Here at FM, we’ve hosted the Best Sandwich contest for decades. Every year, the entries pour in, with everything from good old classic clubs to mustardy Cubans to meaty Italian subs, melty Philly cheesesteaks, succulent Mexican tortas and many more.
This year has got us wondering: Should we start a Best Bowl contest? Not to say sandwiches are “out,” but for so long the steadfast sandwich has been foodservice’s bread and butter, so to speak. Why? Easy: They’re portable, versatile for every daypart and can be many things to many customers, even gluten-free if you get the right bread.
And yet, foodservice recently has been finding a new equation minus the bread, plus the fun trendiness of the bowl. For now, bowls have got the “it” factor, somehow, in terms of glamor and virtue, too. Picture this: Roasted cauliflower and chickpeas, toasty sesame seeds, zesty tabbouleh, ruby red pomegranate seeds perched on a bed of fluffy couscous…pita chips on top and a creamy tahini sauce.
According to Datassential, this is likely more than just a fad. In 2022, bowls have surpassed both tacos and pizza in menu mentions. More than 10,000 foodservice concepts have the word “bowl” in their name. Our readers are reporting new bowl concepts in their world, too, using bowls as a way to serve up global flavors, wellness and sustainability…a whole lot can fit into a bowl.
Introduced this year, American Dining Creations (ADC)’s Be Well, Be Bowl’d LTO has been the most successful to date. “We developed the Be Well, Be Bowl’d LTO around internationally inspired bowls which rely on fresh ingredients with a unique blend of flavors, colors and textures,” says Kevin Sennett, corporate executive chef of culinary innovation with ADC.
With new bowl recipes created by New Jersey-based ADC Chef Wes Keller, the LTO follows a framework of balance, Sennett says: “It’s the balance of flavors such as savory chana masala with sweet pomegranate, salty cashews, tangy notes of raita…and balance of textures such as soft, cool tabbouleh salad, warm, juicy beef kofta, crisp, fresh cucumber and crunchy roasted chickpeas. Finally, a balance of nutrition: starch, protein and fresh vegetables. That’s a full meal solution in every bowl.”
Bowls are the perfect vehicle to bring a new plant-based concept to life for Carlos Castillo-Blanco, food service supervisor at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, NC. Plant-based “meats” and lots of grains and veggies are at the core of the concept.
“Plant-based versions of chicken, beef, sausage, cheese and more provide a healthy meal accommodating our customers that cannot have meat or dairy due to any reason, so they can have a complete and tasty meal,” he says.
In addition, Castillo-Blanco chose bowls for their “creativity in adding multiple flavor profiles, colors and textures…and fresh toppings with contrasting flavors in order to provide that balance in each bite.”
Each Tuesday this August, the new concept Plant Based will introduce itself with a different bowl at the UNC Medical Center’s Terrace Café. On deck: a Caribbean tofu plant-based bowl, a tandoori chicken plant-based bowl and a roasted cauliflower and chickpea plant-based bowl with fried tofu.
Aramark K12 recently announced it’s changing its name to Aramark Student Nutrition, with division president Barbara Flanagan stating “Simply returning to a pre-pandemic atmosphere isn’t enough. We don’t want to return to normal, we want better than normal.”
Along with the name change, Aramark Student Nutrition is rolling out a new line of bowls, with a focus on fun and kid-appeal: Beef taco “totcho” (tater tot nacho) bowls, harvest grain bowls and Thanksgiving-style “gobbler” bowls.
HHS’ Global Bowls concept’s recipes are the result of a collaboration between Chef Jason Patel of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and HHS (Healthcare Housekeeping Systems) Chef Marta Hernandez, who worked together over Zoom to create delicious in-real-life plant-based bowls.
HHS scored a grade “A” and a rank of no. 7 on the Humane Society’s latest Sustainability Food Service Scorecard with this collection, and more importantly, it’s been a hit with customers.
“We were developing our Global Bowl program and it obviously makes sense to have a sustainable portion of that program because it melded so well into the whole story we wanted to tell about flavors and culture so it made sense to partner with Jason and the Humane Society and it’s been gangbusters successful,” Hernandez says.
“When we collaborated with HHS, we asked, ‘How can we help with this?’ And we started to ideate the different recipes for the Sustainabowl concept,” says Patel, who has previously worked as a hospital chef. “I typed it up and conceptualized everything, then I sent it to Marta and asked, ‘Is this something that can be done?’” Sometimes procurement issues arose, but overall, the collaboration turned into a successful concept.
“We didn’t want anything that was too highbrow, so to speak, because we didn’t want to scare anyone away,” Hernandez says. “We wanted it to be approachable, from an hourly worker perspective [preparing the bowls] and also from a customer perspective. We wanted it to be something comforting and tasty and full of texture and good for you and good for our environment but not polarizing.”
Back and forth, ingredients were tweaked and versions of different bowls were tasted, perfected, “and then we’d move on to the next,” Hernandez says.
For a meatless Bolognese pasta bowl, “it’s the same flavor profile, it’s the tomatoes, it’s the slow cooking, it’s the onions and garlic, but it’s plant-based,” Patel says. “When I look at plant-based food I don’t look at things I’m taking out. I look at the food itself.” And if that food is in a bowl? All the better.