Chef Q&A

St. Patrick's Day Menus

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

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

Chef: Kelli Welby

Seasonal Spring Items

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

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

Chef: Kelli Welby

MFC Broccoli Crowns

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

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

Member Corporate Chef

Pump Up the Protein

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

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

Member Corporate Chef

Breakfast Anytime

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

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

Member Corporate Chef

Valentine's Day Dessert

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

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

Member Corporate Chef

Pasta with Produce

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

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

Chef: Brian Funk
Division Chef, Reinhart Foodservice

RSS Better Burger Leaf Lettuce

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

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

Executive Chef/Culinary Advisor, Ben E. Keith Foods

Winter Citrus

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

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

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Healthy Dishes in the New Year

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

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

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

2019 Produce Item

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

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

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

New Year's Eve Dishes

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

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

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Winter Mash-Ups

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

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

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Holiday Dessert

Q: What is your favorite holiday dessert to serve?

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

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Vegetarian Holiday Entree

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

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

Chef: Chris Casson
Chef Chris Casson, Shamrock Foods Company

Hard Squashes

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

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

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Cauliflower Crumbles

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

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

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Late Fall Leafy Greens

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

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

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Holiday Side Dishes

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

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

Chef Stephen Renaud, Gordon Food Service Canada

Using RSS Green Beans On the Menu

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

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

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Cold-Weather Soup Ideas

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

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

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Fall Pumpkin Dishes

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

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

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Incorporating Produce Into Pasta Dishes

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

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

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Grain-Based Salad Ideas

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

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

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Ingredients with Complementary Textures

Q: Texture is increasingly important…what recipes combine ingredients with complementary textures?

Brussels sprouts have great texture and can be used in many ways. They can be shredded into a salad, quartered and roasted then served with aioli as an appetizer, or roasted with cippolini onions and balsamic vinegar for a side dish. The crunchiness of the Brussels sprout contrasts well with the creamy soft texture of the roasted cippolini onions.

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Savory Fall Apples

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

I like to mix diced apples in with large diced sweet potatoes and sweet onion. Toss it all with some olive oil and season with garlic, salt, and pepper. Place all in a cast iron skillet and roast until everything is cooked and slightly caramelized. This is a great accompaniment to pork or just as is.

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Favorite Fall Vegetable

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

Fall is my favorite season—the time of year for earthy flavors. Braising and roasting are good ways to prepare cold-weather foods. Parsnips taste great cut into chunks and roasted with other root vegetables, sliced and mixed with au gratin potatoes, or added to mashed potatoes for a uniqueness most people just can’t put their finger on. I also like to boil, then puree parsnips very smooth in a high-power blender with some cream, butter, salt, and pepper. That silky-smooth richness adds great dimension to the plate.

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Gluten-Free Vegetable Dishes

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

Shepherd’s pie is a great fall dish that is full of vegetables and warms customers on chilly fall days. Not only is it gluten-free but you can also make it low carb by replacing the mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower. It’s amazing how well the cauliflower mash replaces the potato. You can use ground beef, ground lamb, or make a vegetarian version by replacing the meat with beans and diced mushrooms. 

Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith Foods

Summer Melons

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

Melons are ideal for healthy desserts like granitas and sorbets—sometimes I add spirits to make frozen beverages for the summer months. I also like to wrap slices of cantaloupe and honeydew with salty meats like Serrano ham and prosciutto. Watermelon works great in mock caprese salads or on kebabs.

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Healthy Kids' Menu Items

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

Processed chicken nuggets and cheesy pastas are so 20th century! I prefer to upgrade the quality of my kids’ offerings by making healthy foods taste delicious. I include tacos made with plenty of produce and lean meats, creating in-house baked flatbreads loaded with chicken and broccoli, and rice bowls topped with avocados, grilled shrimp, and chopped mango.

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Summer Corn

Q: Fresh corn tastes best in summer. How do you serve it in fresh, unique ways? What do you pair it with?

First, I like to grill whole ears of corn to get a nice char on the kernels. Sometimes I slather spicy mayo on the ears and sprinkle with grated Mexican cheeses (like Cotija) and cilantro—great with steaks and burgers. Other times I cut the kernels off and toss them with leafy greens or ancient grains to add a bite of summer to my salads.

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Using Veggies in Burgers

Q: Burgers are a perennial favorite. How do you incorporate fresh produce in your meat and veggie burger menus?

The James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project has brought awareness to how easy it is to add flavor and decrease fat and calories by mixing minced mushrooms into ground meat. I’ve had success in using other produce items in this way, including grated beets, carrots, and zucchini.

Chef: Vic Vegas
Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company

Summer Berries

Q: Fresh berries are a must for warm weather—how do you use them?
Like a big kid, I like to play with toys and gadgets, so I like to put fresh berries in a soda syphon with a splash of Grand Marnier or maple syrup, then charging with CO2. This is a fun garnish for salads or drinks 
Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Raw Tomatoes

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

Before becoming a chef, my sister Pam taught me to make a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, chopped garlic, fresh oregano, and salt and pepper. Splash this dressing on tomatoes and marinate before serving. 

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Creative Beverages

Q: Summer is an ideal time to menu creative beverages. What fruit- and/or vegetable-based beverage recipes do you suggest?

