Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development
A Flavor Affair banner image

By Flavor & The Menu
September 22, 2022

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San Diego provided a sun-splashed backdrop for the 18th annual Flavor Experience, with three days packed with ideas and inspirations, setting high-volume menu developers up for success in 2023 and beyond. Presented by Flavor & The Menu magazine and helmed by Cathy Nash Holley, president of the Flavor Experience, this singular annual event held in mid-August, homed in on the incredible, ever-changing business of flavor.

Throughout the event, attendees were given food for thought, with presentations, panel discussions and tastings that addressed topics including: the evolving foodservice landscape, younger consumers’ impact on hospitality and the power of brand identity. Of course, the hallmark of Flavor Experience is that flavor trends are both served up on the stage and in the abundance of memorable, creative bites and sips aimed at getting the wheels turning for menu innovation. New this year, attendees enjoyed the trend-forward flavors of our host city, with tasting excursions in two of San Diego’s famed neighborhoods and culinary hotspots: Barrio Logan and Convoy Street. Read on for highlights from this year’s Flavor Experience.

A Flavor Affair inner image 1Photos: David Siegel/Insight Studio

Pressed Smoked Salmon Oshibako Sushi highlights nori- layered sushi rice, smoked salmon, fried capers and shallots, with Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce infused with lime, shiso crema and flying fish roe. Wild Alaska Salmon Ikura & Warm Summer Corn Pudding features delicate Japanese-style pudding with bonito flakes, BelGioioso mascarpone, Parmesan and eggs, and is finished with chives and spicy corn dust crunch.



Flavor Experience sponsors served up plenty of inspiration in trend-forward tastes. Examples included:

  • California Frico-cado Toast: Everything-seasoned frico topped with diced California Avocado, diced egg and dried Caprese tomato
  • Nestlé Professional’s Feta Panna Cotta with compressed watermelon “salad” with tarragon, mint, and basil, topped with fried prosciutto crumbles and olive granita
  • Parmesan Corn Chowder topped with BelGioioso Peperoncino cheese crab cake finished with a mango-jicama cilantro slaw
  • Smoked Sumac-Glazed Australian Lamb Shoulder Shawarma with Thecha yogurt, pickled onion crunch and shredded lettuce on toasted naan
  • Smithfield’s Birria Bravas: Fried potatoes topped with a smoky spicy sauce, garlic aïoli, fried beef barbacoa
  • Kikkoman’s Eggplant Unagi Nigiri: Lacquered Japanese eggplant, “broken” nigiri, roasted onion furikake, unagi sauce, lime-infused less-sodium soy sauce roasting liqueur
  • Blueberry Chimichurri on Wagyu Steak with quick-pickled blueberries, radish, Cotija cheese and micro marigolds
  • EPI Bread’s Labneh Toast with smoked honeycomb, Greek olive oil, crunchy salt and pink peppercorns, fresh chervil
  • Dole’s Tigania (Greek Pan-Fried Pork): Savory chunks of pork shoulder pan-fried then simmered in a white wine and mandarin citrus sauce with sweet cherries
  • Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Ganache Almond Cake: Almond genoise, Ghirardelli 72% dark chocolate ganache, apricot filling


A Flavor Affair inner image 2Photos: Ernie Sapiro Photography

Katie Ayoub, managing editor of Flavor & The Menu and content director of Flavor Experience, leads a fun session of live polling about the industry, giving attendees insights into the mindset of their peers (left). Menu Matters’ Maeve Webster, content strategist for Flavor Experience, made a strong case for attendees to reconsider their approach to innovation (right).


A Flavor Affair inner image 3Photos: Katie Kelley

Cathy Nash Holley led her annual roundtable on trends, pictured with (L to R) Sydney Sylvain, Wawa; Deena Ensworth, Markon and Jennifer Giambroni, California Milk Advisory Board. In this session, attendees (above, from right) Rena Frost, ReWard Restaurant Group; Maria Bavaro and Bonnie Bisignano, FGF Brands; and Ben Whittington, Focus Brands, tasted the trends, sampling warm ube pandesal and ube butter, along with a Pineapple Spice Tepache cocktail.


A Flavor Affair inner image 4Photos: David Siegel/Insight Studio

A Spiked Dairy-Free Idaho Potato Latte infused potato “milk” with potato vodka and espresso. Below, Dole served up Will You Rally?, a dill-infused ouzo cocktail.


