Chef Gary Neff uses the power of sauces to add vibrancy, healthfulness and marketability to the menu.
“Sauce makes a dish complete,” says renowned chef Cary Neff. The author of the internationally acclaimed book Conscious Cuisine, which played a big part in revolutionizing healthy cooking, Neff sees sauces not as heavy covers, but as healthful enhancements.
Neff has appeared on the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” the “Today Show” and a host of other cooking shows and publications. His career has been varied, including time as executive chef at La Costa Resort and Spa in California and Miraval Life in Balance Resort and Spa in Arizona.
Most recently, Neff joined Morrison Management Specialists and created Flavors 450, a culinary concept that brings simple, nutritious food to hospital dining.
We spoke to Neff recently to discuss introducing fresh flavors, tapping into seasoning's ability to make dishes healthier, and making the most of sauces on your menu.
The easiest thing to do to liven up commodity marinara sauce is to chop garlic and lightly brown it on the stove with extra-virgin olive oil. Add that to the tomato sauce, and the hot oil will make all the flavors explode. Create your own version.
A flavorful sauce or aioli can enhance grilled vegetables or seafood. I love cilantro, basil, oregano and flat-leaf Italian parsley.
Highlight the most dominant flavor first on your menu (i.e. Ginger-Soy Sauce, Chipotle-Orange Aioli, Roast Garlic and Basil Cream). That's the most effective way to name a sauce or flavor profile.
Say ‘house-made sauce’ instead of ‘homemade sauce’ to adhere to truth on the menu. House-made is okay but homemade is not, because food items cannot be made in the home and then sold in restaurants.
I believe ‘zesty’ or ‘spicy’ are great descriptors for menus. Words like spicy, zesty, roasted, charred or smoked all describe a feeling, emotion and flavor profile.
Using place-names like ‘Southwest Sauce’ is very vague. It provides a level of expectation to customers, but it's too vague for more upscale applications.
Highlighting the dominant flavor profile while utilizing playful words to describe a sauce on the menu is good, but I tend to try to stay true to the recipe. This is especially important with so many people who suffer from food allergies.
Introducing flavors to children is an important opportunity. I did some work with K-12 through Chartwells. There are great chances there to liven up sauces. You can add spices and fresh or dried herbs to things like marinara sauce.
Flavors can help kids eat healthier. To them, ranch dressing is the new ketchup. If they're going to dip their pizza in that, and consume a half-cup, give them carrots, celery or jicama. And then put some red and green apples on the other side of the plate. Make it fun for them!
Seasonings can reduce the amount of sodium you need in a sauce. Now that I am working in healthcare, I not only want to help people eat better with great flavors, but also provide a way for them to feel better. What a cool, cool thing. There are medicinal elements in spices and herbs that we can use in a healthcare setting.
It's very easy to have a small pot of flat-leaf Italian parsley and basil in the kitchen or outside your door. It creates that wonderful euphoric feeling that only fresh herbs and flowers and sunshine can provide.
My all-time favorite sauce is a perfectly prepared Bernaise. The hollandaise has a touch of tartness, with a great reduction of chervil and tarragon…peppercorns, red wine — it's perfect on meat. It becomes so electric, so wonderful. But I can't have this all the time. My term, ‘Conscious Cuisine,’ really fits in with great eating. I mean, this is a treat for me. We eat wise, but sometimes we're going to splurge.
52.9% of the newest chicken entrees at the top 250 full-service restaurants list garlic as the primary seasoning.
Source: MenuMonitor data, Technomic Information Services
8 Great Sauce/Stock/Broth/Cream Flavors
“Many of the recipes we feature in hospitals and senior dining facilities use seasonal vegetable purees and broths as well as tea infusions,” Neff says.
He adds that each of these broths and purees is used to flavor risottos and compliment poultry, vegetable and fish entrees:
• butternut squash broth
Savory and Sweet = Fruit and Meat
The acid in fruit is an effective foil for richly fatted meats, and also as a flavor enhancer for fish. Fruit sauces and chutneys add a flavor counterpoint and also offer a “health halo” of good-for-you components, such as antioxidants and vitamins. Classic pairings include apples and pork or cranberries and turkey. Try some fruits like mango or cherry to sweeten the deal on your menu.