Chris Murray, Taher regional chef, in VietnamIn the research and development phase for new menu ideas, a chef can easily look around online to learn about, say, Peruvian cuisine. Or, that chef could pack his bags, settle into a long flight and wake up in Peru. Vibrant open-air markets become the research; hot empanadas and cool ceviche become the inspiration. And that can lead to a menu unlike any other.

That is the model being used every year by a team of 12 chefs at Taher, Inc., a Minnetonka-based contract management company that serves mostly K-12 accounts in more than 400 public school locations.

For the past few years, they’ve been bringing authentic recipes and techniques back from markets, streets and homes all over the world: Sicily, Jerusalem, Peru, Morocco, Japan, Thailand, Amsterdam and Paris, to name a few.

“When you travel, you find things you never would’ve found on the Internet,” says Chris Murray, Taher regional chef. “It’s not just the food, it’s the culture. When you live in a place for seven days, you start to learn the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ and ‘becauses’ of that cuisine.”

The company’s president and CEO, Bruce Taher, has a background as a chef, and knows how important it is for chefs to create exciting new menu items. So Taher, the team and a few guest chefs have been getting out of the kitchen—far out. Last year, they traveled to Jerusalem, and they just recently returned from Sicily.