Maple Leaf Foodservice’s National Culinary Manager Chef James Keppy likes nothing better than to kick back at home by preparing a simple charcuterie plate with salamis, hams and cheeses, which he can put together in seconds. If he does have to cook, he makes a rib eye steak or grilled burger with grilled veggies. But when it comes to helping customers with their spring menus, for him it’s all about new spices, international flavours, and creative uses for proteins.
By Chef James Keppy
Spring menus have a double impact: addressing New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and diners’ willingness to try something new.
You’re still going to see salads taking precedence – and more veggies – but also diners adding a high quality protein for a full meal. And it’s not just the leaf (lettuce, garnish, dressing) in salads. We’re seeing more salads with ancient grains and grilled veg, topped with proteins like grilled chicken or sausage.
To lighten up your entrées, you can add a protein that’s grilled instead of breaded, or baked instead of fried. Mixed grill options help to highlight smaller portions of what’s on your menu. Flatbreads are a great option as an entrée with a small amount of protein on top, different sauces, and cheese and veggies.
Bacon is still king and remains a huge, huge factor for us. I do candied bacon – that’s how I make friends – which can still work for spring. But you have to make sure your menu uses great adjectives to describe the dish, for instance, “a
BLT on sour dough with candied maple bacon.” You can charge an extra $1 or $2 for that sandwich, and customers will want to come back for it.
Spring is also a time to change up your portion size. Offer a feature without raising the price, but slightly alter the size of the dish. Don’t be afraid to show a smaller portion and put something a little different on top. Successful features can later become main menu items.
A seasonal menu allows you to adjust your costs and realign them and at the same time give your regulars a reason to look at your menu instead of just making the default order.
But you have to change your words up on the menu so the customer doesn’t just say, “Oh, they have used the same item in many different ways.” For instance, if you offer an Asian-style salad, don’t put an asterisk on the menu with wording at the bottom, “add chicken for $3.”
We work with our customers to help with some of that menu ideation. I see 50 to 60 customers in a year and talk to hundreds more. The majority of my job at our ThinkFood Centre is testing. The sales rep and I work with customers to come up with new ideas. We help analyze what’s working on your menu, what’s not, and what your point of pain is.
We talk about customers’ operations, show them our products, and show them what they can do to get multiple applications – on a sandwich, in a burger, in a quesadilla, or on flatbreads with pulled pork. Chefs get to test drive a new menu item, get the kinks out, make up a recipe, and test drive it.
Our ThinkFood Centre really is a thoughtful ideation facility where all types of accounts can come to see us.
Chef James Keppy is the National Culinary Manager of Maple Leaf Foodservice, www.Mapleleaffoodservice.com