Keynoter Gerry Ludwig took attendees of MenuDirections on a virtual culinary tour Monday, recounting the new directions he spotted while visiting 92 trend-shaping restaurants in three cities during a stretch of 17 business days.
His sampling of 1,131 dishes a few weeks before the conference prompted the Gordon Food Service corporate consulting chef to advise the audience of non-commercial operators to consider four trends rapidly unfolding within the commercial sector:
Meatless sandwiches. “I was surprised by the number of restaurants that were serving wonderful, complexly layered meatless sandwiches,” he told a packed ballroom. He cited such examples as a spicy beet sandwich he was served at a New York City hotspot called Dime.
He noted that several of the vegetarian sandwiches he sampled were flavored with strongly flavored cheese, which he characterized as “barnyard-y” because of their rich aroma.
Quinoa as the main attraction. The ancient grain is hardly unfamiliar to the non-commercial market, but “it has reached ubiquity in commercial foodservice,” Ludwig remarked.
He cited the example of Protein Bar, a 19-unit chain concentrated in the Midwest. Among its signatures is a quinoa-based burrito, or what it calls a Bar-rito. “They really caught lightning in a bottle,” he said.
Ludwig noted how he’d seen multiple instances of quinoa transformed into pancakes, meatless burgers and a hot cereal option. “Quinoa oatmeal has tons of opportunities,” he said. “It has much more flavor than oat-based oatmeal.”
He cited an instance where a sandwich bun rather than what was inside the bread had been made from quinoa.
“Having it all and living well.” A new generation of restaurants is proving that healthful dining doesn’t have to come at the expense of flavor, consistency or high culinary art. He cited the example of LYFE Kitchen, which offers flavorful, carefully crafted menu items through a variety of menus. An “E” model is intended for customers who eat everything. A “V” is intended for vegetarians, a “GF” for gluten free and a “BW” for beer and wine drinkers.
Over-the-top indulgence. “Every once in awhile, you need to do this in your units, what we call ‘ingenious indulgence,’” Ludwig advised. He did not provide an exact definition of the term, but cited the illustration of Donut Fiend in New York City. The off-beat shop specializes in doughnuts, both sweet and savory, that are cut in half and garnished with everything from jellies and other smears to more conventional sandwich ingredients.
Ludwig said the two dishes he enjoyed the most on his annual 1,000-plus-meal dining tour were a breakfast pudding bowl made with puréed almond milk and banana, studded with “a lot” of chia seeds; and an acai bowl, made with an acai berry purée that was stored in a freezer not cold enough to chill it into a solid. The pudding-like purée was spooned into a bowl and topped with fresh herbs and complements, providing visual appeal along with standout nutrition.