US Foods’ seasonal Scoop lineups have long sought to accomplish a key goal: help independent restaurants compete in an increasingly challenging—and saturated—field. One way is by taking surging trends and packaging them in a way that’s executable at the ground level. For instance, global flavors.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast,” international flair showed up twice on the top 10—at No. 4 with globally inspired breakfast dishes, and No. 5 with global favors in kids’ meals. But one of the hurdles for many independents when it comes to this kind of cuisine is preparation. Simply, they might not feel confident dipping into cooking styles and experimenting with flavors they’re not accustomed to. Or, it could be a sourcing issue. It might be a training one. Either way, delivering global trends to diners might sound better in theory than practice for restaurants across the country. And that’s where Scoop dives in.
This year’s Fall Scoop iteration focused on “Global Discovery Made Easy.” Namely, it hones in on Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences. Per US Foods, 54 percent of customers said they have gone out of their way to try a novel global food.
The company tapped nationally recognized chefs to advise on the assortment: Chef Diana Dávila, Chef Thai Dang, and Chef Sameh Wadi. Chef Dávila is the chef and owner of Mi Tocaya Antojería in Chicago; Chef Dang is the executive chef and owner of HaiSous, also in Chicago; and Chef Wadi is the executive chef and owner of World Street Kitchen in Minneapolis.
Stacey Kinkaid, US Foods’ vice president of product development and innovation, took some time to chat with FSR about the latest Scoop lineup, and how independents can leverage global flavors to quick success.
This isn’t the first time US Foods has approached global flavors with Scoop. How has the trend continued to evolve over the past couple of years, and how does this particular product lineup really approach that?
Delivering the right products to our operators to help drive their continued success is job No. 1. To do this, we are constantly evaluating the marketplace and looking for the right trends that will help our restaurant operators evolve their menus and remain competitive.
Global flavor trends are constantly evolving as diner preferences change. More specifically, global flavors trends are developing as millennials and Generation Z have gained more buying power and are becoming more adventurous in their dining preferences. Gen Z is comparatively less interested in well-established cuisines than other generations and are more interested in emerging multi-cultural influences. With Gen Z expected to account for 40 percent of the population by 2020, it’s important for us to keep pushing in the global flavors space to help operators stay ahead of the curve. There is a huge playing field within this category, and it gives US Foods the opportunity to explore and identify new and exciting flavors and ingredients that will resonate with these changing diner demands.
For this Scoop, we enlisted the help of three innovative and trend-setting restaurateurs, Chef Diana Dávila, Chef Thai Dang and Chef Sameh Wadi who specialize in either Asian, Latin American or Middle Eastern cuisines. They helped us explore these influences to harness the right flavors and ingredients that could translate well into our operators’ menus. We were very purposeful to bring the right authenticity, accessibility and versatility to these products to make it easy for our operators to explore the products and integrate them onto their menus in a way that works for their unique concept.
Talk about the partnerships with Chef Dávila, Dang, and Wadi. What was it like collaborating with such creative forces in the kitchen?
It was exciting and insightful. These chefs are innovators in their field and well respected in the culinary industry for their contributions to the craft. We spent quite a while together, inside and outside the kitchen discussing their influences and exploring the flavors that have inspired their innovation. Also, meeting with each chef on their home turf and exploring their favorite markets and restaurants was such an enlightening experience. It provided so many fresh ideas and inspiration for all us.
Throughout the whole experience, we captured a lot of these meetings and discussions on camera so we could showcase the process to our customers. In fact, for a behind the scenes, you can check out the videos on our website. Each chef brought a completely unique and fresh perspective to their own area of expertise, which resulted in a line of authentic, accessible products to inspire our operators.
What were customers telling you about global cuisines in their restaurants? Is it something they were interested in, but just didn’t have the time or resources to execute?
Yes, they are very interested but concerned about the time and deep knowledge of the flavor profiles needed to execute on these types of dishes. Items like the del Pasado Mini Chile Rellenos or the Chef’s Line All Natural Al Pastor could take hours to prepare correctly and in some cases, the recipe may require unique equipment an operator may not own.
At US Foods, we’re delivering the product to our customers ready for them to prep quickly and serve with the proper authenticity and flavor profile that makes it taste and feel as if it was prepared back-of-house and from scratch. In addition, we were also very purposeful to ensure these products are not only labor saving but also accessible to a wide range of operators. The products are very versatile and can be integrated into many different recipes and formats. For example, the Chef’s Line All Natural Bulgogi Beef is a product that Chef Thai Dang advised on. It was exciting to watch him create so many different recipes with the one product that could appeal to a very adventurous diner or a more mainstream diner.
Starting with the Latin America lineup, what are some standouts? And Asian? Middle Eastern?
Under the Latin American lineup, my two favorites are the products that I mentioned previously. The Chef’s Line All Natural Al Pastor is made from all natural (no artificial ingredients. Minimally processed) whole muscle, boneless pork shoulder, and it’s hand-stacked on a vertical spit, fire-seared and sliced from the cone and then seasoned with a Mexican-inspired blend, including annatto, onion powder, garlic powder, lime juice and apple cider vinegar. It also follows a traditional recipe and authentic process for preparation. The del Pasado Mini Chile Rellenos were inspired by the popular Mexican entrée, and it features diced, roasted poblano peppers blended with mozzarella and Cotija cheeses and is battered with corn masa. It’s a unique appetizer that has the same appeal as many common appetizers, such as breaded cheese sticks, but also has an exciting twist of new flavor experiences.
Within the Asian lineup the Pacific Jade Korean BBQ Style Spring Roll and again, the Chef’s Line All Natural Bulgogi Beef are very exciting products. The spring rolls include flavors reminiscent of traditional Korean BBQ, including tender beef, vermicelli, gochujang, pear purée and mirin and the Bulgogi Beef is marinated in a Korean-style sauce that includes soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and onions.
Within the Middle Eastern lineup, the Chef’s Line All Natural Beef Shawarma and the Devonshire Premium Cheesecake Topped with Honey and Almonds are big standouts for me. The beef shawarma is produced in an authentic process: marinated, hand-stacked and carved from cone and seasoned with authentic Middle Eastern-style spices, then flame-seared. The cheesecake is made with mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, real honey and a cardamom-spiced graham cracker crust. It’s decadent and delicious.
As for the Southern Hospitality line, created with US Foods’ Southern region chefs, how have you seen that trend take off for restaurants? Unlike global options, which might intimidate some restaurants, is Southern food a matter of being innovative and standing out from the pack? If so, how does this lineup help?
The goal with all of these products is for us to take away that intimidation and push the door wide open for operator inspiration. That said, for operators who are looking to appeal to diners who are demanding richer, more diverse experiences, recipe inspiration can also be found a little closer to home. We just couldn’t help ourselves, and we had to pull in a few exciting ideas inspired by the unique culinary scene in the South. My favorites are the sweet dessert items. The Devonshire Croissant Beignet is a twist on the classic beignet made with croissant dough so it’s very flaky. My favorite application is a very simple powdered sugar coating as-is. However, when you add a little of the Chef’s Line Smoked Maple and Bourbon Flavored Ice Cream with Pralines and Pecans next to it, it certainly takes the dish to a whole new Southern flair level. We’re very excited for our operators to explore these new products and really make them their own.