As part of our 2021 Top Flavor Trends Report, we left plenty of room for new discovery and premium indulgence to help enrich physical and mental wellness in interesting and exciting ways. How to do this, however, can be easier said than done, especially when many restaurants and chefs are afraid to take chances and break free of the perceived boundaries of a healthy menu.

We spoke with Michelin Star Chef Phillip Foss, owner of EL Ideas in Chicago and a chef known for turning the idea of “fine dining” on its head. Phillip received his formal culinary training from the Culinary Institute of America, and cut his teeth at venerable New York restaurants such as Le Cirque before traveling to France to work under Chef Jacques Maximin. He’s cooked in kitchens from Brazil to Maui to Israel. His mission with his Michelin-starred restaurant, EL Ideas, is to redefine fine dining by removing pretension and preconceptions from the dining experience. His motto is “question everything.” It’s this innovative spirit that makes him an ideal expert for gaining insights into the newest flavors and ingredient trends within the Emotional Discoveries and Premium Indulgence categories, especially when it comes to playing with international flavors as well as elevating the already known and loved.

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Traveling Through Food

International travel is back on track to soon become a commonplace activity once again, but for over a year, adventurous consumers have been denied the ability to jump on a plane and try foreign dishes from the source. Instead, they have been relying on chefs to let them travel with their tastebuds while seeking out global, bold, and unique flavors, especially with exotic herbs and spices. Global cuisines continue to inspire new flavor innovation, particularly in the form of unique spice and seasoning blends.

“[Vietnamese coriander] has got a really strong flavor, and it’s really commonly used in the Southeast community and in their cuisines, said Chef Foss. “When you use it with a little bit of fish sauce in broths it gives it a unique kind of snappiness; it’s pretty funky ... it doesn’t taste like anything else.”

This funky snappiness is what many home chefs fail to find in their spice rack while experimenting with their own cooking. The key is looking outside the typical and searching out different varieties and countries of origin to find a new twist on a known classic ingredient, like South African basil or Cuban oregano.

“Cuban oregano is worth all the money,” said Chef Foss. “It’s got a hint of regular oregano, but has a much larger leaf. When you bite into it, it has almost a watery texture to it; it eats more like a salad than an herb, but it really puts a beautiful extenuation onto beans, bananas and almost anything Cuban.”

Another bold and unique flavor profile chefs are beginning to leverage more is the illusive umami flavor that home chefs struggle to capture themselves.

“The plethora of wild mushrooms that are out there is phenomenal. Like matsutake mushrooms,” said Chef Foss. Black garlic is also an ingredient that I have used in preparations that I have always been successful with.”

RELATED: Top 12 Flavor Trends in North America for 2021

Playing with Texture

Outside of flavor, consumers are also interested in unfamiliar textures or new takes on the normal texture of known dishes. This trend especially rose during quarantine when home chefs were experimenting more than ever and sharing discoveries on social media, one example being the immense popularity of the whipped and super fluffy Dalgona coffee.

This rising interest in playful textures has chefs exploring different textures to create an exciting sensorial eating and drinking experiences. Consumers are drawn to more stimulating ways to indulge, with textures like whipped, fluffy, and foamy on the rise in both food and beverage. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the number of crunchy menu items rose 213% from 2017-2020. By adding some crunch, restaurants can introduce consumers to new and interesting ingredients like roasted or fried chickpeas, in addition to familiar favorites like chips or croutons, or something a little more foreign, like Chef Foss’ use of sea beans in his menu.

“They grow close to the sand...and have a really nice crunch. I use it a lot as a garnish and in dishes that have a Japanese or Far East note to it,” said Chef Foss. “If I’m using an ingredient that’s a little more Japanese, I will usually do that with Japanese preparation. I’ve used sea beans on a dish with sea urchins, matsutake mushrooms, and watermelon with a little bit of heat to it and mayonnaise. The sea beans added a nice saltiness.”

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Seeking Out Nostalgic Comfort

After a year of many American preparing their own food at home, for better or for worst, the need for a well-prepared, comforting meal is an overwhelming desire to seek out menus that provide their favorite indulgences but do it much better. In response, chefs are bringing a sophisticated twist on popular genres and dishes people know and love.

“I’m all in on barbeque right now,” said Chef Foss. “Beyond that, fried chicken is having a day. Anything that speaks to the glutton inside of all of us.”

Fancy foods are less in demand now, so chefs are revamping these expensive and exquisite ingredients into forms of comfort and indulgence, like tacos, pizza, and fried foods. For Chef Foss, who cuts through the fancy fluff and understands the consumer need to seek out anything warm and cozy right now, comfort is king.

“[My menu] touches on nostalgia,” said Chef Foss. “I think when we're looking to give flavors to people were looking for that flavor to transport them. Whether that’s in a great flavor memory, there’s so many ways to do it,” said Chef Foss.

Elevating the Experience

The experience of trying something new is a significant consumption driver of unique flavors. This includes desires to experience something different, discover new flavors, have a memorable meal and share something with others. For chefs, this means that new dishes can offer more than unique flavors: they meaningfully contribute to the guest experience, leaving a positive impression on guests and encouraging return visits or word-of-mouth marketing. To this end, Chef Foss made his lobster tiramisu as exciting of an experience to look at and eat as it is for restaurant goers to order something as wild as the concept of lobster tiramisu.

“I made some basic ladyfingers and layered them inside of a small shot glass,” said Chef Foss. “I made a cauliflower and mascarpone cream and put a layer of that at the bottom and then layered the diced lobster and lady fingers on top of that...the lady fingers were soaked in a little chartreuse for a unique anise flavor and the put some lobster eggs on the top of it.”

Adventurous consumers are most interested in a menu where it feels like the chef is having fun and trying out new ideas. They want excitement and to see combinations and ingredients they would never think to try themselves but become a must-try as soon as they read it.

“Incorporating a lot of teas into cooking has been a really fascinating trip for me,” said Chef Foss. “I find freeze-dried ingredients a fantastic way to put a twist on things.”

If you're interested in learning more about our 2021 Top Flavor Trends or our chef interview process, contact us HERE!

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