Chef Steve: Using One Ingredient Creatively Could Increase Menu Profitability

One item, multiple uses.

Seems simple, right?

However, taking one ingredient and developing multiple dishes around it is a common missed opportunity for many restaurant operations. Traditionally menus are designed from the recipes, versus beginning with the ingredients.

There are many benefits for chefs and restaurants to develop a menu with as few ingredients as possible and cross-utilizing key ingredients.

  • The ingredient is being used quickly at its freshest state, producing a better-quality dish.
  • You can purchase the item in larger pack sizes, eliminating the up-charge for splitting cases (this is a common practice from vendors).
  • Your labour savings increase — if one cook is preparing the item for a certain dish, they can prepare for other stations, dishes or team
  • Smaller = Better. It’s an opportunity to keep your menu concise and inventory levels low. We know that inventory sitting on shelves is not generating money and that keeping an ingredient in motion from purchase to the final plate is a good practice to keep generating revenue and increase menu profitability 
  • More simple operations — the chef/kitchen manager is juggling many tasks and jobs throughout each day. Multi-use items buy them precious time each day.
  • Space-saving – fewer ingredients means less storage required, a smaller kitchen footprint, and overall cost savings.

It takes a bit of creativity, and some trial and error to see which ingredients you can use in different ways across your menu.

What to Use

Here are some examples that you’re already using in your kitchen, but with different ideas to help you capitalize on their full potential.

Rediscovering their uses can refresh your menu and, as I said before, help cut back on costs and time that everyone on staff can benefit from.

Red Onions —  a simple ingredient that’s key for flavour and can be manipulated for maximum use:
  1. Diced or sliced fresh onions are great for topping burgers, sandwiches and even some salads.
  2. Pickled onions mean major flavour alert — a quick simple pickle turns red onions into brilliant flavour bombs. Great for salads, perfect on sandwiches, but also to finish hot dishes like curry or braised meats and fish.
  3. A fried or caramelized red onion gives a darker, richer look to the more conventional yellow cooking onion when caramelized. Very slow cooking brings the sweetness from them and gives a different look to plates
Chickpeas — buy them dry to give yourself the opportunity for multi-use of the protein-packed vegan-friendly option:
  1. Dried and soaked chickpeas make the best falafel and veggie burgers.
  2. Pureed chickpeas for a creamy hummus or combined with other flavours (caramelized onions, cheese, spicy pepper puree) to make a sandwich addition or burger topper.
  3. Fried and coated chickpeas with a crisp flour is a great addition on top of salads, power bowls or to main dishes like fish.
  4. Naked! Chickpeas are great just cooked, cooled, and marinated with oil and fresh herbs. They can be used with salads and bowls, and as additions to appetizers.
Sirloin — it’s a challenge to get proteins on the menu at a friendly approachable price, but completely worth it when you do. Sirloin can be an affordable price point, is recognizable and delicious cut of steak:
  1. Steak dinner or steak frites are the easiest to prep and prepare, but also a safe, easy choice for the guest.
  2. Steak sandwiches and wraps are appealing on menus and typically use a half portion from the above steak dinner.
  3. Add-on for salads and bowls, which are also typically a half portion from the main course. This is commonly expected on menus to transform salads and bowls to meals and get the protein requirements for the day.
  4. Soups are always an avenue to use up the steak from the day and start fresh the next day.
  5. Pasta is a delicious and cost-effective use of steak. 90 grams in a pasta dish is ample protein when combined with vegetables, pasta, cheese, etc., and helps elevate the dish.

Tips to Make it Happen

It might seem challenging at the beginning to tie a single ingredient to multiple dishes. Follow this process for planning your menu with some tips I use:

Start with the big picture of your menu and then work backward to find common uses and ingredients, making some definite decisions to use one item for multiple recipes. A red onion might not be traditional, but you may find it tastes just as good and gives you a point of difference.

I am kinetic in my learning and do best when I can visualize every idea I have. I suggest writing charts, chalkboard, flip charts, etc. Get everything out in view, and opportunities for cross-utilization are easier to spot.

List dishes and ingredients and then amalgamate the ingredient list and look for opportunities to cross- This is where visualization really comes in handy.

We have six dishes with edamame and one with black beans. Screw the black beans! -K.E.

At this point in the menu planning, you have to make hard decisions. Cut things that don’t make sense, or come back to them later on when you think it will be more profitable.

Chef Consultant Steve Silvestro 

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