By Jason Ziobrowski, CEC
Corporate Chef, Eastern Region
Chefs and caterers can capitalize on growing interest in whole and ancient grains to entice their customers. What’s more, a number of grains—including quinoa, amaranth, millet, wild rice, oats and buckwheat—do not contain gluten, and can be instrumental in crafting intriguing, tasty, gluten-free dishes.
Admittedly, many whole grains that are most popular today, as well as those on the cusp of the trend, are pricey. How to take advantage of grains’ power to wow while keeping food costs under control and even boost menu profit? Following are the first five of 10 helpful tips, with the rest to follow in Part 2:
1. Brown: the New White. Readily available, brown rice is arguably the most familiar whole grain in the marketplace, and it’s economical. When making a whole-grain stir-fry, incorporate brown rice in a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio to the other grain to reduce overall cost of the dish while enhancing its flavor profile.
2. Cook with the Slant of the Sun. Seasonal produce and seafood at the peak of freshness tend to be cheaper because they’re abundant. Use them as a base for a dish, and enliven with a costlier exotic grain to increase value to the diner. And don’t forget to promote the grain on the menu with captivating language.
3. Eggs, Oh So Easy. Incorporate cooked wheat berries or kamut wheat into a frittata at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and to scrambled eggs, consider a spoonful or two of cooked quinoa (black, red, white or all three). Perceived value gets a lift from adding whole grains to eggs, meaning you can charge a higher price for a dish that already benefits from the healthy profit contribution of a highly economical food.
4. Partner with Protein. Ounce for ounce, many meats and seafoods are still more expensive than most grains. Replace some of the animal protein in a dish with an ancient whole grain or grain blend. Better yet, start with the grain, and treat the protein as the accompaniment or “condiment.” Cultures around the world have been cooking this way for millennia.
5. The Ultimate Garnish. Pop some amaranth in a dry pan and crown some dressed romaine. On leafy salads, a small amount of any cooked grain goes a long way to increase overall appeal. But don’t stop there: Add cooked whole grain or grain blend to wrap sandwiches, to smoothies and yogurt parfaits, even to pizza as an innovative topper. Just an ounce of an exotic grain in a dish not only adds textural contrast, but can command a higher menu price, which can more than cover its cost.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss the marketing power of storytelling, how to reduce food waste (and cost), using whole grains strategically to upscale meatless dishes, and more!