June 11th, 2018

Single-Focus Restaurants Offer New Benefits

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends

Single-Focus Concepts Are Bringing a New Norm

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Instead of looking for the best restaurant specializing in a regional cuisine, how about looking for a restaurant that specializes in the best execution of a single item?

If this idea seems strange to you, it shouldn’t. According to Datassential, 46% of consumers are looking for these types of single-focus restaurants. This change in the tide may come with some discomfort, but for food producers, there are many benefits.

Focusing on the production of a single item allows a restaurant to do several things, including: Minimize overhead, reduce stock, streamline operations, reduce waste, easily replicate kitchen and menu designs, experiment with flavor in a low-risk environment, and, perhaps most importantly, focus on quality.

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For manufacturers, single-focus concepts give opportunities to create foods with exotic flavors and unique attributes that otherwise might have not had an audience in the past, find creative ways to cross-utilize ingredients to reduce waste, bring in new talent to update the creative process, and develop new distribution avenues thanks additionally to the continued rise in global flavors.

Macbar in New York focuses on making a variety of high quality macaroni and cheese, including flavors like chipotle chili and cognac and tarragon. Super Chix, based out of Dallas, TX, focuses on the production of high-quality chicken sandwiches and diversifies them with an array of sauces including Nashville Hot, Mississippi Comeback, and Sweet BBQ.

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Brooklyn’s Arancini Bros. focuses on, as the name eludes, savory balls of breaded and fried risotto rice. Flavor offerings include spicy buffalo with Gorgonzola cheese, classic ragu, and Pizzaiola (tomato-braised steak). And finally, a personal favorite of mine, Ramen Tatsu-Ya based out of Austin, TX, sets it’s sights on making a variety of craveable ramen bowls made with a spectrum of sauces including Thai chili and habanero, chunky red pepper paste, and Japanese citrus with Serrano, jalapeno, and garlic.

Single-focus restaurants will continue to stretch the limits of the consumer’s palates with new flavor experimentation, rapid flexibility, and increasing food quality. Their efficiency and scalability will allow for fast growth and broad distribution, making them a prime asset for food manufacturers. In order to keep the pace, manufacturers need to remain focused on trends and adopt levels of versatility not previously seen in the industry.

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May 7th, 2018

Worlds of Flavor 2018: A Review

Posted in Culinary Conferences, Food Trends

So Much to Learn, So Much to Eat

Worlds of Flavor

Worlds of Flavor 2018 is over. Done. Gone. Fin. You know what that means? It means I must wait a YEAR before I get to spend another 4 days in Napa eating amazing food, drinking terrific wine, and learning everything I possibly can from one of the most unique, talented, and diverse group of chefs and culinary presenters from the world over. This is my sad face.

However, I’ve never been one to sulk. So, what better way to cheer myself up than to share some of the great information and amazing revelations that came from the Culinary Institute of America’s 2018 Worlds of Flavor conference.

The Immigrant Kitchen

Food Trends

First, let’s discuss this year’s main topic: Immigrant Kitchens. As Krishnendu Ray summarized, “American” cuisine, at its essence, truly is immigrant cuisine. The food in America is a hodgepodge, or perhaps a better metaphor would be, a delicious soup of ingredients, culinary methods, and recipes from all over the world. Even the food we often consider decidedly American (hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie) is adopted from early European settlers. And since colonialists did everything they could to wipe out Native American crops and traditions, it certainly received very little influence from their culture.

Yet here we are hundreds of years later and nothing, yet everything, has changed. Immigrants still account for the clear majority of those employed in restaurants (about 14 million nationwide according to Ray). Of the over one million restaurants in the United States, more than fifty percent (according to Ray) define themselves as a category other than “American.”

A big difference is that now, Asian cuisine (esp. Japanese and Korean) has become exceptionally popular even though it tends to be, on average, more expensive than European cuisine. So, what does this tell us?

It tells us that Americans are becoming interested in complex, unfamiliar flavors. It tells us diners are looking for experiences and adventure when they are dining out, not only food. And it tells us it’s time to start thinking about how we can start introducing some of these more uncommon flavors and ingredients into mainstream foods in subtle, safe, and easily approachable ways (just not crickets, at least not yet).

Observations

Now that we’ve had our lesson for the day, let’s jump into the fun part: Food trends, observations, and direct applications.

