CHICAGO — “Authentic is constantly changing and evolving,” said Chef Robert Danhi, a Southeast Asian cooking specialist and cookbook author during a presentation at the National Restaurant Association (N.R.A.) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show held May 16-19 in Chicago. “But don’t call a food what it’s not. Piri piri sauce is not piri piri combined with mayonnaise. You could call the latter piri piri-inspired aioli.”
The session — “Authentic flavors for the modern day consumer” — included highlights from consumer research conducted by Chef John Csukor, president of KOR Food Innovation, Ashland, Va., a full-service culinary and food and beverage marketing agency.
“We asked 200 consumers if they would consider an ethnic restaurant authentic if they saw an American chef,” Mr. Csukor said.
Fifty-eight per cent said yes and 42% said no. This suggests consumers are confused with what is authentic and what is ethnic.
“It’s important to go after what is authentic and communicate how you got there,” Mr. Csukor said.
Mr. Danhi added, “We are who we are because of our experiences. For me, I needed to be there — to immerse myself in the Asian culture. I needed to learn some of the language and why they choose certain ingredients. By being there, I had all the fresh ingredients readily available and I could learn how to use them.”
When asked about using fresh ingredients rather than short cuts such as prepared sauces, seasoning mixes and marinades, Mr. Danhi said, “When I was in Si Racha, Thailand, I learned that even the locals purchase prepared sriracha sauce. So shortcuts are fine, but chefs need to do their homework and make sure the product delivers.”
In other words, don’t skimp. The observation is supported by results from another survey question indicating that 62% of consumers would be willing to pay more for authentic flavors and ingredients at ethnic restaurants.
The third session speaker, Martin Murch, president, Great Cranberry Island L.L.C., Kirtland, Ohio, a company that develops concepts for hospitality and food service organizations, reminded attendees that American cuisine may be ethnic and authentic, too. He cited one of his concepts — Burger Bar, Chicago — that has a menu described as “Chicago, born and raised.” The gourmet burger establishment uses as many local ingredients as possible and the flavors are authentically Chicago.
When you see sauces such as pesto aioli and habanero barbecue on the menu, one might question the authenticity. He explained, “Blending of cuisines is 100% authentic American.”
Flavor innovation highlights
Authentic, ethnic or simply saucy, numerous innovative condiments were showcased at this year’s N.R.A., including a concept from Chef Danhi. He launched Global Flavor Shakers, a line of topical seasonings such as Sriracha Flakes and Sriracha Crunch Thai Peanut Crunch. The new items are designed to be sprinkled on rice, noodles, fries and even sandwiches, or used to coat sushi rolls for a boost in flavor and stunning presentation.
Red Gold, Elwood, Ind., partnered with original Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, Irwindale, Calif., to introduce Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Ketchup. Initially offered in a 20-oz inverted red plastic squeeze bottle, the condiment will be available to both supermarket retailers and restaurant operators in early June. The bottle graphics feature a deep red Huy Fong label with the iconic white rooster and green flip top cap that will be instantly identifiable by customers. Later in 2015, Red Gold will introduce 9-gram portion control packets for use by quick-service restaurants and for take-out.
Food service operators are not only looking for fully flavored hot sauces to fulfill multiple menu needs, but they also look for fast, easy-to use packaging, said Phil Tulkoff, president, Tulkoff Food Products Inc., Baltimore. In response, this past year, the company made three of its high-demand, flavor-filled food service items — Creamy Horseradish Sauce, Extra Bold Cocktail Sauce and Spicy Chipotle Chili Aioli — available in 18-oz bottoms-up, portioned squeeze bottles designed to eliminate mess and prevent over application. The company now is adding two new flavors to the format: Extra Bold Horseradish Sauce and Spicy Kimchi Aioli.
Mount Prospect, Ill.-based Mizkan Americas offers World Harbors Marinades and Sauces in food service sizes. The newest offering is Asian Style Sweet Chili, which is a chili sauce infused with sweet and hot notes and a blend of jalapeños, red bell peppers and garlic. Other varieties include Asian Inspired Sriracha, Australian Style Sesame Ginger, East Asian Style Thai, Jamaican Style Jerk, Maine’s Own Lemon Pepper & Garlic and Mexican Style Fajita. The company now offers many of its popular Japanese condiments, such as Rice-Flavored Distilled Vinegar and Honteri in a convenient 5.28-gallon bag-in-box format.
For 150 years, the Plochman family has been making mustard, from the basic yellow to Dijon. To appeal to changing taste buds, the Manteno, Ill.-based company is introducing flavored yellow mustards in varieties such as Angry Yellow, which is its basic yellow mustard spiked with cayenne pepper, Chicago Fire, which includes Tabasco, and Kickin’ Chili-Style, which gets its heat from slowed-cooked chilies. The company’s Kosciusko spicy brown mustard is now available in gallon food service containers, while on the retail side, the brand now may be found on a spicy Beer Mustard variety.
New Chinese Southern Belle Asian-inspired sauces are made by a same-named Atlanta-based company using fresh, Georgia-sourced ingredients. The sauces were designed by a mother and daughter team to showcase their Asian heritage while including a touch of the south. Featuring a trademarked-tagline of “Recipes-in-a-Bottle,” the sauces come in three varieties: My Sweet Hottie (peaches, ginger and honey), Wild Wild East (sesame, pineapple and molasses) and You Saucy Thing (ginger and Vidalia onion).
Products marketed as hand crafted and local were popular at this year’s N.R.A., as was simple, clean label and vegan. This is exemplified by SuckerPunch Gourmet Inc., LaGrange, Ill., makers of SuckerPunch Ketchup. Made with chipotle and brown sugar, the spicy, hand-crafted condiment is all-natural and vegan. It comes in 9-oz glass bottles for self-serve application. Food service sizes are possible.
New York-based Sir Kensington’s markets namesake all-natural and Non-GMO-Project verified ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard made with simple ingredients. The retail line has been available in natural foods stores for about five years. Single-use sizes are making their way onto room-service menus of boutique hotels while bulk sizes, with or without pump applicator, are now available for better-for-you quick-service restaurants. The ketchup contains 50% less sugar and 33% less sodium than mainstream ketchup and the mayonnaise, which is made with free-range eggs, contains 33% less saturated fat than mainstream mayo.
Products just for children are gaining traction in food service. Chef Kidd’s Funagrette! from OT Team Ventures Inc., Washington, is a line of child-friendly dressings designed to help young consumers eat more fruits and vegetables. Sold in 12-oz plastic squeeze bottles, the dressings are made with wholesome ingredients, including canola oil, honey and fruit juices, all of which are non-G.M.O. and gluten-free. The five varieties — Cheesy Pizza, Cocoa Berry, Honey Berry, Lime Rickey and PB&J — are all low in sodium and contain no artificial colors or flavors. A 2-tablespoon serving contains 90 to 110 calories and 6 to 10 grams of fat.
And, of course, bacon still reigns, especially in food service. To assist with adding this smoked, umami flavor to all types of menu items, The Bacon Jams L.L.C., West Chester, Pa., manufactures Bacon Spread in three varieties: All Original, Black Pepper and Red Chile & Garlic. The 9-oz jars have been available in retail and on-line for just less than a year. Now Black Pepper is available in 2.5-lb plastic tubs for food service. The company said it may be used as a savory spread on sandwiches and burgers, as well as a topping on appetizers. It also may be used to layer on the flavor in comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese and twice-baked potatoes.