Chef Q&A

Using Fresh Berries

Q: Fresh berries are a must for warm weather—how do you use them?

They are a great complement for unique cheese or charcuterie platters, breakfast parfaits, and desserts. As long as they are in season and sweet in flavor, I love to use them across all parts of the menu.

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Spicy Food Trend

Q: Spicy food is trending, especially with millennials. What are the must-have dishes for this season? What produce do you incorporate?

Kimchi is hot—and the fermenting process can easily be applied to all sorts of vegetables to yield a similar flavor profile. I think using broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, and kales in this manner can yield some very creative ideas for menus. Featuring kimchi in ramen, noodle salads, with grilled meats, and seafood (even in steamed buns) can be a very profitable way of capturing this hot trend.

Good eating!

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

Indispensable Vegetable

Q: What vegetable is indispensable to you as a chef?

The alliums: onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, etc. It’s hard to cook anything with much depth and soul without them.

Good eating!

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

Jazzing Up Simple, Familiar Ingredients

Q: Many diners prefer simple, familiar ingredients prepared in recognizable ways. What items do you suggest and how do you prepare them so they meet this criteria, yet remain delicious and exciting?

When using familiar ingredients, the easiest way to transform their role in a meal is to use a different cooking method. During the winter months, I’ve worked with customers on high-heat roasting different vegetables. Charring carrots, roasting broccoli, cauliflower, kalettes, and hearty greens have yielded rich and complex flavor profiles for menus. These items have also been paired with whole grains, and even their uncooked counterparts, to create healthy vegetable-based menu items from small plates to hearty entrees.

Good eating!

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

Healthy Breakfast Options

Q: Breakfast is a high-earning day part. What healthy recipes do you promote for morning menus?

I like to serve high-quality oatmeal and fresh fruit for breakfast. Pile on the blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I also like bananas, dates, and shaved coconut.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

Seasonal Fruits

Q: What fruit could you not live without in your kitchen cadre?

I love to get creative with apples and pears in the fall and winter months, then switch to melons and berries in the spring and summer.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

Savory Pancakes

Q: Pancakes aren’t just for breakfast anymore. Tell us your favorite savory pancake ingredients and what you like to serve them with.

In the summer time I love to mix high-quality corn meal with bacon, lobster, and MFC Asparagus. Serve these “pancakes” with a dollop of crème fraiche and this is a homerun!

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

Fusion Tacos

Q: The taco trend seems here to stay. What fusion tacos do you like to put on menus? What produce makes the best toppers?

I love adding seasonal ingredients like English peas or morels to my salsas. Unique filling ingredients include fresh artichokes, ramps, and RSS Brussels Sprouts.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

Catered Lunch Boxes

Q: With the fast pace of today’s life, catered lunch boxes are on the rise in both the hotel and restaurant sectors. What would you pack in these adult to-go packs?

Think power foods like nuts and grains, lean proteins, super greens like kale and spinach, healthy fats such as avocado, and dressings made with extra virgin olive oil.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

Healthy Food on the Menu

Q: With the health and wellness trends stronger than ever, what produce products do you feel are most helpful to operator customers?

I recommend using nutrient-dense items like dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Greens like Ready-Set-Serve Baby Kale Mix are versatile, delicious, healthy ingredients that can be used in salads, sautéed as side dishes, or added to soups and stuffings for flavor and texture balance. Many operator customers have been integrating these ingredients into their heart-healthy dishes, salads, and fresh-pressed juices.

Good eating!

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Ways to Use Radishes

Q: Radishes are keeping pace with cauliflower and beets in popularity. Suggest some ways to serve these root veggies.

Crisp radish slices always add zing to green salads, but there are so many other uses. Why not add chunky radishes to mayonnaise-based salads like chicken and tuna? Or include them in spicy salsas and relishes? Pickling is another excellent way to use radishes—they work well with hearty dishes like barbecued meats and stews. Other on-trend dishes I’ve seen on menus include Mexican avocado-radish salad; pesto, radish, and sea salt crostini, and buttered leeks with radishes.

Good eating!

