This post is sponsored by Polly-O.
For today’s consumer, great taste is only part of what they’re looking for when they peruse a restaurant menu. Diners want to know the story behind their food, which means high-quality ingredients from trusted sources are a must-have for foodservice operators.
At Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties and Catering in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., founder and owner Joe Leone Introna does extensive research into ingredients before putting them on his menu and educates his staff so they can talk to customers about each ingredient they use. One of the ingredients Introna is passionate about is Polly-O mozzarella curd, which he’s been using for 20 years. We interviewed Introna and Polly-O Sales Manager and former restaurant owner Daniel Hoff about how high-quality ingredients can drive culinary innovation and help foodservice operators connect with customers.
Today’s consumer is increasingly food-savvy and concerned with the story behind what they eat, which makes high-quality ingredients a must-have. What are some of the top considerations for operators when deciding to use a premium ingredient and how to source that premium ingredient?
Introna: Our mission statement is all about excellence. Our tradition is built upon quality, service and training. So when we’re sourcing, we do a lot of research. We go to stores, plants and facilities; we look at where the ingredients start from and we train our buyers to look for the best possible quality. When we’re sourcing prosciutto, for instance, we look at what the pigs are eating and how they’re treated. Everything we use, we try to touch it where it’s born. From day one, when the company started 20 years ago, we’ve never sacrificed quality. We will not sell something if it’s not at our standards. It just doesn’t happen.
Hoff: I think that the difference between sourcing today and sourcing 25 years ago is that consumers are much more educated on what “quality” means. From a manufacturing standpoint, there are a lot more options out there. Operators have to be that much more committed to quality products. I think that’s why guys like Joe do well. Using quality ingredients is a formula that will always work.
Operators make a choice to invest in premium ingredients for their recipes. How do operators share the story of the ingredients they choose with patrons?
Introna: It’s all about education. We try to give our team members the vocabulary they’d use as though they’d made it themselves. We want them to stand behind our ingredients. So we train them. We take our team out to chicken facilities, we set up voluntary cooking nights where they can stay after work and learn how to make our food. Their knowledge shows through when they’re talking about product; they take a lot of pride in talking to our customers about our ingredients.
Hoff: You don’t want to go to a restaurant, ask a server what they like and have them shrug their shoulders in response. All of Joe’s team members -- whether they’re working at the counter or register or on the floor -- everybody is welcome to come and own this process. When you have good information and you’re well trained, you can talk about why the mozzarella’s so good.
Introna: It’s important that everyone understands our products. They know why I’m a Polly-O person. I’ve been using their curd since I was 13 years old. I’m very old school. The world changes around us and we don’t change. We stick by our mission, stick by our plan, stick by our values. I’m totally against taking shortcuts. If you come in here, you’re getting the same mozzarella you got 20 years ago.
How can premium ingredients be used to spark culinary innovation?
Introna: Joe Leone’s has deep roots. Being the American Italian I am, I grew up with two grandmothers that would go down to a fresh market every day to pick up ingredients for dinner. We basically take that mom and pop approach of serving what we would eat at home. We try to feed our guests like they’re all family.
Hoff: From the Polly-O perspective, the brand has this old-world story that I think appeals to operators like Joe because there are so many things we still do that we did 70 years ago. There are a lot of new-wave trends happening right now, but these old-world products really appeal to that artisan-style of cooking.
Introna: So I can take the same Polly-O curd that I’ve been using for the last 20 years and use Italian ingredients like Parmesan-Reggiano and mascarpone to create a macaroni al forno as a twist on macaroni and cheese. I also surround myself with excellent chefs. I go to Italy twice a year and look for chefs who are making great modernized Italian or home cooking, old-world Italian, and I offer them a trip to New York. They get to do their sightseeing and then they work with our chefs and us for a week as kind of a trade-off. That’s how we keep an edge on what’s going on in Italy.
Joe Leone Introna is the executive chef and co-owner of Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. The restaurant opened in 1997 as a bakery and Italian specialty retail store and has expanded to include two restaurant locations.
Daniel Hoff is a sales manager for Polly-O. He began working in restaurants at age 12 and became the chef and owner of a full-service Italian eatery when he was 21 before selling the establishment to work in sales. He can be reached by phone at 732-682-8165.
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