Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Patricia Fitzgerald
February 21, 2024

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Tiffany Sawyer

Tiffany L. Sawyer
Corporate Director of Culinary and Beverage
First Hospitality

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.

Tiffany L. Sawyer is enormously grateful for the generosity of chefs across the globe—and across the decades of her career—who have opened their kitchens and shared their passion and expertise with her. Today, she is the Corporate Director of Culinary & Beverage at First Hospitality, but she clearly remembers the high school trip to Europe where her culinary journey began. “I was staying with a family in rural Denmark for a few days. They spoke very little English, but, fortunately, food is an international language,” she says. “The mother was an extraordinary cook, using vegetables from their backyard garden, along with eggs, milk and meat from their own livestock.”

The most memorable—and transformative—dish from that stay was a thick-crust pizza loaded with an array of fresh ingredients for a flavor combination unlike anything she’d ever tasted. “It’s like the scene from ‘Ratatouille,’ when the food critic takes his first bite,” says Sawyer. “I close my eyes and am brought right back to it. The cheese was stretchy and flavorful, with a slight funk. The pizza toppings included roasted corn, charred broccoli, multi-colored tomatoes, fresh farm eggs—I’d never seen eggs on a pizza before—and lamb sausage.” It was a singular flavor experience that set her future in motion.

Kitchen Collaborative is one means of paying forward such culinary influences. Sawyer makes time—even as she opens two restaurants within a month—to inspire others with her captivating recipes: Aussie Select® Tikka Masala Lamb Ham Kathi, Croque Madame and Barilla® Kimchi Mac and Cheese.

Aussie Select® Tikka Masala Lamb Ham Kathi

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

Sawyer’s culinary journey has taken her all across the globe, but in reflecting on how to provide a unique showcase for Aussie Select® Tikka Masala Lamb Ham, a premium, handcrafted charcuterie product, she found herself reminiscing about time spent in Singapore early in her career. “The chef at the Tiffin Room, famous for its North Indian cuisine, recognized my desire to learn, whenever I wasn’t teaching or doing the work that I was there to do,” she recounts. Making roti paratha was one skill she’d yet to master at the time. “The chef had me practice a technique of dough slapping and throwing, first by using a kitchen towel. It became an invaluable skill I will bring with me for all my days as a chef.” Paratha is a key component in the kathi roll, a popular Indian handheld, and Sawyer had the direction for her unique dish.

“Kathi is usually made with ground lamb, but this Aussie Select product is quite tasty in the roll—bold, distinctive, but not overpowering,” says Sawyer. “The Lamb Ham is pre-seasoned and pre-cooked, but it has a bit of fat marbled throughout, so it can be cooked a bit more to render and flavor the meat just a bit more. Many chefs might not think to warm it up, and this is another reason I wanted to use the kathi roll.”

Sawyer sears the thinly sliced Aussie Select® Tikka Masala Lamb Ham in hot avocado oil, adding white potato and green peas. Warm paratha is spread half with green chutney and half with harissa yogurt sauce and then topped with the lamb filling and pickled vegetables. The kathi is rolled and secured in foil. “It’s a great flavor explosion,” Sawyer says. “There is spice and heat from the meat, peppers and herbs, then a coolness from the yogurt, cilantro and mint.”

Both the green chutney and harissa yogurt sauce could be prepared in greater volume and used across a wide range of applications, says Sawyer. “They’re very versatile. You could use the yogurt in a lamb stew or as a garnish for a beef bourguignon, adding a cross-cultural flavor and creaming it out a bit. The green chutney would be a nice change-up from chimichurri with steaks. And both sauces would work with leg of lamb, grilled chicken and seared pork chops.”

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Croque Madame

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

A veteran Kitchen Collaborative contributor, Sawyer decided it would be fun to riff on an iconic dish for one of her 2024 recipes. Presented with cheeses from BelGioioso, she set her sights on a classic French brunch dish: the Croque Madame. Her goal was not just to develop an inventive spin, but also to revive a dish that may have fallen out of favor. “I don’t see this classic much on menus today,” notes Sawyer. “So, I wanted to bring it back to the forefront of chefs’ minds.”

Sawyer’s version puts BelGioioso® Italico™ cheese in the spotlight as the hero ingredient of the mornay sauce. “It’s a soft cheese with a flavor that’s both a little fruity and earthy—and quite aromatic,” she says. “Its meltability is fabulous.” Sawyer builds in more flavor with chopped Spanish onion, roasted garlic and some lemon zest, as well as the traditional nutmeg and cloves. “A mornay can be quite one-dimensional if you don’t add some sensations to it,” she warns.

Toasted baguette slices lend a crisp texture, firm structure and elegant style, Sawyer says. BelGioioso’s Artigiano® Aged Balsamic & Cipolline Onion cheese is placed on each slice  and broiled until melted. “This cheese delivers yet another dimension of flavor,” says Sawyer, citing the tangy balsamic vinegar, sweet cipolline onion, nutty notes and a touch of sharpness. Thin slices of ham and two fried eggs are layered within the sandwich. The luscious mornay is poured over top, and the complete build is broiled until the sauce is caramelized. Sawyer suggests balancing the rich entrée with an herb salad dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.

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Barilla® Kimchi Mac & Cheese

Photo: Carlos Garcia // Food Styling: Peg Blackley

“People turn to comfort food like mac and cheese when they’re feeling down, stressed or just in need of a little warmth and reassurance. With the global pandemic, political turmoil and conflict in many countries, comfort food is more valued than ever,” says Sawyer. Chefs rely on this consumer affinity, while exploring different flavor profiles in the pursuit of signature dishes that compel repeat visits. Here, Sawyer taps into growing interest in the Korean pantry with her Barilla® Kimchi Mac & Cheese.

Declaring Korean an up-and-coming cuisine, Sawyer reveals her unbridled enthusiasm for kimchi. “It’s a condiment that I have been fascinated with for decades and have been making from scratch since the early 2000s,” she says, noting that she uses it frequently in various handhelds, pairing it with a broad array of ingredients. Sawyer remembers her discovery of “the harmony” produced by kimchi in a grilled cheese sandwich, crediting this as the starting point that led to her mac and cheese for Kitchen Collaborative. “I wanted to showcase my love for this favorite flavor combination,” she says.

Sawyer dials into the power of this flavor duo by incorporating the kimchi into the mornay sauce, rather than simply mixing it into the pasta. The sauce is also built with the robust flavors of Spanish onion, garlic, gochujang paste, mashed sweet potatoes, Parmesan and a sharp cow’s milk cheese. Driving home the Korean influence, she spikes a miso broth with doenjang and adds gochujang dust and mustard powder to the panko. “It’s about building dimensions of flavor into each bite,” she explains, describing what diners can expect: “It’s soft, silky and creamy in the first seconds. Then, a little garlic and spicy, with a touch of sour and bit of crisp crunch. The panko breadcrumbs give it an additional dry crunch. All together, it’s a melody in your mouth.”

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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]