Reimagining Potatoes Without Revamping Your Inventory

Fries, wedges, mashed – the humble potato appears on almost every menu. It’s time to take this familiar, 100% usable ingredient to new places on the menu.

Unless served as fries or chips, potatoes are mostly an unsung hero. Restaurants love them as a menu mainstay. People devour them. It’s a win-win, right? 

Yes … and no.

While potatoes are popular, consumers rarely rave about spuds on social media. From breakfast hash browns to lunchtime wedges to dinnertime mashed potatoes, they are the familiar food no one talks about. 

This puts operators in a position to change the narrative, according to Chef Michael Viloria, a Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialist. He has crafted a handful of recipes that can help businesses stand out while cross-utilizing ingredients likely already in every kitchen pantry.

“Whether creating a limited-time offer, a seasonal special, or revamping the menu, there’s a big variety of potatoes and so many ways to prepare them,” Viloria said. “I focused on Russet potatoes because they are familiar and readily available.”

Russets to the Rescue

He has a point. Potatoes can be confusing. Yukon gold. Red. White. Waxy. Yellow. Fingerling. Blue, Purple heirloom, Sweet potatoes… so many varieties. With all these choices, it’s good to know the basic russet can be at the heart of reimagining potatoes on the menu.

“Everyone knows what a potato is, what it looks like, and how it can be prepared,” the chef said. “I kind of did interpretations of certain things that I thought could be mainstream and used by all types of operators.”

Step aside hummus and spinach dip, invite guests to try a creamy “Potato Dip” appetizer sharing plate. For a starter or comfort meal, there’s a hearty “Potato Chowder.” Take quesadillas for a new spin with “Potato Foldies.” Add a global twist to an anytime meal of “Potato Pancakes.”

People are ready to try something unique. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when restaurants served russets one way: steamed in foil wrap. That buttery baked potato has long served as a side dish. Viloria is bringing potatoes to other dayparts and menu applications – even as a garnish – to make the most of its cross-utilization possibilities.

A New Look at Potatoes

A simple way to introduce a new take on potatoes is with a sharable or appetizer. A dip is easy to create. Riced russets are blended with walnuts, garlic, lemon, yogurt and pesto for a creamy dish that can be scooped with potato chips or spread on crostinis.

“Mediterranean food and hummus are very popular, and people have asked what’s out there that’s not hummus,” Viloria said. “Skordalia is a Greek potato dip, and I just played around with some Mediterranean flavors until it felt right. You can serve it on a veggie board as a dip, or it can be spread as a sandwich topping.”

Another starter or light main is soup, and Viloria’s chowder is a great way to cross-utilize by using leftover mashed potatoes as a base.

“The essence of chowder is the creamy texture, the potatoes and the clams, and I put this recipe together after a customer was struggling with cross-utilization,” the chef said. “We found ways to use vegetable trimmings and potatoes and reduce waste. You can even fry up potato skins and use them as a garnish for the chowder.”

When it comes to entrees, folders and pancakes are one way to create a new menu item without stretching the budget or inventory space.

Potato foldies are a potato-forward take on frankies, a vegetarian, egg roll-style dish popular in India. This version gives a nod to the influence of Mexican tacos by having an appearance similar to quesadillas.

Instead of a tortilla shell, the foldie uses a 4-inch naan round or paratha bread to encase the savory cheesy potato filling. Onion, curry powder, coriander, garam masala and chili power lend a decidedly Asian flair.

“It’s kind of a samosa that can be made using leftover potatoes,” Viloria said. “I see it in a vegetarian concept, or a bar and grill that’s trying a lot of tacos or global influences.”

Potato pancakes are an anytime meal, again with a nod toward Asian influences. Using grated potatoes and onions, these pancakes are a bit like okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage. They include teriyaki sauce, pickled ginger aioli, chives, sesame seeds and nori sheets.

“It has that Japanese pickle ginger vibe to it. Other than nori, every other item is a pantry staple, so you’re using the items you have and not making a big investment,” Viloria said. “Potato pancakes can work as a main dish or a shareable.”

Other Potato Possibilities

Time and economic pressures are pushing chefs to get the most out of every ingredient, making cross-utilization a valuable approach. Potatoes are very versatile and 100% usable – a perfect combo for today’s needs.

Poutine, loaded fries and loaded baked potatoes are popular moneymakers. But there are dozens of ways to serve potatoes, and most consumers will feel comfortable trying a new dish prepared with this familiar ingredient.

“At the end of the night, leftover potatoes or scraps could be used for cakes, for fritters, for tots, or it could be used for a crust,” Viloria said.

He points to revenue opportunities such as:

  • Hot or cold potato salads.
  • Potato croutons for inclusion in a gluten-free salad or tomato soup.
  • Roasted, sauteed or fried potato cubes in a bowl build.
  • Signature hash cakes.
  • A gnocchi LTO.
  • Potato dumplings.
  • Pierogies.

Potatoes have a rich history. They first grew in the Peruvian Andes Mountain more than 7,000 years ago. They were introduced to Europe in the 1500s, and brought to North America by waves of immigrants.

Today, every culture has a potato dish. That explains why potatoes appeared on 83% of all restaurant menus in 2023, according to Datassential. In fact, the menu inclusion of potatoes continued increasing in fine dining, casual and fast casual throughout 2023.

The top potato dishes are french fries, mashed potatoes, potato salad, hash browns and baked potatoes, according to Trending dishes include loaded tots, breakfast bowls, loaded fries, breakfast burrito and Cajun fries.

In addition to Viloria’s suggestions for global flavors, other trending flavors are Nashville hot, truffle aioli, chipotle aioli and garlic Parmesan. It all points to the curiosity adventurous eaters are exhibiting. And few foods adapt to new flavors and applications than potatoes.

“We take the potato for granted. We forget that we have all of these options and things we can make with stuff already in our pantry,” Viloria said. “We can really be creative and repurpose some of these things.”

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