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Ideation: Putting the Goods on the Plate

Menu items made smarter with the right ingredients and techniques.

Go for grains

Joseph Symmes, executive chef of Johnnie’s Restaurant at the Hotel Diamond in Chico, California, stocks about 10 varieties of rice. “I especially like to use local, organic rice with seafood,” he says, citing this Asian Sesame Seared Salmon with Brown Rice Pilaf as an example. Multi-rice blends make it convenient to incorporate grains; Symmes even adds wild rice to pizza crust.

Superfood powers

The disease-fighting antioxidants in tart cherries have elevated them into the “superfood” category. Dried cherries partner with vitamin-rich mangoes and spinach in a salad that piles on taste but skimps on calories. “I’m always looking for the newest, hot, healthy ingredient because that’s what my customers want,” notes Geoffrey Zakarian, owner of Town in New York City. 

Friendly fats

At the five Common Man restaurants in New Hampshire, kitchen manager Alan Barry sources farm-raised trout for one of his signatures, crab cake-stuffed Rainbow Trout with maple Dijon sauce. Not only is the fish rich in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, “it’s sustainable and available year-round,” Barry says. 

Protein-packed vegetarian

Using roasted peanuts in place of meat or cheese gives this salad a protein boost vegetarian customers will appreciate. Chef Wolfgang Hanau of the Tabasco Trading Company, a restaurant and catering spot in West Palm Beach, Florida, uses tri-color orzo pasta, Granny Smith apples, raisins and a light, spiced apple dressing to round out the salad.

Portion control

At the elegant Slocum House outside Sacramento, California, chef Charles Knight breaks the stigma of fine dining as “heavy” by poaching instead of frying and serving leaner cuts, like pork tenderloin, in smaller portions. To enhance the eating experience, “I use walnuts in the pear stuffing and candied walnuts as a garnish to add textural interest and taste,” Knight explains. 

Veggies front and center

At its 12 San Francisco-area locations, Max’s holds a fresh asparagus festival every spring. The long, green spears appear in salads with artichokes, mixed into pastas and as a bed for various seafood preps. Patrons who crave the unique flavor and crisp texture of asparagus can get their fill—with a good dose of folic acid, fiber and cancer-fighting plant compounds as a bonus.

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