Prepare to Be BOWL-ed Over!

What do you get when you partner with one of the leading chef influencer groups to challenge chefs to create the ultimate Lentil Power Bowl? The answer is dozens of delicious new menu items across the country, all featuring our favorite pulse crop…Lentils!

And the winners are… Brandon Harpster’s Whole Red Lentil Steak Bowl (left); Michael Fraino’s Crispy Lentil & Lamb Fritters with Sprouted Lentil & Spring Herb Tabbouleh (right)

This spring, and Chef’s Roll asked both commercial and non-commercial chefs from coast to coast to share their take on the Lentil Power Bowl. We saw riffs on a traditional Spanish paella on the West Coast of Florida to an Asian-inspired bowl in St. Louis that paired whole red lentils with sesame rice noodles, figs, cilantro, pickled red onions, and plant-based chicken for a daring LTO that made customers hungry for more. But only one (or in this case, two!) dishes could reign supreme.

Taking the top prize in the Commercial category was Brandon Harpster, executive chef of Single Barrel Chophouse in Lincoln, NE. with his entry for a Whole Red Lentil Steak Bowl. The Non-Commercial category winner was Michael Fraino, executive chef of Restaurant Associates in New York City with his entry for Crispy Lentil & Lamb Fritters with Sprouted Lentil & Spring Herb Tabbouleh, Pickled Radish, Charred Baby Carrot, Blistered Tomato, Tahini Garlic Puree & Toasted Pignoli.

Chef Harpster said he considered lentils’ versatility when creating his winning dish, pairing them with beef, roasted carrots, and earthy spice from chipotle peppers and a house-made dehydrated pepper blend. Since lentils act as a flavor sponge, they added richness to the dish while providing satiety and production cost savings.

“We’re located in Nebraska, and we’re a steakhouse — steak is what we do,” Harpster said. “I used lentils to create a dish that’s in my restaurant’s wheelhouse. Our customers want meat, but some are also looking for healthier options, and this dish provides both satiety and deep flavor.”

Harpster said that the lentil and steak bowl received such great feedback that he’s repurposed it for special events. At a recent whiskey tasting, his staff served a one-bite appetizer version on a spoon. Customers remarked that the smoky, rich flavor profile of the dish made a great pairing for whiskey.

In the Non-Commercial category, Chef Fraino found inspiration in Mediterranean flavors for his winning deconstructed bowl, which highlighted both split and sprouted lentils alongside lamb, fresh herbs, roasted carrots, and tahini sauce. Fraino said that he draws on his Italian heritage as well as his wife’s Lebanese roots to create plant-forward dishes with bright, appealing flavor.

Fraino said that he likes to use whole ingredients like lentils to add plant protein to dishes and to make animal proteins stretch farther, whether he’s using lentils as a binder, like in his crispy fritters, or making a blended burger. He is seeing higher demand for plant-forward, high-protein dishes than ever before, and he said that traditional foodways can lend inspiration and creativity.

“When you look at lentils, they’ve been around forever. French cuisine, Turkish cuisine — lentils are everywhere. I feel like we’re always looking elsewhere for plant-forward innovation when it’s all here, we just need to start using the ingredients that we’ve had in the pantry all along.”

This summer, welcomed foodservice operators and manufacturers to the heart of lentil growing country in Saskatchewan, Canada. 

After Harpster visited lentil growers and producers on the prize trip to Saskatchewan, he said he had his eyes opened to new techniques and methods when working with the pulse crop. He also enjoyed the immersive look at the lentil crop from farm to plate. “Being from an agricultural state, I still haven’t been out on a lot of grain farms,” Harpster said. “I was surprised that lentils in their immature state are really sweet!”

Given his newfound familiarity with lentils, Harpster is exploring new applications. “Lentils are showing up on a lot of my menus now where they didn’t before,” Harpster said.

He recently paired a lentil salad with his house beef prosciutto for a showcase dinner, and said as he plans fall and winter menus, he anticipates serving lentils often alongside his mainstay steaks and chops.

Fraino said that he also has a newfound appreciation for lentils after his firsthand look at the growing and production process. “We take lentils for granted, so to see where they come from and the people behind it was amazing,” he said.

For Fraino, the trip emphasized the importance of educating consumers about ingredients and why chefs choose them. “I think calling things out is important,” he said. “We’re selecting lentils for their high protein, and that can help consumers appreciate them as an option.”

With 12 grams of protein in one ½-cup serving, lentils add lasting satiety to any power bowl.

You can see how all of our competitors powered up with lentils for this contest at the #LentilPowerBowl hashtag on Instagram.

For more recipe inspiration, check out this gallery of some of our favorite Power Bowls: