During an exclusive webinar earlier this week, chefs, operators, and industry researchers came together to discuss how to thoughtfully add Asian flair to restaurant menus across the industry. In the hour-long session, participants learned how to leverage the flavors, stunning visuals, and healthy perception of Asian cuisine to keep their restaurant’s menus on-trend. The webinar’s panelists focused not only on how to incorporate Asian influences, but why—even for operators who don’t run an Asian concept.
“You almost have no choice,” Andrew Hunter, foodservice and industrial chef for Kikkoman, said. “Even if you’re operating a very focused concept, Asian flavors are pervasive in our culture.” With budding consumer interest and a wide array of regional flavor profiles to choose from, this new necessity is hardly a burden.
Datassential’s senior director, Maeve Webster, said that with the popularity of items like Sriracha, curry, and pickled vegetables, Asian flavors already have a strong influence on food offerings in the U.S., and knowing how to incorporate these growing trends the right way has the potential for a high return on investment. Webster was clear—“This is not your 90s fusion,” she said, highlighting that operators are using Asian cuisine as a base for meaningful innovation. From incorporating new heat to giving dishes zest with unique citrus, operators can integrate Asian flavors in a way that adds more than just the trendy title, “fusion,” and instead highlights distinctive and nuanced tastes within the any cuisine, Asian-focused or not.
Some practical takeaways for operators looking to boost their menus included using animal protein as a garnish—while letting produce and grains take the center stage—and leveraging the powerfully satisfying umami flavor of Asian dishes and sauces. For flair beyond just flavor, panelists also suggested taking other aspects of Asian cuisine into account to fit with coinciding trends in the U.S., like the prevalence of smaller plates and shared dishes.
As knowledge of Asian cuisine begins to expand among consumers, operators have a unique opportunity to expand their own knowledge, palates, and menus by incorporating the best of Eastern flavors.
The webinar was inspired by this year’s Worlds of Flavor Conference in Napa Valley, which was hosted by the Culinary Institute of America last April and focused on flavors that integrate East and West with a modern sensibility. In addition to Hunter and Webster, other panelists included Anne McBride, culinary program and editorial director for strategic initiatives at the CIA; and Chris Jaeckle, chef and owner of New York’s fine-dining All’onda and fast-casual Uma Temakeria. A full recording of the event is available at www.foodnewsmedia.com/WOFwebinar.
By Emily Byrd