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Going with a new grain

Rice and noodles have been the go-to carbs on P.F. Chang’s menu for 20 years. But this summer, creative culinary chef Yuji Iwasa is shaking things up a bit at the 240-unit Asian-inspired chain. He’s exploring other ingredients and expanding the pantry. 

Quinoa goes Asian

Coming from a fine-dining background, Iwasa has used quinoa in many applications. He appreciates it for its high nutrient content and the fact that it’s become a well-recognized grain among diners. “I wanted to see how quinoa would react in the wok,” he says. Pleased with the results, he decided to incorporate it into P.F. Chang’s new seasonal menu.

Sourcing summer

Iwasa wanted to develop a variation of fried rice—a dish that’s typically served family-style at the end of a Chinese meal. Next step: deciding on the vegetables to pair with the wok-toasted quinoa. “I’m a very seasonal farm-to-table guy,” he notes. So he made a list of summer produce varieties along with the flavor profile of each.

Start with a sketch

The chef explains how the dish evolved: “First, I chose vegetables and fruits from my initial list and sketched out a few ideas on paper. Then I applied color to the sketches to make sure the combinations worked well visually.” Only then did Iwasa take to the wok and start cooking.

A winning combo

Summer Vegetable Quinoa “Fried Rice” is the result. Iwasa went with red quinoa—a personal favorite—and paired it with sunburst squash, mango, tomatoes and snow peas. “The flavors and colors lined up from the beginning,” he reports. The dish is topped off with a sunnyside-up egg—“an on-trend indulgence. Korean kimchi fried rice traditionally has an egg on top, which reinforces our Asian roots. When we present the dish, the server asks guests if they want the egg blended in tableside,” says Iwasa.

Completing the menu

The quinoa goes well with the other seasonal specials, including Grilled Pineapple-Citrus Swordfish with summer vegetables and Heirloom Tomato & Thai Basil Salad. “We can’t order too many different ingredients to create a seasonal menu or involve too much extra prep. Cross-utilization is key,” states Iwasa. That said, he is given the flexibility to source some “exotic” items, like black garlic and daikon, which his main vendors are able supply.

Thinking ahead to fall

The quinoa resonated with guests—it sold out on a few nights the first week the menu was offered. In keeping with his culinary approach—Asian with regional American ingredients—Iwasa is considering Brussels sprouts and hard winter squashes for the next seasonal menu. “Fall means more comfort dishes,” he says, “but my big challenge will always be our high volume. A menu item has to work across all our locations.”

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