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Colorful Kids' Menu Options

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

Today’s kids are much more adventurous than past generations. Leaving them with the standard choices of chicken nuggets or hot dogs will not win restaurants many young fans. Instead I suggest offering smaller portions of adult entrees, like grilled chicken pesto pasta and grilled chicken fajitas with sweet bell peppers, or adding fresh produce to some of their traditional favorites such as mac and cheese and house-made pizza. Be sure to use whole grain breads and give fresh fruit and veggie side dish options like MFC Apples, RSS Broccoli Florets, MFC Lunch Bunch Grapes, and RSS Orange Sections. Think color!

Good eating!

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Pairing Produce with Seafood

Q: Sustainable seafood is in the limelight—what produce items do you like to pair with fish?

Crunchy vegetables are ideal with tender fish dishes for textural balance. I like to serve wild Alaskan salmon with fresh fennel and Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Carrots, and sautéed catfish with spicy chile peppers. Try adding RSS Shredded Red Cabbage to tilapia tacos and pickled MFC Cucumbers to sushi and sashimi dishes.

Good eating!

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

RSS Arcadian Blend

Q: Food waste is on the forefront of sustainability efforts. Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) products have 100% yield (hence, no waste)—which is your favorite?

I urge chefs to take advantage of the convenience and cost-effectiveness of RSS Salad Blends. You not only save on waste, but also on labor—and the multiple varieties and colors make for great presentations, flavor profiles, and consistency ratios. My favorite is the new RSS Arcadian Harvest Blend—it is hearty, provides great plate coverage, and can stand up to both warm and cold toppings.

Good eating!

Chef Demetrio Marquez, Reinhart Foodservice

Vegetarian Starters

Q: Vegetarian starters can be economical as well as tasty—tell us a few of your favorites.

I love to make tomato tartins. Cut a sheet of puff pastry into a round disc. Shingle olive oil-poached tomato petals on top just inside the edge with a dollop of goat cheese on each. Bake until the puff pastry crisps, then drizzle with balsamic syrup. Top with frisée lettuce or chopped Markon First Crop Basil. Cut it into wedges or serve smaller discs individually.

Another favorite is roasted artichoke and fennel flatbread made with celery root purée and caramelized onions.

This time of year you can also do a lot with beets. Combine roasted beets—golden, red, and candy-striped—with goat cheese, beet chips, Ready-Set-Serve Wild Arugula, and spiced nuts.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Gluten-Free Menu Items

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

You can remain gluten-free if you stick with fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains other than wheat, rye, or barley. There are a lot of pastas available now that are made from quinoa, rice, and corn. You can also use spaghetti squash and avoid pasta all together. Split the spaghetti squash in half, remove the seeds, then roast it until tender. If you scrape the squash out of its skin, the strands will fall out like spaghetti. There are also gluten-free breading products available, but you must be sure to use a separate oil when frying gluten-free items so you won’t cross-contaminate.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

MFC Kalettes

Q: What Markon First Crop or Ready-Set-Serve product have you discovered and want to use more of over the next year? Why?

I am very excited about MFC Kalettes, a natural kale-Brussels sprout hybrid. I think this product will be the next big thing in the cruciferous vegetable craze and will keep consumer focus on foods that are healthy and have a bit of balancing bitterness.

They can be used as a sautéed vegetable, tossed in salads, or used in stir-fries. The tiny leaves catch and hold any sauce that you add. Try stir-frying halved MFC Kalettes with sesame oil; allow to brown slightly to develop nutty flavor, then add teriyaki sauce, duck sauce, and a dash of soy sauce. They are equally good just sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper, Ready-Set-Serve Peeled Garlic, and halved MFC Grape Tomatoes. They make a great slaw: chop in the food processor, then mix with RSS Shredded Carrots, diced MFC Apples, chopped nuts, and raisins. Dress with mayonnaise, cider vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Pickling Ideas

Q: Sour flavors are very popular, as evidenced by the proliferation of pickled items. What are your favorite produce items to pickle?

