To assume an industry leadership position in the culinary field, it’s a given that a chef possesses strong technical abilities. But to become a leader and an innovator, there are additional skills and areas of expertise that a chef must gain. Returning to the building blocks of flavor and gaining a strong knowledge of today’s global flavors is key.
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) recognized this as one of four essential areas of study for experienced chefs who wish to become true industry leaders. They’ve partnered with Hormel Foods to create the Culinary Enrichment and Innovation Program (CEIP), an 18-month long program consisting of four themed modules which provide both academic and experiential learning to qualified senior chefs.
The first CEIP module focuses on Global Flavors, a key component to driving the ongoing evolution of consumer taste trends, menu development and in-house training. Certified Master Chef Rudolph Speckamp, senior culinary consultant, CIA Consulting Group, brings senior level chefs back to the basics—clarifying the science of taste and establishing the building blocks of flavor. Chef Speckamp then leads the chefs through a profile of Global Flavors, discussing the new reality of regional cuisine and highlighting the need to understand authentic flavors.
Five taste sensations
Nerve receptors on the tongue, which we refer to as taste buds, send messages to the brain. There are five different recognizable taste sensations: bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami, a relatively newly discovered taste sensation that is described as the flavor of richness, meatiness or deliciousness. While a person can identify only these five tastes, they can be combined in hundreds of ways, creating emotional connections with the addition of aroma, texture and color. All of the senses must be considered when creating a dish or a meal.
Global flavor profiles
In the sidebar to the left, you’ll learn about developing a shared language to describe flavors. With this newly refreshed and shared language of food and an enlightened ability to taste and discuss food pairings and flavors, chefs are ready to interpret the intricacies of global flavors. As Chef Speckamp presents, there are three basic global flavor profiles for today’s culinarians: Mediterranean, Latin American and Asian. But within each of these regions there are many sub-regions with specific cuisines, driven by climate, agriculture and lifestyles. These nuances must be understood when studying flavor trends and creating regionally influenced menus.
Formal study has occurred and is ongoing to identify the most current flavor principles and combinations for specific sections of each overarching region. The method that food is served in those regions, whether in the home, in restaurants or from street vendors, also must be considered.
The Mediterranean pantry has a base list of ingredients, but will vary measurably depending on whether the theme is Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Tunisian, Syrian, Egyptian or Moroccan. Basic ingredients may be similar, but the methods of cooking will be different. In some parts of the Mediterranean, for example, cured olives are eaten but not used in cooked dishes. In the rest of the region, they are essential to cooking.
The fundamental flavor combination in the Mediterranean is olive oil and garlic. But this combination will vary depending on the region:
Aioli, France: Garlic, olive oil, salt and eggs
Fouille, France: Garlic, olive oil, salt, red peppers and fish entrails
Salsa Verde, Italy: Garlic, olive oil, salt, anchovies, capers and herbs
Pesto, Italy: Garlic, olive oil, salt, basil, nuts and cheese
Skordalia, Greece: Garlic, olive oil, salt, potatoes, soaked bread or nuts
Tarator, Turkey: Garlic, olive oil, salt and nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts)
Harissa, Tunisia: Garlic, olive oil, salt, hot peppers and caraway
Charmoula, Morroco: Garlic, olive oil, salt, cumin, paprika, fresh coriander and parsley
Asian flavor profiles are equally as varied, including Szechwan, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Southeast Asian and Indonesian. And similarly, Latin America provides a range, including a focus on Mexican, South American and Caribbean flavor profiles.
To bring this knowledge to life, the CEIP chefs take to the kitchen, creating a four-course meal including an appetizer, salad, main course and dessert, with each dish reflecting a specifically focused region of the world. Menus and grocery lists are created and the chefs have two hours to prepare their dishes. The authenticity of the dishes, as well as their overall taste quality, is evaluated. The exercise can be carried home to the chefs’ own kitchens, where their teams can select an existing global cuisine item from their menus and conduct taste tests and recipe development sessions to challenge the dish’s authenticity and ongoing application on the menu.
Chef Speckamp explains that to create globally inspired menu items it is necessary to understand the nuances of individual regions within a global cuisine. However, he also understands the necessity of appropriately substituting certain items due to product availability and the need to adjust recipes to reflect the flavor preferences of current guests.
It is expected that the leading chefs of tomorrow have a foundation of knowledge of the world’s flavors as more people travel and experience the sights, tastes and sounds of other histories and cultures. It is the role of our leading chefs to introduce guests to new tastes and flavor profiles as part of a growing international culinary language, and to accomplish this, our leading chefs must also teach their teams this ever-growing language of flavor.
For more information on the Culinary Enrichment and Innovation Program, please visit www.ceipinfo.com.
The building blocks of flavor
Often a guest will “taste” a dish before he or she is actually eating it... the aroma, the color, the steam, the item’s crispness or delicacy. How do chefs experience flavor with each of their senses—how do they hear, smell, see, touch and finally, taste, flavors? Chef Speckamp discussed this process with the chefs, who were then able to share it with their own culinary teams.
- Establish a common food vocabulary, using a shared language to describe flavors. Share this language with your staff via employee training sessions, using sensory evaluations that drive verbal or written descriptions of the items. The goal is to explore flavor sensations that are associated with specific foods both independently, and with other, complementary items. Try sampling such basic foods as roasted beets and soft goat cheese, lamb and rosemary, or ricotta cheese and honey. These are natural pairings, but there are also pairings that reflect contrary tastes, such as sweet and salty, fatty and lean, crisp and tender. Chef Speckamp had the chefs write down key words for each individual food item and then key words for the pairings, referencing aroma, color, flavor and texture.
- Discuss and review flavor development and how chefs create flavor via seasonings and cooking techniques. Chef Speckamp employs a powerful yet straightforward exercise to reflect flavor development, involving the preparation of a standard onion soup recipe. Three variations of the standard onion soup recipe are presented to the CEIP chefs for their tasting and impressions. The results are dramatic and can easily be brought back and shared with the culinary staff of any kitchen.
- In the first sample, the onions are boiled with all of the other ingredients
- In the second sample, the onions are sweated, taking the raw flavors away and deepening the flavor
- In the third sample, the onions are caramelized, significantly impacting the flavor and appearance of the soup
This exercise leads to discussions on how flavors can be affected by extracting items, infusing, marinating, reducing and concentrating, seasoning…even the explanation of how using spices which are whole or ground, toasted or untoasted, will influence flavor.