Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Patricia Fitzgerald
April 2, 2024

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Marshall Scarborough

Marshall Scarborough
VP Menu & Culinary Innovation

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.

Like many of his peers, Marshall Scarborough is a sponge, soaking up culinary influences wherever he goes, learning from home cooks and professional chefs in equal measure. “Whether I’m traveling for fun or work, I always try to seek out experiences that eventually will become a part of my culinary DNA,” says the VP of Menu & Culinary Innovation for Bojangles Restaurants. “I love spending time immersing myself in the people, culture, history, agriculture and other aspects that make each place unique.” This includes asking locals working in hospitality positions to share their favorite restaurant picks. “That has led to some of the most memorable meals I’ve had.”

Trips to Vietnam, San Diego and down the digital rabbit hole that is TikTok informed Scarborough’s culinary creations for Kitchen Collaborative: Croque Madame Triple Threat, Cheesy California-Style Banh Xeo and Honey Soufflé Pancakes with Honey Cracklin’ Pork Belly. While the DNA of each dish is well-evident, he applies an alchemy of flavor elements that produce singular results sure to inspire future iterations from those who learn from him.

Croque Madame Triple Threat

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

The croque madame is one of Scarborough’s all-time favorite dishes. “I’m already a sucker for runny eggs, but then, when you add them to an already absurdly tasty sandwich, it’s hard to go wrong,” he explains. “It has the perfect balance of rich, creamy, nutty flavor with the toasted Mornay sauce, Gruyere cheese, cured ham, Dijon mustard and grilled brioche.” Of course, chefs know well that even “perfection” has room for improvement, and in his Croque Madame Triple Threat, Scarborough zeroes in on the craveability factor and dials it up—way up.

Scarborough credits his “triple threat” inspiration to a 2013 visit to San Diego’s Carnitas’ Snack Shack. “Chef Hanis Cavin had a sandwich with a stack of crispy pork cutlet, slow-roasted pork and applewood-smoked bacon,” he reminisces. Working with the Plant Based Brioche Bun from La Brea Bakery®, he set out to develop a next-level breakfast sandwich that would balance sweet, savory, umami and spice elements. A mash-up of the croque madame and the triple threat was in order.

His contribution to the canon starts with the bun, which is soaked in an egg custard (made with heavy cream, brown sugar and vanilla bean paste) and then griddled until golden brown. Mornay covers the heel of the bun, followed by a sky-high stack of Gruyere-stuffed country sausage patty, griddled ham, more Mornay, hot maple bacon and then a slow-cooked, sunny-side-up fried egg and arugula. “Actually, I could have named it the ‘Quadruple Threat,’” confides Scarborough, “since it has mayonnaise prepared from bacon fat, in addition to the three porks.” The top of the bun gets a generous slather of that bacon mayo as the crowning touch.

“The contrasting textures in this sandwich are just as much fun to experience as the variety of flavors,” details Scarborough. “When biting into this sandwich, the first flavor is the French-toasted brioche bun—crispy on the outside and soft and tender in the center. Then, you hit the savory country sausage drenched in cheese sauce with more melty cheese inside the patty. By this time, you’re already hitting the smoky bacon mayo and the peppery arugula, which are contrasted by the pop of sweet and spicy from the crispy hot candied bacon. The fried egg drives the crave factor and honors the croque madame concept.” Although ground ghost pepper flavors the bacon, Scarborough estimates the heat level is only a two out of 10, toned down by the cheese, egg and mayo. Chefs should take note that Scarborough uses the plant-based brioche in an application that is anything but plant forward. “As an operator, I want every SKU coming in the back door to work as hard as possible for the menu,” he says. “My goal with this concept was to highlight the versatility of the plant-based bun, providing a sandwich platform that appeals to the broadest audience.”

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Cheesy California-Style Banh Xeo

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

“The Banh Xeo is one of the most memorable dishes I learned to cook when visiting Vietnam back in 2015,” says Scarborough. “It means ‘sizzling pancake’ for the sound it makes when you pour a thin layer of rice batter into hot oil in a pan. It nods to the French techniques that influence Vietnamese cooking and is typically stuffed with pork, onions, shrimp and mung bean sprouts, served along with green onions, fresh lettuce, Thai basil, mint, sweet-and-sour garlic fish sauce and pickled vegetables. Anyone who has ever worked with me in a kitchen knows I’m a sucker for stuffing ingredients inside other ingredients.” Once introduced, Scarborough found himself ordering the dish at every restaurant where it was featured, eager to suss out different adaptations.

