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Seven corporate chefs at chain restaurants recently got together remotely for an idea-generating seminar called Menu Improv.

Chefs try recipe innovation with ‘menu improv’

Chain restaurant chefs worked to develop new dishes

Menu development has been difficult during the pandemic, first with social distancing requirements and then with supply-chain disruption and labor shortages.

But seven corporate chefs at chain restaurants recently got together remotely for an idea-generating seminar called Menu Improv.

Recipe developer and cookbook author Stacey Ballis moderated the exercise sponsored by Johnsonville Foodservice, and the chefs came up with dozens of ideas for what to do with Johnsonville’s original sausage and chorizo strips, both of which were introduced to foodservice earlier this year.

The Menu Improv session was part of the year-long program CREATE: The Future of Foodservice, produced by Informa Connect’s Restaurant & Food Group, which culminates in an in-person conference in Denver Oct 4-6.

Starting simple, Ballis asked the participants to dream up dishes in which the strips could be substituted.

Debra Olson, director of culinary development for family-dining buffet chain Golden Corral, suggested wrapping the original sausage strip, instead of bacon, around chicken and then baking it.

Alex Sadowsky, director of culinary, beverage and menu Innovation for casual-dining Twin Peaks Restaurants, said he’d cut up either sausage and cook them with Southern-style greens.

Quinn Adkins, director of menu development for quick service Culver Franchising System, said they’d be good in a gyro.

William Eudy, corporate executive chef for the International division of multi-concept Focus Brands (including Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s and McAlister’s Deli), said that using the chorizo strips in a classic would keep the meat from falling out of the sandwich.

Sean Landrum, head of culinary research & development for Jack’s Family Restaurants, suggested using either sausage to wrap meatloaf.

Jennifer Joy Cruz, the R&D Head for quick-service Jollibee North America, said it would be good in quiche.

Rick Petralia, director of culinary innovation for fast-casual chain Fazoli’s, said he would wrap the chorizo around filet mignon.

Other suggestions included putting it in jalapeño poppers, jambalaya, wrapping it around asparagus, skewering it on a kebab, wrapping dates with it and cooking it instead of bacon down into a jam with onions, brown sugar and vinegar.

Next, chefs were asked to name three ingredients, a cooking technique and a cooking style and then one of them had to verbally improvise a dish from those suggestions — sort of a combination of improv and mystery-box competitions.

Petralia came up with a benedict using original sausage strips, poached eggs, chiles sautéed with tomatoes, hollandaise sauce and microgreens on an English muffin

Olson suggested Texas toast cooked on a flattop with cotija cheese and the chorizo sausage strips, topped with lettuce.

Landrum described enchiladas with the chorizo, chicken and grilled onions

In an exercise called Finish the Story, in which one chef started a recipe and then two others had to complete it, Petralia concluded the task with a biscuit sandwich with candied sausage strips, green chile cream gravy, queso fresco and pickled onions with a side salad.

Next came a quick-fire challenge of menu items by daypart. The results were as follows.

For breakfast:

  • Olson: Southwest breakfast burrito with chorizo strips
  • Sadowsky: Original breakfast sausage taco
  • Adkins: Cheesy egg bake with original sausage
  • Eudy: Benedict with original sausage
  • Landrum: Breakfast burger with Colby Jack cheese, original sausage, a fried egg, maple syrup and aïoli
  • Cruz: Filipino breakfast of garlic rice and chorizo strips
  • Petralia: Breakfast lasagna layered with original sausage, light cheddar cheese, scrambled egg and ricotta


  • Olson: Waffle topped with the chorizo and maple bacon syrup
  • Sadowsky: Chicken fried original sausage strips in a sandwich
  • Adkins: Baked German pancake with an apple compote and the chopped chorizo strips
  • Eudy: Grilled filet mignon with a sausage biscuit topped with Béarnaise sauce and some dressed micro greens.
  • Landrum: Club sandwich with original sausage instead of bacon, a green chile aïoli and American cheese.
  • Cruz: Dutch baby pancake with sautéed mushrooms and either of the two sausage strips
  • Petralia: Scallops wrapped in the chorizo over smoked Gouda and Hatch green chile on top


  • Olson: Eight-ounce beef patty topped with chorizo, sautéed onions and sharp cheddar cheese on a brioche bun
  • Sadowsky: Sweet potato hash with the chorizo marmalade, grilled salmon glazed with the marmalade and topped with hollandaise sauce
  • Adkins: Triple decker club sandwich with smoked chicken, pulled pork, original sausage strips lightly seared and topped with 10-year aged cheddar and aïoli
  • Eudy: Avocado, original sausage, lettuce and tomatoes on buttered toasted brioche, aïoli, salt and pepper
  • Landrum: Shepherd’s pie topped with mashed potatoes, an Italian cheese blend, spinach and tomatoes with the original sausage on top
  • Cruz: Chopped original sausage sautéed with plum tomatoes and served over pasta
  • Petralia: Beef meatballs wrapped in chorizo on sweet brioche slicer rolls with pepper Jack cheese and cilantro pesto.
  • Olson:  Pounded chicken breast stuffed with cheddar cheese, rolled and then wrapped in a chorizo strip, baked and topped with caramelized onions


  • Sadowsky: Mussels steamed in beer with chorizo chopped up in it
  • Adkins: Mac & cheese with chorizo and sambal oelek (because it doesn’t curdle cheese sauce the way some acid-based condiments do), mixed with chopped rib eye steak.
  • Eudy: Chorizo wrapped around shrimp made into chilaquiles with roasted tomato salsa, a roasted jalapeño pepper, queso fresco and cilantro
  • Landrum: Grilled oysters layered with sausage and compound butter
  • Cruz: Fried rice using the chorizo, garlic, onions, lots of egg, green onion and red cabbage topped with seared shrimp and cilantro and served with a lime wedge on the side.
  • Petralia: Sicilian-crust pizza, olive oil, thinly sliced tomatoes and sliced chorizo strips with red onion, mozzarella cheese and garlic oil

And they went on to dessert, and came up with the following ideas,

  • Olson: Candied sausage strip rubbed with brown sugar and cayenne pepper, plus glazed pecans, crumbled and served over vanilla ice cream
  • Sadowsky: Super dark chocolate brownie with original sausage strips cooked until crunchy and crumbly and used as a garnish with salted caramel.
  • Adkins: Toasted oatmeal cookie with well-cooked original breakfast sausage and Door County dried cherries.
  • Eudy: Sausage stuffed Belgian Liège waffle topped with French vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate sauce and candied cayenne brown sugar bacon.
  • Landrum: Sausage, apple and brioche Stromboli: Take the sausage with a little bit of orange marmalade and reduce with sliced Granny Smith apples, and then incorporate brie cheese, and then top it with crushed pecans and dried cranberries
  • Cruz: Chorizo cooked in an orange syrup glaze and served over a custard-stuffed puff pastry.
  • Petralia: Finely chopped candied chorizo mixed in churro batter, fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar.

And finally the chefs were challenged to collaborate on what Ballis called “Recipe Haiku”. However, although the three-line poems have a fixed number of syllables, in this case she just asked each chef to start a recipe and for the next two to finish.

In one such food poem, Petralia started by weaving original sausage strips together, which Cruz then baked into a crispy sheet and Landrum used them instead of a tortilla to make quesadillas stuffed with cheese and green chile.

In another, Eudy wrapped chorizo around large day boat scallops and sautéed them, Adkins put the scallops over toasted-corn grits with goat cheese, and Olson topped them with a roasted-corn Alfredo sauce.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

TAGS: Food Trends
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