My job as Research Chef has taken me many places with fabulous food, but Paris is always a highlight for new culinary experiences. The fresh open air markets make me want to run and find a kitchen so I can cook and play with the delicious ingredients found there. Scallops still in the shell with roe attached, unpasteurized fresh cheeses, melt in your mouth foie gras, whole and freshly caught rabbits, flaky, buttery croissants that are like no other, macaroons that deliver incredible flavors in one bite. Don’t get me started on the incredible wines to go with all these ingredients! The fresh, local ingredients that are found here are the building blocks of a great cuisine that has produced some incredible classic dishes. It makes sense that Paris was a perfect backdrop for the Sial conference, a food exhibition that showcases new trends, ingredients, products and technology served up at the convention center a short distance from the city’s center.
This year, I saw many new ingredients and ideas, not all practical or easily implemented for our customers, but they all served as food for thought, a way to take something new and translate it into something that is accessible to the USA market. Here are a few product highlights that I found interesting:
Last year at the Anuga show in Cologne, Germany I was introduced to black garlic. Black garlic is raw garlic that is fermented under controlled humidity and temperature conditions for 30-45 days to remove the pungent taste and aroma associated with raw garlic. It turns soft and slightly sticky, with a mild garlic flavor and sweetness. Six months later I could find it in the USA and it was a hot new ingredient for chefs. This year, black garlic was still around, although this time the product line had expanded to black garlic soda, black garlic juice extract, pastes and pills. Although the companies claims of curing diabetes, preventing hypertension and senility, recovering from fatigue, and “strengthening virility” would not fly with US labeling regulations, it is a health promoting, natural antioxidant ingredient to watch. As strange as black garlic soda sounds, it was actually very light and refreshing!
LeWhif was another product that made me stop and take notice. LeWhif is a new way to taste chocolate and coffee, by breathing small chocolate or coffee particles in through the mouth. The single serve container looks like a tube of chapstick, filled with a flavored powder that is inhaled. The fine powder enters your mouth bringing flavors such as chocolate, chocolate raspberry, chocolate mint, or coffee. At only 40mg per puff, LeWhif is also basically non-caloric. I was a little too enthusiastic on my inhale and after coughing for a few minutes, I finally understood that a gentle inhale was all that was needed to enjoy the flavor!
Molecular gastronomy is not dead! As fun and playful as chefs have made food designed using flavor and science together, it has not been seen as a trend that could easily trickle down from fine dining into casual dining and beyond. That may change as a few new products are entering the marketplace that are both flavorful and fun. “Perles de Saveurs” or savory pearls, are a new product that creates small spheres of flavor using an alginate gum. The jellified spheres come in sweet and savory flavors such as fig, truffle, lemon pepper, vinegar and shallots, or raspberry and can be used anywhere on the menu. They are colorful and bursting with flavor, and would make a beautiful and fun cocktail. A similar product plays off the bubble tea idea, but the “bubbles” are called Popping Boba. The gel bubbles fizz and explode in the mouth. What a great new and innovative way to add texture and a little surprise to a drink or dish.
Bits o’ juice offered up the next ah-ha moment. Natural citrus segments, are plucked from fresh lemons and cryogenically frozen, then individually separated and packaged. Lemon juice in its own natural container! The small, individual pods burst in the mouth and produced an intense, pure lemon taste. They’re perfect for sprinkling in a salad, as a topical application for fish instead of a lemon wedge, in a chicken sandwich for a surprise burst of flavor, or even in a glass of ice tea. The pods were easy to use, quick and convenient, all natural, versatile, interesting, and best of all…tasted great.
The next two innovations came in packaging. The first was Oloves, the healthy olive snack, pre-packaged olives in a liquid free, shelf stable, individual snacking sized package. The Oloves had only 40 calories per package, were all natural and with an impressive 18 month shelf life to boot. Simple and still fun, why hadn’t anyone thought of this one yet? Perfect for snacking, but even better for picnic martinis! The second packaging innovation was prepackaged wine. NOT box wine, but ready to drink wine pre-filled in a PET wine glass, with the top sealed with an easy to remove layer of film. Glasses with a stem or stemless glasses were available, and in red, white or rose wine varieties. This seems like a great option to prevent wine spoilage/oxidation, increase security, increase speed of service, with no cleaning or glass breakage worries, all packaged in a low weight container that is easy to carry. I think this idea could be huge for outdoor venues or stadiums, offering the ability to quickly serve a glass of wine, ease of transportation, and no worries about breakage. When they are filled with a fabulous Chateauneuf du Pape red wine, I will be the first to order a case and let the fun begin.
I was also impressed by the evidence of social food awareness present at the show. The term “social food” was used to describe an initiative by Envirance that has the purpose to put people and jobs back in the middle of innovation core values. They promote creating a link between the act of buying a product and the community’s well being. They believe the purchase of a “social food” product should support local job creation and fosters business education. Who can argue with an initiative like that? The Envirance booth promoted several products, such as Kika’s Treats. A range of handmade cookies baked in San Francisco using a communal kitchen developed to foster budding entrepreneurs, a way to have a start-up company with a low upfront investment. Sorghum biscuits were another product promoted, championing the use of sorghum. Sorghum is a local African sustainable crop that can be easily and inexpensively grown in Africa, and sorghum products are one way for people to grow crops locally and support their families and communities through the sale of sorghum containing products.
Overall, the Sial show was quite impressive and full of innovation. I hope I have brought a few ideas to you that can spark a new interest or product in your future. Next up, stay tuned for food highlights of my trip to Italy!