Chris Newcomb has been a cooking enthusiast his entire life and is on a mission to continually learn about new ingredients and expand his culinary repertoire.
Newcomb, the founder and CEO of the Jackson, Miss.-based Newk’s Eatery, which operates and franchises 122 restaurants in 15 states, oversees culinary operations at the fast-casual chain.
“I love to explore what other people are cooking,” he said. “I took a cooking class from chef Thomas Keller, at Per Se, and go to cooking schools wherever I travel, such as Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains, the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, and in the past year, I took my family to a pastry cooking class in Paris. I love cooking anything, from fine dining to red beans and rice, while always looking to use the best ingredients I can find.”
Using fresh, quality ingredients has been a key element of Newk’s Eatery’s success, Newcomb says. The chain maintains open kitchens so that customers can see that their food is prepared fresh every day without the use of microwaves or fryers. The restaurant also marinates several different meats and roasts or grills them in-house, chops 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables and makes all of its dressings from scratch.
All of that work pays off, Newcomb says. “Because our food is made in-house from real ingredients, we can customize to fit almost any diet or lifestyle, from keto and low-carb diets to vegetarian and Mediterranean.”
In fact, healthy offerings are an important component of Newk’s menus. For example, the chain recently featured a Turkey Avocado Sandwich on 11-grain bread as part of its Under 600 Calories Pairings Menu.
“We have several turkey sandwiches on our menu, and we use turkey on a few of our signature salads,” Newcomb said. “Turkey is a wholesome American classic that lots of families enjoy—especially during holidays. It’s also a lean protein that, when cooked right, can be quite flavorful, as well as healthy.”
Newcomb said he also seeks to work with global flavors, such as those found in Mexican and Asian dishes. He cited Rick Bayless, known for his Mexican cooking, as one of his favorite chefs. Among his other culinary influences are his parents and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
When it comes to new products, Newcomb said he approaches the development in several ways.
“I look at recipe books, review what the up-and-coming trends are, and then I go to the kitchen to see what I can come up with,” he said, citing Newk’s Club Sandwich as an example.
“At Newk's, we just put our spin on it. We layer smoked ham, roasted turkey and bacon with cheddar and Swiss cheese, and then top it with lettuce, tomato, mayo and our house-made honey mustard. This combination of ingredients makes it unique to Newk's.”
Newcomb also credited Newk’s staff for their support in menu development.
“Because I have a great team around me, developing menu items at Newk's is often a collaborative effort,” he said. “I like getting people involved in our food and listening to their feedback.”
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This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice