How are vegetarian dishes developed?

Béatrice Buteau-Sauger is well aware of this: “With regard to vegetarian dishes, our main feedback is the lack of variety. » A problem that the dietitian responsible for developing the menus for the Nantes school canteens and the central kitchen team that produces them every day are aware of. And with the introduction of a vegan alternative since they returned from fall vacation, Najah Bel-Faqih and his chefs cut out the work for them: “But we have been working on this topic for 5 to 6 years to meet the needs of families and children.”Reassure.

The creation of the recipe begins with a suggestion from Béatrice Buteau-Sauger: “I make recipe proposals in connection with meetings with suppliers, or delivery of new products. For example, we received new cheese to cook. I gave success two recipe ideas.” It is up to him and his team to revoke the recipe by finding the right proportions of food to meet the nutritional needs of the children, to tempt their taste buds, but also to adapt to production limitations.

Dosing issue

Four times a week, 15,000 meals are prepared. Not all recipes are suitable for such volumes. “For example, we worked on buckwheat, which is a new product. In order not to disgust the children we mix it with rice and work gradually. We started by adding 15% buckwheat, before moving up to 25 and then 30%.” It’s all about the dose. “We are also experimenting with a winter vegetable soup, in which we introduce parsnips. We have brought back sauces, often with veal broth, which we have replaced with vegetable broth. And we are trying to introduce more and more legumes. Twenty years ago they were 15% of what we offered, and today It is more than 50 to 60%. Precision works as much as imagination, as Nantes’ chefs are trained regularly. And so they worked with chef Gil Davio, who specializes in vegetarian cuisine.

After morning work, usually on Monday, the first version of the recipe is created. A tasting is organized on Thursdays and Béatrice Buteau-Sauger reports to guide the R&D team’s adjustments. Once the recipe is ready, “We are doing the first test at an entertainment centerNajah Belfaqih explains. This represents 2,500 to 2,600 meals, which is simpler than testing on a normal day on 15,000 meals…” The activity leaders from the entertainment centers then pass on the children’s observations, which can be surprising. “It’s true that sometimes you think you have a dish that works, and it doesn’t work at all with kids.”Dietitian agrees.


If it passes the test, a few months later the recipe will find its place on the boards, as long as suppliers can meet demand. “It is preferable to work with local produce, and with our high volumes it is not always easy for them to respond”Najah Belfaqih notes. “The delay is difficultBeatrice Boto Suger confirms. Our work must adapt as much as possible to children, but we are also motivated by respect for seasonality: ideally we should test recipes with summer vegetables in winter … but we don’t have any. »

In the small test kitchen in the central kitchen, Najah Belfakih sets out her utensils. “It’s a fun job because it requires creativity. Vegetarian meals are a national need. Having visited other kitchens in Bordeaux, Angers or Le Mans, I know we do well in Nantes. We have a head start, we must keep it!”

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