Spotting foodservice needs through the solutions on offer always makes me feel like I’ve learned something. Some recent favorites…
French fries are not just french fries…there are fresh-style chips (Obligatory Creepy Anthropomorphized Food with Overly Large Eyes Alert! Hooray!) and unique shapes to make mealtime entertaining, plus fries designed to be especially long-lasting or both unusually shaped and higher-yielding. You devotees of roller-grill cuisine will be pleased to know there’s a product to accompany the taquito and hot dog in their endless back-and-forth journey until you show up at 2 a.m., drunk and as such, posessed of an indiscriminate palate, perhaps.
Crab cakes, too, have an enormous set of distinctions among them – six in this section, including boardwalk style and bakeable. I had a co-worker for a while who would order a crab cake at any restaurant we visited where one was available and note with detail what made it unique. She didn’t get quite to the level of specification that these product descriptions do, but I now suspect that more of the crab cakes she was analyzing were pre-made – and perhaps the same ones from place to place – than I would have originally thought.
Sometimes these solutions hurt a little bit. I know that most things come into the back of a chain restaurant frozen or at the very least pre-bagged, but I was terribly saddened recently to catch a glimpse into the kitchen of an Indian restaurant I go to fairly regularly and discover that mango lassis come pre-bottled.
I had assumed – perhaps naively – that there was something smoothie-like going on in the kitchen, with fresh mangoes or frozen mango chunks. At this restaurant I’d had a particularly good one, perfumed with rosewater, and to realize that it was a bottled drink, and as such might have contained ingredients that could have caused me to take a pass on it if I had read the label in a supermarket made me sort of sad. One more illusion of the craftwork of a professional kitchen shattered.
Then there are the problems that the home cook just doesn’t have that are a little disturbing to think about – like the need for your cooking medium to resist darkening and gumming on the grill.
Most intriguing, perhaps, are the clear descriptions of the problem with vague descriptions of how the product solves it. In reading the trade papers the last few weeks, I keep seeing a campaign for ConAgra’s Amplify with a little kid messily slurping from an enormous spoonful of soup. This is a product that promises “salt flavor enhancement.” I’m all in favor of salt flavor – potato chips being my drug of choice – but I’m not sure exactly what “peptide and amino acid technology” means. It sounds like MSG might be involved.
I should have gone after that food science degree too.