Recently, the University of Massachusetts hosted the 16th annual Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference here on campus with the theme “Home Cooking from around the World.” The conference was founded 16 years ago in Canada as a workshop with 23 people and has grown into a national education conference for college and university chefs. This year, over 200 attended this education conference for a week.
During the conference, several presenters talked about the “rustic” moment that we are in now, and people’s desire for healthiness. We made a proclamation that home cooking was set to become the hottest food trend on campuses this year, and for many years to come. Casual, American regional (pizza!), global comfort foods, and family cooking and recipes are all foods that lend themselves to the home cooking interpretation.
But what does home cooking mean exactly? It’s “freshly made” food, simple and real food, or food made with a “mother’s touch” -- or as we might be reminded during this past Father’s Day, dads can cook too!
Regardless of who prepares the food at home, it is hard to beat good home cooking. Home cooking is often simple to prepare, with the use of authentic, natural and local ingredients - just the thing that our customers are looking for. It is part of the rustic movement we are experiencing. Our customers want to know where their food comes from and they want to eat closer to the earth - wholesome food similar to what their grandparents/parents ate, with a twist. It goes without saying that our Taste of Home-themed special at UMass is always one of our most popular.
For example, mac and cheese is still one of the popular comfort foods on campus. So is pizza, a food that more and more people are attempting at home. Pizza is also the top choice among students for lunch according to Technomic’s 2009 College & University Consumer Trend Report.
What’s more, with growing health concerns and the nation facing an epidemic of diet-linked adverse health conditions and chronic diseases, many of us are looking for natural, less processed and simple-but-upscale foods to whet our appetite.
It all sounds easy, but it’s hard to execute. How many times have we heard that food from restaurants is too salty, too greasy, has too many carbohydrates, or is too much of everything? We might even think twice about going back again unless they change. I think consumers are fighting back. They want food that is tasty, good for us and that has great value too. Here are some of the tips to help interpret that on menus:
Serve more fruit and vegetables
For pizza, that means less meat and cheese, and more fresh vegetables and fruits.
Kick it up a notch and make it upscale
This can be as simple as grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese dishes: use gourmet cheese (often you can use less if you have a more flavorful cheese) and serve it on an artisan bread.
Recreate comfort food
Domino's pasta line and Claim Jumper's homemade beef stew served on a bread bowl are some of the great examples.
Fresh is the king
That means freshly made, freshly prepared and freshly sourced ingredients "from the field." Or if that's not possible, the key is simply making things closer to serving time.
Tell your story about your food
Market your food and ingredients with a story of where they came from; using and talking about great family recipes adds value.
Build community and purchase food locally and regionally
The more you build the community around you, the more loyal customers you will receive.
Home cooking is the next big trend. Simply put, it is food that is appealing, flavorful, fresh, healthy and a great value proposition.
Ken Toong is the executive director of UMass Dining at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. UMass, the third largest campus dining operation in the country with annual revenue of 60 million.