Donna Berry 2019CHICAGO — Seared furikake tuna Mexican risotto, gochugaru chili-infused duck breast and shishito togarashi tres leche cake were some of the innovations served at Spark Ignites 2019, a culinary showcase hosted by Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., on Friday, May 17. The event took place at the Chopping Block, Chicago, inside the Merchandise Mart.

Spark Ignites is an annual gathering of Bell’s research and development team, marketing specialists, industry chefs and customers. The event brings the latest flavors and technologies together, allowing attendees to explore the trends in a varied food and beverage menu inspired by Bell’s Spark trends program. This trend-tracking process uncovers “sparks” that inspire new flavor creations to develop into consumer-winning concepts.

“Bell’s innovative flavors that were presented this year were extensively researched by our culinary team to ensure authenticity and superior taste,” said Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef and manager of culinary applications. “Our team searches the globe for extraordinary gold standard recipes to create and then analyze. It is a great methodology to generate exciting flavors in collaboration with our talented flavor chemists.”

Five themes were presented at this year’s event (see the slideshow) — Along African Lines, Crossroads of South America, Expanse of Eastern Europe, Roots of America and Shared Banchan — each with a savory, sweet and beverage application featuring one or more of Bell’s flavors.

In addition, four teams of chefs competed in a challenge called Chef Ignite, creating dishes using flavors inspired from Bell’s Spark trends. Each team was provided the same 12 Bell flavors and attendees voted for their favorite menus based on creativity and innovative use of flavors.

Griffith Foods winners at Spark Ignites 2019Coming in first place was the Griffith Foods team featuring Korean Frito skewers with Korean barbecue duck prosciutto, duck puya chicharrones, Korean pancake hushpuppies and bibimbap sauce; ahi furikake with Mexican risotto (cotija cheese, shrimp, skate wing, shitake, lime, poblano and crema) and green Korean chile salsa; and shishito togarashi tres leches cake featuring shishito vanilla cake with sake and condensed milk, Japanese whiskey cajeta and butter frosting with a togarashi sprinkle on top.

The runner-up Midas team worked around the theme “Once upon a thyme. A fairytale of food.” The magic potion was a honey melon and ginger sparkling sour mix with vodka, seltzer, edible glitter and a perilla leaf sugared rim, served in a silver-rimmed chalice. Goldie lox and the three pears featured a charred garlic and pastrami-cured salmon lox rolled with everything seasoning and a Chenin blanc cream cheese shmear. It was topped with sauerkraut pickled pears, golden beets and tallow toasted rye bread crumbs and was served on a magic mirror with a fork. The ugly duckling showcased Korean soy sauce and gochugaru chili-infused seared breast of duck served atop sweet potato and rosemary black rice with kimchi mostarda and fig balsamic jus topped with a garnish of gochugaru chili threads and served in a witch’s cauldron. For dessert, the poison apple was a poached apple with grains of paradise white chocolate mousse, chokeberry cherry glaze and gingerbread man crunch served in a glass slipper with a demitasse spoon. For the sweet tooth guest, magic beans were given out: spicy pumpkin pie-flavored hard candies served in a mini burlap bag.

Spark Ignites 2019 signThe Vienna Beef team cooked around a Chicago-style menu, serving up a Vienna Beef pastramen on rye that featured navel pastrami, ramen noodles in a savory charred garlic and caraway broth with sauerkraut-chi. There was also a pickle bar featuring Chicago-made Malört liquor. For dessert the company paid homage to the Frango mint — a confection legacy of the former Marshall Field’s department store — with mint brownies.

Team Waffle Waffle served a scotch cocktail featuring chokeberry pearl shaved orange and bitters. The main course was tuna nigiri with fig wasabi and fermented soy glaze. Poached pudding with honey melon meringue, prosciutto, tallow and charred garlic sponge, drizzled with a chili berry sauce was for dessert.

View slideshow of innovation at Spark Ignites 2019.