Getting kids to eat veggies? José Andrés brand bets on blanching

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to miss the rows of wire baskets getting dunked into boiling liquid on the line at José Andrés’ fast-casual concept Beefsteak.

But unlike other quick-serve restaurants, these baskets don’t take a bath in hot oil. Instead, the vegetable-filled containers are plunged into a tub of salted, boiling water — a cooking technique known as blanching — before they’re mixed into build-your-own bowls.

Why? Bennett Haynes, chief of produce for Beefsteak’s parent company, ThinkFoodGroup, said blanching helps the vegetables taste more like, well, vegetables. And showcasing the flavors of plants is what Beefsteak is all about.

“For us, it’s the most pure, simple way to cook a vegetable … and it brings out that exact flavor in a floret of broccoli, or the sweetness of a carrot, the earthiness of sweet potatoes,” Haynes said.

“You don’t have to mask the flavors in salt and chili or vinegar.”

Beefsteak opened its first location three years ago in D.C.s Foggy Bottom neighborhood on George Washington University’s campus. Now, it has a total of five locations, and along with its physical expansion, Haynes said the brand’s target demographic has also grown.

“We don’t want it to be a restaurant that appeals only to millennials, or appeals only to vegetarians or health-focused folks,” he said.

These days, a big part of Beefsteak’s focus is on kids: Its goal is to prove vegetables can be delicious on their own, and not just when blended into baked goods or hidden under layers of melted cheese.

Earlier this year, Beefsteak launched its Little Sprouts program, which offers free junior-sized veggie bowls to customers 10 and under on Wednesdays, with the purchase of a regular bowl.

For the deal, kids can choose from a base of two vegetables, plus a grain (rice, quinoa, lentils), fresh veggie toppings (cucumber salad, cherry tomatoes, etc.), sauces (garlic yogurt and spicy tomato are two of the more popular options), and something crunchy (the corn nuts are a personal favorite of Andrés).

Haynes said the vegetables Beefsteak offers aren’t too exotic — they’re “more or less your supermarket-type vegetables” — and the familiarity of what’s on display at the store helps make the greens more approachable to kids. (Broccoli is a favorite among the pint-size crowd. Haynes said sugar-snap peas are also popular.)

On Saturday, Sept. 22, families can head to Beefsteak’s Tenleytown location for a three-hour, kid-friendly celebration featuring coloring activities, raffles and samples from the restaurant’s menu.

There will also be an opportunity for little ones to get their hands dirty.

“We’re going to do some little seedlings in pots that everyone can take home and plant in their home garden for the fall,” Haynes said.

Saturday’s Little Sprouts celebration at Beefsteak is free; you can register and find more information on the event’s website.

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