A taste of 3 culinary trends from top menu innovators

Operators from college dining, health care, K-12 and senior living got first crack at the unique flavors and ingredients trending at FoodService Director’s MenuDirections conference.
vendor fair
Operators taste the trends at the vendor fair during Menu Directions 2023. | Photo by W. Scott Mitchell Photography

Chefs and culinary innovators showcased a smorgasbord of new menu ideas at FoodService Director’s annual Menu Directions conference, which kicked off at The Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday.

Attendees representing college dining, health care, senior living and K-12 had the opportunity to taste new flavors, ingredients and preparations during the conference. FSD editors did their part, too, spotting some of the top culinary trends that emerged.

Italian food stretches its borders

Wafu Italian incorporates Japanese flavors and cooking styles into Italian food. The trend first appeared in Japan but has since taken root in the U.S., promoted by chefs like Robbie Felice of Pasta Ramen. Kikkoman presented several examples of the cross-cultural dishes appearing on menus, including soy sauce-injected burrata, shrimp scampi made with ramen noodles, tonkatsu ramen arancini and Bolognese sauce enhanced with soy sauce. Individual Wafu ingredients are also gaining traction as chefs experiment, such as black vinegar, dashi, tamari sauce, basil-infused ponzu, sesame oil and lemon-infused soy sauce. These add umami to simple pasta dishes, meatballs and vegetables, like broccolini.  

At the Pasta Montana booth, chef Peter Schonman also fused Asian flavors into a pasta dish with a recipe featuring lemon grass in a creamy sauce. He calls the cooking style “pasta without borders” and explains it here:


Veggies as center of the plate

While there was no lack of plant-forward options at the vendor fair this year, there seemed to be a shift away from analogs and toward vegetables as the center of the plate. Plant-based meats were sparse, but vendors were still serving up plants in creative ways. Chef Cliff Pleau cooked up peanut-crusted portobello mushrooms with miso sauce at The Mushroom Council’s booth, while the California Dried Fruit Coalition menued a plant-forward risotto topped with pressed watermelon prepared and plated to taste and look like sashimi.

Good Foods sampled a queso made from cauliflower. During a general session, Adam Issacs, director of foodservice at Good Foods, noted that the team has shifted away from marketing the plant-based queso simply as plant-based. Instead, the marketing efforts highlight the vegetables from which the product was made. “There is a big ask with students these days for plant-forward items, along with allergen-free items. We do push that as a selling point,” said Stephen Babington, executive chef at Good Foods.

Fruit shares the spotlight

Chefs are playing around with different dried fruits to add an extra layer of sophistication to cocktails and other beverages.

For example, rehydrated dried blueberries that are candied in vermouth act as a garnish for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’s Blueberry Manhattan and raisins make a fun addition to bubbly Prosecco, said Matthew Burton, executive chef of M-BURS Culinary Consulting. He also created a "Frutella" dessert dip, riffing on the popularity of Nutella.

Blueberries also starred in an array of savory sauces. Blueberry pesto, blueberry aioli, blueberry ranch and blueberry chili crisp were all presented as enhancers for chicken, sandwiches, seafood and more.  



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