Truthfully, it looked like a plate of three salmon cakes, mashed potatoes and asparagus. But to Peter Glander, the plated food was all romance and passion.
The Ruby Tuesday executive chef said it all starts with the statement on the new menu - “Everything we do is done fresh for you.”
“As chef…this is my heart,” Glander said. “Not only is it important…not just how the food tastes, but how it looks. It’s a passion of culinary experience that it not only tastes good, but that it looks good.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 23, Ruby Tuesday rolled out a new menu with new items and a new focus. To celebrate and introduce it, the company invited media representatives to the Center for Leadership corporate office on Church Avenue in Maryville to prepare one of the entrees on the new menu.
The reporters prepared a meal under direction of Glander. He worked at a central kitchen station while the media each had their own station where they watched him on monitors. They fixed fresh salmon cakes with asparagus and mashed potatoes.
When they finished, everyone brought their finished dishes to the island and enjoyed tasting the fruits of their labor, along with fresh peach mango tea and raspberry lemonade prepared by the Ruby Tuesday chefs and staff.
Glander and company officials used the time to explain how the change in the country’s culinary culture is driving how the restaurants are transforming from bar and grills to casual dining establishments.
Glander said attention to detail even goes as far as making sure each plate is warm and that items are positioned “just so” before going out of the kitchen. “A little romance comes through in how you plate it. It can go along way toward whether you enjoy the experience,” he said.
The executive chef said everything is being done with a new commitment to ensuring the food is fresh, tastes delicious and is presented well. While some meals at other restaurants may make a person feel tired and ready for a nap when they leave, that’s not the goal at Ruby Tuesday. “We want you to have great tasting food that makes you feel good,” he said. “We offer a variety of entrees that are healthier.”
The new menu offers more options and identifies “Fit & Trim” entrees with less than 700 calories. “We’ve added new selections while keeping our focus on fresh ingredients and bold flavors,” said Sandy Beall, in a press release. Beall is founder and CEO of Ruby Tuesday.
Glander said the dishes taste great and do not compromise on flavor. He cited the herb-crusted tilapia that is crusted with panko garlic bread crumbs and topped with lemon-butter sauces. Served with fresh steamed broccoli and white cheddar mashed potatoes, it has less than 700 calories.
The executive chef said the menu changes are exciting and unique. “Variety is very, very important,” he said
Kimberly Grant, Ruby Tuesday executive vice president, said guests can choose any two side items they want with their entrees. “The number of side dishes is growing, with healthy additions that include fresh grilled green beans and fresh grilled asparagus,” she said. “To make the selection process even easier, the choices are divided into three categories. We have our Classics, our new Fit & Trim sides and our Premium sides - a group that includes a new baked macaroni-and-cheese,” she said.
Glander said there is also Petite Lunch Salad for the lunch crowd. Smaller portions of the Grill Salmon Salad, the Carolina Chicken Salad and others are available until 4 p.m. “The Petit Lunch Salad is perfect if you are on the go or looking for something lighter,” he said.
Ruby Tuesday also recently began serving complimentary fresh-baked Garlic Cheese Biscuits. “Our delicious biscuits are a savory yet sweet accompaniment to the meal. They are made from scratch and backed fresh through the day so they’re delivered to the table piping hot,” said Glander.
Glander said Ruby Tuesday also is growing their wine list to include premium wine brands such as Cellar No. 8, Gnarly Head, Bonterra, Coppola and Rodney Strong.
Angie Heig, director of marketing, said the changes that have been made have remade the Ruby Tuesday brand in a positive way. “People who have not experienced Ruby Tuesday should know there are quality ingredients that go into everything from the mint in your drink to the asparagus on your plate. We want to serve really good food that people want,” she said.
Glander said that while Ruby Tuesday also is focusing even more so on ensuring that each ingredient is fresh, the company is also exploring ways to use local produce - what Glander called local sustainability with local food.
The executive chef said the challenge is in finding a way to do that with 850 restaurants worldwide. America’s culinary culture is changing as more people ask for locally-produced food, he said. “We have to adapt our menu and one aspect we’re working on is sourcing local food,” he said.
Whenever a change in the menu occurs, it is not an overnight endeavor, said Glander. “It takes about nine months for an idea to work through the whole system from the brainstorming, through production,” sous chef Jeremy Ouart said, “Then we add three months to put it into our international system.”
Ouart said the new commitment to freshness and greater variety is also seen in the Garden Bar. Ruby Tuesday added butter lettuce, black bean corn relish, blue cheese cole slaw, pepperchinies, sliced banana peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and blue cheese crumbles. “We want guests to have a fresher experience with our garden bar,” he said.
“The idea behind these changes is to emphasis freshness and doing things in a way that not everyone can do,” Glander said.
The executive chef said other evidence of change in the company’s attitude is how it changed the hierarchy in each restaurant. Now there is a general manager over the entire operation along with a guest services manager who runs “the front of the house,” while a culinary manager runs “the back of the house,” he said.
The vision the culinary team has adopted said Glander is a “coming back home to simple, fresh American dining.”
Mark Young, senior vice president of marketing, said the key with the Garden Bar is that it has to exude the idea of freshness. That concept even dictated how the culinary team flipped the layout of the Garden Bar. “When you first walk in the restaurant, you see the fresh lettuce. We want to showcase the fresh vegetables,” Glander said.
The changes are a continuation of the restaurant’s “Fresh Taste, Fresh Place” brand transformation that started in 2005 when the company began focusing on fresher food and gracious hospitality and concluded with the creation of a contemporary new look in the restaurants, said Young.
Young praised Beall for leading the transformation. “Sandy is a great visionary and three to five years ago, we stepped back. We said, ‘We had been around over 30-plus years, so what do we have to do to be around another 30-plus years?’ We had to make adjustments with changes in food quality coming in the back door. Following the remodeling two years ago in every restaurant, we thought this was the time to roll out a new menu.”
The executive chef and his staff also spend time giving back to the community. They volunteer their time at the Weston Community Garden on Home Avenue where they grow produce for charity. Glander along with Blackberry Farm chefs Dustin Busby and Maggie Davidson will prepare the Farmer’s Market Sunset Harvest Dinner at 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 at J.L. Goins farm at 1056 Marble Hills Road, Friendsville. The dinner is a fundraiser for the Maryville Farmers’ Market.
The executive chef said that while he hopes to deepen the community’s culinary awareness, the chefs also want to help a local charity, “It’s something we’re doing on our own,” he said.
Glander said the company’s philosophy is a reflection in the changing culinary culture of the country brought on by cable food networks that expound the virtues of freshness and variety. “Food Network has changed the food scene. We have to put romance and passion into the food,” he said. “There has to be romance and passion on a plate. At the end of the day, it all comes back to good food.”