There is no U.S. region that has a more distinct culinary tradition than the South. From Carolina barbecue, to cajun food, to Texas pit-smoked meats, Southern cuisine has long been exported to other corners of the country.
If the South has been an incubator of widespread culinary trends, then it’s also a region worth keeping an eye on if one wants to know what might be coming next. Here’s a look at some trends that a few chefs and restaurateurs suggest operators will want to monitor and perhaps even tap into when creating menus.
One of those chefs is Tiffany Derry, celebrity chef and owner-operator of Roots Southern Table, and Roots Chicken Shak, outside of Dallas, who gives a shoutout to Hellmann’s Mayonnaise for shining a spotlight on these trends.
“Hellmann’s is the South—it’s what we grew up with,” Derry says. “And so it allows me to create dishes using something that I’m proud of, that’s also considered part of my roots.”
According to Datassential, bowls have grown 35 percent on barbecue menus in the past four years. It makes sense—bowls have long been a great way to showcase various ingredients and flavor combinations in a way that feels new and exciting to guests.
One way to unlock a signature southern-inspired bowl to add to the menu is by using a sauce that is a twist on a classic southern staple. For example, this BBQ Beef Mac Bowl gets some depth in flavor from an Avocado Crema, made with Hellmann’s.
“Hellmann’s has a ton of versatility,” says Quy Hoang, co-owner of Blood Bros. BBQ in Bellaire, Texas. “I use it as a base in several sauces we have on the menu.”
2. Twists on Mac and Cheese
Shane Roberts-Thomas, former Chopped contestant and owner-operator of Southern Kitchen in Richmond, Virginia, identifies creative twists on mac and cheese as an ongoing trend that only seems to grow. The data agrees: Datassential says mac and cheese is now found on over 63 percent of Southern menus. Because southern-style mac and cheese is quite popular, one way restaurants can create differentiation is by adding regional flair and variations to the dish.
Mac and cheese doesn’t have to be served on its own, either. It can even be served in the middle of a burger.
3. Bold Sandwiches
Datassential reports that the number one item on Southern-concept menus is the sandwich, checking in at 91.1 percent menu penetration. Again, the familiarity of the sandwich means operators would be wise to add twists on classics in order to offer diners something familiar, yet different. For example, chefs might experiment with adding something like fried green tomatoes to give a BLT some southern charm.
Other sandwich hacks can be as simple as making some of the ingredients in-house for some down-home charm. Hoang menus a traditional BLT made with homemade bacon—and, of course, Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
“I actually use Hellmann’s to toast the bread, too,” Hoang says, referring back to how versatile Hellmann’s is. “We use it not just on our BLT, but in our burger sauce, or in a Kimchi Aioli that can be used as a dip or another sandwich topping.”
4. The Next Wave
No Southern trend has been quite as—well, hot—as hot chicken of late, with Datassential reporting that it grew on menus 280 percent over the past four years. The same Datassential report shows some other players that might be the next big thing, from chicken biscuits (73 percent four-year growth), to deviled eggs (13.4 percent menu penetration).
The latter, deviled eggs, is a favorite dish of Chef Derry, who makes hers with Hellmann’s mayonnaise. To her, the flavor profile is best-in-class, and is the perfect addition to any Southern dish.
“I love Hellmann’s because it’s balanced,” says Tiffany Derry. “That’s the number one way I would describe it: It’s creamy, it’s full of flavor. There is a balance of sweet to vinegar, to salt—all things that are equally important. And I love the fact that it’s really eggs. These are real ingredients—no fluff, just flavor.”
For more on creating southern flavors with Hellmann’s, visit the Unilever Food Solutions’ website.