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Making exotic ingredients approachable

Making exotic ingredients approachable

This is part of Nation’s Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2014 MUFSO conference, taking place Oct. 5–7 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on and tweet with us using #MUFSO. Stay connected on the go by downloading the MUFSO app.

Yes, you can serve duck, bison and even goat in chain restaurants. You can also serve made-to-order noodle soup to 45,000 hungry college students. You just need to find a way to roll out exotic ingredients that drives customer adoption and makes it palatable.

Those were some of the takeaways from “Hunting & Taming the Wild New Menu Idea,” a discussion at this year’s MUFSO conference on new menu ideas moderated by The Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse and sponsored by Ventura Foods.

Jim Doak, vice president for menu innovation and executive chef of Ignite Restaurant Group, has introduced duck and lamb to Ignite’s Brick House Tavern and tap chain by making them approachable.

For lamb, for example, he served it as Greek lamb meatballs, a lamb burger and a whiskey-braised lamb shank. He said all three were very approachable as the meatballs are snackable, the lamb burger is, at its core, a burger, and the lamb shank is a braised comfort food.

He said that by teaching his customers to appreciate a meat that wasn’t in the normal American triumvirate of beef, chicken or pork, he could then move on to a new animal protein: Duck.

Again, he made it approachable: His customers already understood chicken wings, so he gave them duck wings, which he served with a sweet and hot glaze and is now the third top seller in Brick House’s snack category.

He then introduced duck confit by putting it on a barbecue duck pizza, and in the latest menu cycle he used it as the protein in a Cobb salad variation he called the Sitting Duck Salad.

Next, he said, he’d be moving the bison burger – a hugely successful item that was on the daily special menu -- to the main menu this fall. He’s also now blending goat meat with lamb for a new daily special: the goat burger.
Michael Smith, who operates two restaurants in Kansas City, Mo., Michael Smith and Extra Virgin, takes a different approach by daring his customers to try new things but clearly marking the way.

“I put an adventurous section on the menu,” he said.

That includes a duck tongue taco, which he slow cooks and mixes with duck neck meat — 70 percent tongue to 30 percent neck — and then caramelizes it with scallions and cilantro and serves it in taco shells with pickled red onions and queso fresco.

He said they sell between 30 and 50 of them each day.

Ken Toong, executive director of UMass Auxiliary at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with responsibility for serving five million meals and snacks annually to his 45,000 daily customers, said college students aren’t eating three square meals but rather graze all day long, so he has shifted his focus to lighter meals with higher quality ingredients.

Echoing what many trend watchers say about Millennial consumers, Toong said customers seek personalization, flexibility and freshly prepared items. They also are interested in bold flavors from a variety of cultures, so he set up Pho stations that include a pasta cooker, a bain-marie for soup and a cooler to store fresh vegetable and herb garnishes.

Not only do they appeal to customers, but they also have a low food cost, minimal waste and let him differentiate his dining services from what his customers might expect.

Contact Bret Thorn: [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

MUFSO title sponsors are American Express; The Coca Cola Company; and International Franchise Association.

Keynotes/general sessions are presented by: e*Restaurant from Altametrics; Pro*Act; Red Book Connect; SurveyMini by SMG and the Texas Restaurant Association.

Pillar sponsors include: Idahoan Foods, Sweet Street Desserts and Ventura Foods (Culinary); Red Book Connect (Entrepreneur); Smithfield Farmland (Ideas); and Fishbowl, MomentFeed, Paytronix and Single Platform from Constant Contact (Marketing).

The Monday night awards reception is sponsored by: Avocados from Mexico; Daiya Foods; Ovention; Sara Lee Foodservice; Segafredo Zanetti and Texas Pete®.

Coca Cola presents the Shake, Sparkle & Stir event, and Texas Pete®  is sponsoring the MUFSO Kitchen Hero Cook Off, benefitting Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.

Hot Concept/Best Concepts Celebration is sponsored by e*Restaurant from Altametrics; Golden Chain Awards are sponsored by SurveyMini by SMG.

MUFSO App is sponsored by Qualisoy; MUFSO WiFi is sponsored by ROSnet; and Conference Pen is sponsored by CSM Bakery Products.

Refreshment breaks are sponsored by Royal Cup Coffee and Wrigley Foodservice.

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