Our Whole Grains Away from Home conference, held September 25-27 in Chicago, was an enchanting reunion of the foodservice industry’s most inspiring thought-leaders and change-makers. If you weren’t able to join us, or just want to take a stroll down memory lane, here are our top 5 takeaways that we came home with:
Whole grains are an essential component of the plate of the future. If there was one theme that came up more than any other, it’s that a plate with less meat and more vegetables and whole grains is more sustainable and more cost eﬀective, and that ﬂavorful, trendy whole grains take these meatless and less-meat dishes more satiating, mouthwatering level. Nearly every single speaker (including ‘Renegade Lunch Lady’ Chef Ann Cooper, award winning author Maria Speck, and Compass Group nutrition communications director Jennifer Roberts), highlighted the role that whole grains play in this movement, emphasizing that sustainable diets that feature whole grains are here to stay.
- Whole grains can help boost sales. After healthy fast food chain b.good added a selection of kale and grain bowls to the menu in late 2013, chef and co-founder Tony Rosenfeld reported that sales increased by 25%. Conference goers quickly learned that other restaurants would be wise to follow suit. In a report of whole grain trends on the horizon, trendologist Kara Nielsen predicted that the grain bowl craze continues to gain traction. That said, bowls aren’t the only way to scoop up more market share. By adding brown rice as an option at Ohio sushi chain FUSIAN, VP Teresa Perretta shared how FUSIAN was able to expand business into school districts, since the brown rice helps the dish qualify for National School Lunch Program regulations.
- Cooking whole grains is quicker and easier than ever. Assuaging any lingering fears that whole grains require constant stovetop attention, food journalist and cookbook author Maria Speck introduced the audience to the magniﬁcent world of quick cooking ancient grains (such as bulgur, freekeh, quinoa, and amaranth), and shared innovative techniques for speeding up grain cooking time, which she practiced while writing her cookbooks. Additionally, rice cookers were praised by many of our speakers, including chefs at b.good and the Culinary Institute of America. In fact, the Culinary Institute of America’s Dean of Culinary Arts, Chef Brendan Walsh declared that he’d like to see more culinary students comfortable with these technologies as a dependable way to cook ancient grains.
- Whole grains shouldn’t just be swapped in for other carbs, they deserve recipes designed for them. In a delectable demo and tasting, Barilla executive chef Lorenzo Boni shared expert pasta pairing tips to work with the rich nuttiness of whole wheat pasta, rather than against it. This personalized approach extends out to the ﬁeld as well. Dr. Stephen Jones, director of the Washington State University Bread Lab, shared how his lab is developing delicious varieties of wheat and barley that are expertly tailored for their purpose (such as ﬁnding varieties that work best in whole grain pasta, croissants, or waﬄes).
- Whole grains are a gateway to global ﬂavors. According to chef Steve Petusevsky, who has helped develop menu concepts for Whole Foods Market, Google, and many other foodservice leaders, whole grain salads are an excellent carrier of global ﬂavors and colors. Attendees put this theory to the test, as they dined on nutty Thai Sorghum Bowls from cookbook author Sharon Palmer, and savory millet falafel patties from chef Joel Schaefer. The verdict? Whole grains are the perfect foundation for a new world of delicious dishes!
Kelly Toups, Program Director, Whole Grains Council