At the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, a place where visitors rock out to exhibits and concerts from just about every genre of music, Chef Chris Lenza has orchestrated a line of grab-and-go items with more color, texture and plant-based ingredients than ever before at the museum’s Café Allegro.
As a member of Bon Appetit Management Co.’s Plant Forward Culinary Collaborative, Lenza says, “we talk a lot about the research showing that combining colors and textures is one of the best ways to create healthier, more plant-based meals that people are excited to eat and feel satisfied by,” he says.
So new items are designed with texture, craveability and attractiveness in mind, while stealthily reducing the amount of animal protein. Beans and legumes pick up the protein beat, while fresh produce provides the melody of a satisfying grab-and-go symphony.
“All of our menus at Café Allegro start with seasonal, fresh and locally grown ingredients, so the squash is crunchier, the peas are snappier and the salad lettuces are the most floral and still have volume to offer a nice, hearty composed salad,” Lenza says.
Composed salads are presented as complete meals—not side dishes—in the new menu. “We did have salads before, but people didn’t think of them as a main course,” he explains. “We’ve been concentrating on making them more filling, energizing them up with the addition of local beans, seeds, nuts and plant-based vinaigrettes with superfoods like our very popular avocado salsa and tepary bean (a native Southwest bean with a nutty, sweet flavor) spread.
That tepary bean isn’t the only interesting ingredient used in the grab-and-go items. Arizona-grown heritage and ancient grains—like emmer-farro berries, purple barley, white Sonoran wheat berries and einkorn berries—all add some surprising notes.
Carefully composed salads also afford café staff the ability to make them ahead of time, while “the guests still have plenty to choose from,” Lenza says. “We offer a variety of salads to accommodate many dietary restrictions and dislikes, so we really don’t run into many requests for customized salads.”
However, if a customer asks, the café does take requests. “Having an executive chef onsite and a well-trained staff makes this an easy task for us,” Lenza says.
The most popular items so far have been the mariachi salad (organic greens, Sphinx Ranch dates, tomato, carrots, local beans, roasted sunflower seeds, hard-boiled cage-free egg with housemade chipotle pepper-ranch dressing) and the fresh vegetable and turkey wrap (herb-marinated, roasted local turkey in a large spinach tortilla with kale, cabbage, peppers and tomatillo-avocado sauce).
Feedback has been positive since the new menu rollout and Lenza credits the early success to the combinations of flavors and textures in the composed salads and wraps.
“I like to combine different seeds, beans, greens and crunchy vegetables with vinaigrette that has a twist, like substituting agave nectar to replace honey, or adding a bit of heat with smoked and roasted chilies such as chipotle and guajillo,” Lenza says.
Currently, the staff is experimenting with winter updates to the menu items, looking at lots of citrus, salad greens, dark leafy greens, pumpkin, butternut squash, more local grains and white pomegranate seeds. Sounds like a hit!
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