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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November 21st, 2011

Worlds of Innovation

Posted in Food Shows, Trailer/Street Foods

In early November, I attended the Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA.  It is a premier event that always fills me full of inspiration and new ideas, and makes me want to travel the world!

This year’s theme was “American Menus”, yet there were top chefs from all over the world, both in attendance and as speakers. This shows how influential other cuisines are to our menus domestically and how the food world seems to get smaller and more interconnected every day.

 Of the many general themes I garnered from the event, here are a few of the main ideas that came across loud and clear that are sure to impact American menus in the near future.

  1. Home Cooked Meals
  2. Informal eating                                                                                
  3. Artisan, handmade, chef driven                                                            
  4. Ethnic infusion of flavors
  5. Luxury at a discount 
  6. Comfort food
  7. Simple, fresh, true flavors 
  8. Street food 

Home Cooked Meals This really doesn’t mean more people will be cooking at home, it does mean they want foods that remind them of home cooked meals from childhood.  Fine dining chefs are reverting back to the foods they grew up with, the dishes they learned to cook from their Mom or Grandma.  Chefs are examining their roots and culture more closely than ever before and recreating these dishes in new, exciting ways.  Chef Charles Phan of the famed Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco served an impeccable Fried Chicken with Sriracha Butter served in a paper cone that brought back great memories of home cooked chicken but with a surprising new flavor twist.

Informal Eating – This trend focuses on meals becoming more casual – communal tables in restaurants, picnics, food on the go; trailer/truck food and snacking all are great examples of this hot trend.  Ramen noodle bars exemplify this trend, a casual spot to have a delicious, filling, hot meal with friends that can be a quick eating adventure.

Artisan, Handmade, Chef Driven Processed foods are out, and even if it is manufactured, the food must look handmade to be considered authentic.  Artisan, hand tossed Napoli style pizza crusts are the perfect example of this trend that can easily be transferred into multi-unit restaurants.  Celebrity chefs are being asked to develop products for manufacturers, retail and for chain restaurants more and more, adding a culinary flair and notoriety to menus.

Ethnic Infusion – Great flavors are coming from other countries’ cuisine and can fit perfectly into well known American favorites to create new, innovative menu items.  Chermoula, Harissa, hummus, Achiote, ceviches, and many types of peppers (Aleppo, cascabel, piquillo, and guajillo to name a few) are all trendy ingredients that will get more attention on upcoming menus.  The opposite of ethnic infusion is ethnic CONFUSION, which while making an interesting show on menus, seems to be more of a fad than a lasting trend.  The flavors provide a WOW impact but don’t necessarily taste great.  Wasabi coated fried chicken sounds interesting, but would you crave it every week?  Ethnic fusion is nothing new. Wolfgang Puck is a master of this type of cuisine, but it must be done well AND taste great to endure.

 

Luxury at a Discount – The economy is still impacting food choices and this will not change anytime soon.  While there are signs of improvement, consumers are hesitant to spend extravagantly on meals as they once did.  Consumers still want a luxury dish, but they also want it at a great price.  Instead of an expensive dinner out, consumers are trading down to the same flavors served in smaller portions or in unique ways, such as food trucks, to get their fine dining fix in a completely different atmosphere.  Star Ginger, a mobile food truck on the campus of UC Davis in California, offers quality Southeast Asian food and fresh flavors in the form of rice bowls and sandwiches to patrons.  And all of this is at an affordable price while giving the customer a chance to try something new with a low investment.

Comfort Food – Sandwiches are in!  Baker Mark Furstenberg did a demonstration using a sourdough bread boule, cut and hollowed, slathered inside with white bean spread, stuffed with slow cooked lamb, caramelized onions and black olives.  The bread was then weighted down and baked.  After baking, the boule was sliced and served as a fork and knife sandwich eat, and it was amazing.  Great flavors, a hearty meal, and simple ingredients made this an ultimate comfort meal.  Joyce Goldstein also showcased a tuna salad sandwich at the same sandwich workshop, made with Moroccan Charmoula Mayonnaise that was simple, ethnic but familiar, and above all, delicious.