Flavor Experience beverage sponsors provided inspiration for next-level drink development. Examples included:

  • Boston Beer Company’s Worth the Squeeze Cocktail: Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, Jim Beam Apple Whiskey, sweet fig syrup, fresh-pressed apple juice, Angostura bitters
  • Tree Top’s Dragons & Berries Oh My!: Tree Top 4+1 Strawberry Purée, dried dragon fruit, fresh lemon, Monin Agave and club soda topped with strawberry cold foam
  • Natural Brands’ Sicilian Fizz: Natural Brands Lemon Juice, Malfy Italian Gin, ginger-fig syrup, prosecco, lemon peel, black fig, ginger candy
  • Monin Rose Cardamom: Cold brew, oat “milk,” salted sea foam, rose dust and petals
  • Beam Suntory’s Elote Old Fashioned: Maker’s Mark French Oaked Bourbon, Bruxo Mezcal, corn cob-infused agave, cocoa bitters, cinnamon-smoked glass
  • Japanese-Inspired Bloody Mary: Lycored Sante, Seedlip Spice, shichimi togarashi, oyster sauce, lime juice, no-salt-added tomato juice, cherry tomato, nori and kimchi Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
  • Red Bull Infusion: Red Bull Energy Drink, passionfruit and Monin Coconut
  • Kettle Cuisine’s Mars Iwai Whiskey Carrot Ginger Highball: Chilled carrot ginger soup, Japanese whiskey, blood orange garnish
  • Mango Wellness Tonic: Fresh mango, mango nectar, turmeric syrup, yerba mate tea, lemon juice, tonic water and mango slice


A Flavor Affair inner image 5Photos: Katie Kelley / Ernie Sapiro Photography

Celebrated chef Jet Tila, long-time friend of the Flavor Experience, took the stage, sharing his unique perspective on flavor trends and food culture. A panel of chain operators shared valuable insights on how their concepts were succeeding in bringing in Gen Z diners. Moderated by Katie Ayoub, the panel featured: Brad Kent, Bagel + Slice and Blaze Pizza; André Vener, Dog Haus and Barb Colucci, Del Taco.


A Flavor Affair inner image 6Photos courtesy of Ernie Sapiro Photography

A highlight of the event was keynote speaker Chip Heath, best-selling author of The Power of Moments. In his presentation, sponsored by Nestlé Professional, he talked about designing moments that matter, crystalizing the power of hospitality and how to harness it for attendees. The engine of the Flavor Experience is the back-of-house team, and culinary students from Johnson & Wales University provide tremendous support. Flavor Experience beverage director Katrina Herold (in chef whites) and Jessica Hess (second from right) manage the beverage program.


A Flavor Affair inner image 7Photos: Katie Kelley

The event offered plenty of time to catch up with friends—(L to R) Julie Tobias, advertising/sponsorship sales director for Flavor Experience and Flavor & The Menu, Katie Ayoub and Pam Smith, RDN, founder of Shaping America’s Plate and presenter at this year’s event, enjoyed Ste. Michelle’s Tormaresca Calafuria Rosé. A refreshing drink aptly titled “Toes in the Sandía” featured White Claw Watermelon Hard Seltzer, tequila, prickly pear and citrus.


A Flavor Affair inner image 8Photos: Katie Kelley / Ernie Sapiro Photography

Mike Kostyo, trendologist with Datassential, brought down the house with his presentation “Pushing Boundaries While Preserving Your Brand’s Identity.” Flavor Experience offered tasting sessions, including one themed around “beverage innovation in action,” led by forward-thinking menu developers: (L to R) Dave & Buster’s Craig Richards, First Watch’s Shane Schaibly and Liquid Kitchen’s Kathy Casey (not pictured).


Set along the beautiful San Diego Bay, the InterContinental Hotel provided the ideal venue for this year’s Flavor Experience. The Idaho Potato Commission served Prosciutto-Wrapped Potato Skins filled with melted feta, herbs, tomato and piquillo peppers. Photos: Ernie Sapiro Photography / Katie Kelley

Set along the beautiful San Diego Bay, the InterContinental Hotel provided the ideal venue for this year’s Flavor Experience. The Idaho Potato Commission served Prosciutto-Wrapped Potato Skins filled with melted feta, herbs, tomato and piquillo peppers.


A Flavor Affair inner image 10Photos: Ernie Sapiro Photography

Valeria Molinelli, executive chef of the Flavor Experience, who oversees all culinary operations, thanks the culinary staff and sponsors. Flavor’s culinary team members (L to R) T.J. Delle Donne, Josh Ogrodowski and Stacy Mirabello take a photo break.


Join us next year!
Flavor Experience 2023
August 21-23
San Diego Intercontinental Hotel

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