This year at the StarChefs International Chefs Congress, we observed a number of trends in the food and beverage industry including the use of hearty base flavors, the continuing rise of health-consciousness, and the popularity of international flavors. However, culinary trends come and go. Food memories stay forever, and nothing beats dishes that take you back to simpler, happier times.

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Nostalgia and flavors that remind people of their childhood is the taste that professional chefs want to capture through their dishes — whether be sweet or savory. “I generally approach desserts — especially for a cafe and for our clientele — I like to start with a classic, something that they're used to, something that the guest has had as a child, something that they've grown with. And then from there, we find the best products in terms of fruit, it could be something slightly different or we add a different spice or a different herb,” pastry chef Shaun Velez of Cafe Boulud said at Symrise’s ICC round table.

“I like the whole thought and the idea of the guests sitting down and ordering something because this is what [they had in their] childhood, and as they're staring at it, wondering, 'What is this? This is not what I had.' But after taking that first bite, all those memories, all those flavors are coming back.” Velez continued, “It looks slightly different. It's not exactly what your mother or your father made for you, but it has that foundation. That's generally how we approach our desserts at Cafe Boulud.”

An example of a French classic the restaurant does with a twist is the Mont Blanc, a pastry which is made with sweetened chestnuts and topped with whipped cream to resemble a snow-capped mountain. Cafe Boulud makes theirs with a vanilla mousse, and a cassis gelée chocolate-whiskey ice cream to give it just that bit of a kick.

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Executive Pastry Chef at Aureole New York Daniel Kleinhandler also echoed these sentiments when he presented his five-layer mocha dessert on the ICC floor. “Desserts are all about creating an experience and creating a memory, and so a lot of our desserts are based off of American classics or other classics that can bring you back to being five years old or the first time you had it,” Kleinhandler said. Still, though nostalgia is an extremely powerful tool that convince customers to purchase a product or try a dish, it shouldn’t feel or taste redundant. An exact replica isn’t what the chef is after. “For me, it’s hard to make a dessert that will bring you back to your childhood without being repetitive, so we tried to do a new version of it or reinvent it so you can experience it in a new way, and it’s not something that’s been done or feels tired.”

Chef Gabriel Kreuther of Gabriel Kreuther in New York also mentioned childhood memories as a significant tool and a great jumping off point for innovation in the kitchen at the Symrise round table. Kreuther said that these memories can “can trigger something in a quest of a taste.” He continued, “And, say I want to put that together in a much more modern way, and bring something that is unfamiliar — so maybe not known here, but it's something very meaningful to me. So that something becomes new to other people, and maybe triggers a new taste in their memory bank.”

The chef, who has earned Michelin stars and a James Beard Award, also added, “If you don't find in the market what you're looking for, what is in your memory bank, then you do it yourself.”

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Images courtesy of Instagram (@cafebouludny and @aureolenewyork).

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