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Time for your spring menu tuneup

016_Fraser_YFM Spring 2014_Spring TuneupsSpring is in the air and restaurateurs’ minds turn to … lighter foods for the fair weather season.

By Jack Kohane

“Spring ideas are soooooo welcome to chase away the heavier fare of winter,” says Stefan Bruchmann, newly appointed Executive Chef for the Nectar Restaurant and Wine Bar in Dartmouth, NS. As temperatures rise, his menu accelerates the use of fresh local produce, meats and seafood. We also accentuate the dishes with a variety of local and international spices and rubs such as Caribbean jerk rub, Asian peppercorn, and fresh cilantro.  “This allows us to pop the flavours without the heavy sauces used over winter,” he remarks. “Our herb garden on our patio will also start to provide garnishes and flavouring herbs in late April.”

Voted Dartmouth’s Best Restaurant for the 5th straight year in 2013, Nectar specializes in year-round seafood, pepped by promos like Bring Your Own Wine Tuesdays, and live jazz on Sundays.

Chef Bruchmann is passionate about local products. “For us that means great seafood items, and local cheeses and produce. We use a lot of small suppliers to get the freshest and best product. When the farmer delivers it personally, you know it will be good!”

Gluten-free food is a key trend Chef Bruchmann identifies. Through the use of alternative types of breads, grains, and starches, he can offer a growing number of menu options for those suffering from that allergy. “The apple and sausage stuffed chicken roulade is gluten-free, as I have the sausages specifically made so I know there is no gluten filler. We also have gluten-free bread and pasta, so our lunchtime sandwiches can be done as gluten-free.”                                                   

 “My producers help me with my menu ideas by growing and producing, or bringing in items that are not usual,” Bruchmann notes. “I love it when my suppliers show up with a little sample of something that I haven’t used before, or not even heard of, and I have to research it. Sometimes it turns into an important part of a new dish.”

Says Bruchmann, who was formerly the Sous Chef at Nectar. “I am honoured and excited to take on this role. My menus will honour the legacy of Nectar but also define a shift to lighter and more local cuisine. 

Veggies spring to life

According to recent data gathered by market research firm Technomic, consumers are interested in seeing more vegetables on the plate – an interest that chefs say can marry beautifully with offering lighter spring fare on menus. Similarly, the focus on vegetables is an ideal platform for using local and seasonal produce – which tend to have a halo of ‘better for you’.

Taking a cue from NPD/Crest consumer tracking data, the dishes showing an up- tick in consumer interest/purchase behaviour related to ‘healthier choices’ include salads; hot vegetable side dishes and smoothies; seafood and Asian entrées and appetizers; egg white breakfast sandwiches; artisanal sandwiches; and grilled sandwich proteins and whole grain breads or wraps.

“The first steps toward lighter fare would be ingredient selection,” says Kraft Canada’s corporate chef, Kira Smith. “This is where the inclusion of vegetables can take centre stage.” There is already an increasing move towards veggie-focused dishes when considering such recent QSR menu introductions as McDonald’s Veggie Signature McWraps. “Still within ingredient selection, lean proteins, seafood and legumes can also be a focus for lighter fare within proteins,” she adds.

In terms of ingredients, dishes or cuisines that meld with the idea of lighter fare, Chef Kira believes Asian-inspired dishes will continue to have a ‘better for you’ halo. “Sauces that are light in texture and bright on the palate like Japanese ponzu or yuzu.

Adam Cowan, corporate chef at Nestlé Professional Canada, urges operators to try to reflect spring in their menus. “The back-to-nature feel is infectious, and operators need to capture that enthusiasm on the plate,” he insists. He suggests operators consider simple preparations using fresh, vibrant-coloured produce served raw and flavoured if possible. “Stay away from heavy viscosity sauces which mask the freshness of your creations,” he cautions.

In developing top-notch spring menus, chefs should also remember to look to their customer base.

“For a business like ours, we need to know our customers, to know what they are looking for in food at a restaurant,” says Chef Bruchmann. “Then we have to implement those wants in a light, refreshing menu that reflects the trends and needs of our customers.  That’s what keeps customers coming back.”

Tips for spirited spring fare

  1. Make it simple and colourful. Tabouleh is an awesome spring and summer salad, and gazpacho is always good and cool.
  2. Try experimenting with different seasonal ingredients and learn to use different herbs and spices for exotic flavours.
  3. For a gluten-free diet, corn, potatoes, rice, and tapioca are considered acceptable as grains and starch sources. Asian summer rolls done in rice paper are also gluten-friendly.
  4. Let your customers know what local food suppliers you use. Step up to a table and give them a name of a local farmer. Your customers will love it.