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Food

Why the kale trend isn't going away

brio kale salad

While the food media searches for the next “kale,” usage of the ingredient has quadrupled at the 62-unit Brio Tuscan Grille. It started when the Columbus, Ohio-based chain menued a Kale Caesar salad last year. It was so well received by Brio’s customers that Corporate Executive Chef Alison Peters zeroed in on kale as a key ingredient when developing this fall’s new Crispy Chicken Salad. The entree salad replaces Brio’s longstanding Romano Chicken Salad, which was slowly declining in sales.

kale

1. Soft sell

Peters specs whole heads of kale, preferring its stronger, more substantial leaves over salad-ready baby kale. The latter not only is more expensive, she adds, it’s quicker to spoil. “We stem, wash, chop and marinate the leaves in house,” Peters says. The chopped kale soaks in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes for at least two hours to soften it. 

farro

2. Going with the grain

“Our guests are gravitating toward healthy grains,” Peters says. “I looked at sales, and a salad featuring quinoa was the No. 3 selling entree at lunch.” She decided to go with farro—“a heartier, more filling whole grain,” she says—to stand up to the kale’s texture.

feta cheese

3. Maximizing cross-utilization

A Greek salad previously on the menu inspired Peters to add orzo and feta cheese. But when she tried that salad’s lemon vinaigrette, “it was too cloyingly sweet,” she says. The light, herbal notes of Brio’s Housemade Tuscan Italian dressing, also used on the bruschetta, better complemented the ingredients, she found. For the protein component, the dish uses the Romano-crusted cutlets featured in the dinner menu’s Chicken Milanese.

What's next

The salad was introduced at the end of August, and feedback was immediately positive—as were sales, says Peters. As Brio’s customers continue to demand lighter items, she is looking at developing a grilled fish with a seasonal salsa for the spring menu, which debuts in February.

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