Comfort foods mean different things to different people, depending on everything from your family’s culinary traditions and background to where you were raised and meals you associate with especially positive memories. Common factors for comfort foods include relatively simple preparation and lots of carbohydrates and calories, although there are plenty of exceptions. How can chefs at Austin culinary arts academies capitalize on these favorite dishes and make them their own?
Understanding comfort foods
Everything from a TV dinner to a poached egg can be a comfort food to someone. Certain dishes have wide acceptance across the country, though. Macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chili and clam chowder are just a few examples – and don’t even scratch the surface of breakfast comfort foods or desserts, nor more regional types.
To understand what qualifies as a comfort food in the area around your restaurant, you should take both local and national tastes into consideration. Perhaps Frito pies, chow mein sandwiches or Mission-style burritos are especially popular in your area – even if they aren’t particularly well known across the country. Adding less common comfort foods to you menu will only be successful if you take care to choose the dishes that most appeal to current and potential customers, but they can offer an authentic local flair to your menu and draw in new diners when done correctly.
Capitalizing on comfort foods
In some ways, it’s easy to add comfort foods to your menu. Many chefs already have recipes for dishes like cornbreads, casseroles and pot roast, or can at least easily find a variety of interpretations. One of the biggest choices to make as a chef is how to make such meals your own. Do you want to put a very unique and distinct spin on some comfort foods, or stick with the classic formulation? There’s likely room on your menu for both approaches.
Sometimes, a classic recipe is perfectly suited to serve in your restaurant in its original form. You might make some small changes to make preparation faster in a busy restaurant kitchen or add a few flourishes that set it apart from what home cooks can reliably make on their own, but the heart of the recipe and finished product won’t change.
A fried chicken recipe passed down through many generations of your family or a more regional delicacy using ingredients from trusted local suppliers don’t necessarily need to be drastically altered. However, you can consider using more unique sides and sauces as a way to put your own touch on a dish, such as pairing fried chicken with broccoli and peanuts or serving an herbed cream sauce alongside meatloaf.
New, bold offerings
Modern takes on classic comfort foods are common in many restaurants, both because chefs love experimenting and the mix of old and new appeals to many eaters. As you look to craft your own standout versions of comfort food classics, consider a few pieces of inspiration:
- Bon Appetit’s lasagna Bolognese.
- New England Today’s American chop suey casserole.
- Martha Stewart’s spicy clams with spaghetti.
- Bon Appetit’s pork ragu over creamy polenta.
Serving certain dishes two ways
Depending on the ingredients and prep time needed to make certain dishes, you can offer more than one comfort food variation. Meatloaf served traditionally, with mashed potatoes and a tomato-based sauce, can appear on your menu next to the same basic meal served with a cream sauce and vegetables roasted in honey. The opportunities for variations are nearly as endless as the master list of comfort foods, and you can appeal to a greater number of customers as well.