The holy trinity for me consists of strawberries, bananas, and mangoes. These three fruits marry together well in smoothies, with yogurt and ice cream, or in beverages like lemonade and iced tea.

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Produce BBQ

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

I am big fan of grilled fruits to accompany BBQ meats, especially maple-glazed and grilled apricots served with chile lime pork chops or fire-roasted figs with garlic and mint alongside lamb sirloins. 

Chef: David Evans
Markon Member Chef

Using Summer Fruit

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

Watermelon is a fun fruit to play with. Toss watermelon chunks, crumbled Feta cheese, sliced red onions and torn mint. This refreshing summer side dish tastes great on its own—no need for oils or vinegars…the salt of the Feta draws out the juice of the melon, creating a self-dressed dish that is delicious!

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

Summer Salad Recipe

Q: As the weather heats up for summer, what is your favorite salad recipe?

My favorite is to mix farro with kale, mint, parsley, and dill. Who says the only greens you can put in salads are lettuces? I love adding fresh herbs to my salads. Toss it all together with a simple Champagne vinaigrette and top with pomegranate seeds. 


Floral Flavors

Q: Floral flavors such as elderflower, lavender, and orange blossom were hits in the beverage sector last year and are crossing over into appetizers, salads, and desserts. What is your favorite floral flavor and how do you use it?

Honestly my favorite is lavender. It’s both fragrant and beautiful. However, my newest floral friends are chive blossoms. Just one tiny bite of their flavor can really elevate a bowl of sugar snap peas or edamame.


Brightly Colored Recipes

Q: Brilliantly colored recipes attract attention both on and offline. Bright beet hummus, squid ink pastas, matcha green cheesecakes, and blue algae lattes are a few examples of how to naturally color dishes. What’s your favorite method?

Regardless of your favorite flavors, these five words are the key to increasing color in your dish: DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR VEGETABLES. As far as my favorite way to bring color to the plate, it has to be pomegranate seeds. More than their beautiful hue and gorgeous luster, they add excitement with little bursts of acidity. They’re versatile enough to be used in either sweet or savory dishes. BONUS TIP: A lightly wilted baby spinach and butternut puree makes a wonderful base for scallops or chicken to sit on.


Veg-Centric Father's Day Dishes

Q: Father’s Day is known as a grilled, meat-focused holiday…what veg-centric dishes do you suggest for those looking for more produce-based dishes?

One of my favorites is sautéed Morel mushrooms and grilled asparagus. I like to finish the morels in the pan with Madeira wine and then drizzle the whole dish with a harissa sauce. It makes great Father’s Day meal, because that is one of the last weekends that those ingredients are in their seasonal prime.


Embracing Carbs

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

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

Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Mother's Day Dishes

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

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

Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Alcohol-Free Beverages

Q: Alcohol-free beverages made strong in-roads on menus last year and show signs of even more popularity this year. What are your most creative beverage ideas?
Blackberry Mint Tea is a mixture of blackberry shrub, honey lemon tea, and MFC Mint. The Caesar Verde combines roasted tomatillos, clam nectar, coriander, lime salt, pepperoncini, green olives, and MFC Celery. Rose Water Soda contains edible rose ice cubes, rose water syrup, and ginger beer.
Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Hybrid Dishes

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

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

Chef Michael Viloria, Gordon Food Service Canada

Root to Stem Cooking

Q: What is your favorite fruit or vegetable to use in the root to stem fashion? How do you prepare and present this dish?
It is hard to go wrong with slow roasted beets any time of year. Cooked, cooled, and peeled beets can be incorporated into many salads and side dishes. Earthy beet roots also pair well with fruits such as pears or apples, and their bitter tops can add brightness to bean- and/or grain-based salads.
Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Using Cilantro

Q: The fresh, clean flavors of cilantro are critical to accent the meats and heavy sauces of Mexican and Indian recipes. What is your favorite use?

I love cilantro. Not because it is used so commonly in Texas, but because it works in so many cuisines throughout the world. Try simmering coconut milk broth with cilantro, an Indian spice blend, cooked red potatoes, yellow lentils, ginger, Serrano chiles, and green peas. Top with chopped cilantro to brighten this comforting dish. 

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Korean Foods

Q: Korean foods are on-trend, whether in authentic form or in fusion dishes. How do you suggest incorporating these flavors on the menu?
Marinated spicy, garlic sirloin bulgogi done on the grill can be tossed with fresh vegetables such as red peppers, red onions, grilled green onions, and seasoned/grilled slices of cauliflower florets. Delicious as a replacement for the typical filling in a fajitas recipe.
Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

Vegetarian Dishes

Q: Plant-based eating shows no signs of abating. What vegetarian or vegan dishes do you offer that are more creative than a typical salad or pasta course?

I suggest a savory bowl of lo mein noodles with bok choy, roasted portabella mushroom slices, sautéed onions, fresh jalapenos, and cooked farro in a complex vegetarian broth topped with fresh herbs.

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods

MFC Strawberries

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

I like tossing MFC Strawberries in sugar and strawberry vinegar, then slow roasting on a silpat. This allows all the flavors to concentrate and creates unique texture. Use as a topping for desserts ranging from mousse to cakes to ice cream.

Chef Chris Cukjati, Ben E. Keith Foods