Asian Flavors

Culinary institute of America

I know we touched on this above, but it cannot be overstated. Asian flavors (Japanese, Thai, Korean, Filipino, etc.) have cemented themselves into American cuisine and they will only continue to grow in experimentation and popularity.

Miso is a ubiquitous broth, but now I’ve seen it flavored with different ingredients like koji and mustard. Fish sauce is becoming less polarizing. In fact, a study has shown that you can replace 25% of the sodium in a sauce or chicken stock with fish sauce with no discernible difference in taste.

Thai cuisine’s high usage of coconut and aromatics plays well with the nutrition focused crowds, while the craveable fermented flavors of Korean and Filipino foods are drawing praise nationwide.

Next Level Sauces

Worlds of Flavor

Sauces are food art. A combination of liquids, solids, spices, and seasonings come together to form a homogeneous solution of deliciousness (at least when done properly). They also conveniently add flavor to items that may otherwise be bland.

Lucky for us, there were plenty of new and delicious sauces and no bland food.

Of note was the movement back toward complex chile-based sauces. Rather than simply a cascabel sauce, we saw how a mix of chiles like smoky cascabel, arbol, pasilla, and aji amarillo can create balanced and new flavor profiles. It was nice to see multiple moles in use as well, including a yellow mole made with lemon, aji, and cashew.

Thai citrus sauces are evolving using local produce and artisan fish sauces. Modern American cuisine is utilizing aromatic broths made from the liquid of pickled and fermented vegetables served with creamy cheese-filled pasta.

Africa is also coming into focus with its pepper-based sauces, including a Trinidadian green sauce made with green chiles, cilantro, lemon, ginger, and onion. While we know in commercialization we can see losses in volatile flavors like cilantro, this can act as a peep hole into the possibility of crossover sauces good for Asian, Mexican, or African applications.

Added Nutrition

New Flavors 2018

Making foods more healthful is a trend that’s here for the long haul (thank goodness). But diners are interested in more than just low sugar and fat these days.

Fermented foods are growing in popularity due to their umami deliciousness, yes, but also their noted assistance in healthy digestion. High fiber foods have shown to assist in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and the reduction of colorectal cancer.

Within this trend, however, diners still want to enjoy a satisfying meal and be entertained. This balance is helping drive the movement of plant-centric plates, meaning the vegetable is the star of the plate, but it doesn’t have to be vegetarian.

Au Revoir Worlds of Flavor

This only scratches the surface of the information gained from the 2018 CIA Worlds of Flavor conference. I didn’t even get into the resurgence of tamales, the reinvigoration of fine Mexican cuisine, or the endlessly fascinating fonio grain. But, I can’t expect you to read forever. Honestly, I’m surprised you made it this far.

I hope you gained something valuable from this post, and I implore you to leave a comment, question, or share an observation below. Let’s start a conversation about the future of food.

Culinary Trends 2018

Cheers!

 

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April 23rd, 2018

Sergio’s Cuban Eyes Fast Casual

Posted in Consumer Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants

Sergio’s Cuban Cafe & Grill Looks Towards Fast-Casual for the Future

Cuban Fast Casual

Photo Courtesy of shop.fiu.edu

As we’ve mentioned before in our blogs, fast-casual dining is not going anywhere. It gives chef’s and restaurateur’s an opportunity to provide fresh, high-quality food at lower prices due to reduced overhead costs. Sergio’s Cuban Cafe & Grill of Miami is the most recent entrant into the category.

Cuban Food

Photo Courtesy of sergioscuban.com

Carlos Gazitua, the CEO of Sergio’s, knew three years ago when planning the launch of their 6th location, it would be the last full-service restaurant. Gazitua cites rising rent prices and economics as the prime reasons to steer away from full-service and into fast-casual.

Sergio’s will also fill a hole in the fast-casual market for Cuban food. Leveraging the strength of their restaurant reputation, Sergio’s fast-casual will be able to launch with the power of their brand identity to help them capitalize on a thriving industry.

Cuban Food

Photo Courtesy of sergioscuban.com

Hoping to be the “Chipotle” of Cuban food, their bowl-centric menu features bold flavors like Mojo pork, Ropa Vieja, chimi-churri, and spicy habanero sauce. Contrasted with healthful choices such as cauliflower rice, boiled yucca, and lean ground turkey, Sergio’s is working to offer plenty of flavorful options while adding nutrient density to an often rich, heavy cuisine.

