Culinary experience center mines latest menu trends

A new feature at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show, the Culinary Experience Center, provides inspired ideas for rethinking menus to help operations break out of a rut.

Presented by Sysco, the stage located at Booth #2390 will explore several different topics each day of the show. Culinary and subject-matter experts will cover trending topics ranging from plant-based dining to delivery, better breakfasts, nutrition and menu labeling and multi-ethnic pasta. Sessions will cover new techniques, strategies and recipes incorporating products from Sysco supplier partners.


“Everybody’s looking for ideas to make their restaurant a little edgier,” says Neil Doherty, Sysco’s senior director of culinary development. “But operators sometimes have blinders on because the restaurant business is hectic and they’re just trying to get their menu out,” he added. As today’s restaurant customers grow increasingly demanding and sophisticated, however, staying on top of their preferences is key to survival.

On Saturday morning, for instance, Doherty led a demonstration of ethnic mashups—a popular trend. Chefs prepared a loaded chicken and waffles dish that involved baking hot sauce-infused waffle batter on a waffle iron, with fried chicken and blue cheese incorporated into the batter. “Now you’ve got a fully portable loaded chicken and waffles,” Doherty said.

Not only does a dish like this satisfy the growing demand for handheld and portable foods, it has the potential to broaden a restaurant’s menu. “If you’re a breakfast place that does lunch and you’re making waffles, this is taking that waffle and bringing it into the lunch daypart,” Doherty explained.

The presentations are meant to inspire experimentation and outside-the-box thinking. For instance, Doherty said, “An Italian restaurant doesn’t just have to be purely Italian. They can use Italian ingredients and bring them out with a different look.” A program on Sunday at noon, “Pasta for All Cuisines,” will look at fresh ways to incorporate pasta into global dishes from Asia, the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Also on Sunday, experts will consider the boom in plant-forward products, how to build a better burger menu by balancing creativity and versatile products, and best practices for incorporating alternative proteins on a menu.

Monday’s program kicks off with a discussion of upgrading breakfast to increase traffic and attract a diverse customer base. Another session will cover the Cutting Edge Solutions platform, chef-inspired solutions designed to provide new profit opportunities. Tapping into medicinal food is on the program later in the day, along with a survey of the current seafood landscape.

On Tuesday, one session will focus on new ways to menu pork across all dayparts. Later, experts will look at the nuances to nutrition and menu labeling, and another session will provide tips on winning at the strategies for delivery.

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