Flavour detectives: research tour discoveries


The quest for the next hot menu item comes up with some winners.

Have you tried Korean corn dogs? You will. They are among the restaurant menu innovations uncovered by the Gordon Food Service culinary team’s recent research tour.

For two decades, Gordon Food Service has traveled to culinary capitals–New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles–in search of the latest food trends. The goal: Conduct street-level research to find recipes ready to energize your operation.

Why do we do it? We understand that business moves at breakneck speed, even on calm days. It’s hard enough keeping pace with trends in your local market, let alone knowing that street vendors in Manhattan are fueling a Korean corn dog craze.

The experts take Manhattan

That’s where the Gordon Food Service culinary team comes in. Led by Corporate Consulting Chef Nicholas Gonring, culinary and industry experts scour publications and websites, looking for new restaurants driving innovation.

“New restaurants have to compete in a very saturated market, so they come up with ideas that are most often different and can catch fire quickly,” Gonring said.

The most recent research sampled almost 400 dishes in the innovation hubs of New York’s Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs. The result? Foods to document and reimagine as kitchen-tested recipes.

“Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver lead the trends scene in Canada. Those cities have traditionally been behind some of the major food centres in the U.S., but that gap has closed,” said Calgary-based Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialist Darren Lexa. “What we’re seeing in the U.S. will fly here because successful restaurateurs are always looking for new things.”

Three trends to watch

The New York trip reaffirmed the Mediterranean movement is hot. It also uncovered other trends, three of which offer differentiation and are approachable for consumers–Korean corn dogs, jianbing and the return of bread and butter service.

1. Korean corn dogs 

These are a cousin to North American cornbread-wrapped hot dogs, but with more flavour complexity and versatility.

It starts with a hot dog, then veers to Korean street food mode. Dunked in a batter of yeast-leavened rice and wheat flours, flavour gets rolled on before it goes in the fryer. Diced potatoes, rice pearls or crushed ramen are options.

“The Korean corn dog is all about mashups and fusion, and it will catch on easily because Korean chicken is very popular throughout Canada right now,” Lexa said.

It’s a great option for a bar and grill, perfect for portability at summertime festivals, concerts, ball games and golf courses.

2. Jianbing

Pronounced “gin-bing,” think of it as a Chinese crepe. This version uses rice and corn flour batter. Once it sets in the pan, an egg is cracked and mixed to cover the crepe. It’s flipped and filled with condiments, barbecued pork, scallions, red cabbage and fried wontons, then folded for service.

“People need to know how to pronounce it so that’s not a barrier to ordering it,” Lexa explained. “People are very familiar with crepes, and the ethnic conversation is a big part of enjoying food. Jianbing can work as a portable or handheld option, or they can be plated and eaten with utensils, too.”

3. Return of bread and butter

The trends tour team noticed bread and butter making a comeback, not as a give-away, but as a shared course people are happy to pay for.

One menu served bread with a tallow candle on the plate. Lit at the table, the candle melts into a dipping oil for the bread.

Other examples include making compound butters, using molds to create unique shapes, featuring your own bread program or serving breadsticks or a pan of rolls to tear apart and share.

“It harkens back generations for people to talk about the fresh bread and butter they ate growing up in mom’s Alberta farmhouse kitchen,” Lexa said. “It creates a story that’s an easy, romantic thing to put on the menu.”

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