The Flavor Experience, Learnings in Restaurant Flavor

The Flavor Experience 2016

There are several conferences focused on emerging trends in flavor for major restaurant chains, and The Flavor Experience—held in swanky Newport Beach, California—is one of the best. I took most of our food team to the destination so they could learn new ways to build successful strategies for our clients.

Some of the nation’s top experts shared trends and insights with chains ranging from Wendy’s and Taco Bell to Walt Disney. Here are some of the most important trends likely to visit a restaurant near you in the next year or two.

Mashups will accelerate. Bringing together Asian and Latin flavors in a bowl, in a wrap or simply as a topping is moving from food trucks and fine dining to more mainstream venues such as fast casual and trend-forward casual restaurants. The use of more tropical fruits in these mashups, like mango and pineapple, is also emerging, bringing a sweet note to the savory flavors. Look for handheld global mashups appearing initially in sports bars and trendy fast food outlets.

For the second year, a leading topic was vegetable-centric menus. Adding a healthy halo to entrees, these vegetables will include smaller protein portions that can still lend a savory flavor to the dish, such as pork belly, country ham and barbeque.

Look for more cauliflower and carrots on the menu, as well as jackfruit. This large, melon-like fruit can be pan-seared to appear like pulled pork. Add some barbeque sauce and you have a vegetarian version of a restaurant favorite.

Garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas, will show up on more menus as well. They emerged years ago as the central ingredient in hummus. In addition, more Eastern Mediterranean and North African spices, such as harissa, are predicted to see more play on menus.

Next generation toasts with potent vegetable spreads such as tomato jam with a poached egg atop will become menu favorites. Smothered fries or tater tots with cheese whiz and pickles might appear in a fast casual or fast food chain soon. One example we tasted was a turkey pot pie filling perched atop fries.

You will likewise see more desserts combining the savory flavor of bacon with honey or molasses.

Other trends to watch for are flavored butters, soft cheeses, fried chicken with the twist of being marinated in pickle juice (Chick-fil-A has been doing it successfully for years), and more authentic flavors of tea.

It takes a lot to satisfy the taste buds of more diverse consumers in search of something new to eat. Trends discussed here will move down the culinary path from fine dining to the ubiquity of fast food, then supermarkets. The best fresh ideas for restaurants are dishes that are craveable but too complicated to reproduce at home.