Super foods, phytochemicals and menus: The value of plants

October 5, 2016

By Chef Brad Barnes
chef@nafem.org 

As we hear more and more about the value of adding plants to our diets and the various ways to think about doing that, it becomes obvious that plants are gaining ground. As a businessperson, it is important to consider the reasons that plant-forward consumption and business models make so much sense.

We began in this world as omnivores, i.e., “those who have the capability to obtain energy and nutrients from both plants and animal origin.” In early days it was much easier to obtain plants than it was to catch a water buffalo; and therefore we grew to rely on plants to fuel our bodies more regularly, supplemented by animal protein and fats when possible. By that logic, it stands to reason that we have evolved to be much healthier by gaining sustenance through plant-based rather than animal-based sources.

All that considered, and the value of plants as human fuel is quantified as significant, it is prudent for those of us who cook for a living to be concerned with all things plant based. As we devise menus and consider business style or concept development in the coming years, we should be mindful of how plants can make those menus more interesting and salable for our customers as well as healthier.

As a chef, I have always enjoyed cooking plants at least as much as animals, even when it was not so in vogue to do so. Generally, plants were an afterthought, blanched and sautéed in butter to get them hot. In actuality, from a standpoint of the chef’s palette, plants offer endless varieties of colors, textures, flavors, shapes and dimension for cooking. In fact, most plant preparations are very pure and straightforward, particularly simplistic for a deft cook. The biggest challenge to using plants is the sourcing of quality produce. Additionally, most folks want to know a bit about the lineage of the food, i.e., how it was grown, where and by whom. Of course the idea of how close the products are to the user is important these days, but being outdone by simple transparency of origin. Related information on the safety of our food supply can be found here.

The opportunities are endless and the challenges are few, but the end result should be creative, delicious vegetable dishes that add to the chef’s menu prowess. One thing is for sure, as the contemporary chef looks to strategic ways to build repertoire and drive customer counts, there is nothing quite like a variety of delicious difference to help with that story.

Chef Brad Barnes, CMC, is the Director of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Consulting and Industry Programs

Categorized in: Foodservice Trends