With site locations like Denver, Texas, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. slated for development, we’ll be keeping an eye on Sergio’s growth and look forward to a nearby location for taste testing.

What other Cuban fast casuals have you come across? Let us know in the comments section below.

Cheers!

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March 12th, 2018

Expo West 2018 Trends

Posted in Consumer Trends, Culinary Conferences, Food Trends

What’s Trending at Expo West 2018?

Simple answer, lots!

Expo West Lolgo

The Natural Products showcase that is Expo West featured a bevy of fun, interesting, but most importantly, responsible foods and products that will continue to shape the landscape of the industry.

Unique new items included Alove, a yogurt made with aloe vera, oat and vegetable milks, Sushi Quinoa, Pervida’s pomegranate seed seed oil infused sparkling waters, and my personal favorite, chia fruit spread.

World of Chia, based out of The Woodlands, TX, has developed a line of fruit spreads using chia seeds instead of pectin. Not only are these spreads unique and delicious, but they embody the clean-label movement perfectly with only 4 key ingredients: fruit, agave nectar, chia seeds, and lemon juice.

Now let’s take a look at the trends with traction:

Pastas from Produce

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Alternative pastas, wow! Really groundbreaking.” Fair. But what’s special about these pastas is not just that they’re made from things like chickpeas, plantains, lentils, and brown rice, it’s that they actually taste good. Really good! And that is something to be excited about.

Artisan Jerky

We’re continuing to push towards high protein, low carb. and calorie snacks, and the folks running the dried meats show have noticed. The big companies like Jack Links and Oberto are being challenge by small batch artisan companies such as Epic and Three Jerks, with products like Maple Bourbon Churro Filet Mignon, Sesame BBQ Chicken, and Smoked Maple Salmon. I bet I have your attention now…

Tiger Nuts

Don’t laugh. This isn’t a Rocky Mountain Oysters kind of thing. Tiger nuts are actually a tuber that grows under the soil’s surface, much like carrots. They are highly nutritious, versatile, and do not contain the same allergens as nuts making them a great alternative. It seems some folks are starting to take notice. Organic Gemini Brand has developed a line of tiger nut products including flour, granola, smoothie mixes, and because apparently they love me, tiger nut horchata beverages. Additionally, Cabo Chips is about to launch a tortilla made with tiger nuts and cassava.

This is only a small snapshot of what I found. There was also a lot of traffic around small farm honey, pickled and fermented vegetables (are we going to see a return of sauerkraut?!), and healthy savory snacks like puffed edamame and high fiber savory veggie crisps.

We’d love to hear what you took notice of at Expo West. Let us know some of your favorites in the comments section.

Cheers!

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February 26th, 2018

Mediterranean Fast-Casual on the Rise

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants

Mediterranean Cuisine Shows Continued Growth in the Fast-Casual Market

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Fast-casual restaurants continue to gain steam as their popularity with multiple demographics holds strong. By focusing on quality ingredients within a limited, often chef-driven menu, combined with a lower overhead cost of standard brick-and-mortar establishments, fast-casual creates an opportunity to sell delicious, high quality food at reasonable prices.

Within this market, we are seeing Mediterranean cuisine thrive. With fresh ingredients, hearty options for both vegetarians and carnivores, and a continued nationwide interest in the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, the food of places like Greece, Israel, and Turkey are grasping the palates of customers nationwide and not letting go.

Restaurants like Gyroville, who have recently expanded to Ecuador, Taim, which extends from the Chipotle leadership and is set to open its 5th location, and Sajj Mediterranean opening its 8th location, exemplify the new wave of menu focused fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants. Combine these with the already existing trailblazers such as Garbanzo, Zoe’s Kitchen, and Noon Mediterranean (formerly Verts), which focus more heavily on customization, and you can see a strong pattern of flavor-first concepts taking a strong hold in an already crowded marketplace.

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Drivers of these establishments include on-trend flavors like harissa, preserved lemon, and za’ataar. The common link between these items is their unique depth of flavor stemming from ingredients or procedures uncommon to the average American diner. This dissociation will not last long though, especially at the current rate of growth in the Mediterranean food market.

