Those creating food service menus guided by seasons come across several sweet spots throughout the year: timeframes when certain menu items consistently boom. Right now, the hands of the seasonal clock point directly to soup. American Dining Creations accounts—in this case B&Is and colleges—have a taste for authentic ramen bowls.
“Introducing our Ramen Bowl LTO during the winter months where it’s colder and typically our soup sales tick upward” is intentional, Dunphy says.
“By introducing Ramen Bowl as a fully customizable entrée station we meet the desire for warm soup along with a full-meal solution that will drive incremental sales. It’s new to our traditional offerings but still offers a sense of familiarity and comfort,” he says. “Something like ramen should do well with our higher ed and white-collar B&I accounts, with their inherently diverse demographic and awareness of culinary trends and world flavors.”
About those flavors: Dunphy knows his customers know what’s up when it comes to ramen. “The No. 1 trait to a successful LTO, especially when picking something tied to a specific ethnic cuisine, is authenticity,” he says. “The flavors have to be right and all expected elements of the dish need to be present.”
As any ramen fan will tell you, it begins with the broth. A weak broth makes for a forgettable ramen. The Ramen Bowl concept calls for broths made in-house and flavors from readily available—but still authentic—pantry items found at most accounts across the country. The replication factor is a “devil in the details” challenge, Dunphy says.
“This can be one of the biggest challenges, especially when dealing with ethnic cuisines,” he says. “Due to the fact that we work with a number of broadline vendors in virtually every region of the country, oftentimes certain ingredients aren’t readily available. So I start by creating the recipe in-house in our culinary center using as many common pantry ingredients as possible. Then I walk it backwards from there, working with my purchasing team and my sales reps to source any one-off ingredients or make substitutions.”
Ingredients like eggs, fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, nori, fresh and dried chilies are all easily accessible to set up the Ramen Bowl LTO at any account from now until March.
Ramen Bowl is a chef-attended station, and it goes like this: Signature bowls with traditional ingredients are followed by options of additional toppings and sauces for the guest to customize their bowl.
The signature bowls include chasu pulled pork with shoyu broth, sweet soy-braised pork and crispy onion; curry chicken katsu bowl with curry chicken broth, crispy chicken katsu and steamed bok choy; and mushroom miso bowl with mushroom miso broth, shoyu shiitake and roasted corn kernels.
Each bowl begins with ramen noodles quickly plunged into boiling water and placed in the bowl, then topped with corresponding broth/protein and signature bowl ingredients. From there, all bowls are finished with a soy-marinated, soft-boiled egg, a piece of nori and chopped green onions. At this point, guests can add sliced fresh jalapenos, sliced radish, toasted sesame seeds, basil, cilantro, lime wedges and Sriracha.
If these flavors sound super comforting, that’s because “although ramen my not be a traditional American dish, it has many familiar traits,” Dunphy says. “The ingredients harmonize in a way that exudes familiarity.”