By Cathy Nash Holley
April 27, 2019
This special “Best of Flavor” issue is always a highlight for our team. When asking our readers to submit what makes a “best” flavor build, we’re inspired by the responses. These entries grant us a better understanding of the thoughts and intentions behind today’s menu successes. In collecting and reviewing 125 winning flavor stories from our readers, common themes and strategies emerge. Here are three that weave throughout this issue, offering a roadmap to menu success.
THE BALANCE OF COMFORTING & NEW
Esteemed chef Norman Van Aken put it best in his Platano Maduro Pancakes entry: “I find most of the dishes I have seen become hits are the ones that evoke both nostalgia and curiosity.” Anchoring menu development in the familiar is a widely proven tactic; leaning on comfort as a bridge to guide guests to something more surprising or unique that they may not otherwise try. This explains the bounty of fan-favorite carriers offering exciting flavor adventures—tacos, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, fries, brunch offerings—all in a comforting format, but with a little something extra that takes them to the next level.
FLAVORS YOU CAN’T GET ANYWHERE ELSE
A second strategy is the employment of a signature offering—reinforcing the you-can-only-get-it-here motive in menu development. You’ll see this refrain repeated in this issue in creative, flavor-forward ways. The strategic ability to cement a brand signature is one that pays rewards in customer loyalty, a critical move in our competitive industry. This strategy is one that ensures the evolution of trend-based flavor innovation, and relies on individual and team creativity, of which there is no shortage here. Entries range from Little Tong Noodle Shop’s bing stuffed with braised beef shank and griddled cheese curds to the lamb neck gravy at Pennsylvania 6 DC.
Craveability comes in varied forms. It can be highly nostalgic, it can be anchored by decadence, it can be a strategic use of technique or flavors, such as sweet/savory/spicy blends—all with the goal of a flavor experience that outlasts the moment. Make Room for Truman’s Housemade Jumbo Tots is a good example here, as is Twin Peaks’ sweet-salty-spicy Billionaire’s Bacon.
The opportunity to peruse 125 “best” flavor builds enables us to gain insight into the inner workings of flavor development, and also gives us a timestamp of trend-forward ingredients that are helping to make menu hits. We hope this veritable menu playbook sparks ideas for creating your best flavor builds.