I love making pickles using traditional cucumbers, adding assorted peppers like Fresno, Jalapeno, and Serrano varieties. I also like to add interesting flavors like cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, horseradish, or ginger. Some other ideal pickling ingredients include okra, green beans, Cipollini onions, and garlic. Preserved lemons are another excellent way to add sour flavors to a dish.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

MFC Tuscan Blend

Q: What Markon First Crop (MFC) product is your favorite?

I'm working a lot with MFC Tuscan Blend right now; it contains Tango, Oak, Lolla Rosa, Leaf, and Sweet Gem lettuces. This product has year-round availability, robust flavor, and hearty texture that stands up very well to vinaigrettes and dressings.

Good eating!

Chef Simon Manvell, Gordon Food Service Canada

Thanksgiving Produce Dishes

Q: Thanksgiving is coming up. What are your favorite holiday produce items?

Some of my favorite ideas include topping roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon and maple syrup butter, mixing fresh cranberry relish with chopped MFC Oranges and toasted walnuts, and roasting MFC Granny Smith Apples to make in-house cider seasoned with brown sugar and nutmeg.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Ready-Set-Serve Brussels Sprouts

Q: What new Markon First Crop or Ready-Set-Serve product are you enjoying this year?

Ready-Set-Serve Brussels Sprouts are an on-trend, versatile ingredient every kitchen can use. Try stir-frying them with bacon and Markon First Crop Onions or pan roasting them with chestnuts.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Specialty Ingredients for Winter

Q: What specialty ingredient do you look forward to working with this winter?

Ready-Set-Serve Kale Sprouts are a natural hybrid of kale and Brussels sprouts. This new-to-market product is exciting to serve during a season typically full of root vegetables. I love to lightly saute them with Markon First Crop Red Delicious Apples, candied pecans, and dried cranberries—delicious with a drizzle of apple cider vinaigrette.

Good eating!

Jeffrey Merry, Reinhart Foodservice

Using Brussels Sprouts

Q: What is your favorite Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) product and how do you suggest incorporating it into recipes?

RSS Brussels Sprouts are not only easy to prep and use, they are very on-trend. I love their versatility. They are fantastic tossed with extra virgin olive oil and roasted in a very hot oven until the outer leaves begin to get crispy. For a fresh application, slice on a mandolin and mix with a vinegar-based slaw dressing, candied pecans, and shaved MFC Red Onions—this dish adds great balance to rich meals.

Good eating!

Chef: Matt Ryland
Chef Matt Ryland, Shamrock Foods Company

Using Fresh Ripe Tomatoes

Q: What was your favorite vegetable during childhood and how do you use it today?

I always loved fresh ripe tomatoes tossed in a little vinegar and seasoning. Today I continue to love this application, but use different products such as extra virgin olive oil, aged Balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, and creamy Burrata cheese.

Good eating!

Chef: Matt Ryland
Chef Matt Ryland, Shamrock Foods Company

Summer to Fall Flavor Transitions

Q: What flavors do you like to showcase as menus shift from summer to fall?

I focus on products that reach their flavor peak during this time. For instance, cabbage is much sweeter in the fall. Beets, chard, kale, and pumpkin all work well in fall menus. Carrots harvested in the fall are a go-to product for me. Roasted, raw, or blanched, they have the sweetest flavor and pair well with honey and seasonings like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cloves.

Good eating!

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

MFC Asparagus

Q: What is your favorite Markon First Crop (MFC) vegetable product for summer? How do you use it?

MFC Asparagus is by far my favorite summer vegetable. The dark green color and tenderness of this product allows chefs to use it in a variety of recipes. I like to pickle spears and use them as Bloody Mary garnishes. They are delicious grilled or combined with other summer vegetables to create unique side salads.

Good eating!

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

RSS Grapefruit Sections

Q: What’s your favorite Markon First Crop or Ready-Set-Serve fruit product? How do you like to prepare and/or serve it?

I love RSS Grapefruit and RSS Orange Sections. The time it takes to prepare and clean segments for salads and desserts can reduce kitchen efficiency. I like to make a salad of RSS Grapefruit Sections, Sliced RSS Avocado Halves, hearts of palm, and MFC Arugula tossed with vinaigrette made with RSS Grapefruit Juice.

