Chefs from around the world came together to share the latest culinary trends, techniques and flavors at the 2021 Worlds of Flavor conference hosted by the Culinary Institute of America.
Several Creative Dining chefs had the opportunity to travel to the conference in Napa, California to learn all about how the culinary world is evolving. Some even had the honor of working behind-the-scenes, prepping the signature dishes for the Worlds of Flavor celebrity chefs to present. From French cooking techniques like sous vide to grinding flour for homemade tortillas, our Creative Dining cooking pros crafted and plated many culinary delights for conference attendees to experience.
Here are a few highlights, directly from our expert chefs, about this year’s conference.
Standout Dish: Butternut Squash Mochi
While we’ve previously discussed the importance of authentic cultural food, sometimes it’s fun to create a blend of several cultures into a single dish. Our team couldn’t help but go back for seconds (and some thirds) of this Butternut Squash Mochi with charred miso, pepitas, and cilantro. Created by Chef Gaby Maeda, the Executive Chef for State Bird Provisions, these small plates perfectly blended savory mochi and several ingredients popular in Mexican cuisine into a deliciously rich, complex flavor profile that truly brought out the best of both Japanese and Mexican cooking.
A Cooking Lesson for the Books
Colder weather is certainly a season made for hearty soups and stews, but Chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros’ Pork Pozole Verde really took home the prize! Besides its delicious combination of flavors, our chefs learned about how certain ingredients—particularly leafy greens—hold their color better when cooked. She encouraged chefs to get creative with their green ingredient substitutions, like using green tomatoes instead of tomatillos or radish greens in place of turnip greens.
Savoring the Savory with Shio Koji
Several of our chefs called out the use of shio koji, a fermented rice marinade, to impart savory—or “umami”—flavors into their dishes. Scientifically, protease and amylase enzymes work to break down proteins and starches into amino acids, creating the umami that so many enjoy in their food. After sampling several dishes using it, our chefs said they were determined to use it more often. Reflecting on the conference, Nathaniel Malone, Creative Dining Food Service Director, said, “These enzymes not only intensify flavor but also have a textural effect on ingredients, making meat and poultry incredibly juicy and tender, and firming up fish in a short amount of time.”
Continued Popularity of Vegan & Vegetarian Dishes
As plant-focused diets continue to grow in popularity, vegetarian and vegan substitutes continue to rise in prevalence and variety. Our team was especially impressed by the plant-based protein challenge that took meat analogues—plant-based foods designed to mimic meat—to the next level. They specifically called out a vegan chorizo created by Chef Jesus “Chuy” Cervantes that involved toasting and chopping up sunflower seeds, then adding adobo sauce. According to our team, the end result both looked and tasted like an excellent chorizo sausage!
Other veggie-centric highlights included Chef Nelson German’s Roasted Stuffed Plantain with Soy Chorizo Ragu and Avocado Mousse. “The well-roasted plantain was a great vessel for the soy chorizo. Each bite was a great balance of sweet and heat with some butteriness coming from the avocado,” remembers Brandon Grzegorczyk, an Executive Chef at Creative Dining.
One Ingredient to Rule Them All
One of the greatest tips that our culinarians brought back with them: focus on highlighting one ingredient to its full potential instead of trying to emphasize too many ingredients in a single dish. Several of our team members called out Chef Chuy’s corn tamales, made using freshly-ground corn before making the masa and creating a depth of flavor not generally found in mass-produced products. Besides the tamales, our chefs experienced this with tortillas, shrimp, beans, and more during their time in California.
“Everything about each dish was built to highlight and elevate that one ingredient,” said Kyle Kubiak, the Creative Dining Production Manager. “I think, as a chef, it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of a dish and how it’s going to be plated. In all honesty, the best dishes are simple but executed extremely well. Chef Chuy, who I was working with, kept saying over and over: ‘Keep it simple.’”
Sustainability Throughout All Business Practices
Creative Dining operates with a Triple Bottom Line approach, addressing sustainability in terms of people, planet, and profitability. Sustainability was a popular conversation topic at Worlds of Flavor 2021, particularly in how we select and source the food we cook. These conversations also revolved around working conditions and leading change in our communities.
A Great Taste of Culinary Knowledge
Since Worlds of Flavor, our chefs have excitedly begun implementing the ingredients, techniques, and knowledge they’ve gleaned from the other attending culinary experts. Conferences like this allow us to bring a whole new world of flavors to each of our clients while staying atop the latest industry food trends.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can create an exciting variety of menuing for your organization, send us a message! We’d love to hear from you.