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November 1, 2019

Booze Infused Foods

For centuries chefs have been using spirits and alcohol for accentuating, embellishing and delivering big flavors into their cuisine. By no means is this a new trend but as time goes by those flavor delivery methods have become more innovative, exciting and creative. Especially as the spirits, cordials and alcoholic beverages that are now more widely available have become more diverse and globally influenced. As the ‘sip to savor’ trend moves deeper into the menu innovation cycle, look to see chef’s experiment with bitter flavors found in aperitifs and digestifs like Aperol, Fernet and Campari. Aperitifs are usually a pre-dinner cocktail, as these interesting and unique flavors are believed to stimulate hunger and prepare the diner for a wonderful culinary adventure. While a digestif is usually sipped alone or paired into a cocktail to settle the diner’s stomach after a larger meal. In that case, why can’t chefs creatively bring these flavors into the beginning or the ending of a fantastical gastronomic adventure? At Custom Culinary® our traveling culinarians see many chefs across all segments of the foodservice industry using various degrees of experimentation infusing the flavors found behind the bar into every area of the menu.

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In my home city of Chicago, one of my favorite chefs loves creating desserts that pay homage to classic cocktails and flavors behind the bar. James Beard award winner, Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig brings in the infusion of interesting cordials and digestifs into every element of a dish. What an opportunity to bring each flavor of the cocktail into the concept? I find this to be a fascinating way to evoke the emotion of the diner since this gives the chef the ability to bring the texture of the food as another layer of expression to whisk the diner away on a journey prepared especially by creative chefs like Chef Bannos does with ease. One of his recent examples of sip & savor came in the Summer of 2019 when chef masterfully infused the herbaceous flavors of Fernet into a vanilla ice cream. The exciting ice cream is paired with a peach and cherry pie that is finished with a dollop of lemon verbena whipped cream. Fernet is Italian type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from several herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron. In this case chef focused the boozy infusion into one small element of the dish.

This is a perfect example of the chef’s ability to highlight other flavors and aromas through the introduction of the bitter flavor profile into desserts that typically only include sweet flavors. I especially enjoy how Chef Bannos creatively adds innovative ideas into approachable forms like a humble slice of pie. Don’t forget that this also gives another opportunity for more creativity for the mixologist behind the bar to create a drink to pair with creative dishes. I believe it is innovative flavor combinations like this that not only educate diners’ pallets, but also creates new platforms for bringing balanced flavor profiles into every course of the meal and every area of the menu.

I feel like the sip & savor trend has the most play in high end and casual full-service restaurants where the diner is most captivated by the creative prowess of the chef on the pass. This segment also has the most access to a fully stocked bar and a client base that is driving a higher than normal check average as compared to other areas of the foodservice industry. If I were still cooking in restaurants today I would use the sip & savor trend to not only create a commonality and bond between food and drink pairings, but also as a unique way to expose the diner with less known and unique flavors found in the world of mixology. Being able to splash some unique flavors into a sauce, or a marinade, might be a soft and gentle way to introduce our beloved customers to new ideas, flavors and pairing possibilities.

In the casual dining segment, adding boozy flavors to all areas of the menu in combination with emerging ethnic cuisine forms, would be an excellent strategy to attain that cravable differentiator. Our operator partners can easily take Master’s Touch® Chipotle Flavor Concentrate, a few splashes of tequila, some freshly squeezed citrus and mix them together with some chopped cilantro, bone in skin on chicken breasts, and let them marinate overnight. This could become an easy center of the plate protein option or used in many other ways across the menu. This is just one example of many ways we can be a solution for our clients.

In closing we are in an exciting and rapidly changing era of the hospitality industry and the boozy infused trend that we call sip to savor at Custom Culinary® is sure to continue to be the life of the party!


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Michael Manno
Corporate Sous Chef
Custom Culinary, Inc.