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Elevating the grilled cheese
By Larry Mogelonsky
We are in the midst of a food revolution - or reboot if you will. Chefs all over are taking restaurant staples like hamburgers, sliders, sandwiches, omelets, salads, burritos and tacos and giving them their own personal twists. They are reimagining these basic foods as a foundation for something far more flavorful, something far more grandiose and something far more memorable. Above all, they are giving customers a reason to return.
Today, I want to reboot the grilled cheese.
But why bother with a cheesy makeover? As mentioned in the previous paragraph, it's all about leaving an impression. Any restaurant or kitchen can prepare a basic grilled cheese sandwich - butter the bread, slap some processed cheese in the middle and throw it on a fry pan. If you aim to do the same as any other eatery, then how will you standout?
One option at this point is to eliminate the grilled cheese from the menu. If everyone else has it, why bother competing with the herd? This may be a viable alternative as it leaves resources open for other menu items, but I wouldn't discount this pan-fried sandwich so quickly. It's relatively easy to prepare; it has low ingredient costs; it makes for a great last night snack; and it's as popular as ever, especially when paired with tomato soup (a winter classic). So rather than being interchangeable with any other restaurant on the grilled cheese front, elevate it to gourmet levels.
Which begs the question: what is 'gourmet' exactly? Everyone correlates it with high quality craftsmanship - both in ingredients sourcing and preparation methods - but I also see it as a marker of creative expression combined with the Midas touch of marketing. The creativity stems from your chefs insofar as how they are able to blend complex and obscure elements into a symphony of pleasurable flavors. It is indeed an art; the cardinal word being 'pleasurable'. Anyone can throw disparate ingredients together, but the magic is in making them work.
Then comes the marketing angle. When you think of cheese, top of mind are probably cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, feta and maybe blue or goat. Setting aside tastes for a moment, these words don't excite. They're predictable. For example, consider the recent shift in restaurants from mayonnaise to aioli. If you look at how both sauces are prepared, for all intents and purposes they are the same. But most people don't know that. As such, aioli is a more marketable term than mayonnaise because it has an unfamiliar zing to it. You must do the same with your grilled cheese if you want it to be perceived as gourmet. Also watch for adjective use: 'aged smoked cheddar' sounds more sophisticated than plain old mozzarella.
Even with a clever shift in lexicon, however, the grilled cheese is not widely regarded as an epicurean meal. Hence, upgrading it to the gourmet stratosphere will be a welcome surprise, breathing new life into your menu assortment. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:
About the author
Larry Mogelonsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991). Larry is also the developer of Inn at a Glance hospitality software. As a recognized expert in marketing services, his experience encompasses Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, as well as numerous independent properties throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Larry is a registered professional engineer, and received his MBA from McMaster University. He's also an associate of G7 Hospitality, a member of Cayuga Hospitality Advisors and Laguna Strategic Advisors. Larry's latest anthology book entitled "Llamas Rule" and his first book "Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?" are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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