Five takeaways from MenuDirections

MenuDirections 2015 kicked off Sunday in Memphis at The Peabody Hotel with a motivational opening presentation, two culinary workshops and the conference’s annual Dine-Around. Here are five takeaways from the event’s first day.

1. There is much more to the world of barbecue than Memphis, Texas, St. Louis and the Carolinas.

In a culinary workshop entitled "Bulgogi, Bo Ssam and Beyond: Butchering Pork for Global Barbecue," Neel Sahni, a chef and the national foodservice marketing manager for the National Pork Board, demonstrated how other cultures use various park of the hog to create their own types of barbecue.

While actually butchering parts of a hog in front of the audience, Sahni explained what cuisines use which parts of the pig, and how. For example, in Mexico chefs use the collar butt, rolled off the shoulder, to make Cochinita Pibil. The collar butt is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted.  buried in hot coals.

Koreans prepare Bo Ssam by taking country-style ribs from where the pork shoulder and loin meet. The ribs are marinated in a mixture of sugar, salt, onion, ginger, garlic, ssamjang and kochujang and then slow roasted before being grilled.

To make pinchos, Puerto Ricans use the pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes and marinated in sour orange, vinegar, oregano, garlic and cumin. The pork belly cubes are slow-roasted, then skewered and grilled.

2. South American cuisine is finally getting its due in the U.S., but Spanish may just be the world’s most innovative cuisine right now.

In a workshop entitled "Global Sides: Exploring Flavors and Traditions," Jorge Cespedes, corporate chef for Food IQ, prepared a classic Spanish torta using beans and a variety of spices. But as he prepared his dish, he offered two thoughts on world cuisine.

“South American cuisine is now becoming a big deal [in the U.S.] for being a very flavorful type of cooking,” Cespedes said. “And that is a little funny because the cuisine has been around for a long time.” He listed Peru, Argentina and Brazil as the top three South American countries in terms of “hot” cuisines.

He also suggested that Spanish cuisine is the most innovative in the world because of how proponents treat tapas, or small plates. As Americans in particular embrace smaller portions for reasons of health or sustainability, tapas are becoming much more important to chefs.

“Tapas allow us to be open to any flavors as long as the dish is small,” Cespedes said. “People are more willing to try something if the dish is smaller, because if they don’t like it they don’t feel like they have wasted a lot of food.”

Cespedes also advocated the use of lime juice for its “very powerful” ability to bring out flavor in dishes.

3. Memphis is about more than barbecue.

A visit to three of Memphis’s popular Beale Street-area restaurants demonstrated that signature dishes in this city don’t always revolve around ribs and brisket. Although attendees got their fill of pork ribs and pulled pork sliders at Blues City Café, they also got a chance to try the Scallops and Grits and Signature She-Crab Soup at Itta Bena, and crab cakes and Chicken Piccata with Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes, Spinach, Capers and White Win Butter at Automatic Slims. But Automatic Slims also offered its take on barbecue: Smoked Lamb Ribs with Homemade BBQ Sauce.

4. Restaurants are jumping on the health bandwagon.

As the lines between non-commercial operators and restaurateurs continue to blur, restaurants are increasingly creating ideas that non-commercial operators can steal. One area where this has not been true, however, has been in the area of health. Often, non-commercial operators have been driving healthful trends.

That’s beginning to change, according to the research presented by Chef Gerry Ludwig, corporate consulting chef for Gordon Food Services. In his presentation Monday morning on menu trends, he highlighted a number of restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that are either adding healthier items or basing their entire menu on healthy dishes.

One restaurant’s mantra is “balanced, nutritious, clean and pure.” Another touts itself as a “superfood café.” A few restaurants have begun offering bone broth as a superfood base for soups. Bone broth, simmered for as long as 18 hours, is highly concentrated with protein.

It might not be long before operators on both sides of the foodservice fence are stealing healthy menu ideas from each other.

5. Plants are giving meat a run for its money.

Two of Monday’s culinary workshops demonstrated the power of plants. In Kikkoman’s workshop on plant-based menus, Chef Andrew Hunter talked about the use of non-animal proteins as a way to satisfy a growing desire by consumers to eat less meat. He demonstrated this vividly with a breakfast parfait that, in addition to yogurt, used quinoa and chia seeds to add protein, as well as give a chewy, filling texture to an otherwise light dish.

In the "Meat, Meet Mushroom" workshop, Steve Solomon from the Mushroom Council and Lesa Holford, a chef at Ohio State University, showed mushroom’s ability to add flavor and moisture to ground meats. As attendees sampled sliders with a 50/50 blend of meat and mushrooms, Solomon explained that a growing number of chain restaurants and even food manufacturers are using mushrooms as an extender and a flavor enhancer.

Want further proof that manufacturers are cool sharing their meats with mushrooms? The Mushroom Council has been invited to speak later this year at the annual meeting of the North American Meat Processors Association.




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