It’s always a hit!

Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Holiday Brussels Sprouts

Q: What's your favorite holiday recipe to serve?

My favorite holiday recipe is shaved Brussels sprouts and bacon sautéed with balsamic glaze and blistered cherry tomatoes. It combines earthy, salty, and sweet flavors for great balance.

Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Vegetarian Holiday Entree

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

I suggest eggplant parmesan. It's a great dish that can be served a la carte or for sharing. I also love the dish because it is very versatile, yet is a comfort food for many.

Good eating!

Chef: Paul Young
Chef Paul Young, Reinhart Foodservice

Adding Umami to Dishes

Q: How do you add umami flavors to recipes?

I mash some anchovies into simmering garlic and oil that creates a paste that I add to many vegetable dishes. The natural salt adds amazing umami essence and great hidden flavor to the dish. Parmesan cheese, roasted mushrooms, and tomato paste are also great ways to enhance this taste experience.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Updating Holiday Classics

Q: How do you upgrade classics like cranberry relish for today’s holiday diner?

I add orange zest and deglaze with Grand Marnier. Try blistering some whole cranberries for a colorful garnish. Other delicious add-ins include apples, cinnamon, ginger, horseradish, jalapeno chile peppers, pears, pomegranate seeds, or walnuts. I like to use whole berries, but pureeing is also a good option.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Using Winter Squash

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

I prefer Butternut squash. Roast it with a bit of butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, and maple syrup—that’s how my mamma made it. Simple, but amazing. Delicata is another great choice—the skins are so thin, they can be eaten as well. I often chop it up and simmer in bean soups.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Holiday Veggie Sides

Q: The holiday season is upon us…what are your favorite vegetable side dishes?

I love pumpkin either roasted or served as a soup with burgers and sandwiches. I like to toss pumpkin chunks and Ready-Set-Serve® (RSS) Sliced Onions with cumin, cayenne, and olive oil, roast until tender, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, and finally sprinkle with RSS Washed & Trimmed Cilantro. Another favorite is to saute chopped pumpkin and Markon First Crop Red Bell Peppers, deglaze with mixture of soy sauce, mirin, Chinese five-spice powder, RSS Peeled Garlic, and minced ginger, and simmer until glaze is thick. I serve this with a choice of brown or white rice.

Good eating!

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Fall Vegetables

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

I like working with sweet potatoes and fall squashes like Kabocha and Hubbard because they work well with different types of cuisine. My favorites include miso-glazed Kabocha squash, roasted pumpkin with harissa, sweet potato puree with toasted cumin and hoja santa, and Hubbard soup with braised pork belly.

Good eating!

Chef: Jeremy Glas
Chef Jeremy Glas, Shamrock Foods Company

Adding Umami with Mushrooms

Q: Mushrooms have done wonders for reducing fat and calories in meat-based burgers. What other ways do you use mushrooms to add fiber and flavor while reducing fat?

I’ve always added a kind of duxelle to my meatloaf that I cook down with some Tamari soy sauce to add umami and salty flavors, as well as moisture to the loaf. My other favorite thing to do with mushrooms is to slice them thin and roast in low heat to make “chips” out of them. It’s a great garnish for salads, mushroom soups, and compound butters.

Good eating!

Chef: Jeremy Glas
Chef Jeremy Glas, Shamrock Foods Company

Middle Eastern Flavors

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

I’m really getting into harissa sauces and seasonings as well as baharat spice. Both can be used in potato and squash dishes—both baked and pureed. Baharat is especially good with tomatoes and tomato sauces—it makes a very interesting ratatouille.

Good eating!

Chef: Jeremy Glas
Chef Jeremy Glas, Shamrock Foods Company

Fall Pies

Q: It’s pie season—which produce items are your favorites to use in these flaky desserts?

Well, I don’t think anything can beat a great cherry pie, but I recently made a peach pie where I grilled the fruit before baking to add another layer of flavor. I also love traditional sweet potato pie made with Okinawan sweet potatoes. The bright purple color and surprising earthy/sweet flavor is incomparable.

Good eating!

Chef: Jeremy Glas
Chef Jeremy Glas, Shamrock Foods Company

Cabbage Dishes

Q: Cabbage used to be overlooked, but with the popularity of kimchi and other fermented dishes, it has gained menu clout. How do you like to cook it?

I’m a big fan of European preparations such as German sauerkrauts, Rotkohl, and Russian kvashenaya kapusta. Done well, these are all perfect complements to proteins like sausages and game. I enjoy making colcannon too—the cabbage adds more dimension to this potato dish with a punch of umami.

Good eating!

Chef: Jeremy Glas
Chef Jeremy Glas, Shamrock Foods Company

House-Made Spreads

Q: House-made spreads like chutney, jams, and jellies help establish authenticity—what is your favorite and what is it served with?

I use a spread of MFC Strawberries, rhubarb, and bacon jam on one side of the bun of a wagyu beef burger; I pile the other side of the bun with peanut butter and RSS Heritage Blend. It’s adventurous and unexpected, but delicious!

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Savory Apple Dishes

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

I like to use MFC Granny Smith Apples freshly shaved or julienned, then tossed in little RSS Lemon Juice to finish a dish like pork chops or roasted chicken. The sweet/sour flavors and raw crispness give earthy dishes some balance.

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Indian Dishes

Q: What Indian dishes do you recommend? What spices and produce items are in these?

My favorite at the moment is roasting sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash cubes, turnips, and RSS Garlic tossed in oil and garam masala spice. When tender, I mix these root vegetables with a crispy puri, tamarind chutney, RSS Lime Juice, and RSS Washed & Trimmed Cilantro to finish.

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Using Fresh Herbs

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

I use RSS Cilantro to finish dishes and give them a pop of flavor. I also like to use ingredients from root to seed. For example, I serve a shaved fennel root salad garnished with the green fronds and a sprinkle of the pollen. Carrot tops give pleasant bitter notes to pesto. I also use them to garnish roasted MFC Carrots and MFC Shredded Carrot salads.

Good eating!

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Grilled Produce Items

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

Chefs are now pulling away from the more traditional grilling items like asparagus and zucchini. I suggest using grill pans to give cruciferous vegetables such as pre-blanched RSS Brussels Sprouts, MFC Kalettes, and RSS Broccoli Florets a deeply charred flavor. I also like to marinate par-boiled and sliced sweet potatoes with soy sauce and mirin, then grill for a sweet yet savory taste. The key is to get adventurous.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Markon Member Chef

Late-Summer Veggies

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

I love beets, corn, and kale for menus that need to bridge the hot summer with the impending fall months. Seal skin-on baby beets in foil with sea salt, RSS Peeled Garlic, RSS Sliced Onions, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with oil—I like coconut oil because of the high temperatures of the grill—and roast on the coals until tender and the skins slip right off. I prefer raw or slightly sauteed kale preparations to preserve the crunch. And there is no better time for sweet corn than late summer. Char on the grill with butter, garlic, and cilantro—and serve with crumbled Mexican queso.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Markon Member Chef

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
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
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
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
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
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