Sponsored by Knouse Foodservice
When it comes to fruit, restaurant customers want it in their desserts year-round. While they may pine for seasonal berries, cherries and peaches served at peak ripeness, they still expect raspberry sauce on cheesecake in the dead of winter and apple pie long before the sweet orbs are harvested in the fall.
Thankfully, chefs now have year-round supplies of clean-label, high-quality fruits that work exceptionally well in desserts and savory applications, like meat glazes and sauces. Better yet, these fruit fillings eliminate costly kitchen labor and food waste, and vastly improve recipe and product consistency that guests appreciate.
Using fruit fillings allows Jeremy Ashby of Lexington, Ky. to focus on running his rapidly growing catering company and restaurant instead of adding labor-intense prep to his staff’s duties. The confidence gained knowing that those products are ready to use upon delivery also lowers his stress level.
“When you’re doing a 2,500-person dinner off-premise, and there’s a fruit dessert on the menu, we’re utilizing [ready-to-use] products like those all we can,” says Ashby, executive chef and partner at Dupree Catering + Events and Azur Restaurant and Patio. “To have one less thing to think about makes me happy.”
The same applies at Azur, where a three-chef line crew routinely feeds 200 guests in a single evening.
“It’s a pressure cooker in there, so we have to design the menu in ways that they can do that much business without spending too many hours on prep,” Ashby says. “As much as we can do it, it’s batch and go, and that’s true with our desserts.”
Speed scratch: A sweet fix for labor problems
Katie Sutton, senior development chef for Food & Drink Resources, a Centennial, Colo.-based consultancy, says her firm sees an increasing use of “speed-scratch fruit ingredients, especially in fast-casual and casual dining” as the restaurant industry’s labor shortage continues. Being able to buy high-end fruit fillings, sauces and purees “instead of standing over the stove and cooking them yourself” is a game changer, she says.
“When you can buy a better product than you can make yourself and also see your consistency go up, why wouldn’t you do it?” Sutton says. “We’re constantly coaching our clients to see that labor benefit.”
Volume and consistency throughout the year
When Ashby became a chef 20 years ago, he wanted to prep most all of his ingredients from scratch. Two decades into the business — including 15 years as an owner — he says, “It doesn’t hurt my feelings one bit not to use fresh fruit in dishes if I don’t have to. When you’re making fruit pie fillings, you’re just going to cook all that fresh fruit anyway, so why not let someone else do it?”
Sutton agrees, saying manufacturers typically have a better handle on sourcing the right fruit in peak seasons and from many locations. In other words, local and fresh don’t always equate to the best.
When facing a large, off-premise catering event calling for thousands of desserts, Ashby wants every piece consistent regardless of the number. Like nothing else, pre-made fruit fillings and sauces ensure uniformity, he says.
“I spent most of my career thinking, ‘I’m a chef, and things have to be just so,’” Ashby says. “As an owner I know I have a business to run, and if I have to use value-added products to meet my numbers, I see them as a tool to get things done well.”
Ultimately, Ashby says, customers want the fruit desserts they crave regardless of whether their core ingredients are in season. He knows that offering local options can be a sales advantage at the table, but he also knows ready-to-use products may yield the best results.
“With every dessert menu, I have to have a chocolate-caramel-thing and a fruity-kind-of-thing because people want something decadent or lighter and a little acidic,” he says. “If a local fruit is really good, I’ll use it in a special, seasonal dessert. It doesn’t stay on the menu just because it’s local.”
Azur’s fall dessert menu features a blueberry and peach cobbler, and a cheesecake topped with a sauce of cooked apples and caramel with toasted walnuts. In both cases, the fruits used weren’t prepared in-house.
In her role as a consultant, Sutton steers clients toward clean-label products that increase product consistency while reducing labor. She says it also ensures the desires of diners seeking clean-label ingredients are met without them even having to ask.
“When you do it right, you jump right to a really clean label and get a great fruit product,” she says. “You make customers happy, too. What’s not to like about that?”