There’s nothing that chefs like more than a versatile SKU, especially as the pandemic forces them to be laser focused on streamlining kitchen operations. With an increase in takeout orders, a challenge for chefs has been finding those versatile SKUs that can work in various menu items suited for the off-premises journey. One such ingredient that’s helping chefs solve that problem is the Idaho® potato.
Jeremy Umansky, owner and operator of Larder—an Eastern European-style Deli in Cleveland—says he “fell in love” with potatoes as a culinary student. He spent a summer on a farm and recalls that digging them up was like “hunting for buried treasure.” They’re that valuable to his kitchen operation now, too.
“Very few ingredients are as versatile as an Idaho potato,” Umansky says. “And nobody wants an ingredient that can only be cooked and prepped in one specific way. I’ve used every gastro technique I can think of to prepare Idaho potatoes, from boiling, brazing, to frying potatoes. I’ve used potatoes for baking, to make vinegar, or fermented them into alcohol—they’re a key part of so much that we do.”
This slideshow will explore how the versatile potato—and specifically, the noteworthy Idaho Potato—is helping operators turn a profit in 2021.
The Idaho Potato Commission’s website is a great resource for chefs looking to try innovative recipes that leverage Idaho Potatoes. It’s also a reminder of the fact that versatility lends itself to innovation, which in turn creates profitability. For example, one thing that Chef Matt McMillin, vice president of Cooper Hawk’s beverage and innovation, recommends to chefs is to leave the potato skin on when making fan favorites like mashed potatoes and french fries.
“Skin-on menu items have a rustic, unique feel, but think about how much labor you’re saving not making a kitchen employee peel potatoes,” McMillin says. “And then, add into that the greater yield you’re getting. When you take skin off the potato, you’re losing 10 percent of the product. So that’s a creative way to stretch potatoes out a bit and create unique menu items.”
Another trick McMillin and his team use to achieve profits with Idaho Potatoes is by having tiered french fry options on the menu.
“One easy way to make a nice margin on Idaho potatoes is to have some elevated fry options that are an upcharge of two or three dollars from your regular fries,” McMillin says. “So the fancy fries might cost you 25 cents to make, but it’s viewed as a premium item and customers love them.”
Some of Umansky’s popular deli items include “pure potato” latkes—no binder, no egg, no filler—as well as a Shepherd’s Pie, and Potato Knish. All of these dishes work well as off-premises offerings, as do a couple of Chef McMillin’s favorites: mashed potatoes and potato gratin.
Both chefs also reject the idea that french fries can’t travel well, instead pointing to the mistakes some brands make in the way they package their fries.
“People have to realize that if their fries are no good for takeout, they’re using the wrong packaging,” Umansky says. “If you take fries and put them in a container, it’s going to steam. If there’s no way for the steam to get out it’s going to turn into a limp fry. Our fries stay fresh because we put them in a paper bag that lets them breathe.”
During Umansky’s tenure in culinary school, he grew a newfound appreciation for how complex growing potatoes can be, and one thing he’s sure of is that the best place to grow potatoes in the U.S. is in Idaho.
“There’s no finer land to grow potatoes in than in Idaho,” Umansky says. “The terrain, climate, in many ways it's similar to the Andes in Peru, where potatoes come from. And Idaho Potatoes in general represent a very specific quality standard. A lot of international produce is grown in areas with heavy amounts of metals in the soil, but we don’t have to worry about that because the Idaho Potato bar is set so high. Shipping, storing, and everything along the supply chain has a quality standard that is higher than I’ve seen anywhere else and it makes for a consistent product that you can count on.”
The Idaho Potato Commission is a marketing arm of the state’s booming potato industry. To find out more about adding the versatile, hiqh-quality Idaho Potato as a SKU to your operation, visit the Idaho Potato Commission’s website.