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The menu of the future is plant-based and globally-inspired

Bush’s Best Foodservice Marketing Manager Ben Carpenter and chef Jorge Cespedes discuss strategies for building flavorful, plant-forward dishes and why beans are a key building block to the menu of the future.

6 min read


The menu of the future is plant-based and globally-inspired

(Image: Bush’s Best Foodservice)

This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best Foodservice.

The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health founded the Menus of Change initiative in 2012 to help the foodservice industry and the culinary profession move toward a more sustainable, healthy future. Included in its Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus are guidelines suggesting that foodservice operations aim to reorient meals around plant-based proteins, rather than meat, and urging chefs to turn to global cuisines for a source of flavor inspiration. In this interview, Ben Carpenter, foodservice marketing manager for Bush’s Best Foodservice — a founding sponsor of Menus of Change — and Jorge Cespedes, culinary creative director at Marlin Network, discuss the role beans can play in the menu of the future and what’s next for plant-forward cuisine.

What about the Menus of Change initiative resonated with Bush’s Best Foodservice and led to the company becoming a founding sponsor?


Carpenter: Bush’s Best Foodservice was a natural fit with the initiative and its principles. Health, sustainability, globally-inspired flavors and transparency have been important to us for decades. And with Menus of Change setting forth a mission to celebrate, innovate and promote the moral and business benefits of more responsible, plant-forward food practices, we quickly saw it as an ideal partnership.

The Menus of Change principles of healthy and sustainable menus emphasize moving plants — especially legumes and nuts — to the center of the plate. What attributes of beans make them such a nutritious and sustainable choice?

Carpenter: Beans are nutritional powerhouses! They are filled with protein and fiber, plus vitamins and minerals like potassium, copper, and phosphorous to name a few. Beans are also naturally fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free. And in terms of moving them to the center of the plate, they’re a filling yet vegetable-based alternative to traditional, less-sustainable center of the plate options like animal-based protein.

The Menus of Change principles also emphasize celebrating cultural diversity and global flavors. How can chefs and foodservice operators draw on global influences when putting bean dishes on their menus?


Cespedes: A majority of cultures around the world have had beans as a staple part of diets for generations, which makes sense both historically and nutritionally. As global flavors trend from one side of the world to another, chefs and operators can use beans as the main flavor carrier to introduce their customers to new and exciting ethnic ingredients.

How does Bush Brothers develop products for foodservice and work with foodservice operators to empower them to put more plant-based dishes on the menu?

Carpenter: Beans are extremely versatile from a culinary perspective, so we often provide our partners with recipes or menu inspiration that fits their operational needs and allows them to offer plant-forward, but still delicious menu items that their customers love and that are simple to execute back-of-house. We also innovate with our operator partners in mind — providing product consistency and operational efficiencies in our products that are difficult to achieve when cooking beans from scratch.

One of the strategies that has come out of the Menus of Change initiative is the Protein Flip — an approach that puts plants at the center of the plate with much smaller amounts of accompanying animal protein. What are some ideas for creating bean dishes that are plant-forward but still use animal protein for flavor?

Cespedes: When you reach deep into our cultural historical pockets and see how people used to eat, this was the main strategy — plant-based with some bits and pieces of animal protein for flavor. I’d start by thinking of the cultural background of the dish at hand, followed by the main flavors I would like to showcase and then start placing the right ingredients to achieve this; for example, one of the most basic dishes of the Spanish culture is garbanzos con chorizo. This is a dish where the chorizo’s only purpose is to flavor the dish, yet the main attraction is the garbanzos plus vegetables to accompany.

Menus of Change is now in its sixth year. How do you think the initiative has helped shape menus and the way we think about food, and what does the future hold for plant-forward cuisine?

Carpenter: I think Menus of Change has absolutely moved the needle. If you check out the foodservice operation at any of the colleges or universities that participate in the initiative, you know Menus of Change is making an impact. But I think there’s still a ton of room to grow and innovate and make an impact on how we eat globally. It’s really encouraging to see things like blended burgers and the Impossible Burger take hold in the quick service world, but I think some of the biggest and best innovation is yet to come — and legumes will be a big, plant-forward part of making that impact!

Cespedes: This educational conference has helped enormously with the way chefs and operators see the future of their menus. It has helped people in the industry realize the struggle of raising animal protein and the strain it has on the planet compared to the ease of plant protein production. Chefs and operators are in charge of feeding our future generations and there is no doubt that plant-forward is the answer. The more we know, the better we become at it.

Ben Carpenter is Bush’s Best Foodservice’s marketing manager. He is responsible for Marketing and product innovation initiatives, and strategic industry partnerships. Prior to his role at Bush’s Beans, Ben worked in Foodservice Marketing roles for The Original Cakerie and Bunge North America.

Chef Jorge Cespedes is the culinary creative director at Marlin Network. His constant search for the ultimate flavor extraction and flavor combination began when he got his Culinary Arts degree at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. and deepened during the years he’s spent traveling around the world searching for the origin of flavors. With a business degree from Universidad Latina in San Jose, Costa Rica; Chef Jorge has the capability to understand the marketing side of the foodservice industry and is able to apply that knowledge to each idea he develops.


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