Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Patricia Fitzgerald
June 25, 2024

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Matt Voskuil

Matt Voskuil
Executive Chef

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.

“Knowing how to create great food and training the team to make it are only a small part of what we’re expected to do as chefs,” says Matt Voskuil. “Interacting with the front of house and making smart business decisions are all part of ensuring ongoing success.” While he jokes that “being a chef would be easy, if it weren’t for people and money,” he affirms that he enjoys all the many different responsibilities that come with a culinary career, from educating, training and mentoring others to creating hospitality and building the business. “They’re all rewarding in their own right.”

Voskuil also embraces the culinary art of recipe ideation, and his talents in this area are in full display with his three creations for Kitchen Collaborative: Sunshine Smoothie with Oat Milk & Honey; Ghirardelli® Chocolate Gel with Devil’s Food Cake, Toasted Hazelnut, Strawberry & Coconut Sorbet; and Soy-Glazed Short Ribs with Rice Middlins and Root Vegetables.

Sunshine Smoothie with Oat Milk & Honey

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Voskuil was introduced to oat milk courtesy of Kitchen Collaborative. “I had never actually tried it before and was curious about it,” he says, acknowledging an initial skepticism based on being raised in Wisconsin, where cow’s milk reigns supreme. “I was very impressed by the flavor and feel of the Chobani product. I understood its popularity as a milk substitute very quickly.”

The chef opted to highlight the product in the Sunshine Smoothie with Oat Milk & Honey, which also features navel and blood oranges, plus frozen mango chunks. “ I feel that smoothies and coffee drinks are where you see products like oat milk used the most,” explains Voskuil. “I chose a smoothie because of their popularity—plus the ease with which a restaurant could add something like this to the menu.”

He selected blood oranges for their color and tartness, adding the navel oranges for a bit of sweetness, along with the pragmatism of cost control. “I chose the mango to help contribute a textural element, as well as a complementary flavor,” he explains. “The oat milk brings richness and a perfect backdrop for all the assertive flavors.” One benefit to oat milk that places it above other alternative milks in Voskuil’s estimation is that it doesn’t carry the allergen risk of options like soy, almond and other tree-nut varieties. “This makes it so easy to put on the menu.”

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Ghirardelli® Chocolate Gel with Devil’s Food Cake, Toasted Hazelnut, Strawberry & Coconut Sorbet

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

“This is one of my favorite desserts,” says Voskuil of the Ghirardelli® Chocolate Gel with Devil’s Food Cake, Toasted Hazelnut, Strawberry & Coconut Sorbet, an elegant and intriguing dish in which each component stands both alone and together. “I’ve been making versions of this for years. It’s fun because of the variations of flavor and texture in every bite. It doesn’t get boring three bites into it.”

To create the chocolate gel—a texture that is “similar to a pudding or a mousse, but far lighter”—the chef dissolves kappa carrageenan, a gel-like substance extracted from seaweed and used as a food additive, in cold water. This is then added to a mixture of melted Ghirardelli® 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate Chips, heavy cream and granulated sugar, whisked over heat and poured into serving dishes before being cut into bite-sized pieces. “The 72% dark chocolate is an extremely important element of the gel,” he notes. “A less-assertive chocolate would be too diluted by the other ingredients in the gel.” The light, airy result “allows the guest to finish the dessert without feeling like they’ve over-indulged.”

Voskuil complements the chocolate gel with bites of devil’s food cake made with Ghirardelli® Midnight Cocoa Powder and a full cup of brewed coffee. “The coffee helps accentuate the complex, rich flavor of the cocoa powder,” he explains. “The devil’s food cake provides a familiar textural element and a robust punch of chocolate flavor.”

To balance the intensity of the chocolate, he adds pieces of strawberries and toasted hazelnuts, as well as a quenelle of coconut sorbet. “I like to give the diner a little variation in each bite to keep the palate engaged and eager for the next combination of flavors. Each bite will be a little bit different,” he says.

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Soy-Glazed Short Ribs with Rice Middlins and Root Vegetables

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Charged with ideating around soy sauce in an application that departs from Asian cuisines, Voskuil opted to land in the American South with his Soy-Glazed Short Ribs with Rice Middlins and Root Vegetables. “The soy-glazed ribs are the centerpiece of the dish, rich and flavorful throughout,” he says. “The glaze really amps up the flavor dynamics.” While some chefs might apply the soy glaze—made with Kikkoman® Soy Sauce, honey and fresh, finely minced garlic—early in the cooking process, Voskuil holds until just prior to service and applies it with a squeeze bottle as plates leave the kitchen. “I chose to glaze the ribs toward the end of the process, because I really wanted most of it to actually get to the plate,” he explains. “The aromatic nature of the garlic really gets lost if you do it earlier.”

If rice middlins aren’t in your culinary vocabulary, you may have heard of “rice grits.” By either name, these are the broken kernels of rice that once were only a byproduct of the milling process. Now deliberately produced and prized by chefs, rice middlins reinforce a sense of place, notes Voskuil.

At service, the chef rings the edge of a round plate with a warm carrot purée, centering the rice middlins and slices of freshly glazed short rib within the ring. Baby carrot pieces and pearl onions are placed atop the carrot purée and a peanut relish (made with Kikkoman® Rice Vinegar, red onion, herbs and oil) crowns the meat. Each element contributes to the overall taste experience, Voskuil notes. “The rice is aromatic and provides an interesting backdrop so all the other flavors have a chance to jump out on the palate,” he explains. “The carrot purée provides a great little pop of color and burst of flavor. The peanut relish adds texture, and it also helps fix the dish with its Southern identity.”

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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]