Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Patricia Fitzgerald
January 24, 2024

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Carron Harris

Carron Harris
Senior Director, Culinary
Papa Murphy’s Pizza

Kitchen Collaborative is a recipe-development initiative formed by Summit F&B and Flavor & The Menu. To fuel flavor innovation, a group of talented chefs partnered with sponsor brands and commodity boards to create recipes that showcase the passion and potential of our industry.

When asked about favorite restaurants and dishes, Carron Harris, Senior Director, Culinary, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, tends to be a bit coy. “My answer is usually ‘the one I haven’t tried yet,’” she says. She loves to explore and can appreciate a dish without need for “fancy plating or molecular cuisine. I generally gravitate to great hole-in-the-wall food and not fine dining.” It’s a sensibility that aligns with her values as a chef, one of which is to make flavor-forward foods more accessible. It clearly informs her recipes for Kitchen Collaborative: Barilla® Thai Red Curry Shrimp Mac & Cheese, Jamaican Jerk Burger with Mango Salsa and Italian Sausage Pesto Party Dip. Each leverages comfort-favorite platforms—mac and cheese, burgers and dip—to engage diners and introduce them to new flavor experiences.

Barilla® Thai Red Curry Shrimp Mac & Cheese

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Mac and cheese continues to provide fertile ground for incubating new interpretations and elevated takes, and Harris is a skilled player in this space. But she has a confession to make: “While, as a chef, I love to play with food, my personal mac and cheese favorite is just a good, old-fashioned, really cheesy classic.” That admission speaks to the enduring popularity of the dish, which is the very secret to its transformation potential. “I’m always trying to find interesting ways to play up mac and cheese,” Harris says. “An easy way to get people to try new flavors is to adapt the familiar. Pizza, grilled cheese, burgers and mac and cheese are easy to elevate with global flavors, while retaining a familiarity that makes trial less scary.”

Harris’ latest contribution to the category is the Barilla® Thai Red Curry Shrimp Mac & Cheese, which she describes as “a marriage of Thai and Italian mashed into one all-American dish.” The foundation of the dish starts with Barilla Frozen® Elbow Macaroni, a par-cooked product that she found to be an easy-to-use time-saver. “And time is money in our business,” she notes. The distinctions are found first in the Red Curry Cheese sauce, which features cheddar cheese, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallot and red curry paste, as well as lobster stock and fish sauce. Her choice to add sautéed shrimp to the build is also unconventional.

Harris acknowledges that cheese is not a big part of Thai cuisine and “that it is typically not Italian to mix cheese and seafood,” she says. “But I do love the shrimp with the Thai curry sauce, and introducing these flavors in the mac and cheese format might make them more approachable to less-adventurous eaters.” The sauce certainly delivers a complex depth of flavor. “The ginger, garlic and lemongrass bring subtle yet flavorful accents to amp up the Thai red curry. There’s just enough red curry to add a touch of heat.” Harris notes that the cheddar flavor stays in the background here; its primary role is to lend a creamy texture and mouthfeel. The fish sauce adds subtle umami to accent the shrimp and help bring the whole dish together.

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Jamaican Jerk Burger with Mango Salsa

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Presented with Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Paste from SupHerb Farms, Harris found herself caught up in memories of a personal trip to the Caribbean island nation. “We had great jerk chicken and goat at a little roadside place,” she recounts. Seeking to recreate that flavor experience in a more accessible way, her first decision was a protein swap. “I know lamb is easier to get than goat—and is more widely accepted. That idea led to a burger that could be easily grilled.”

Keeping the Jamaican flavor pantry top of mind, Harris built more flavor with a mango salsa. “I wanted to balance the char from the grill with something sweet, and mangos grow in Jamaica.” The Jamaican Jerk Burger with Mango Salsa is rounded out with Fresno chiles “for a touch of heat that doesn’t overwhelm the jerk flavor,” as well as roasted garlic aioli “to bring some umami creaminess to tie it all together.”

Harris says she prefers jerk pastes to dry seasoning, finding that the format delivers a greater punch. “I have a paste I picked up in Jamaica, and SupHerb’s was similar,” says Harris. While the paste could have been applied as a condiment, Harris wanted to stick as close as possible to recreating the flavor experience she enjoyed in Jamaica. “As far as how much to add, it all depends on your ability to handle bold flavors and spice,” she explains. “I came up with something that hopefully, for most people, will bring good flavor without blowing up their taste buds or totally overpowering the lamb.” Her insurance is found in the sweetness of the mango salsa and the rich fat of the aioli, which both provide balance.

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Italian Sausage Pesto Party Dip

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Using Tyson® Italian Sausage crumbles on a pizza or flatbread would have been an obvious direction for the pizza industry professional, but Harris notes that with Kitchen Collaborative, she chose to take on a mission of transformation, using the hero ingredient in an unexpected way. Tackling the recipe ideation project in the fall and inspired by football season, Harris landed on this inventive Italian Sausage Pesto Party Dip.

The craveable dip has a simple build of cream cheese, cream, pesto and the sausage crumbles, and it boasts knockout eye appeal, crowned with a bruschetta topping of heirloom tomatoes, minced garlic and fresh basil. “The sausage adds some heartiness and texture to a dish that is generally soft,” says Harris. “The pesto gives it a punch of flavor, and the bruschetta not only brings color but delivers garlicky, sweet, tomato flavor, which is the perfect complement to the dip.”

Harris says the flavor profile of the Tyson® Italian Sausage Crumbles is well-balanced, describing it as neither robust nor mild. “It has a nice herb-fennel flavor that is characteristic of Italian sausage,” she notes. “The process was sort of like building a Mexican queso dip with chorizo, but giving it Italian style. You get that nice porkiness from the sausage that goes well with the cheese and the pesto.” Harris believes the recipe would be an easy add to menus for many different concepts, as most of the ingredients are pantry staples. “It’s applicable anywhere—hearty, flavorful and fun.”

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Project Management: Summit F&B
Photography: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

About The Author

Patricia Fitzgerald

Patricia Fitzgerald is Contributing Editor of Flavor & The Menu, and a writer and content editor for a wide range of clients and media outlets. [email protected]