There’s still plenty to taste and explore in this cuisine, and hopefully it’s continued popularity will drive some of the even more ambiguous items, such as Cholent and Magiritsa, into the spotlight.

Until then, we’ll keep our eyes open and tasting spoons ready.

Cheers!

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January 29th, 2018

Food Trends: Comfort Foods

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Trends

2018 Sees the Trend Towards Comfort Foods

2018 Food Trends

2017 was the year of ethnic food trends. Gochujang, poke, curry, and sriracha everything, just to name a few. While 2018 will see a continued energizing of global foods, it will also see us hearkening back to our roots with regional comfort foods.

Now, don’t get caught in a box and think I’m going to start talking about macaroni and cheese, even though it’s a staple and it will never go anywhere. I’m looking at food traditions like meatloaf, hush puppies, regional BBQ flavors, and stews.

Comfort Foods Trend

But comfort foods aren’t limited to simply the regions of the US. Our country is a patchwork of global representation. 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants from all over the world are influencing and cooking the foods we eat. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see a rise in items like goulash, halo-halo, and artisan falafel.

We know that ramen, a Chinese/Japanese comfort food, has been intensely popular over the last few years, but are you familiar with jjigae, it’s Korean counterpart? You probably should be as it’s a unique blend of the sour, spicy, and umami flavors pack a major punch and simply make the world right when it’s cold outside.

Food Trends 2018

Also, 2018 could prove to be the year we finally see an uptick in flavors from arctic countries. Heavily smoked and salted fish, fermented root vegetables, and house-milled heirloom grain breads are examples of comfort foods you should keep on your watch list.

I’m excited to see what 2018 is going to bring and can’t wait to see how restaurants and food producers will adapt to the new trends. Drop a comment and let us know what trends you’re running into out there.

Here’s to eating our way through a new year!

Cheers!

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August 21st, 2017

Food Truck Series: Via 313

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Food Trucks, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

Via 313 Pizza

Pizza Trends

Pizza is a staple food of life, I think we can all agree on that. No matter your preference or dietary restrictions, someone out there has made a pretty darn good pizza just for you.

One of the true beauties of pizza is its different adaptations. Thin crust, thick crust, white pizza, flatbread, Mexican style, Korean BBQ, New York, Chicago, deconstructed; the list can go on and on.

After seeing a rise in the popularity of Detroit style pizza, we here at Culinary Culture decided to jump on the bandwagon and see what it’s all about. And what better place to find out then the rapidly expanding pizza truck turned brick and mortar restaurant here in Austin, Via 313.

Detroit Style Pizza

The first question to answer was, “what is Detroit style pizza?” Via 313 owner Brandon Hunt was kind enough to answer that question in an interview with Austin Eater. In his description, Detroit style pizza refers to a square pie, cooked in pans that are actually used in automotive plants for spare parts, caramelized cheese crusts, and a generous pour of sauce on top of the pizza when finished.

The second question is, “is it any good?” After tasting the Detroiter, a pie made with smoked pepperoni under the cheese and natural casing pepperoni atop, the Smokey, made with Black’s brisket and tangy BBQ sauce, and the Rocket (my favorite), stacked with hot Sopressatta, arugula, and shaved Parmesan, I can emphatically say yes. Very good.

The caramelized cheese around the crust stands out with both great texture and flavor. The crust is thick and crispy on the outside, but chewy in the middle. It’s very filling but a little oily for my preference. Via 313’s red sauce was a standout though. Vibrant red, fresh tasting, and filled with herbs. It complimented the pies well and something about having it on top cleans the palate between bites.

I’m officially on board with Detroit style pizza.

Detroit Pizza

If your splitting hairs, the location I visited technically isn’t a food truck. But since it began as a food truck, and this location is much closer to me then where the truck resides, I hope you’ll overlook this.

Thanks for reading along, now get out there and eat!

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August 7th, 2017

Flavor Blasts: Jamaican Food

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Food Trucks, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

foods of Jamaica

Bold, Bright, Beautiful: Jamaican Flavors

When you think of Jamaican flavors you reflexively think of jerk, stews,

Jamaican Cuisine

Courtesy of Island Spice Grill

and curries. What do these dishes have in common? Rich, complex flavors.