So, when he was tasked with featuring California dairy in Southeast Asian cuisine for Kitchen Collaborative, Scarborough knew he had “the perfect vehicle for this challenge.” The Cheesy California-Style Banh Xeo is a showcase for Real California mozzarella, paired with a dipping sauce made with hand-dipped, whole-milk Real California ricotta.

“The traditional cow’s milk mozzarella is such a good cheese for melting,” credits Scarborough. “It’s super creamy—almost like heavy cream—with that craveable, melty cheese pull.” He also found the specific California ricotta he was assigned, from Bellwether Farms, to be a standout. “It’s an ingredient that can stand on its own or be used as a secret weapon to elevate any dish. It has a creamy, almost silky texture, while being light and airy, as if it were whipped.”

To create the dish, batter (comprising turmeric, milk, beer, rice flour and green onions) is poured over small pieces of cooked pork and onions. Once the pancake is set, the chef applies a generous helping of shredded mozzarella to cover half the diameter, allows it to melt and then folds the other half across the top, sandwiching the cheese. Spring roll wrappers are topped with pickled papaya and mango, peanuts, basil and mint, then the cheese-stuffed pancake is layered atop and the wrap is rolled up tightly. The ricotta dipping sauce accompanies the Banh Xeo. “The spring rolls—with tamarind paste, fish sauce and ume plum vinegar—provide a sharp and fresh contrast to the creamy cheese inside the pancake,” says Scarborough. “I knew right away that the creaminess of the ricotta, the crispy/savory pancake with the tamarind, plus the Thai chile–spiced pickled fruit would strangely work well all together.”

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Honey Soufflé Pancakes with Honey Cracklin’ Pork Belly

Photo: National Honey Board

Scarborough’s 13-year-old niece regularly turns to her uncle for culinary lessons, but when she asked him to teach her how to make Japanese soufflé pancakes, he was forced to do some research. “As one does these days, I looked it up on TikTok, and discovered how to make the fluffiest pancakes in the world,” he says. Thus, when tasked by Kitchen Collaborative to create a concept around all-day breakfast or featuring a global twist (or both), using honey as the cornerstone, Scarborough was immediately clear on his direction. “Japanese soufflé pancakes felt like the perfect canvas to highlight honey—one of my favorite ingredients in the pantry.”

In his Honey Soufflé Pancakes with Honey Cracklin’ Pork Belly, he doubled down on his affinity for the sweet stuff. “I make a honey-roasted pork butt where, after eight hours in the oven, the fat cap gets crispy-crackly,” he says. “I’ve always loved how that crispy fat tastes with more honey drizzled over it and the contrast with the tender, juicy meat. So making crispy pork belly felt like the most responsible way to bring home an all-day breakfast, honey-centric concept,” he explains. Scarborough admits that the pork belly is a complex preparation, but affirms its value. “While it’s a labor of love, it translates to a memorable, multi-sensory experience.”

He opts to use a Grade A filtered honey, crediting its accessibility, but noting that a clover or wildflower variety would also work in the dish. A few other ingredient choices play important flavor roles here, including MSG, one of Flavor & The Menu’s Top 10 Trends for 2024. “I’m fortunate that I learned of MSG and its magical powers early in my cooking career,” he says. “Some of the most talented spice formulators I know were using it in their seasoning blends for proteins. The impact it has on a flavor system or finished dish can be subtle. To me, it can be the difference between a good dish and one that makes you wake up in the middle of the night, still thinking of the delicious dining experience.” Here, Scarborough believes MSG helps the flavors of honey, milk, eggs and flour stand out in the finished pancake and enhances the guajillo chile pepper featured with the pork.

A togarashi garnish adds impact. “It’s a nod to the Japanese origin of the soufflé pancakes,” he explains. “Its subtle complexity is a perfect complement to the honey flavor in the pancakes, the whipped cream and the pork. If you strip togarashi to its individual components—ground red chile pepper, ground sansho, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger, nori, poppy seeds and yuzu—all of these ingredients pair well with honey. It really speaks to the breadth of flavors that honey can pair with and why it’s a rock star ingredient.”

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

About The Author


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]