Exciting trends for the restaurant kitchen

Evolving flavors, preparations, ingredients quite promising

With all the challenges facing restaurants during and post pandemic, and myriad hot topics to be addressed, chefs and restaurant owners still must allocate time to focus on the hottest culinary trends. After all, style and preparation of food will always be the key to attracting customers. Spices, Caribbean flavors, Masa and plant based-chicken are highly-relevant trends that can boost creative opportunities on the menu.

Spice as the headline

Tajin is a chili-lime spice from Mexico, gaining a lot of traction over the past few years. It has hit the mainstream with independent restaurants and chain restaurants, which are tapping into its flavor profile and reputation. Pinkberry used Tajin in its Mango Tajin frozen yogurt even before the pandemic.

In Washington, DC, Chicken + Whiskey, a South American rotisserie and whiskey joint, serves both its fries and its green plantain chips with a dusting of Tajin. In collaboration with the Mexican company that makes Tajin, Chef Dennis Prescott prepared a Grilled Tajín & Maple Chicken Wings on YouTube. Identified in the “What’s Hot Culinary Trends,” furikake and za’atar have been trending, particularly as a spice to create globally inspired fries. Recently, furikake fries have become a standout item on some menus, and can provide a differentiated dish that can appeal to foodies looking for something outside the norm.

Trinidad & Tobago flavors

Trinidad & Tobago is an example of food diversity and richness. The medley of cultures on the Island, including those of Indian descent, emerges in its flavorful dishes and exemplifies how Caribbean flavors are permeating restaurant and foodservice menus. Roti choka and chana, imported as a result of this Indian influence, are two dishes Mintel has called out.

In DC, the recently-opened St. James restaurant will introduce many diners to a modern take on Caribbean flavors. Jeanine Prime, sister of famed chef Peter Prime, of fast-casual Cane fame, offers a menu of Trinidadian-inspired food. Coo and Callaloo with Fried Smelts is prepared with corn masa, okra, peppers, chiles, fried fish, and served with callaloo sauce. Callaloo, made with coconut milk, vegetables and spices is a Trinidadian dish highlighted by lacademie.com. The local bounty provides for a variety of vegetables and roots, including yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, and taro. Coo Coo is a corn meal-based dish prepared with vegetables.

St. James also serves Pepper Shrimp, including whole jumbo shrimp, scotch bonnet & pimento chili sauce with creamy coo coo. The Trinidad pimento pepper, the most popular pepper on the island, is used in several dishes and has the potential to provide inspiration in the commercial kitchen. A deeper exploration of Trinidadian cuisine can take specific menus beyond the more-common flavors of jerk and mango-pineapple.

Masa for everyone

According to Eric Fernandez, R&D chef at the Culinary Edge, masa, a maize dough that comes from ground nixtamalized (process of soaking and cooking in an alkaline solution) corn, is another trending food item. Masa’s versatile uses pop up in Sopes, gorditas, panuchos, huaraches, arepas, pupusas, and tlayudas, prepared with heirloom corn. It’s a “huge opportunity,” he notes. “Just like pasta shapes, each masa shape is unique and works well with different filling types and provides consumers a new and more authentic dining experience.”

Arepas, ground maize dough, eaten in the northern region of South America, are gaining ground as a popular handheld pouch bearing proteins and vegetables. The 11 North arepa-inspired all-day sandwich shop in Chicago is benefiting from a growing awareness of arepas. The breakfast Perico combines Venezuelan style scrambled eggs with red onion and tomato, Caribbean cheese and bacon. There is also the Pelua, with beef, plantains, Gouda cheese and garlic cilantro sauce.

The Mexican gordita or “the chubby”— prepared with masa and stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings is similar to the arepa. Bistek Gordita at Con Madre Kitchen in Austin, Texas, is stuffed with lettuce, tomato, beans, queso fresco, and avocado.

Masa can be used in many applications beyond handhelds. As Kara Elder of the Washington Post points out, masa can replace crackers alongside hearty soup, or in tamales with seafood, or breakfast pupusas. Married with inspired creativity in the kitchen, masa creates quite a formula for restaurants developing fresh and innovative dishes.

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Plant-based chicken

Fernandez feels that plant-based chicken and fish have plenty of room for growth. Many consumers are asking for plant-based substitutes, he notes, and fortuitously, this is a category-based business. Furthermore,many plant-based alternatives in milks burgers, dips, and dressings have tasted well and outperformed their animal-based counterparts.

“There are a lot of interesting things happening behind the scenes with the inputs to these products as they scale, and as meat continues to get more expensive,” says Fernandez. “With the launch of the first lab-grown meat products last year, the evolution of seaweed-based proteins, and fungi-based proteins, the entire market is ripe for more upheaval.”

A recent $150M round of financing in Meati Foods, a mushroom protein-based supplier of plant-based foods, led by Revolution Growth, should show no doubt of its ongoing revenue potential. It also shows restaurant operators can win when they menu meat-alternatives like plant-based chicken. Tender Food, fresh off $12M from its latest funding round in March, is certainly hopeful the plant-based food trend continues its up tempo. The company will use a process licensed from Harvard University to “spin” plant protein into strands that mimic real meat muscle fibers, like those in chicken, beef and pork. In April, Nowadays raised $10M to continue offering crispy plant-based chicken nuggets that have “a classic fried chicken taste and texture made with only seven simple and sustainable ingredients,” Nowadays noted at the time.

Sous vide preparation

Sous vide cooking, which uses thermal immersion circulator machines and has gained some momentum as a preparation trend recently, has some features that operators and chefs are looking for. First, its preparation method lends itself well to cooking proteins with more tenderness and flavor. Second, its delivery in unseasoned or prepared form has a longer shelf life that can be a hedge against supply chain issues found with fresh, uncooked meats. Gerard Bertholon, chief strategy officer of Cuisine Solutions, says, “Now more and more restaurants have put into place takeout and delivery operations. So, when I speak with restaurateurs, they note they have spent a lot of money to put these tools into place and don’t want to give up these revenue streams after reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.”

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As labor costs rise, operators are also looking for solutions that can provide an optimal balance between in-house prepared proteins and ready-to-heat food. “By using sous vide, whether you work with us here at Cuisine Solutions or the chef does it himself, you’re able to solve this issue requiring less staff to create your menu,” says Bertholon. As cloud kitchens increase, the multi-concept mobile kitchen will also proliferate. Savvy operators are using these kitchens to produce multiple concepts with different cuisines. In this way, sous vide preparations can offer a blank palette for selling multiple menu platforms from the same proteins in a short time. Added Bertholon, “Sous vide brings consistency, the right color, and texture and because we pasteurize it, it brings real safety.

Right now, people are eating differently, and they get their food differently as well from eating out at a restaurant to ordering delivery during the pandemic.”

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