After two and a half days of workshops, culinary demos and general sessions, attendees came away with dozens of actionable items to implement in their operations. The following list are but 10 of the things we learned at MenuDirections 2014.
1. Mash-ups are in and fusion is out. The trend is to blend: Add vegetables to bulk up meat; combine sweet, savory and spicy in unexpected dishes like ginger sesame caramel; and merge the flavorings of multiple countries or regions, such as ají amarillo from Peru with masala tea from Kashmir and cassava from Brazil.
2. Today’s culinary school grads are more diverse than ever—41% are African-American, 25% are first-generation college students—and they want to be leaders who impact the social environment.
3. Chili is the No. 1 Googled recipe, meatless sandwiches are rising in fame and sandwich buns can actually be made from quinoa.
4. With persistence and dedication, it is possible to visit 92 restaurants in 17 days, as trend-tracking Chef Gerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service corporate consulting chef, has done.
5. Kohlrabi is gaining widespread use in restaurants, the way Brussels sprouts did a few years ago.
6. The most common meat alternatives used are soy, tempeh, tofu, beans and legumes, seitan, quinoa and Greek yogurt.
7. Since whole-grain pastas don’t act the same as traditional semolina ones, chefs must look to delicate sauces and more assertive and aromatic herbs and vegetables to round out these dishes.
8. Chefs are cutting back on sodium by replacing it with a variety of herbs and seasonings, like black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill seeds, basil, ginger, coriander and onion.
9. Cuisines from each Asian country have signature attributes—ingredients, methods and sensibilities—that make them unique. For example, ingredients such as ramen, yuzu and koji are found in Japanese cuisine, while citrus, coconut and tamarind are used in Vietnamese dishes.
10. The use of local woods, seasonings, fruits and berries has inspired 22 styles of barbecue within the U.S.—four styles in the Carolinas alone—and can continually be redefined by using ingredients in your own backyard.