By: Luis Vazquez
Photo Credit: Marlene Amaya Vazquez
The Olive Garden at 2 Times Square held a special presentation of some new items for their menu created by Executive Chef Jim Nuetzi. Cooking since he was 15, Jim has hit quite a few places from Atlanta, Georgia to Chicago, Illinois and now the Big Apple. We were able to talk with him about what changes we were to experience with peeks into the man and his vision displayed.
The event began with Jim present during the distribution of dishes as he explained the purpose of this event. “We’re here talking about one part of the grand renaissance that the Olive Garden is going. We’re showing you some of the new, different items for the Olive Garden menu.” Jim explained. “Some of the moves we made along with some of the different ingredients we’re starting to purchase and introduce with new dishes address some of the different desires our guests are looking for.”
We were served the Crispy Risotto Bites and Spicy Calabrian Wings to start, small dishes which are temporary additions. “Guests appreciate the small plates.” Jim explained. “It gives them the opportunity to have small tastes in food that may enhance their dining experience.“
The Parmesan Olive Fritta and Shrimp Alla Greca was a favorite at my table. Jim who arrived at Olive Garden for just this reason nearly a year ago from Capitol Grill in Orlando, Florida, was intrigued by the challenge. “A little over a year ago, I started having conversations with the Olive Garden leaders who expressed a desire to take their menu to another direction and that was very interesting, really exciting to reach such a wide audience.”
In the larger dishes I liked items such as the Antipasti Italian Meats and Cheese Salad and the Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich, and my personal favorite of all, the Salmon Bruschetta.
The idea of a menu change can bring a mixed bag depending on the chef. For Jim, whose childhood was spent in his parent’s native Switzerland, was exposed to various styles of food. “Without question and of course, in Switzerland it has strong influences from many places but the main three are Germany, France, and Italy. I see food as being a strong part of the culture. Its fun for one thing in modern times is the worldwide appeal of food. Yes, at work as a professional chef, I’m cooking Italian but at home I could be cooking Argentinian, or Thai, or anything. That love for food bridges everything.”
This led to Jim beginning the process of putting new ideas on the table and pursuing them. The influence of the consumer reflected the direction taken. “It’s more exciting. The first thing I did is put myself in a position where I could really start talking and listening to our guests and what it is they are looking for. Making sure what dish they love so I don’t take that off. We have in house focus groups where I got to know our guests. From there is when we start playing.“
As we finished dishes like the large Paccheri wth creamy sun-dried Tomato or the Pappardelle Pescatore for example, I recall the work that goes into it. “Now we have this information, these are the don’t touches, the guests love these and this is what the guests tell us they’re looking for. We play with those ingredients, and those dishes start building and sometimes you get to a dish and you only have to work on it once or twice. Another dish you may have to work six or seven months a year.” All in all an impressive display and twelve more reasons to come to Olive Garden to taste dishes that retain its historical roots but blend well in the modern.