Marc Zammit

Marc Zammit

It used to be when folks dined out they mostly ordered the more fattening, fried foods available to them, heavy on the sauces and pretty big and beefy.

That’s not the case for customers of Palo Alto, Calif.-based contract foodservice concern Bon Appetit Management Co. [3], says Marc Zammit, the company’s director of culinary development and support.

Nowadays, the operator of some 150 accounts in the corporate-dining, college and fine-arts sectors is offering lighter, more healthful fare dished out in smaller portions, and, Zammit says, customers aren’t just asking for more nutritionally sound fare, they’re demanding it.

“The health message really is the factor that’s driving people to pursue the food choices they’re making,” he says.

Earlier this year the company, under Zammit’s culinary guidance, rolled out its Healthy Cooking Initiative, which officials say has been met with positive response.

“We’ve certainly encouraged smaller portion sizes,” he says. “Any healthier approach seems to be very welcome.”

To that end, it’s not just smaller portion sizes that customers are wrapping their arms around, he says. They’re also looking for more organic fare that is sustainably grown or raised when possible. In fact, he says, a big trend is increased demand for grass-fed beef.

“That’s probably one new trend I’m keeping my eye on — more natural meats,” he says. “Over the last year, as I have hit the different regions we serve, I’ve seen more of our chefs buying grass-fed beef, and that’s really interesting to me. It always was perceived, I think, as sort of very high-end, an elite choice. And it also was perceived that the American palate wanted well-marbled beef. But I’m definitely seeing something different out there.”

Zammit cites a few reasons for the shift. “The word is getting out there that grass-fed beef is healthier for you, has more omega-3’s, which counteracts conventional health issues like high cholesterol,” he says. “So it might just be tied into consumer awareness, and there is the whole sustainability factor, too, that cows should be fed grass.”

But when discussing sustainability, Zammit, whose company this year adopted a so-called carbon diet intended to minimize Bon Appetit’s effect on the environment by reducing the greenhouse gasses it generates, says there is a lot of consumer confusion surrounding the issue.

BON APPETIT MANAGEMENT CO.

HEADQUARTERS: Palo Alto, Calif.ACCOUNTS: 150REGION: Seattle; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; St. Louis; Minneapolis; Boston; Washington, D.C.; upstate New YorkPRICES: vary from unit to unitLATEST MENU ROLLOUT: Healthy Cooking Initiative consisting of smaller portion sizes of low-fat, low-calorie and trans-fat free-food

“I don’t think people understand the whole concept of sustainability,” he says. “They know the difference between local and organic, and they understand that, but sustainability is a big word with lots of elements attached to it.

It’s more than just the way the food is grown. It has to do with anything from concerns about animal welfare to the welfare and working conditions of farm hands to the financial impact it has on local communities.

“The consumer looks at local because they’re trusting the face behind the food. They trust that the local farmer cares about the health of his or her neighbors as opposed to getting the same kinds of items from faraway places. People want to know what they’re putting into their bodies and where the food is coming from.”

8trends for ’08

SUSTAINABILITY

LOCAL AND ORGANIC ITEMS

SMALLER PORTION SIZES

MORE VEGETABLES, LESS MEAT

NATURAL AND GRASS-FED MEATS

LESS CONSUMPTION OF SODA IN FAVOR OF BOTTLED SPRING AND FLAVORED WATERS

LESS SALT IN GENERAL, BUT EMPHASIS ON ARTISAN SALTS WHEN USED

EMPHASIS ON ETHNIC CUISINE, ESPECIALLY AUTHENTIC CHINESE BECAUSE OF ATTENTION BEING PAID TO THE UPCOMING SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

FAD ABOUT TO FLOP?

FRUIT AS A SAVORY ITEM

Zammit also observes that people are using less salt. When it is used, he says, it is sea salt or artisan salt.

“I’m seeing more discussion of it at the nutritionist and health-group levels,” he says. “More people are talking about salt intake. If you were to ask me what the next health initiative is I’d say it’s watching and reducing [use]. And there are these great artisan salts from other places around the world, from the Philippines and France, harvested in a careful way and cleaned without chemicals that bring bold flavors to a dish and don’t require a lot of it to be used. You don’t need very much of it to bring out great flavor.”

Bon Appetit also is focusing on regional Asian cuisine, which officials view as gaining in popularity, Zammit says.

“We’re looking at a couple of things: food from Singapore, which offers a wonderful crossroads of Southeast Asian flavors packaged under one theme,” he says. “We’re looking at everything from a variety of satays to some great stir-fries and noodle dishes. People are constantly looking for new profiles, so we have to stay ahead of what they want and keep it healthy and exciting.”

Ask Zammit what kinds of foods he likes best and he’ll tell you flat-out that a perfectly prepared dish is one cooked in clean, pure fashion.

Meanwhile, he dislikes any fad that disguises the true nature of a food and its flavors.

“Listen, I’m hoping coffee rubs will go away,” he says, chuckling. “I think coffee belongs in a cup. And what did I see recently that just bugged the hell out of me? It was raspberry salad dressing and strawberries in a salad. I just don’t get covering a beautiful fruit with vinaigrette. And I may be a little old-fashioned, but how about watermelon soups and fruit as a savory item? I don’t get that either. That’s one fad I hope flops.”

Brad Nelson [4]