A Chef's Recipe for Enhancing the Comfort Foods on Your Menu
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A Chef's Recipe for Enhancing the Comfort Foods on Your Menu

A Chef's Recipe for Enhancing the Comfort Foods on Your Menu

Comfort food is still one of the most popular cuisines today, and I don’t think it’ll ever drop off the menu. It’s rooted in nostalgia and culture, bringing back memories of the foods you grew up with. Whenever I eat spaghetti and meatballs, I think of when I was a kid with my Italian family, sitting down to a full plate and fighting over the fresh parmesan cheese. When someone is having an off day, a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup is a natural go-to because it’s what their mom made them. Comfort foods make us feel safe, warm and – well, comforted.

People are tending to eat in a healthier way, but that doesn’t have to mean scrapping the classic dishes you may be serving. You can update the old favorites with new, healthier ingredients and add menu items that offer a whole new sense of comfort. In fact, your guests are probably yearning for it. Their minds may be thinking back to their childhood, but their palates have definitely grown up. 

I do believe healthy alternatives have their spot in the comfort foods category because many cultures have such a clean and fresh library of dishes. To me, Vietnamese cuisine is a great example. I find a bowl of pho to be extremely comforting: the savory broth, shaved beef, noodles, fresh herbs, and touch of citrus from the lime. Comfort foods don’t always have to be deep fried or high caloric items; they just simply need to comfort those in need in that moment.

At Ford’s Garage, we’re all about nostalgia; our restaurants are designed like a classic service station from the 1920s. It’s a big part of the experience that our guests are hungry for, and that comes down to serving classic American comfort food, like Pulled Pork Mac n’ Cheese or Meatloaf. Both scream classic, and you won’t be disappointed. One of my first limited-time menus was in July 2021 for our barbecue theme. Our comfort food feature was barbecued ribs. It was an instant hit, so big that we put it on the core menu and it has continued to perform well.

Comfort Foods 2.0

I think the secret to creating a fresh take on the classics is coming up with a familiar flavor profile while using ingredients or techniques that add a new dimension with satisfying flavor. Here’s what I’ve found works:

  • Mashed Potatoes

I’m a huge fan of scallion cream cheese and love to incorporate this into mashed potatoes; it creates silky smooth potatoes and adds great flavor but keeps that satisfying starchiness.

  • Meatloaf

My version is as hearty and meaty as you remember from family dinners with a combination of beef and pork to add more flavor. Then, get creative with the glaze. Instead of traditional ketchup, one of my favorites is Fresno chili jam that adds a great balance of sweetness and heat. 

  • Cheeseburger

To me, cheeseburgers are all about customizing the toppings. We have some really fun new burger builds in the pipeline utilizing different sauces, cheeses and textures to build height and keep that great combination of flavors and textures.

  • Mac n’ Cheese

Changing the type of pasta you use can lead to a different texture and look of the dish. One of my favorites is orecchiette, which is perfect for capturing creamy sauces in their small scoop-like shape. 

  • Lasagna

I recently had a cookout at my house and combined the concept of a spinach artichoke dip into lasagna. I made Alfredo sauce, seasoned the ricotta well with garlic, black pepper and parmesan cheese, added some wilted chopped spinach, and layered that all together. It was fantastic!

Recipe for a Comfort Food Remake

You can’t change up your guest’s favorite meatloaf with no explanation. Like anything else with cooking, there’s a process to follow. In this case, it’s a simple four-ingredient recipe:

  1. Do some research. What ingredients or dishes are trending? Look at the market and your LTO menu to see what items performed well. How can you build on that?
  2. Evaluate the new menu item. Is it cravable and memorable? Will your guests come back and order it again? 
  3. Be mindful of supply chain restraints. Supply chain issues and availability are the main reasons ingredients get updated. At Ford’s Garage, we strive for consistency of products in all our locations as best we can.
  4. Educate your guests. When a new item has been added to the core menu, we have our team members mention it to our guests for consideration when ordering. Highlighting a new dish shows that we continue to innovate and expand upon our core menus.

Not every comfort food can or should be updated. To me, a “classic” greasy pepperoni pizza doesn’t need a refresh. But updating some comfort foods for new tastes and trends will keep your guests coming back for more.

Chef Jessica Tomlinson is Director of Culinary for Ford’s Garage, a casual restaurant serving Black Angus Beef Burgers of Fame, craft beer, and other American comfort foods in a setting designed like a 1920s service station. Based in Tampa, Florida, the restaurant franchise is an official licensee of the Ford Motor Company and operates 22 locations in five states. Tomlinson holds an associate’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America, with expertise in catering, food and beverage, fine dining, farm-to-table cuisine, banquet operations, menu development and baking. Before joining Ford’s Garage in 2021, she had served as executive chef, sous chef and research and development chef for several national restaurant brands.

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Ford's Garage
Our nostalgic dining experience transports customer to a 1920's garage. Our menu drives broad guest appeal with hand-crafted America fare. Ford's Garage is one of the hottest concepts, with licensing right from one of America's most iconic brands. Learn More

Published: August 2nd, 2023

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