Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Making the Most of Corn Trending ideas on maximizing summer’s greatest ingredient

The Cheesecake Factory’s Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes are topped with sour cream, salsa, avocado and salsa verde.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Cheesecake Factory

The excitement of busy summer months sharpens the focus of operators, who look to capitalize on increased traffic and drive repeat business. Mainstream yet versatile seasonal ingredients, such as fresh sweet corn, have the inherent ability to deliver high menu impact and value. Corn is at the top of the list of summertime favorites we yearn for, anxiously awaiting its arrival. Guests await fresh corn features that tap into nostalgia or introduce them to new experiences. Chefs are answering this call, continuing to up their culinary game with corn preps that scream flavorful innovation and have guests clamoring for more.

This creates an opportunity to simultaneously feature multiple corn preparations (both hot and cold) during summer. High volume operators could fashion a summer limited-time offering (LTO) developed around showcasing corn. Independents could showcase corn innovation throughout the summer, perhaps changing out features every three weeks.

Corn’s adaptability throughout all dining segments makes it an opportune ingredient to feature across your summer menu. Here’s a deeper dive into inspiration around menu items that star fresh corn.

Corn-centric Ideas for Trend-Forward Menus

LTOs Starring Street Corn

Street corn (elote) has become increasingly popular, garnering menu attention with its bold, craveable flavors and hot-off-the-grill freshness. Let’s first look at maximizing this one preparation during an LTO cycle, across three different features.

Grilled Street Corn—stay classic or create a signature flavor

  • Classic Street Corn: grilled sweet corn, lightly brushed with citrus mayonnaise, then rolled in queso fresco crumbles and dusted with chile pepper powder and sea salt
  • Italian Street Corn: grilled sweet corn, lightly brushed with sun-dried tomato aïoli, then rolled in ground Parmesan/asiago shavings and dusted with fresh basil
  • BBQ Street Corn: grilled street corn, lightly brushed with smoked paprika mayonnaise, then rolled in white cheddar cheese powder/feather shred cheddar and dusted with maple barbecue seasoning

Street Corn Queso (dip)—use your signature elote in the popular queso format

  • Classic Street Corn Queso: queso studded with kernels of grilled/raw corn, chile pepper spice, queso fresco crumbles & a squeeze of fresh lime.
  • Italian Street Corn Queso: queso studded with kernels of grilled/raw corn, chopped sun-dried tomato, parmesan, shaved asiago and fresh basil
  • BBQ Street Corn Queso: queso studded with kernels of grilled/raw corn, smoked paprika spice, cheddar and sprinkle topping of maple bbq seasoning

Street Corn Salad—turn your signature elote into an off-the-cob street corn salad, incorporating those flavorings into a salad build

  • Classic Street Corn Salad: kernels of grilled/raw sweet corn tossed with queso fresco crumbles, Parmesan, pico de gallo, chipotle spice and creamy lime dressing
  • Italian Street Corn Salad: kernels of grilled/raw sweet corn tossed with arugula, shaved asiago, whole basil leaves and a Parmesan/sun-dried tomato dressing
  • BBQ Street Corn Salad: ribbons of crisp green lettuce tossed with kernels of grilled/raw sweet corn, red onion slivers, shredded cheddar, smoked paprika croutons and maple-barbecue dressing

LTOs Throughout the Summer featuring Corn

Maximize impactful corn preparations, which operators can switch out throughout the duration of summer.

1. Whole grilled corn on the cob flavor profiles—simple, clean, flavorful

  • Street corn flavorings
  • Citrus butter and sea salt
  • Honey butter and cracked black pepper
  • Chimichurri and ground/shredded Parmesan
  • Kewpie mayonnaise and furikake

2. Shrimp Boil – “eatertainment” for all ages

  • Create a signature shrimp boil (via proprietary seasonings and ingredients); featuring slices of fresh corn cob, peel-on shrimp, potatoes and sausage

3. Chilled Corn Salad—a fresh way to showcase the beauty of corn

  • Incorporate grilled and/or raw kernels of sweet corn in your summer salad creations
  • Purée fresh corn into a salad dressing

4. Corn Soup—generate seasonal flavor with corn’s satiating texture

  • Corn Bisque (hot or chilled)—corn purée topped with smoked tomatoes and basil oil drizzle
  • Gazpacho—the addition of raw corn kernels adds bright texture and flavor depth
  • Corn & Baked Potato Chowder—a combination of corn purée and sautéed kernels within the chowder
  • Tortilla Soup (light broth or purée style)—corn relish as a visual topper

5. Corn as a Topper/Ingredient—enhance nachos, tacos, dips, soup, bowls, wraps, rice/grains, salad

  • Raw, smoked, grilled or pickled corn kernels—kernels of corn used as/is or turned into a salsa via summer vegetables, salsa, beans and/or fruit

6. Corn Handhelds—position as an appetizer, a side, a brunch entrée or a meal component

  • Corn Fritters – think regional-American and trending global flavors
  • Cornmeal/Corn Kernel Waffles—add savory appeal to your breakfast/brunch menu
  • Cornbread—flecks of sweet corn in a beloved classic that never goes out of style
  • Street Corn Taquitos—hand-rolled, crispy on-the-go snacks
  • Street Corn Cheesy Toast—yes the toast “trend” continues to march on, especially with this flavor profile

7. Corn Sides

  • Succotash—both simplistic and upscale versions, function as a side dish or creamy base for salad and entrées
  • Sweet Corn Curry—corn works well with trending curried bowls
  • Creamed Corn—create a breakfast version with creamed corn, bits of smoked ham, sausage or bacon and cheese gratinée
  • Sweet Corn Pudding—as a delicious steakhouse menu side
  • Creamy Parmesan Polenta—position as a side or as a bowl base, or as a spreadable base much like how we are seeing with the transition of hummus

8. Corn Beverages

  • Bloody Mary—raw or pickled corn kernels as a textural garnish
  • Michelada – sweet corn purée as an unexpected flavor swirl in, and juxtaposition of natural sweetness

9. Corn Dessert

  • Sweet Corn Pothole—vanilla frozen custard blended with a local sweet corn purée, with a macerated fresh strawberry filled core center

Corn on the Menu

Here are ways chefs are featuring corn in on-trend applications on their menus.

Lobster Cocktail: Chilled lobster in a light vinaigrette with corn salsa, corn powder, yellow and green corn shoots , huitlacoche aïoli and popcorn
Colwen Hotels, Portsmouth, N.H.

Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes topped with sour cream, salsa, avocado and salsa verde
The Cheesecake Factory, based in Calabasas Hills, Calif.

Avocado Piada: Italian-style street wrap with pancetta, arugula, mozzarella, fresh avocado, sweet corn and tomato, basil aïoli
Piada Italian Street Food, based in Columbus, Ohio

Pastel de Elote: Veracruz-style sweet corn cake served with homemade dulce de leche and vanilla bean-agave ice cream
Elote Café, Sedona, Ariz.

Sweet And Tangy Corn Pea Salad: White corn, yellow corn, green pea, green onion and bell peppers in a sweet and sour vinaigrette
Charcoal Cowboys, Nashville, Tenn.

Sautéed Shrimp and Creamy Grit Cakes with Smithfield ham, roasted corn, asparagus, peppers and Cajun cream
Coastal Flats, Fairfax, Va.

Corn Chowder garnished with popcorn
Pebble Beach Company, Pebble Beach, Calif.

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About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 20 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and, currently, owning a consulting company, ATE (All Things Epicurean), focused on flavor, menu and restaurant innovation. Based in Nixa, Mo., he has an energizing passion for food and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness.