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No longer content with playing second fiddle, fresh fruits and veggies are increasingly migrating from side dish to center plate—annexing big swathes of eaters’ appetites as consumers continue to watch waists and cut unhealthy habits.

At the front of this trend toward healthy eating, Sysco’s culinary creators continue to push forward, collaborating with the company’s foodservice partners across industries and throughout the globe to offer fresh food and fresh ideas to chefs and shoppers, restaurant goers and operators alike.

We reached out to chefs from Sysco’s team to learn more about their favorite produce-forward dishes, the ways in which healthy eaters are redefining the culinary landscape, and how Sysco’s chefs are keeping flavor front-and-center while doing so…

Patrick Britten
CEC, AAC | Market Chef North East, Sysco Northern New England

“Wood-roasted root vegetables—I enjoy cooking outside in a wood-fired oven all year round. Being able to pick up fresh produce from a local farm on the way home and have a quick, healthy, and affordable meal is great. The options are always changing with the season—right now we have baby beets, turnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and kohlrabi. Toss with EVOO, a little sea salt, fresh thyme, rosemary, and whole cloves of garlic. Roast the vegetables in a cast iron pan using apple and maple wood for the fire. A great medley of flavors, amazingly crisp with a rich charred flavor.”

Greg Meeker
Culinary Consultant, Sysco Seattle

“It is a great blessing to be a chef in Washington State. There aren’t many places like this where some of the nation’s best produce is literally in your own backyard and where there are four distinct seasons to create variety and newness in my preparations. We are known primarily for treefruits like apples, pears, and peaches (depending on the season). Because there is expectation in the Northwest to utilize these awesome treats of nature, there comes a worthy and extremely gratifying challenge to try new and interesting ways of doing this.

I like to use fruit as a surprise sweet element in my preparations. The diner’s palate will recognize sweet first and then process exactly what that sweet item is and how friendly it is with other elements of the dish. If I am considerate of flavor compatibilities and balance, I can make something that is both simple and extraordinary utilizing fruit—and actually make it the star of the show even if it wasn’t meant to be!

My favorite way to achieve this is to give fruit atypical treatments, to not only create uniqueness in an application, but to also bring out that fruit’s best elements. Grilling pineapple or baking apples and stonefruits is not necessarily original or unique anymore, but applying unusual methods to fruit like charbroiling melon, hot roasting pears, smoking apples, and hot broiling grapes and bananas elevates and transforms these fruits into other-worldly dimensions that bring sweet and savory closer together.

I have two go-to applications that emphasize fruit:

• Roasted Pear, Walnut, Bleu Cheese, and Bacon Flatbread: Uses the sweetness of pears, the umami of the walnuts turned into a buttery spread, the tang of the bleu cheese, and the saltiness of the bacon. Roasting the pear gives it an earthiness and savory hint.

• Smoked Apple Mac and Cheese: Tart Granny Smith apples smoked until just tender are folded into a sharp Cheddar-based mac and cheese that adds a robust flavor and subtle sweet element to complement the tang and umami of the ultimate comfort food.

Fruit doesn’t have to be for just salads, desserts, or beverages. By stepping outside its traditional boundaries and taking creative culinary-based risks, fruit can be forward in even the most savory of preparations!”

Britney Jerome
Business Resources Consultant, Sysco Houston

“I find myself doting on eggplant recently, specifically the Japanese varietal. The thin skin is forgiving enough to leave intact and the bright white flesh essentially melts into a surprisingly sweet, earthy flavor that is unmistakably eggplant. I’ll happily labor over the involved process of perfect Eggplant Caponata—a recipe I learned during my apprenticeship. Chilled caponata, herbed fresh ricotta, and dressed spicy greens, on a quality roll, is a personal bite of nostalgia. The patience to appropriately char an eggplant’s skin, before buzzing it up into Baba Ganoush, is worthy of the added dimension of flavor it creates. Bonus points if you have time to do it over a charcoal or wood grill. I like to top warm Baba with paper-thin shaved vegetables, spiced ground meat, vibrant chili oil, and toasted nuts and seeds. The common party dip easily becomes an extravagant entrée with just a touch of finesse.

My new essential eggplant preparation involves peeling it, cutting it into thick medallions resembling scallops, and searing it golden brown. Prepare sauce à la minute, as the porous texture of the eggplant will absorb flavored liquid and fat very well. The first time I experienced eggplant prepared this way, I was dining out with three professional chefs and my dad. Every one of us, refined palate and not, distinguished the seared plant “scallops” as our favorite course of the meal. Since then, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of flavor profile directions: fresh Mediterranean, bold Asian, and even modern French. Guests are always impressed, and I’m often delightfully surprised myself.”

Bryan Hudson
Executive Chef, Sysco Raleigh

“For two years I worked on a farm in New York. This made me appreciate all that goes into producing the food we consume. However growing up in the South, I had never experienced this type of living. But how many of us living in the United States have ever seen Brussels sprouts growing in a field? Or asparagus and fiddlehead ferns begin to sprout after the snow finally melts? This is where my love of produce comes from. My favorite variety of produce to use would have to be squash. Whether winter or summer, there is a squash for every season. I love roasting pie pumpkins whole with honey and serving chili in them. Grilled butternut squash ‘fries’ are one of my daughter’s favorites. Spiralized summer squash is a fantastic way to make healthy noodle dishes, either hot or cold. With hundreds of squash to choose from, the possibilities are seemingly endless!”