Tom Hall, Executive Chef of Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, attended a webinar series hosted by Ex-Noma Chef, Dan Giusti, and learned important lessons about recipe writing, kids menus and yields.
In January of 2016, Dan Giusti left his position as Head Chef at Noma to start a new business called Brigaid. The idea behind Brigaid would be to hire experienced professional chefs and use their skills to elevate the food served in institutional foodservice operations.
Since the start of Brigaid, many people have been following their story closely, myself included. This past September, Giusti posted on Instagram about offering a Brigaid 101 Webinar that focused on the basics of what they do. While I cannot say I have had dreams of working in an institutional setting, I was still intrigued. I was so fascinated by the information I learned from that six-part webinar, that I signed up for a workshop on Recipe Development as soon as it was maid available.
While it may seem there is not a clear connection between coming up with National School Lunch Program (NSLP) recipes and working at a country club, I thought there would still be some great lessons to learn. The previous webinar was 50+ people who would just watch/listen to Giusti and Ryan Kennedy, the regional Brigaid chef, go over different topics each week. With the recipe workshop, it would be smaller groups and everyone would participate.
There were 4 sessions, every Tuesday for 1.5-2 hours. In addition to those scheduled times, both Ryan and Dan were available to answer questions, schedule personal Zoom calls, or help in any other way needed. Each session focused on something different.
The first session focused on all the nitty gritty details of what goes into a NSLP lunch. We learned what each meal is required to have in order to qualify as a reimbursable meal. There was an overwhelming amount of information about what counts as a serving and how many servings are needed in a week.
Session two focused on using the Food Buyers Guide to determine how much product a chef would need to make a serving of a component of a dish. For example, 50 pounds of chicken thighs does not equal 50 pounds of cooked chicken since it loses weight when it is cooked. The Food Buyers Guide has these “yield factors” which help those who are running kitchens determine the correct amount of product to buy. We were asked at the end of session two to start thinking of a lunch meal that we would like to do that would meet all the requirements for a creditable NSLP meal.
Session three and four were focused on learning how to input our recipes into the Brigaid Recipe Template. These templates allow chefs to track the price of the meal, as well as all of the nutritional content of each item. On top of learning how to input the recipes, we focused heavily on how to actually write a recipe that could be used throughout different locations and still yield a consistent product. Many of the individuals in school kitchens have little-to-no training in a professional scratch cooking kitchen which can lead to inconsistent food.
While I could write for days about the information I learned during this workshop, there were two things that really stood out to me. This may seem silly but learning how to properly write a recipe was a huge revelation to me. I have lots of recipes in binders in my kitchen at work but none of them are written to the level that Brigaid writes theirs. While the recipes are detailed, they are not overwhelming. Brigaid’s recipes use lots of specific examples to help the cook determine when something is the right color, size, shape, etc. For instance, instead of just saying to sear the chicken until brown, the recipe would say sear the chicken until it is the color of Dr. Pepper. That is an easy reference point for most people.
The other big takeaway was using the Food Buyers Guide. While I have had a book of yields in my office for years, I’ve rarely used it. I think I have relied on experience in determining how much of something I need to order for an event. Having valuable information at my fingertips that tells me that the yield on broccoli crowns cut into florets is 63% is amazing information to have. I will definitely be using this information moving forward, rather than just taking an educated guess.
Throughout this workshop, I was stunned to learn how strict and detailed the guidelines were for the meals in the National School Lunch Program. Needing certain quantities of different types of vegetables each week was a surprise to me. The guidelines require that you incorporate dark green, red/orange, legumes and other veggies into the meals each and every week. Those guidelines are also different for elementary, middle, and high school students.
I wanted to participate in this workshop because it is important to continue to challenge yourself as a chef. I am well aware that I am not some completed masterpiece under museum glass. There is a lot that I must work on and taking part in a workshop like this allows me to see what other culinary professionals are doing outside of the club world. Learning to write a recipe that had a staggering number of rules I had to follow was a huge challenge. I can assure you that I have never put so much time and effort into working on a single recipe like the one I did for the workshop.
To know that there are people like Ryan and Dan who are working so hard to provide amazing, healthy meals for kids is inspiring. I know I will be working with my team to take a long look at how we run our kid’s menu at the club. I know we can do better than chicken tenders with French fries. The team at Brigaid comes up with meals that I would be excited to sit down and eat and there is no reason we cannot do the same for our youngest members.
At the end of the day, I think what I would like other chefs to learn from my experience is there is a need for talented professional chefs in all levels of foodservice and that there is something to be learned from other segments. Just because you are cooking school lunches or meals at nursing homes does not mean those jobs are any easier or simpler than yours. To say that I have a new found respect for those who work in institutional foodservice operations would be an understatement.