Chef's Blog

January 4, 2018

Ethnic is Local, and Local is Ethnic

from Chef Christopher F. Donato

Ever since local farm-to-table sourcing became more popular with so many Chefs, there have also been more ethnic twists on menus. This is more than just a trend. It’s partly the Chef’s ambition to be innovative, but it’s also being driven by the competitive need to make farm-to-table ingredients more distinctive. If everyone else in your marketplace is using the same sweet potatoes or kale or tomatoes, how can you set yours apart and stay ahead?

Sweet potatoes, for instance. As Chefs get sustainability-minded, sweet potatoes have become more widely used when they’re in season. But it’s not just traditional baked or glazed sweet potatoes or even sweet potato fries—it’s ethnic flavors and influences like Coconut Curry Soup with Sweet Potatoes or Caribbean-Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes. More spices, more chiles, more curry. That’s making local farm-to-fork ingredients a lot more exciting. The restrictions on how you can use products and flavors and techniques are falling away, and Chefs are becoming more innovative.

Asian food is no longer strictly Asian. Chefs are creating these exciting “mashups” where Asian flavors and recipes are being used to showcase fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients. They’re inventing a kind of cuisine without borders that reflects what’s best in the market and showcases their creativity to find new ways to menu the seasonal ingredients they have on hand.

Did You Know? Seasonal ingredients are on 42.1% of U.S. menus, the result of 12.7% growth over the last four years (Datassential)

This isn’t happening at the Top 100 national or regional chains—it’s happening with local one-offs and Chef-driven restaurants. You’re not going to be seeing something like peri-peri sauce on a big chain menu right now—it’s a little too early. But once it does become more common, then the big guys will jump on board. Right now you will see Chef-owners and other independents doing peri-peri, and their customers will be hungry for it. When patrons see fresh, locally sourced products on the menu, it gives them a comfort level: “This is a fresh local corn, and I’m familiar with that, so these guys must know what they’re doing serving it with chimichurri and cotija cheese.”

The food truck world is another great example of how creative culinarians are blurring the boundaries of traditional global and ethnic cooking. Now that Mexican and Italian and Southeast Asian influences have become more commonplace. I’m predicting that we’ll be seeing an explosion of exciting North African and Middle Eastern flavors. That’s going to make menus pretty fun.

Make the Trend Work
* Mix softened butter with honey and a little Minor’s Fire Roasted Poblano Flavor Concentrate to dress fresh corn with “street food” flavor

* Move beyond traditional French-style steamed mussels by poaching them in a broth of coconut milk flavored with Maggi Thai Style Red Curry Paste and Minor’s Clam Base NAMSG plus aromatics and Thai basil

* Minor’s Korean Style BBQ RTU Sauce can be used in a baste for sturdy vegetables such as eggplant and sweet potatoes, as well as proteins

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