Global cuisines and flavors will continue to play an integral role in consumers’ restaurant choices. Industry studies reveal that customers are increasingly driven to try unique flavors. In its Flavor Consumer Trend Report, Technomic finds that 52% express a preference for restaurants that offer unique or original flavors, up from 42% of those polled in 2009.
The study finds that new and exciting flavors can have an impact on purchasing decisions. “Most consumers say that a positive experience trying a new flavor can lead to future visits and can even influence retail purchasing decisions,” states the report. “What’s more, two in five say they are willing to spend more on meals that showcase new and interesting flavors, suggesting that in many cases, operators have substantial room to experiment.”
Other findings include:
• A majority of consumers are open to trying new flavors for food or condiments at limited- service restaurants. This sentiment was especially strong for sandwich, chicken, Mexican and bakery café concepts, with more than half of consumers polled saying they would be likely or extremely likely to try a new flavor at these locations.
• Full-service operators have more leeway than limited-service operators to experiment with new and unique flavor profiles. Most consumers say they would order menu items featuring new and different flavors from full-service restaurants. Acceptance of innovative flavors is highest at Italian concepts and steakhouses where consumers likely hold the chefs in the highest esteem.
• Authenticity is key in ethnic cuisines, with 70 percent of consumers strongly agreeing that ethnic foods ordered at restaurants should be authentic.
USC Hospitality - University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Almonds add flavor, texture and overall appeal to the menus of USC Hospitality, the dining services department of the University of Southern California, appearing in both locally and globally inspired dishes. That is important to a food-savvy student body 38,000 strong, including 7,200 international students, more than any other U.S. university. Many of the latter are curious about California cuisine as well as eager for the occasional taste of home.
“We have food from every country you can imagine,” says Travis Summers, assistant director of operations for USC Hospitality. “We also serve a lot of vegetarians and persons with special dietary needs.”
One popular application is candying almonds with brown sugar and butter to make an appealing, crunchy garnish for a salad of hearts of palm, citrus-glazed avocados, caramelized Belgian endive and red grapefruit vinaigrette. “It has a bit of everything—your sweet, your savory and a little bit of sour,” says Summers. “And the almonds give great texture, too.”
Similarly, toasted almonds add a pleasing pop to an Asian-inflected spinach salad with chicken, mandarin oranges, spinach and bean sprouts. In a French vein, classic green beans amandine, a quick sauté of beans and toasted almonds, is a smart side dish for trout.
“We’ll always use almonds,” says Summers. “Our executive chef has almonds on his desk. We’re both pretty big into them, and since we do menus together, they will stay in all of our venues.”
Consultant persepctive: RES Consultants, Huntington Beach, Calif.
A great way to expand the variety of dishes on a menu is to leverage the versatility of almonds, according to executive chef Ray Martin of RES Consultants.
“People want to experience a number of different flavors and textures and cuisines all in the same meal,” says Martin, who has developed successful menu items for major casual dining chains like BJ’s Restaurants and The Cheesecake Factory. That is an invitation for the chef to explore almond applications inspired by Middle Eastern, European, Latin and Asian cuisines. “It is truly an ingredient that crosses all boundaries. There are not many things like that.”
Take Almond Crusted Olives, a finger food that Martin created. It overlays the tangy olives that are fundamental to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eating with a unique, hard-to-resist, crunchy almond coating. He simply moistens the olives with egg white and olive brine and lightly coats them with a mixture of crushed almonds and almond flour before frying. “We paired them with a couple of dipping sauces, but people also enjoyed them by themselves,” he says.
Martin adds that almonds can be used with success in all dayparts and in both sweet and savory recipes. “Almonds can really sell an item,” he says. “When you include them in some form they elevate a dish. They add top-shelf quality. It’s almost like you are adding gold.”