With a return to normalcy a long ways off, chefs are having to be resourceful—and creative.
As 2021 drew to a close, the National Restaurant Association reported that the industry was still missing about 1 million workers as compared to pre-pandemic figures. This ongoing challenge has made it all but impossible for restaurants to operate as they once did.
“One of the hardest parts when it comes to labor is that restaurants are having to modify their hours or even close on days that may have even been lucrative because they simply have no staff to cover shifts,” says Brandon Collins, corporate chef at Unilever Food Solutions. “So now sometimes you’re cutting revenue in half by closing several days a week, but that doesn’t mean less work—operators have never been busier than they are now.”
Meanwhile, the labor crisis is now sharing the spotlight with a broken supply chain when it comes to the biggest challenges facing the industry. As new COVID variants enter the fray, there’s no guarantee that either issue will begin to resolve itself any time soon, and it’s imperative for chefs and operators to plan accordingly.
Instead of shutting down during potentially profitable dayparts, Collins has some other suggestions for ways to streamline kitchen operations and produce consistently great food even with a lean staff and few reliable ingredients.
Collins and his team at Unilever Food Solutions act as consultants to industry chefs, helping them develop strategies and recipes to navigate these challenges. The number one strategy he’s recommending to chefs at the moment is finding ways to simplify menus without compromising on flavor and excitement. He highlights finding ways to offer creative spins on familiar proteins and ingredients that can help keep a menu fresh and exciting without adding supply or labor complexities.
Collins offers an example: take a beef meatball, which according to Datassential commands near universal recognition amongst diners (96 percent). Already well known, the meatball has still grown on menus by over 25 percent since 2017, perhaps partially because it can be the centerpiece of a trendy application like a Gochujang Braised Meatball. That same meatball can also be used in a Meatball Parmesan Sub, or an Italian Wedding Soup, offering distinct menu items based on just one main ingredient—ground beef.
“Simplification can still be fun and adventurous, you don’t have to stop innovating—in fact, you shouldn’t,” Collins says. “I think you can take something very approachable and come up with something adventurous, trendy, and exciting and then find other ways to use common ingredients across a menu.”
Collins also offers another chef-friendly solution in Knorr® Professional Liquid Concentrated Bases, a speed-scratch product that serves as the foundation for anything from a stock to a demi-glace.
“Typically it would take a really skilled chef to create a demi-glace with that beautiful roasted beef flavor,” Collins says. “And anybody can make a nice quality stock with a base—again, there’s a wide variety of delicious things that can be created starting with a high-quality base.”
Knorr® Professional Liquid Concentrated Bases are just one line in an array of speed-scratch solutions offered by Unilever Food Solutions, which owns other brands such as Hellmann’s®—noted creator of mayonnaise, dressings, and spreads—and LeGout®, known for its bases, gravies, soups, and more. Collins says each brand and product in the Unilever Food Solutions family is a high-quality solution that can combat the current labor and supply challenges.
Additionally, restaurants of all sizes that use even a single product sold by Unilever Food Solutions have access to Collins and his team of chefs to help with anything from best practices, to recipes, to marketing resources.
“Everything we do is aimed at making it a little easier on operators to do their job,” Collins says. “From our chef consulting, to menu development and recipe development, to just little numerous pieces of advice we give along the way. At the end of the day, as a company, we’re here to help, and we encourage any and every operator to feel free to reach out to us, as we’ll gladly assist operators in order to get them through this difficult period and help in any way that we can.”
For more on Unilever Food Solutions, visit the company’s website.