Got raw egg in those salad dressings? Panera’s head chef says go back to basics

Every time a rock and roll band I’ve previously liked but haven’t liked so much lately says, we’ve gone back to our roots, we’re back to basics with this new album, I know it will suck.

It’s like saying, trust me. If you have to say it, you you’re not trustworthy.

So when the head chef of Panera Bread Co. says they’ve started making their salad dressing in house because “we have a pantry of ingredients that are wholesome and clean,” I wonder, has this so-called chef ever heard of salmonella-in-pepper? Raw eggs? Is this another Chipotle waiting to happen?

Dan Kish, head chef and senior vice-president of food at St. Louis-based bakery-cafe company Panera, said it was a big deal when the 2,000-strong chain began serving salads with a green goddess dressing made in-house.

“Being a big company, you have someone else make your salad dressings for you because that’s what big companies do, and they do it really efficiently and the specs are right on, and, man, is it cheap. But two weeks ago, we started making our green goddess dressing in-house because I said, ‘If you can make a smoothie, you can make a dressing.’ It’s not as easy as it sounds, of course, but we have a pantry of ingredients that are wholesome and clean.”

Mr. Kish discussed Panera Bread’s disruptive strategies during a panel presentation at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 21-24 in Chicago. About a year ago, the chain published its No No List of ingredients that will not be used to formulate its products, including colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners from artificial sources. The company committed to removing these ingredients from its menu items by the end of 2016.

Is Salmonella on your no-no list? How about E. coli? Norovirus?

“Our customers didn’t have a problem with our dressing,” he said. “They didn’t even have a problem with artificial preservatives, necessarily… but we think the future is in eating better, and if I had to hitch my wagon to anything, I would want to be making better food and not mediocre food. I would want to make it accessible because this notion of accessibility, affordability and convenience (in fast-food), none of that has changed.”

Though the decision to convert Panera’s entire menu to simple ingredients initially “dropped a lot of jaws inside the company,” he said, the initiative fit within the brand’s core values.

“We didn’t have to change who we are,” Mr. Kish said. “All we had to do was just think a little more deeply about what that means in today’s terms and for today’s customer and today’s economics, and the answer sort of popped up. So this notion of knowing who you are and staying true to that is really the key.”

Through the process, he added, Panera’s food safety standards have remained as stringent as ever. “Because, trust me, unsafe clean food can be a really bad thing for everyone.”

There’s that trust me thing.