Good eating!

Chef Michael Showers, Nicholas & Company

RSS Salads

Q: Summer is nearly here—what are your favorite Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) products to use during the hot months?

RSS Shredded Kale Blend as well as salad mixes like RSS Hearts & Hearts and RSS Heritage Blend are favorites due to their high quality and ease of use. I love how they save time in the kitchen and provide consistent presentation.

Good eating!

Chef: Mark Emery
Chef Mark Emery, Gordon Food Service Canada

RSS Hearts & Hearts Blend

Q: Ready-Set-Salad (RSS) salad mixes provide a delicious base for a wide variety of house and side salads. What are your favorite RSS salads and how do you use them?

I’ve been in love with RSS Hearts & Hearts Blend for some time. The extreme color difference makes a fabulous presentation, while the delicate lettuce flavors pair well with grilled fish or poultry and citrus dressings.

Good eating!

Chef Dan Chrzanowski, Shamrock Foods Company

Gluten-Free Choices

Q: Vegetables are an ideal fit for gluten-free diets. Is this an opportunity for commercial foodservice menus?

Gluten-free is a huge opportunity in commercial foodservice, but not in the way you might think. The number of people in the U.S. with actual celiac disease is quite small, but because recent scientific reports suggest gluten consumption can cause acid gut, joint inflammation, and early aging due to excess free radicals, many people are trying to consume fewer grains. Enhancing the menu with richly flavored, gluten-free vegetable dishes is a solid sales building opportunity that I feel will remain for quite some time.

Good eating!

Chef: Gerry Ludwig
Chef Jerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service

Using RSS Color Shred Organic Carrots

Q: Markon now offers Ready-Set-Serve (RSS) Color Shred Organic Carrots. I love tossing them into salads—how else can I use them on the menu?

They are great in stir-fries and vegetable medleys. They cook quickly for service on a fast-paced line and can be done “to order", providing a fresh, nutritious vegetable that hasn’t been hanging around on a steam table. They are also a perfect solution for stand-alone salads such as carrot-raisin salad, carrot-fennel slaw, and carrot-broccoli slaw.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Sunchokes

Q: Several chefs have mentioned sunchokes as their newest inspiration. How do you use this root vegetable?

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, are sweet and nutty—much like water chestnuts. This versatile vegetable is relatively inexpensive and can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be handled like potatoes: bake, roast, sauté, boil, or simmer in soups. By leaving the skin on, you will retain the maximum nutrients, but be sure to scrub them clean. If peeling or slicing, soak or sprinkle with lemon to prevent discoloration. Sunchokes are an excellent addition to salads and add crunch to stir-fries.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

How to Bridge Winter and Spring Menus

Q: What ingredients do you like to use to bridge winter and spring menus?

Leeks and rutabagas are two of my go-to winter vegetables. Turnips are another one that I love during that time of year. They can be sautéed, simmered in hearty soups, or roasted with other root vegetables. Persimmons are also a treat through the winter and early spring—they make great desserts and chutneys.

Good eating!

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

What Are Ramps and How Should I Use Them?

Q: I've seen ramps on many seasonal menus. What are they and how should they be used?

Ramps are the wild cousins of green onions. They have long green stalks like leeks and fat, white bulbs at their ends. Their strong onion-garlic flavor has many devotees; in fact they have become something of a cult ingredient. Only available for a short time frame in the spring months, ramps are great for limited time offers and seasonal specialty plates. Use them to add intensity to dishes like gratins or risotto. Their pungency pairs well with rich foods like eggs, cheese, and cream or salty items like bacon, fried chicken, or even hot dogs!

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Remove Bitterness From Eggplant

Q: Is there any way to remove the bitterness from eggplant to make it taste better?

It's best to cut the eggplant as you would for your application, then lightly coat it with Kosher salt and let it sit in the cooler for at least 2 hours. The salt will pull some of the moisture out, and the bitterness along with it. Finish by lightly rinsing the eggplant in a colander, and then cook it as you normally would (bread, sauté, grill, fry, etc.)

Good eating!

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company