MenuDirections 2012 Day 2: World Cuisines

Attendees took a culinary tour of the Korea, Latin America and the Mediterranean.

LifeWorks' Marion Gibson teaches attendees about the
flavors of the Mediterranean.

On Monday morning of MenuDirections 2012, attendees were taken on a culinary tour—virtually, of course—of three regions of the world in the World Cuisines workshops. Mediterranean, Latin America and Korea were the areas visited.

Mediterranean: Marion Gibson, national culinary director for the Lifeworks Restaurant Group, a division of Aramark Corp., used the small plates approach to focus on five cultures in the Mediterranean. Using a map to point out that the Mediterranean region includes such far-flung countries as Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Syria, Gibson noted that when most people think of the region they think of Spain, Italy, Greece, the Provence region of France, and North Africa. These areas she referred to as the Mediterranean “sweet spot,” and were the target of her presentation.

She explained that Mediterranean food has become popular for several reasons, not the least of which is the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. She noted that most Mediterranean dishes are composed of low-cost ingredients with high perceived value that are easy to source. 

For example, she said, “you take feta, hummus, baba ganoush and maybe tzatziki with some pita and you’ve nailed Greece.”

Vegetables and seafood play important roles in Mediterranean food, while meat is used sparingly. Yogurt and cheese make the scene at almost every meal, and olive oil is de rigeur. Eggplant, artichokes, squash, tomatoes, onions and legumes are the most commonly seen vegetables.

For her culinary demonstration Gibson laid out an array of foods from the five cultures that can be combined in small plates for healthy foods in portion-controlled sizes that can provide profitability for operators even as they provide value for customers.

Her display and food samplings included a roasted beet root salad with cumin vinaigrette and pistachio, a Libyan goat cheese dip with sesame flatbreads from North Africa; grilled stuffed grape leaves and baba ganoush from Greece, and a tapenade from Provence. She also demonstrated how to make pan con tomate, a simple appetizer from Spain that consists of grated garlic and tomato spread across a bread such as ciabatta and drizzled with olive oil.

Korean: Becky Westby, director of sales for CJ Foods, and David Yeo, CJ’s corporate chef, presented “Craving Korean.” Westby began with a brief history, geography and culinary lesson of this northern Asian country. Culinarily, she explained, “fermentation really is the mainstay of all the Korean flavors. Fermentation creates true umami.”

Yeo added, “Korean cooking really promotes healthy because our flavors are really intense and the combination of ingredients are healthy.”

In his culinary demonstration, Yeo created two dishes: bibimbap and origami sea bass. Bibimbap, which in Korean means “mixed meal,” is a simple dish containing a variety of vegetables, bulgogi beef and either a raw or fried egg, topped with a spicy-sweet sauce called gochujang. As Yeo was preparing the dish, Westby explained the origins of bulgogi, an iconic Korean food that consists of marinated beef that is cooked on open fire. Historically, it was considered the exlusive purview of the wealthy and nobility.

While he prepared the origami sea bass, Yeo talked about the use of doenjang, a paste that is part of Korean cooking.

“To make doenjang, dried soybeans are boiled and then ground into coarse bits,” he explained. “That paste is formed into blocks that are allowed to ferment. Afterwards, the blocks are pressed and the liquids and solids are separated. The liquid is Korean soy sauce, while the solids become doenjang, which is thick and salty.”

Latino: Andrew Hunter, corporate chef for Kikkoman, made tacos the basis of his presentation to demonstrate the variety of flavors that can be woven into one simple dish.

“While I think the taco is timeless, it has really come of age,” said Hunter. “They have found a comfort zone in urban street food, offering high and lowbrow menu options at once.”

Noting the versatility of tacos—“they can have Thai profiles, Korean profiles as well as the traditional Latino profiles”—he broke down the taco into its various components.

“Think about the taco’s anatomy,” he said. “Workers are the tortillas, the unsung heros. They provide portability. They help bring everything together. But they are not the sexiest guy on the plate. Then you have the guts, which is the protein. It’s usually heavily marinated and seasoned, grilled over charcoal or wood so it is rich in flavor. The glory is the sauce. The sauce is what differentiates the tacos form the other guys.”

He added that naturally brewed soy sauce can be a critical element of a taco sauce because the Japanese flavor profile works to impact and enhance the Latin profile. To demonstrate, he served a New Mexican style chicken taco with traditional sauce enhanced with Asian ingredients.

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