CHICAGO — Bell Flavors and Fragrances hosted its Flavorology event on Friday, May 19, at the Chopping Block located in the Merchandise Mart, Chicago. Flavorology is a gathering of Bell’s research and application specialists and culinary professionals along with customers and other industry members to showcase new technologies and flavor concepts. The intent is to provide food service operators and food manufacturers with tools and tips for the successful development of new products and menu items.
The evening began with tabletops highlighting Bell’s latest flavor and technology developments inspired by the company’s Spark trend program. Spark is a resource for up-and-coming consumer trends and flavor inspirations.
“Using our unique research process, we have uncovered new ‘sparks’ that may provide inspiration and translate into new winning concepts,” said Kelli Heinz, director of marketing and industry affairs. “Bell’s trend program has evolved over the years to become a dynamic platform that analyzes different data points and generates trend insight for flavor and fragrance predictions and concepts.”
One of this year’s Spark trends and Flavorology tabletops was Polynesian Island Hopping.
“With unexpected combinations pulled from the sea and plucked from the vine, the islands are quickly becoming the tastemakers for fresh, clean fare, creating an exciting getaway for taste buds seeking a far-flung twist,” Ms. Heinz said.
The menu included a smoothie based on the tropical flavors of guava, orange, papaya and passion fruit. There was also a Kona coffee liqueur and “piscola,” a cola beverage with the nuance of pisco brandy and lime. A snack concept included Spam musubi and shrimp poke. The island menu finished with li hing mui truffles. Li hing mui is a salty dried plum delicacy consumed in China.
Another tabletop was Souk Searching based on the Spark trend of “The Arab World.” The trend incorporated flavors from the Middle East to the top of North Africa, said Chris Warsow, executive chef at Bell.
“To be as authentic as possible, we did a tour of 22 Middle Eastern restaurants in two days n the Dearborn, Mich., area, which has the largest concentration of Middle Easterners outside of the Middle East,” Mr. Warsow said. “We found that their delicate yet complex and spicy flavors are surprisingly compatible in many familiar foods.”
For Flavorology, Mr. Warsow created a vegetarian menu consisting of za’atar manakeesh (flatbread) served with ethnic condiments, including mint lebneh, falafel hummus and green s’hug (Middle Eastern salsa). To wash the foods down there was Turkish tea and qishr, a Yemeni hot drink made of spiced coffee husks, ginger and cinnamon.
Another Spark trend, Late Night Japan, explored Japanese street food and gastro pub menus. The tabletop exhibit included several beverages based on cherry blossom, ginger, plum or lime flavors. There was also okonomiyaki, which is a savory wheat flour pancake containing eggs, shredded cabbage and meat that may be topped with a variety of condiments. To satisfy the sweet tooth, there was coconut mochi cake with sakura (cherry blossom) crème anglaise and black sesame mocha ice cream.
The “United Plates of America” exhibit explored regional food favorites while the “Sleep In, Brunch Out” tabletop put breakfast foods in the spotlight. From sweet to savory, the breakfast table is reaching audiences with fresh flavors and all-hours availability, Mr. Warsow said.
A range of bread and flavorful toppings were sampled. This included spicy honey, salted rosemary honey butter, strawberry pink peppercorn butter, charred cherry tomato jam and whipped avocado goat cheese. To wash it down, there was a mango bloody mary.
A final “test kitchen” tabletop showcased smoke flavor in many varied applications. This included salmon toast bites, vanilla pudding and an apple rum old fashioned cocktail.
And the winner is …
After the tabletops, there was a chef cook-off competition, where four teams created dishes featuring use of Bell’s flavors. The winning team was Midas Foods International, Oak Park, Mich., with its “Just Kidding” menu. The company is a functional dry blend food manufacturer that specializes in sweet and savory functional dry mixes, speed-scratch solutions, seasonings and ethnic flavor systems.
“With our Flavorology menu, we wanted to bring guests back to some of the foods, flavors and forms of their childhood, while allowing us to be a little tongue-in-cheek, as the foods themselves were nothing like the actual foods served in school cafeterias,” said Jerry McDonald, vice-president of culinary.
For instance, the popcorn chicken nuggets were actually shawarma and Zhenjiang seasoned chicken thighs cooked confit, pulled and combined with chicken whites and panko. The mixture was then formed into nuggets and baked, then coated in Zhenjiang sweet and sour sauce and topped with a crumble of ground popcorn, toasted panko and za’atar.
“We served them in a mini popcorn bucket,” Mr. McDonald said. “They weren’t what you first think of as popcorn chicken or chicken nuggets, but I’d like to think they were a fun ‘adult’ version. Plus, we were able to discover that Zhenjiang and za’atar work well together, for some reason.
“As a team, we wanted to have as much fun as possible with the flavors and the event. Bell provided a challenge by requiring us to use at least five flavors from a list of twelve, which were from cuisines that were nowhere near one another, and we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were up to the challenge and could make flavors fit with cuisines and other flavors to which they would not normally be matched.”
Mr. McDonald and his team used 11 of the flavors. Other menu highlights included a sparkling non-alcoholic sangria fruit punch made with pinot wine and falernum flavors. In addition to the chicken, there were togarashi marinated tuna tartar tacos as part of the main course. The tacos were topped with labneh-dressed cabbage slaw and honey sambal sauce.
For dessert, the Midas team got creative with s’mores. They baked cardamom graham crackers and filled them with smoked vanilla marshmallow fluff followed by a coating of smoked chocolate fondue and toasted marshmallow.
“The culinary world is both expanding and becoming more focused, and both are really exciting,” Mr. McDonald said. “More and more people are accepting of foods and flavors that are foreign to them, every day, and that makes our jobs as chefs more liberating, especially on the R.&D. side of things. Even quick-service chains are utilizing sriracha, ghost pepper, brioche breads, harissa, tzatziki, etc. With younger generations being more willing to try new things, we as chefs have the responsibility to provide them with new food experiences, rather than ‘me too’ foods, no matter which corner of the industry we work.”
Mr. McDonald explained that thanks to food science, culinary professionals are capable of turning premium restaurant foods into commercial products for mass consumption.“Food science, when applied properly, allows the nuance of artisan goods to be replicated in mass production operations,” he said. “Food science, when married with culinary expertise, allows for exceptional delivery of taste, texture, aroma and mouthfeel, qualities ordinarily only found in artisanal foods.”