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Although the consumer drive for spice is unclear, some chefs are moving toward it for health reasons.

Seasons 52 executive chef Cliff Pleau previously told Nation’s Restaurant News that spice can provide satisfaction that might otherwise be sated by starch or fat. An example is his Curry Soup, which has lean chicken breast, apples, lime, ginger, lemon grass and cilantro, along with curry and spicy chiles. A 10-ounce serving has only 290 calories and three grams of fat.

Chiles are also an important component of Just Salad’s Jalapeño Popper salad, which the 11-unit New York City-based chain has brought back for the third spring in a row. The salad includes romaine lettuce, kettle popcorn, pepper Jack cheese, radishes, Mandarin oranges and jalapeño peppers.

Managing partner Nick Kenner said the chain has also put a limited-time spicy Buffalo dressing on its permanent menu due to its popularity.

Kenner said he discussed the spice phenomenon with Just Salad chef Laura Pensiero, who speculated that the popularity of Buffalo wings and Mexican food has sparked consumer interest in spicy food.

Quiznos' sweet Southern BBQ Pulled Pork Sub and a Spicy BBQ Pulled Pork Sub

“People are looking for spicier food in other formats,” Kenner said. “It’s definitely something we’re seeing our customers want.

“Chef Laura really likes pairing the hot with mandarin oranges because the fruitiness and wetness really pairs well with the jalapeños, and she’s right,” he added.

Nick Graff, who recently became Quiznos’ executive chef and head of product development, said spicy food is so popular that he introduced two sandwiches instead of one for his first product debut — a sweet Southern BBQ Pulled Pork Sub and a Spicy BBQ Pulled Pork Sub.

The spicy version is punched up with a jalapeño cole slaw made with cabbage, slivered jalapeños and a roasted jalapeño dressing. The sandwich also includes melted aged Cheddar, toasted bacon and barbecue sauce, and is served on jalapeño Cheddar bread. “It’s a five or six out of 10 on the spicy scale,” Graff said.

“In the past, we’ve run with one sandwich as an LTO, and I kind of thought we should have two of them — one for customers that want to play the safe road,” he said. “But I’m an adventurous diner, so I wanted something that might be a little more adventurous for people who like to have fun. Quiznos is known for having unique flavors, and I thought that was appropriate for us to do.”

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary