The Chef Council makes a point to get out into the real-deal food scene when it travels abroad, and more often than not, that means sampling the street foods and experiencing the hustle and bustle, as seen here in Jakarta. “We don’t want Americanized food when we travel,” Renz says.
As the chefs sample and taste as many authentic dishes as possible, each keeps a running tally of things that might translate to onsite foodservice. “We all gather a list of ideas from the trip,” says Renz, pictured here. “Each chef brings back three or four ideas.”
Outdoor market inspiration
When the group arrives in a new city, one of the first things it does is head for the outdoor markets to check out at all the bright, colorful ingredients and items that you just don’t see every day.
File this under “items you don’t see every day:” There are live bullfrogs for sale at a market in Jakarta. When cooked, frogs’ legs “taste like chicken,” reports Renz.
The fish is exceptionally fresh in both Singapore and Jakarta, Renz says, thanks to strict food safety laws and plain-old good business sense on the part of fishermen and seafood vendors who build their reputation each day.
“Singapore is a melting pot,” Renz says. “It’s a mix of different cultures just because of where it’s located.” Singapore’s Little India district, shown here, was one of the highlights of the trip with its vibrant spices.
A different way of life
Meeting people along the way is a big part of the chefs’ travels. Renz calls the experience humbling.
Here, the chefs enjoy their first lunch in Jakarta. “People really want to show off their cuisine, especially when they can tell you’re really interested,” Renz says. “We’re not just being typical American tourists. We want to learn more about it.”
Spicing things up
Checking out all the different spices of the region inspired the chefs to create a new rice dish for several accounts that uses coconut milk and turmeric.
Seeing some cool new concepts (this one is in Singapore) also serves as inspiration.
Chicken and rice
Sometimes the simplest dishes can be made with techniques that make them really special. That’s the case with Hainanese chicken and rice. “The Singapore style is that they take chicken and poach it, just cook the heck out of it, and they add the rice to that broth after the chicken is cooked,” Renz says. “Then they take the fat off the top of the broth and fry up the chicken and rice in that fat. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s very hard to do it right.”
These dumplings were one of the best things on the trip, Renz says, but unfortunately not really translatable for big production. The process of making the dumplings is just too labor-intensive.
“Cakes are big in Singapore,” Renz says, referring to this brightly colored (yet natural) cake in the center. “There are whole markets dedicated just to cake.”
Laksa tofu with puff noodles
One dish that made a big impact on the chefs was laksa tofu with puff noodles. This is basically a noodle bowl with a flavorful broth that serves as a backdrop for tofu, noodles, carrots, bean sprouts and herbs. A raw egg can be cracked on top and cooked in the hot liquid, something Taher chefs are doing at several accounts now.
Delicious souvenir from the trip
As the travelling chefs returned, they began bringing ideas to life with a feast in which everyone prepared their new ideas. Then, the ideas that would work best in high-volume foodservice rose to the top. These chicken skewers are a runaway hit that recently sold out at a middle school near Des Moines, Iowa.
Sweet chili burger
This is another current menu item at several K-12 accounts that was a result of the trip. “This is so popular in the schools,” Renz says. It’s a patty made of imitation crabmeat combined with sambal, honey and jalapenos. “It just went over really well; it’s a hit.”