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Are fish and seafood swimming onto your menu?

070_Gray_YFM June 2013_Chef's Hat

070_Gray_YFM June 2013_Chef's HatPhilman George has touched all aspects – and rungs – of foodservice, from pub dishwasher to chef/culinary manager at High Liner Foods, and all stops in between.

By Philman George

As High Liner’s corporate culinary wiz , Phil has been following the latest trends and sharing his knowledge with operators interested in livening up the fish and seafood on their menus.

He’s a self-professed crustacean fanatic, who is proud to say, “It’s all about seafood on my days off and days on. My roots are Caribbean, and I was raised on a healthy diet of quality seafood.”

Here he shares his tips for staying on the cutting edge of innovation.

I get inspiration for menu creations from the farmers. I check out the Food Terminal (in Toronto), and I talk to the farmers to find out what’s good this year and what’s in season. These are the guys who are growing it, and you feel their passion. Farmers’ markets are key, and all those ingredients help me work best with fish.

I am keeping an eye on ethnic and bold flavours: you have to experience them on your own and get to know them. Quality salts are also intriguing me right now. Back in the day, salt was salt. Then there was kosher salt, then sea salt. Now there’s Himalayan salt and smoked salts. These haven’t hit the market in a big way, but I find them in boutique spice stores.  When I see these in major grocery stores, I’ll know the trend has gone mainstream.

But the biggest trend is the growing consciousness and awareness of consumers, which shakes the very foundation of the industry. When consumers make a conscious effort to understand where their food is coming from, and how it was prepared the whole industry changes. The Internet is fuelling that; there’s more information out there than even a few years ago.

Innovation is extremely important for operators and chefs. After all, customers go to restaurants to taste new things. For High Liner, our sales team loves innovative products that meet the ever changing needs of customers.

We’ve launched our Loligo squid, and that’s a really big thing right now. Instead of a 10 lb[container] of squid tubes, we offer a 2.5lb tray of cleaned tubes and tentacles, so you don’t have to chisel off pieces and refreeze. We also have a 9 oz pouch of pre-frozen calamari, already portioned, sliced and cleaned. All you have to do is dust it and fry it up.

I recommend that chefs and operators change their menus four times a year. That’s the general standard. As your seasons change, your menus change. I’m a strong believer in daily specials – one or two items that change daily or a LTO menu insert that runs for a month. Changing a menu takes time and effort. You need the dedication – and feedback from others.

When operators and chefs come to me to help them with their menus, I’m very hands on. First I say, I can’t give you an idea until I see your operation. What’s your busiest day? I’m going to come in. I am looking to see what station is getting hit the hardest, the capabilities of your staff, and I’m looking at your menu and your equipment. If you’re part of a chain, is the equipment the same at all of your operations? I have to do the groundwork before I can recommend a product that is going to fit. This hands-on approach helps me build a strong relationship with the operator, so we can better work together on targeted solutions.

I always advise operators to not only to stay on top of trends, but know what’s trending within your establishment. Understand your customer before you look at what’s happening on the map. Regular meetings with service staff is valuable, as they are on the front lines, and have a great understanding of the customers’ needs and wants.

It’s important to submerse yourself in the culture of culinary arts and be on top of your local scene, since Canada differs from region to region. Look at the local media, see who the top 10 restaurants are – the boutique high end places and the hole in the wall shacks  – and go into these places, have fun, taste new food and flavours, then bring them back to your establishment. To be on top of the trends, you have to eat out regularly and have fun.