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Meet the chef Q&A: Michael Slavin

Although it’s one of the largest casual-dining chains in the country, Applebee’s bills itself as a neighborhood restaurant—and no neighborhood would be complete without a local watering hole. At Applebee’s, the food is just as important as the drinks, so Chef Michael Slavin, executive chef, product development and innovation, has incorporated unique yet approachable bar-bite items into Applebee’s menu. “We always consider what our guests are looking for,” says Chef Slavin. “Bar bites are definitely something that keeps coming up.”

Here are some additional insights on bar bites from Chef Slavin.

Q: Name some ways you’ve incorporated bar bites into Applebee’s menu.
Our three newest appetizers—Brewpub Pretzels and Beer Cheese Dip, Green Bean Crispers and Grilled Chicken Wonton Tacos—are geared toward a shareable, grown-up version of a bar bite. These are handheld items that are full, complete builds: each bite is complete, intact and has a full burst of flavor. They’re indulgent, and they satisfy a craving.

Q: What are some best practices for successfully menuing bar bites?
Bar bites should be small and easy to pass around—that way, people can order a few different ones. The best bar bites are one-grab items that don’t require appetizer plates; they promote a social climate and aren’t tied down to scooping, plating or passing. They should also be small enough that they’re not a meal replacement for an entrée or an appetizer.

Also, bar bites don’t have to be just one type of item—they can be hot and cold or sweet and savory. With the diversity of our guests, especially with millennials and consumers in general, we can’t predict when someone will want a bite of something sweet or when they’ll want a savory indulgence. Bar bites easily can be sweet as well.

Q: How have you used almonds on Applebee’s menu?
Right now, we use sliced, toasted almonds in several of our salads, including the Oriental Chicken Salad and the new Thai Shrimp Salad. Almonds add a really nice textural crunch, and they round out these dishes thematically. We also make an almond rice pilaf that includes celery and onions—it’s a very classic, nostalgic dish. Almonds also factor into our menu development, including our bar bites and appetizer menu. Since almonds are so versatile, there are many ways we can introduce them, such as in sauces, dusting, coating and crusts.

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