Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development




By Patricia Fitzgerald
November 20, 2023

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Juan Serrano

Juan Serrano
Culinary Partner
Paul Martin’s American Grill

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.

Juan Serrano, Culinary Partner at Paul Martin’s American Grill, likes to zig where others might zag. His unique choices in recipe ideation may be a reflection of his unconventional career start. “Culinary school was not my first choice,” Serrano recounts. In high school, the need to earn money for a vacation led him to a job at a local French restaurant, where the chef made a tremendous impression. “He was great. He would try anything. You could feel his passion and see his happiness.” Nonetheless, Serrano followed through with his original intent to go to college, where he earned an accounting degree. “But after that, I said, ‘Now, I’m going to do what I want.’ I entered culinary school and fell in love with it.”

Although he defines French cuisine as his “core,” thanks in large part to his mentor, Serrano says he likes “to explore everything and anything.” This spirit for flavor play and confounding expectations led to a trio of distinctive recipes for Kitchen Collaborative: Beet and Salmon Napoleon with Boursin® Garlic and Fine Herbs, Ghirardelli® Chocolate Bread Pudding with Candied Walnuts and Braised Birria-Style Lamb with Crispy Polenta.

Beet and Salmon Napoleon with Boursin® Garlic and Fine Herbs

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Most diners expect to see a “Napoleon” on a restaurant’s dessert menu. Serrano, always up for the challenge of creating something out of the ordinary, wondered if he could use the format with more savory flavors. “And one that went with a tequila drink,” he adds. Serrano characterizes the Beet and Salmon Napoleon with Boursin® Garlic and Fine Herbs as light, healthy and more likely to be menued at happy hour or brunch than at dessert. “It’s refreshing and tasty and not too filling.”

The beets are a striking aesthetic choice, but Serrano had a few other aims in mind when he made them the star. “I picked them primarily because of the season—it was winter when I created this recipe—and I liked the idea of a root vegetable that doesn’t have a lot of strong flavor on its own. You can pair beets with anything. They’re very versatile,” he notes.

The build also features Boursin® Professional Gournay Cheese, Garlic & Fine Herbs, minced and sliced smoked salmon, heavy cream, ground chipotle and umami sauce with black garlic. Serrano breaks down the contributions of the components: “The beets have a little umami and there’s just a little bit of smokiness and heat from the chipotle. Then, you have the Boursin, which has so many flavors, with so many herbs. You have to take care that it doesn’t get overwhelming and hit you hard up front. The cream delays that effect, evening it all out and masquerading the strong flavors a bit. The fattiness of the salmon just melts in your mouth and cools everything down, and the umami sauce acts as a binder, bringing all the flavors together.” The multiple layers of the Napoleon format are the perfect carriers for “layer upon layer of flavor,” he says.

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Ghirardelli® Chocolate Bread Pudding with Candied Walnuts

.Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

“You can be very traditional and make the same thing that everyone else is doing. Or, you can do something different.” Serrano is direct about the motivation behind his unconventional take on classic bread pudding. Chocolate is the definitive star of his Ghirardelli® Chocolate Bread Pudding with Candied Walnuts.

“Trust me, it didn’t come out right the first time,” reports Serrano of his commitment to his unusual rendition. “I think I did it around eight times.” The challenge, he explains, was to ensure the dish wouldn’t be too sweet. “Some desserts are so rich that you can’t finish them. I wanted to get the balance of the chocolate right. Going with Ghirardelli® 52% Chocolate Chips allowed me to balance the flavor, without changing the total amount used.”

Serrano opted to use brioche over a rustic French or Italian loaf. “I really liked the consistency of the brioche. It’s not too bland and not too sweet. It has a nice buttery blend to it,” he explains, adding that this was another choice born of a degree of trial and error. “I tried it with sourdough, Texas toast, white—none of those worked the way I wanted. Brioche is spongy and absorbs flavor nicely.” For service, the pudding gets a finishing drizzle of Ghirardelli® Caramel Sauce and is plated with ice cream and candied walnut pieces. “It’s very easy to execute and elegant.”

When it comes to dessert, Serrano affirms his belief in a universal truth: “Chocolate sells. This is why every restaurant has a chocolate dessert on the menu. You just can’t go wrong with chocolate.”

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Braised Birria-Style Lamb with Crispy Polenta

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Lamb, says Serrano, can easily cross culinary borders. “It doesn’t have to specify for certain cuisines. Yes, the Middle East is where you usually see it the most, plus a fusion concept here and there, but I like the challenge of mixing things up,” he says of his Braised Birria-Style Lamb with Crispy Polenta. “And as long as you’re not too weird with your recipe, most people are willing to try new things.” The key here is found in the braising. “When you braise the meat, there are so many directions you can go. It’s so tender.”

Serrano starts by creating a sauce built on pan-fried peppers and sautéed onion and garlic, and he uses this first to marinate boneless leg of lamb from Aussie Beef and Lamb, then as the braising liquid in a long, slow cook and finally to sauce the lamb at service. “The sauce has a nice, smoky flavor from a mix of arbol, cascabel and pasilla peppers. There’s a bit of heat, but not so much that you will burn your mouth,” explains Serrano. “The lamb is braised with several herbs and spices, including bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, dried oregano and thyme stems. This builds more flavor.”

While noting that birria is typically served with a tortilla, Serrano says he wanted to set his dish apart by introducing a little crunch. He looked to the crispy polenta to deliver that texture balance. In another departure, Serrano characterizes his recipe as a “healthier” spin on birria. “A traditional birria is often too greasy and fatty,” he notes. “This is very clean, because it’s been reduced. Many diners want to indulge in traditional foods, but they also want to remain health-conscious. That was my inspiration.”

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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. With more than 25 years at the helm of School Nutrition magazine, she has made the K-12 foodservice segment a particular niche, but her experience also includes work in many other industries and professions, including telecommunications, packaging, disability advocacy, waste management, community associations, small business retailers and more. [email protected]