It’s no secret that in trying times, Americans gravitate to what’s comfortable – our favorite worn out jeans, that broken-in recliner, or in our industry - comfort foods.
Almost subconsciously, at the end of a long week, or on a damp, rainy day, I start to crave comfort foods. I want a warm and saucy pasta dish, or maybe braised short ribs with polenta – just something warm and, well, comforting. Most of us are just wired that way. We love those warm and soothing foods, or maybe your favorite dish as a kid. My mom made a great pot roast that I will remember forever – that rich aroma wafting throughout the house, the cadence of the pressure cooker hissing away on the stove, and of course that fork-tender beef with perfectly braised carrots and potatoes – all in a rich satisfying brown sauce.
Innovative chefs and foodservice operators are breathing new life into the enduring comfort food trend. One creative path is through “grown-up” versions of the classics. Bold ingredient additions—like mac and cheese laced with sriracha, or a not-so-traditional poutine – crispy fries with any variety of toppings and sauces.
One of my favorites is Tonkotsu Poutine - A plant-forward version full of rich umami notes featuring our Passport Global Flavors ™ by Custom Culinary® Tonkotsu Ramen Broth and our PanRoast® Brown Gravy Mix. This poutine starts, of course, with those crispy fries, and is laced with the tonkotsu flavored gravy, then topped with tofu, kimchi, green onions and sweet red peppers. I often sneak some shredded chicken, pork or beef on top if the vegetarian version is not of concern.
Taking a closer look at popular international comfort foods, we find common threads that can help to inspire innovation. Start with a recognizable format and change up the condiments, fillings or toppings—think about a German Weiner Schnitzel, Italian gnocchi, soups or sauce-covered meals like a down-home beef stew. Then lace in a Latin-style Habanero Orange Sauce or the fermented flavors of a Korean BBQ Sauce. Or what about a Roasted Vegetable Shakshuka?
Recipes like these speak the language of comfort, no matter where in the world they originate. Whether they’re rich, spicy, creamy or salty, there’s nothing like comfort food to stir the senses and pull on the heartstrings of consumers around the globe.
Among the top comfort foods, of course, is soup. According to a Technomic poll, 7 out of 10 restaurants have soup on their menu. And 80% of consumers say they love soup! And for good reason: Many soups are generally perceived as healthy. They can be familiar and reminiscent of times earlier in our lives, or a perfect carrier for today’s hottest flavor trends. Soup has all the best benefits of comfort food, like the savory aroma of the broth, the satisfaction of each bite, and even the warmth of the vessel that its served in on a cold Winter’s night. And for operators, soups are great for upcycling – to utilize leftovers or maybe use that less-than-perfect produce.
Beyond soup, some of the top sought-after comfort foods today include spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, pizza, beef stew, and chicken pot pie. And who doesn’t love that classic grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup – The only variable there is whether to dip or not to dip! You decide and let me know.
During the pandemic, many operators added, or highlighted comfort foods on their menus. As we all get back to dining out and inching our way back to a revised version of normalcy, we’ll see that trend continue.
Whether American classics, global favorites, or a mashup of both, keep your guests satisfied and coming back, craving their favorite comfort foods.
Mike Speranza, CEC
Corporate Executive Chef
Custom Culinary, Inc.