You can often find me talking about what’s trending in the foodservice world and how chefs can create menu additions that meet these trends. But today, I’m taking a few steps back. Instead of discussing how chefs can follow trends, I’d like to think about ways that chefs can set trends.
What are trends? What makes certain foods extra buzzworthy? If you ask me, it all starts with one innovative idea. And that idea isn’t always widely accepted at first—but when it catches on, it catches on.
The first trendsetting chef who comes to mind for me is none other than Wolfgang Puck. He’s a mastermind of flavor fusion, and he’s also an unbelievable businessman. He became an expert in French and Chinese cuisines, and he found a way to blend them together perfectly. It’s what I like to call “fusion without confusion.” People might not have fallen in love with it at first, but over time, his new approach to cuisine became an inspiration for chefs throughout the world.
I can’t talk about chef-borne trends without mentioning Paul Prudhomme, the father of Cajun cuisine. I’ve often heard people talking about Cajun cuisine itself as a trend. I tend to disagree. For me, Cajun is a fad. The real trend behind the craze is spicy yet flavorful foods. Paul encouraged chefs to think about flavor in a new way by using Cajun food as a vehicle. His influence opened Americans’ palates to all kinds of cuisines with a kick, including Thai, Hunan and Szechuan, authentic Mexican, Mediterranean, Korean, Spanish and more.
For chefs, being a trendsetter means being bold. It means believing in what you’re serving and not apologizing for it. Some are inspired by adapting existing food trends to create fun fusions. Some are inspired by interacting with their diners and coming up with Instagram-worthy, social-friendly dishes. Some are inspired by collaborating—or even competing—with fellow chefs.
Others are inspired by their heritage—maybe they grew up in a different country with unique foods, or perhaps they’re from the U.S. with tastes heavily influenced by a parent or grandparent who did the cooking when they were growing up. Take the many chefs today who own and operate their own food trucks. They’re innovating and expressing their ethnic cuisines and food fusions in a way that’s reasonably priced and readily available. They’re the next trendsetters.
Talk to you soon!