MenuDirections 2013: World Cuisines Deliver Health Through Flavor on Day Three

Italian, Cuban, Caribbean and New American cuisines get the spotlight.

Jorge Cespedes and Cari Price, both of FoodIQ,
prepare dishes in the Cuban

The final day of MenuDirections focused on Italian, Cuban and Caribbean cuisine as well as new twists on American as a way to talk about bringing health on the menu. Chef Andrew Hunter, corporate chef for Kikkoman Sales USA Inc., spoke about the ubiquity of gastropubs in the commercial sector and what non-commercial operators could do to “gastrify” their menus by focusing on pub fare like burgers, fries and pizza but elevating them with quality ingredients. Chef Hunter served Korean friend chicken and macaroni and cheese made with wasabi cream sauce.

Other observations from the session:

• Gastropub ideas include making pizza in an oval shape to make it a little different. Drizzle fries with creamy Gorgonzola.

• Chef Hunter: Call anything a ketchup, from mango chutney to sriracha sauce, and it'll sell.

In the regional Italian session, Chef Lorenzo Boni, executive chef for Barilla America Inc., discussed the differences in Italy’s cuisines by region. Some tips he offered included the difference between domestic and Italian fontina cheeses—cows are fed different diets—combine pasta and sauce and let it hang out to let the flavors mingle and when precooking pasta look at recommended cook time on package and cut it in half when you’re cooking in bulk and holding it for service.

Other observations from the session:

• Extra virgin olive oil is very volatile so keep some of what recipe specs for the end to drizzle over pasta. This will get more flavor and aroma.

• Cooking tips: Start with a cold skillet so you can sweat vegetables and infuse with olive oil. Brown meat then deglaze with wine. Make sure to reduce wine to almost nothing. Brown mushrooms well to maximize flavor. Cut cream with broth to decrease richness and heaviness in cream sauces.

The Cuban & Caribbean session highlighted the health benefits of beans in both cuisines. Chefs Jorge Cespedes, research and development chef, and Cari Price, corporate chef, both of FoodIQ, and Erik Henry, director of foodservice for Bush Brothers & Co., presented different recipes that utilized beans as harbingers of flavor. Attendees sampled dishes such as Moros y Cristianos (rice and beans from Cuba) and Layered Yuca & Mojo Pie.

The conference wrapped up with a final general session on menu trends by Mark DiDomenico, director of business development for Datassential, which is a company that tracks more than 100,000 menus. Observations from the session included:

• The menu adoption cycle has four phases: inception (usually happens at fine dining establishments and ethnic independent restaurants), adoption (fast casual and casual independent restaurants), proliferation (quick service and casual chains) and ubiquity (mid-scale restaurants and family dining). Inception and adoption are the sweet spots today.

• The Watch List for 2013 includes charcuterie, pickled foods, maple, smoked cheese, poutine, grits and craft ice cream.

• Chef-driven menus are now about chefs as artists instead of trying to please everyone. It’s become the opposite of customization. Customers must now trust the chef. 

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Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

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