The source of these flavors is Jamaica’s abundant use of garlic, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, a variety of chili peppers and citrus fruits, coconut, and soy sauce. You’ll also come across plenty of legumes, sugar cane, plantains, onion, and tamarind offering a plethora of flavor diversity.

This variety is what defines Jamaican cuisine. Influenced by Spanish, African, Indian, and Chinese ancestries, and supported by rich volcanic soil and a damp climate, it’s easy to see how Jamaican cuisine has evolved into such a complex and desirable cuisine. In the U.S., Jamaican and other Caribbean cuisines have boomed spanning the market from fast food (Pollo Tropical) to fine dining (Glady’s).

 

Jamaican foodsWith such progress comes culinary innovation. One example of this comes with Chef Nigel Spence of Ripe Kitchen and Bar in New York, who uses pimento wood chips to slow smoke chicken before seasoning it with jerk. This reaches back to the traditional essence of jerk, where pimento wood was used in fires to grill meats over high heat. Another is the roaming Island Spice Grill food cart in New York. They have combined traditional Jamaican jerk flavors with a masterful social media platform to create a cult following of diners who anxiously await daily posts to find out where they will be positioning their cart.

Time will tell what will come with the future of Jamaican cuisine as it intertwines with American culture and a fusion of other cuisines. Personally, I’m excited to see. But until then, get out there and explore what Jamaican food your city has to offer.

Cheers!

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June 26th, 2017

Burgers or Bust

Posted in Food Trends, Trends

Food Trends: Burgers

Burger Trends

It’s no big secret that the burger is king in America. From classic cheese to quinoa vegan burgers, there’s something about the hearty sandwich that seems to whisper sweet nothings to our appetites.

Global market intelligence firm Technomic, Inc. reports that in 2016, $90.57 were spent on burgers in the U.S., representing 44% of total sandwich sales. Not only that, but they are predicting that these sales will continue to grow 3.4% from 2017-2019 due to our culture’s shift to off-premise dining and the burgers unique ability to travel well1 without dramatic loss of quality.

What does that mean for us in the culinary field? Well, it means that burgers offer us a ripe and broad ground for flavor experimentation. The breadth of this category allows us to take on flavors from all around the world utilizing lesser known sauces, garnishes, and seasonings while offering an assurance that there will be an adventurous demographic interested in trying new things. And with the burgers relatively low price point appeal, the risk is minimal to the customer.

Food trends - Burger

As more complex flavors, like Asian, African, and Mexican, continue to trend upward I believe this will begin to press into the burger market. We’re not far from seeing nationwide drops of Korean BBQ Burgers, Fiery African Harissa Burgers, or Smoky Mole Burgers. And when it happens, I’ll be right there in line ready to get the first bite.

Long live the burger!

 

1”Burger Boom.” Culinology, June 2017, pg. 44.
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May 29th, 2017

NRA 2017 – Top Trends

Posted in Consumer Trends, Culinary Conferences, Food Shows, Food Trends, Packaging, Product Innovation

Top Trends in Food from the
2017 NRA Show

Wednesday wrapped up a great week of learning and exploration at the 2017 National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, Il.

There was so much to see, touch, taste, and learn, but I’ll try to pick a few really popular trends to highlight for those of you who couldn’t make it.

Let’s dive in…

#1 – Cold Brew Nitro Coffee

Well if there was one trend that popped up more than any other, it was cold brew nitro coffee. On tap, artisan, slushy, and soft serve varieties available for whatever application you could imagine.

#2 – Go Nuts for Donuts!

Honestly, donuts haven’t really gone anywhere. Everyone loves fried dough. But NRA would show us that donuts, especially exciting, decadent donuts, are thriving. People are loving the idea of customization and seeing donuts in unique places like sandwiches and sundaes.

#3 – Compostables

All image above courtesy of PacknWood. Available at https://www.packnwood.com/home.jhtm.

If you want to take a stake in this millennial market you better be using compostable products. From plates, cups, straws, wrapper, utensils, to-go boxes, and even chopsticks, compostable products have become a must for any operation that wants to be a serious competitor.

Others

Other noteworthy trends included sparkling beverages, including coffee and kombucha, guacamole variations, atomization in the food process, and a continuing array of vegetarian and vegan food products.

If you’ve noticed any cool trends or were at the NRA 2017 show and saw something I missed, let me know! We’d love to hear from you.

Cheers!

 

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