It’s no secret chefs love produce. I reached out to my nationwide network to ask what produce item they most love right now and why. They all responded quickly and passionately!
Chef Dan Coudreaut, managing director of Culinary Solutions and former executive chef and vice president of Culinary Innovation for McDonalds USA, said, “Onions are a work horse that rarely get any limelight. They are the ‘steady Eddie’ in a kitchen 365 days a year. They’re not looking for fame, just the opportunity to be happy in a supporting role, working day in and day out making food taste great!”
Chef Garrett Berdan, a dietitian and consulting chef, agreed with Chef Dan. “I can’t live without onions. They’re the foundation of flavor for so many dishes. I love them raw, pickled, or cooked in a myriad of ways. They are reliably great quality year-round, and they have a long shelf life. I’m loving using them in Flammkuchen, a savory German tart with caramelized onions, slab bacon, and creme fraiche.”
Chef RJ Harvey RDN, CEC, culinary director for Potatoes USA, didn’t surprise me with his pick. “I absolutely love potatoes because they are quite possibly the most versatile produce item you can menu. Not only do consumers love them, but potatoes can be used in so many ways from fillings and entrees to satisfying sides, baked goods and even desserts. With potatoes, the possibilities are endless.”
Chef Lisa Feldman, director of recipe management, Sodexo, replied, “Cauliflower and I go way back. Why? Because it is delicious literally every way it can possibly be prepared. Riced, whipped, puréed, roasted, grilled, shaved, stir-fried, or pickled, the rest of the vegetables just look at it with envy. My favorite new way to prepare it is slathered with tandoori marinade and roasted whole until deeply caramelized, then served in copious quantities with mint chutney, tamarind and raita.”
Chef Jeff Miller, founder of Cutting Edge Innovation and former executive chef and vice president of product innovation for Dunkin’ Brands, replied, “I really love carrots this time of year. They can be roasted and finished with butter, sherry vinegar and chives, or they can complement an amazing soup, stew or braise.”
Chef Scott Uehlein, vice president of produce innovation for Sonic and former corporate chef for Canyon Ranch, said, “I absolutely love broccoli rabe for its unique, slightly bitter characteristics. I’m a purist when I prepare it. I blanch it in salted water, then sauté in olive oil with lots of garlic, some crushed red pepper flakes, a dash of salt, and occasionally I’ll add some lemon juice and lemon zest as well. I can use it as a side or I can toss it with some orecchiette pasta and grated Romano, and boom! It’s an entrée!”
“[Onions are] not looking for fame, just the opportunity to be happy in a supporting role, working day in and day out making food taste great!”
Chef Alex Ong, director of culinary excellence for UMass Dining and a former restaurateur in San Francisco, told me, “In winter, I always seek comfort in soups, braises, and stews, cooked low and slow. I gravitate toward escarole a lot and make a soup with chopped escarole, salted ham hocks or ham bits, beans, onions, garlic, all braised with chicken broth in a crock pot. Escarole also lends itself well to Chinese stir fries by blanching it in boiling water before adding it to a wok with gingered meat protein (pork, beef or even tofu cubes) with a little garlic, rice wine and soy sauce.”
Chef Marion Gibson, director of culinary development for Aramark, replied, “Delicata squash is available during fall and winter. As the name suggests, this squash has a delicate rind or skin that is 100% edible — so no peeling necessary! I love it sliced thick and roasted skin-on. Toast the seeds and have a virtually no-waste side dish or warm salad when drizzled with pomegranate molasses and crumbled sheep’s milk feta.”
Chef Chris Martone, consulting chef and former corporate executive chef for Subway, said, “I love fresh basil. While many see basil as a workhorse or supporting flavor role, I think it is truly a star. It is a star flavor with fresh tomatoes for bruschetta or paired with fresh mozzarella, and it’s a prominent flavor for fresh, light sauces for pasta as well. But perhaps one of the most overlooked opportunity for this star to shine is paired with its other fresh greens. Adding fresh basil to salads, dressed greens, or on dishes like Pollo Milanese makes them even more delicious!”
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a member of the Texas A&M AgriLife External Advisory Board and a member of the Bayer Vegetable Seeds Horticultural Advisory Council. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @AmyMyrdalMiller
Originally printed in the February 2021 issue of Produce Business.