Don Cortes is a culinary consultant based in San Francisco. He advises on kitchen efficiency, menu engineering, recipe development and flavor trends. Cortes has helmed a vast range of kitchens including an award-winning restaurant, a luxury hotel, corporate dining and higher education foodservice. He shares with us how he views flavor as a menu strategy, using the traditional lens of culinary, but with heavy influences from his upbringing.
What are a few rules you live by when it comes to menu/flavor development?
I believe ingredients should stand out with minimal manipulation of flavors. I try to accomplish this through a balance of texture and flavors: acidity, sweetness, spice, fat and cooking techniques. These flavor profiles can be derived from fruits (used in savory application to get acidity and sweetness), herbs for flavor enhancers, fat (richness) from nuts, avocado, eggplant, etc., and cooking techniques for texture.
What are some flavors/ingredients that you’re currently playing around with?
Charred vegetables and fruits. Done right, charring enhances with a distinct flavor profile, and adds depth and intensity.
What trends are you seeing in the foodservice industry that are interesting or inspiring to your work?
Inauthentic cuisine. More chefs are embracing their own interpretations of traditional cuisines. I realize that cooking defines a cultural practice. It is a crucial part of ethnic identity. However, culinary authenticity is subjective—even for people from within the same ethnic background.
I grew up in the Philippines, and the flavors of my country of birth are deeply ingrained in me. I was also formally trained in the French culinary traditions. Both of these experiences have developed my cooking sensibilities and make it uniquely my own style. For example, my version of Seafood Sinigang may be prepared using bouillabaisse techniques.
What’s your go-to after-shift meal or snack?
Anything sweet. I graze savory dishes all day and round it out with sweets to satisfy my palate.
I like my adult beverage potent. I prefer whiskey, neat.