Chefs use ‘menu improv’ for recipe ideation

Although people have returned to real, in-person conferences over the past few months, remote communication via video chat remains a convenient and economical way for people to exchange ideas, and six corporate chefs from chain restaurants recently did just that in an idea-generating seminar called Menu Improv.
They generated dozens of ideas for sponsor Johnsonville Foodservice about how to use the company’s original sausage and chorizo strips, which were introduce to foodservice earlier this year.
The Menu Improv session was part of the ongoing program “CREATE: The Future of Foodservice,” produced by Informa Connect’s Restaurant & Food Group, which includes a series of webinars as well as an annual in-person conference that was held in Denver Oct. 4-6.
Johnsonville Foodservice is a founding sponsor of Create.
This was the second Menu Improv session sponsored by Johnsonville. An earlier one was conducted in the summer.
The session was moderated by recipe developer and cookbook author Stacey Ballis, who started by asking the participants to think of ingredients that go well with the two products.
For the original sausage strips, which have traditional sausage flavors such as sage, Johnny Yoo, corporate chef for innovation at IHOP, suggested tomatoes. Carron Harris, senior director of culinary for Papa Murphy’s, suggested mushrooms. Steve Goodwin, senior director of culinary, research & development for Texas Roadhouse, said the strips would go well with biscuits, and Jamie Carawan, vice president of brand, menu and culinary for Buffalo Wild Wings, recommended them in a shepherd’s pie.
Ryan Laker, culinary innovation manager for Dewey’s pizza, recommended them with green peppers, and Sophia Meyer, associate manager for R&D and commercialization for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews took a different approach, pairing them with blackberry jam.
For the chorizo, Yoo paired it with potatoes, Harris with pineapple, Goodwin with Oaxaca cheese, Carawan with paella, Laker with pumpkin purée and Meyer with eggs.
Next Ballis asked them to think of classic dishes for which the original strips could be substituted.
Yoo suggested putting it in corn chowder. Harris recommended it as a substitute in a BLT.
Goodwin said it would be good to wrap roast chicken in, while Carawan put it around a Sonoran hot dog, Meyer suggested putting it in a ragù while Laker would mix it with mac & cheese.
For chorizo, Yoo said it would be good in the Chinese rice porridge congee with poached eggs, Harris recommended it wrapped around filet mignon, Goodwin suggested it on nachos, Carawan put it in fried rice, Laker put it in a queso dip and Meyer added it to a breakfast burrito.
ext Ballis had the group imagine dishes using improv techniques, starting with suggestions for different cooking techniques, ingredients and audiences, and having the chefs come up with a dish that fit.
So Meyer, given spinach, eggs and pan-frying for a Millennial customer using the original strips, came up with a brunch omelet with those ingredients along with caramelized onions and feta.
Harris, given brioche, mayonnaise, brie and baking for the health-conscious demographic using the original strips, envisioned using the mayonnaise lightly on the brioche with Brie and the sausage strips to make a sort of grilled cheese, but baked instead of pan-fried, with tomato and bean sprouts added to give it a health halo.
For a dish with the chorizo strips with beef, cheddar cheese and pico de gallo, using smoking as a technique for Gen-X customers, Carawan envisioned a smoked barbacoa taco with pico de gallo and cheddar topped with grilled chorizo.

Yoo, given mole sauce, pumpkin seeds, black beans and braising in a fine-dining setting with the chorizo strips, imagined clams braised with chorizo, a mole-black bean purée on the plate garnished with candied pumpkin seeds.
Next, in a quick-fire round, the chefs suggested dishes for different dayparts.
For breakfast with the original strips, uses they came up with included maple-glazed French toast with the strips, Bloody Mary garnish, a breakfast sandwich with eggs and cheese, chopped up and added to waffle batter, and as a substitute to bacon in a BLT with strawberry jelly, melted American cheese and an over-easy egg.
For the chorizo at breakfast they put it in a Quiche Lorraine, breakfast tacos and burritos, as part of a Scotch egg, in a pancake topped with a mixture of hot honey and maple syrup, or in scrambled eggs.
For brunch with the original strips, they added it to a classic frisée aux lardons salad with a poached egg, a scramble with potatoes and onions finished Sriracha sour cream, a burger with the strips and a fried egg on a brioche bun, a frittata, a hash and on toast with eggs, tomato and feta cheese.

(Right to left) Carron Harris, senior director of culinary for Papa Murphy’s. Johnny Yoo, corporate chef for innovation at IHOP. Jamie Carawan, vice president of brand, menu and culinary for Buffalo Wild Wings.

With chorizo, they suggested a kale and white bean soup, in toad-in-the-hole (sausage cooked in Yorkshire pudding), in a crêpe topped with chipotle hollandaise, shrimp & grits with chorizo-wrapped shrimp and an egg on top, and with pumpkin, caramelized onions and toast. For lunch the original strips were suggested on an oyster po’ boy, in a cobb salad with deep-fried strips, in a Monte Cristo, in a turkey club sandwich with avocado, as the base for oxtail stew and on a flatbread with cheddar, green peppers and bacon.
The chorizo was recommended in a lunchtime white pizza with clams, on a burger with green chiles and smoked cheddar, in a mixed green salad with pumpkin seeds and tortilla strips in a citrus-chile vinaigrette, a quesadilla, and baked into cornbread.
For mid-afternoon snack time, Yoo suggested dehydrating the original strips, pulverizing them into dust and tossing it with nuts or popcorn. Harris recommended it in a wedding soup. Goodwin envisioned it in an empanada. Carawan suggested baking the strips with brown sugar, black pepper and chile and offering it as a bar snack, and Laker put them in jalapeño poppers. Meyer suggested skewering them with vegetables.

Chorizo snack recommendations included in egg rolls or taquitos, as a garnish for a Negroni, crumbled on avocado toast and baked into a corn cupcake with brown sugar buttercream.
For dinner, the original strips were suggested in orecchiette pasta with broccoli raab, in a chicken-and-white-bean chile, and rendered and used in the base for a gumbo.
The chorizo was visualized in a Thai laab salad, wrapped around a smoked pork butt for street tacos, mixed with Ritz crackers and stuffed in shrimp, and as a replacement for ham in chicken Cordon Bleu.
For dessert, the chorizo was recommended as the crispy crumbled garnish for a Brandy Alexander, or candied and sprinkled on Mexican chocolate lava cake. The original strips could be smoked and put in a bourbon pecan pie, the chefs said, or they could be candied, steeped in milk for a crème anglaise and topped with a floating meringue and more crumbled candied sausage on top.

Finally, the chefs collaborated on a “recipe haiku” — a three-line recipe.
One started with dehydrating and pulverizing the original strips, then mixing that with flour to bread a chicken breast, and then deep-frying it and serving it with cream gravy.
With the chorizo, the strips were wrapped around pineapple, baked and then made into an upside-down cake.