This article originally appeared in the Gordon Food Service Foodscape publication.
Vegetables are plentiful and at the peak of flavor during the summer months. Take advantage of the variety with creative veg-centric menu options that appeal to consumers who want fresh flavors in a health-halo format.
Veg-centric meals have been moving to the mainstream for several years. Preparing vegetables with high-impact finishes and putting them at the center of the plate is something people have come to expect.
Don’t confuse the concept with vegetarian or vegan. In fact, many veg-centric plates are incomplete without meat proteins. Vegetables are the star, but simmering veggies in meat broth or adding bits of prosciutto, country ham, bacon or a bagna cauda dip will amp up the craveability.
Finding a vegetable solution
These meals are must-have options on any menu. Vegan products have seen the most growth in recent years, and part of the appeal is that they are not exclusive to vegan eaters. Average customers want to try new things, and vegan or veg-centric options are part of the solution.
The deciding factor often comes down to preparation. Aggressive cooking methods like oven-roasting, pan-searing or char-grilling make vegetable dishes stand out on the menu and on the palate. Foods pick up unique and unexpected textures and layers of flavor when you introduce these cooking methods.
It’s worth moving vegetables to a more prominent spot on the menu. The desire for freshness, flavor and more sustainable food choices gives you the opportunity to:
- Decide whether consumers lean toward alternative proteins, like plant-based burgers.
- Use menu flexibility to gauge adding vegetarian, vegan or veg-centric vegan options.
- Create completely new dishes using fresh cooking techniques on common products.
The local, seasonal advantage
Another advantage vegetables bring to the menu is the ability to call on local food favorites that support area farmers, producers and suppliers. This is a gateway to reaching a new generation of consumers focused on sustainability. It also adds a feel-good, fresh appeal for existing guests.
People equate vegetables with healthy eating, but the marketing advantages go much further. Vegetables open the door to building relationships. Try the following:
- Make a positive farm-to-table connection by naming the source of your vegetables.
- Train your team to tell the story of the region or farm behind the products.
- Promote the seasonality and freshness of local favorites.
- Share images and information about local products on social media.
Listen to customer demand
For operators looking to stretch the potential of each ingredient, veg-centric dishes allow the flexibility of fitting multiple menu offerings. For Jean-François Houde, Executive Chef at Restos Plaisirs in Quebec, vegetables are an enduring and essential favorite.
“We used to have this big steak in the center of the plate with a couple vegetables, this is a bit less common than it was,” he notes. “Of course, these changes usually come from what the customers want, and our role is to listen to them constantly.”
Among his values are working with the most clean, ethical and ecological products possible. “Working with local products has always been in the DNA of our restaurants. It is also a great advantage we have when it comes to menu design and opportunities.”
Vegetables offer menu agility, with updates possible depending on profitability and availability based on market changes and procurement issues. He urges operators to maintain a close relationship with foodservice distributors to avoid surprises.
Talk to your Gordon Food Service Sales Representative for Kitchen-Tested Recipes and advice on elevating vegetables to star status on the menu.