The United States' increasingly diverse population is affecting how we eat and plan menus. For example, Hispanic and Asian cuisines -- representing the fastest growing ethnic groups -- are becoming a greater part of our social fabric.
Planning your menus to embrace this trend will reward you with campers who either consciously or unconsciously view your foodservice as keeping up with our changing population.
Diverse foods and ingredients are more readily available than ever. Cuisines from countries once considered exotic are becoming commonplace, while ingredients once considered unusual are infiltrating traditional North American foods in the form of cross-cultural cooking and regional American fare.
Fusion cooking is a great way to blend the characteristic ingredients and cooking techniques of two or more ethnic cuisines.
For example, adding ginger, adobo or cilantro to chicken, rice or potatoes creates an ethnic flair that is still comfortable for your diners. Add Chipotle or Ancho seasoning to your ranch dressing for a new ethnic twist.
There are many prepared foodservice ready-to-use sauces and seasonings that allow you to enhance your standard meats, starches, vegetables and salads to give them a different ethnic twist each day, like using the same chicken or other protein and a vegetable blend that you could rotate daily. Just the addition of different prepared sauces allows you to bring exciting ethnic items to your weekly menu planning. Here's a sample…
Day 1: Chicken and vegetables tossed with a Teriyaki or lime ginger sauce over rice.
Day 2: That same chicken and similar vegetable mix with a Southwest sauce served with tortillas, Spanish rice or Mexi-corn blend.
Day 3: Same chicken and vegetables tossed with a Caribbean glaze sauce with lemon rice
Another exciting fusion trend that lends itself to economic-minded foodservice operators is One-Dish or One-Bowl Meals. They are tasty, convenient and economical as a good portion of the Bowl Meal is a starch with a small amount of vegetable and meat with a great flavored sauce.
Bowl Meals, traditionally Asian, are a combination of rice, a seasoned or sauced mixture of vegetables and meat topped with a crunchy or fresh vegetable garnish.
These are great, but this is where you can really get creative for your campers. Why not offer variations of Bowl Meals in any ethnic style?
Use the ingredients of a Fajita or Taco plate -- Spanish rice topped with a mix of vegetables and meat with a Southwest glaze sauce and topped with shredded cheese and other taco-type condiments.
Another example would be a Mediterranean-style bowl with pasta tossed either in a Marinara or Alfredo sauce, then topped with an Italian herb seasoned blend of vegetables and meat, garnished with grated cheese.
For older campers, enhance the Marinara or Alfredo sauce with roasted garlic flavor available from your foodservice distributor.
One last interesting Bowl idea is to take mashed potatoes (traditional or flavored) and top it with an old-fashioned rich potpie or stew mixture and a biscuit, muffin or roll. These are all very interesting, filling, and lend economical diversity to your weekly menu plan.
Breads and wrappers such as tortillas, pita breads and other flat breads can form the basis of fusion entrees when filled with salad type ingredients, grilled meats, chili con carne or traditional North American fillings.
When topped with fusion-inspired sauces, these dishes take on even more flavor. We have all seen how successful Taco Bell -- and now even McDonald's -- has been with flat-bread-wrapped menu items. This is a clear indication that this type of food is not just a trend but part of our evolving culture.
Use this as inspiration when planning your menus. Utilize the convenient ready-to-use sauces, glazes and seasonings that are available from your distributor to easily transform the common into extraordinary without having to be an expert in every cuisine.
Use the Internet recipe sites we discussed in the last issue of Camp Business as an additional resource for interesting ideas.
Blending some fusion into your menu planning will excite your campers and make your operation more desirable. Use this as another tool to market your camp.
Today's kids and adults are far more in tune with international foods. They will see your meals as one more exciting part of their camp experience.
Scott Gilbert is a corporate chef for Nestle Food Services Inc., and lives in Medina, Ohio.