Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

The Next Wave of Casual Cuisine Emerging flavors and forms that will carry the torch for this mega trend

Michael Scelfo, executive chef at Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Mass., showcases a modern sweet and savory combination in these pickled corn pancakes with maple buttermilk, topped with vinegary shishito peppers and salty popcorn.
PHOTO CREDIT: Culinary Iinstitute of America

The Asian Influence

The Latin sessions of the conference were interesting and idea-filled, but it was the Asian chefs who stole the global stage. In sessions with titles such as “China in Motion: Tradition Meets Casual Fusion,” and “Blending French Techniques with Chinese and Korean Cooking,” Asian-influenced mash-ups were a particular focus, producing an amazing array of creative new global flavor combinations.

These mash-ups at times transcended the expected crossovers with Latin and European ingredients, and included combinations of various Asian cuisines. Two Chinese mash-ups of the popular Japanese savory custard dish chawanmushi were prime examples.

A crowd favorite at the first tasting session was Hong Kong-based chef Chong You Chan’s preparation of Steamed Water Curry Egg, an umami-rich custard composed of beaten eggs blended with water, curry, fish sauce and bits of barbecued pork, which Chan steamed in small metal cups and garnished simply with shreds of pickled daikon.

Intriguing Asian offerings included the Steamed Water Curry Egg from Chong You Chan, president of the Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs in Singapore. The custard-like dish is sprinkled with barbecued pork.

Intriguing Asian offerings included the Steamed Water Curry Egg from Chong You Chan, president of the Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs in Singapore. The custard-like dish is sprinkled with barbecued pork.

Jonathan Wu, chef/partner of Fung Tu in New York, demonstrated his signature dish of China-quiles, which he describes as “chawanmushi meets chilaquiles.” Instead of using a traditional dashi to flavor the custard, Wu combines an intensely reduced smoked chicken stock and white soy sauce with the beaten eggs and steams a one-inch layer in a shallow bowl. He then tops the custard with “Chinese Bolognese,” a rich ground-pork ragu flavored with spicy Korean gochujang chile paste. Tortilla chips are replaced with freshly fried yuca root chips, and the dish is finished with a blizzard of chopped mint, scallion tops and cilantro.

Wu’s China-quiles are wildly craveable, but by no means subtle. He describes his cuisine as “playful Chinese New York food,” which frequently plays off of the “Chinese flavor triad of salt, fat and sugar.”

Junghyun Park

A more restrained approach is taken by Junghyun Park, chef of Atoboy in New York, a highly acclaimed restaurant that offers an extensive menu of contemporary banchan-style dishes intended for sharing. Park demonstrated a variety of the restaurant’s favorites, beginning with Sunchoke and Oyster Mushroom, featuring slices of dashi-braised sunchokes and sautéed mushroom topped with tiny cubes of orange, shreds of scallion and napa, and a drizzle of creamy white truffle sauce.

Park then prepared his Korean Beef Tartare, unique in that the beef is cut into a fine julienne rather than chopped or cubed, which he folds with fermented radish, tops with crispy potato shreds and encircles with oyster cream sauce. Uni, or sea urchin roe, is a favorite ingredient of Park’s, and he featured it in both a nigiri-style presentation of Seaweed “Gim” Rice, formed into fingers and topped generously with lobes of uni, and a dish of Cured Fluke with uni, fermented turnip and yuzu.

Casual Asian sandwiches

Creative twists on casual Asian sandwiches were another conference highlight. Bill Kim, chef of Chicago’s Belly Q and Urbanbelly, prepared two favorites from the latter: a marinated and grilled Lemongrass Chicken Sandwich garnished with toasted peanuts and coconut sambal, and an Asian Pork Meatball Sandwich topped with curry mayonnaise, pickled papaya and chile-spiked somen noodles.

Vietnamese banh mi Filipino mash-up

King Phojanakong, chef/owner of Kuma Inn in New York, presented a Filipino mash-up of the Vietnamese banh mi, filled with duck confit in adobo sauce, jalapeños, pickled daikon, cucumber and a spicy siling chile mayo.

Chicken kebab sliders

Maneet Chauhan, co-owner/executive chef of Chauhan Masala & Ale House in Nashville, pushed the envelope even further with her signature Malai Chicken Kebab Slider. She blends ground chicken and cream cheese with grated ginger, mint, cilantro, masala powder and dried fenugreek, which she forms into patties and grills. The sliders are built upon butter-toasted, onion-seeded brioche rolls slathered with sour cream and mango ketchup, the patties adorned with shredded pickled apple and jalapeño. Not a surprise that attendees universally raved about these tiny flavor bombs.

As chefs increasingly shake up the global larder, inspired flavor treatments such as these are truly representative of the next wave in casual cuisine.

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About The Author

Gerry Ludwig

Gerry Ludwig is corporate consulting chef at Gordon Food Service, where he creates trends-based culinary solutions for operators, conducts seminars and workshops and hosts trend-tracking tours.