The world of foodservices is constantly evolving. It seems you just have time to master one trend, when customers are on to the next. So…as a restaurant manager or chef, how do you keep up?
Great Tasting Ideas
Chef Alex Petrollini, not only has mastered the art of spotting new trends; he sets them. Originally from Calgary and trained at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in England, Petrollini has worked as an executive chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world including the elegant Lake Louise Ski Resort and the renown Vlad Inn in Russia.
“When it comes to new trends and ideas, I get my ‘inspiration’ from every day experiences,” says Petrollini. “I could be reading a book about chemistry and something will pop in my mind. It’s as if the ideas come to me in a dream while I’m doing something else.”
One of Petrollini’s recent ‘dreams’ was an award winning Paper Wrapped Chilean Sea Bass. Paper wrapped fish is not new to the cooking world, but Petrollini transformed the concept by wrapping layers of Phyllo pastry around the fish so that the bass actually looked like it was in a hard cover book.
“The recipe won for taste, but it was the presentation that really impressed the judges,” says Petrollini. “Displayed open, it looked like the Bass was bound with a hard cover and had sheets of paper separating the two sides. It was pain-staking work and took 15 hours to wrap the fish to service the 400 people, but it was worth it.”
Not all of Petrollini’s ideas come from daydreaming. He is constantly visiting restaurants, both locally and around the world, in order to expand his culinary mind.
“I have to admit that over the years, I’ve stolen my share of menu ideas from other restaurants, but I always improve upon them or add my own distinct style,” says Petrollini. “In essence, I’m transforming them into my own.”
Petrollini is also part of the local chef association and keeps his skills up-to-date by attending culinary classes and conferences. In his opinion, one of the best shows to attend in North America is the National Restaurant Association Conference in Chicago. He also recommends planning your vacation around “taste of the scene” events such as the Sunday Brunch on Waikiki Beach held from January to March.
Bob Villeneuve, Sysco Canada’s Corporate Chef, agrees with Petrollini when it comes to trend resources. “I find my ideas come from everywhere. Wherever I look, there is potential for a new recipe,” says Villeneuve. “In fact, most new items I create are a result of something that floated around in my head for a while, and went through several changes before I even attempted to create it.”
In order to stay one step ahead of the evolving trends, Villeneuve not only reads trade magazines, government publications and any menu he can get his hands on, he also gets ideas from television.
“The impact of the Food Network can not be underestimated,” says Villeneuve. “As chefs, we can’t deny the fact that the dining public watches FoodTV and what they see there, impacts their expectations.”
While Food TV is one local source, another one is your Sysco representative. They are not only knowledgeable about products, but visit a number of restaurants every day. They know which food trends are new and impacting the market, but they also can tell you where consumer interest is waning.
Setting the Trends
One of the most challenging and exciting parts of managing a restaurant is developing a mouth-watering menu. “Through my experience, the secret to creating a new dish is to try to think of flavour combinations that are not the norm, but still sound and taste appealing,” says Villeneuve. According to Villeneuve, one way to do this is by taking something the public already knows and going outside-the-box, or in this case, outside-the-pallet.
Both Villeneuve and Petrollini suggest changing the menu seasonally, but nothing too drastic. And don’t worry if your trend doesn’t catch on right away. Everything takes time, especially if you are the one setting the trends.
“I had a salad on the menu made with salmon. I was just about to take it off when suddenly people started ordering it,” says Petrollini. “As soon as the salmon took off, I added different seafood items to the menu and our sales went through the roof. Believe it or now, seafood now accounts for 30% of menu and 50% of our sales.”
The important thing is to keep experimenting and like Villeneuve says, “If it ain’t selling; it ain’t working.”
By Michelle Ponto