Simple, Fresh, True Flavors – Recipes do not need a long list of ingredients to be “inspired”. The old adage of “keep it simple stupid” applies here!  Select the best ingredients available, make sure they are vibrant and fresh, and cook them in a way to let the true flavors of the food shine through.   Chef Jose Garces made a basic empanada but added a twist by using cooked plantain dough instead of the traditional flour dough, filled with a scallion, garlic, and queso fresco cheese filling.  The combination created a tasty dish that was simple and amazing and also a great gluten-free choice.

Street Food – Perhaps inspired by Hawker food stalls in Singapore, which are Singapore’s “food trucks”, mobile food trucks are still on the rise in the USA.  In Singapore, big bowls of noodle soups, hot pepper crab, satays, grilled meats, quick to prepare/easy to eat meals are the norm, but domestically, the variety has taken off and the choices are staggering.  Anything from empanadas, dumplings, sushi, Indian biryani, pizza, BBQ, fried chicken and waffles to desserts like cupcakes, cake shakes, make your own s’mores and fried doughnuts can be found being dished out of food trucks in many cities.  There is plenty of inspiration that can be translated to everyday foods we already love. How about Bulgogi wings?

 At The Marketplace we could sample the delicacies and demonstrations that we saw during the day, and sponsors had a chance to show their take on the conference theme.  While sampling everything would have required an extra stomach or two, there were a few notable dishes worth mentioning.

Frito Lay served up walking Frito Pie variations that were innovative and definitely not something you’d find at the ballpark.  I tried the Sweet Cream, Salted Caramel and Amarena Cherry Tacos with Original Fritos Corn Chips.  Served in the bag  for a portable dish, I wasn’t sure the flavors were going to be harmonious, but they were well thought out and a great example of how sweet and savory can come together to create something unexpected. 

Shrimp & Cuttlefish with Black Rice Paella was another winner in my book; a very regional dish that was truly authentic, showing authenticity was NOT dead!  Topped with a foamy whipped egg white and green garlic topping, this paella was bursting with flavor and satisfied the comfort food need perfectly without being heavy. 

Chef Newman Miller of Quantum Foods made a puff pastry stuffed with braised beef ribs and Stilton blue cheese, showcasing simple and delicious can go hand in hand. 

Just to show that foie gras is always in style, another chef created a corn masa tamale wrapped banana leaf, steamed and then topped with a slab of seared foie gras.  Watching the preparation, my mouth watered and even though it wasn’t traditional, it looked delicious! 

 Much inspiration was gathered at this event, and now I am ready to translate this inspiration into innovative new dishes in the kitchen. I hope it has also sparked your imagination or at least made your mouth water and your taste buds long to sample a few of these flavors!

 Happy Eating,

 Chef Allison

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December 9th, 2010

World of Flavors Conference 2010!

Posted in About Allison, Food Shows, Travel

The smell of grape must surrounds me as I drive through sunny Napa Valley, I love that smell!  It reminds me of the grape harvest, good wine and the great food that is found in this area.  Every November, the Culinary Institute of America hosts a food conference at their Greystone location in St. Helena, CA.  Greystone is centered in the heart of California’s northern wine country and offers the perfect location to immerse in all things culinary.  All while drinking wine.  Not a bad days work!  The Worlds of Flavor conference brings together the top chefs and experts in the industry to immerse the attendee in a sea of culinary knowledge.  This year’s topic was Japan, a cuisine I profess to know little about, so I was anxious to dive in and learn.

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November 23rd, 2010

Pork Belly

Posted in Food Shows, food tours, Travel

Chefs love pork belly.  It lends itself to so many different preparations, cooking techniques and flavor combinations.  It is one of few food items that have the unique ability to absorb the flavors of what it is cooked or served with, while maintaining its own flavor and texture.  It can be sweet, it can be salty, it can be smoky.  It can be all of the above at the same time. 

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