We have a responsibility as educators to lead by example by innovating in the kitchen—and asking our students to do the same.
By Chef Chris Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, MBA
As educators, it’s our job to follow culinary trends. Being in tune with the ever-changing landscape—from the best restaurants to the newest menus—can help us shape our classroom discussions and experiences in our on-campus dining rooms.
Just a few weeks ago the James Beard Awards provided a perfect opportunity to take a look at some of these culinary trends. Because Kendall College was a sponsor of the 2016 Awards Gala, our students had a unique opportunity to work alongside world-class chefs as gala volunteers and our Kendall team connected with a number of leading chefs and nominees. In preparation for this event, I did my homework. I took a dive into the current culinary scene and looked for new ideas we can bring into our classrooms by reviewing the James Beard Award nominee menus. What are my biggest takeaways?
I analyzed all categories, from the Best New Restaurant to the Rising Star Chef. What’s most interesting is that there is no “it” trend to follow. Chefs are following their own creativity, but I did find common themes.
For example, vegetables like cauliflower and sunchokes, which already make frequent appearances on menus, are receiving a larger spotlight. The same can be said for Middle Eastern or North African cuisine. What is notable is how much creativity is going into preparing the ingredients and designing the menus.
Let’s examine the trends you should consider bringing into your classroom:
Marrying macro- and micro-trends: I’m a strong believer in the long game. What will the culinary industry look like in five years? It’s necessary to keep this in mind as we help prepare our students. The other side of the coin are micro-trends. What’s going on now? Those trends should pop up in the menus for our on-campus restaurants and be discussion points in every class. This dual focus will help prepare them in two ways: Integrate the “now” while retaining a strong long-term focus on your core mission.
A focus on international foods: Lately, I’ve watched a growing focus on Middle Eastern cuisine, with frequent mentions of Labneh, Aleppo pepper, tahini, traditional hummus, and squash hummus. Another trending location is Morocco. Nods to this culture include preserved lemons, harissa, chermoula, and merguez sausages. To become successful in today’s culinary landscape, chefs need knowledge of as many global cuisines and techniques as possible. The best way to do this is through a curriculum that has a global approach, where students learn these techniques in the classroom and by cooking menus they help drive. While students are examining traditional menus and recipes, ask them to spotlight certain dishes in themed presentations in class or in your on-campus restaurants.
Borderless cuisine: The entire world’s ingredients and cuisines are at your students’ disposal. Menu items and preparations don’t need to be paired within a cultural context, but according to an artistic vision. It also means students should look to their own heritage, upbringing, and interests to learn formal, time-tested recipes and once they’ve gained mastery, begin a creative mix for fresh recipes. A clear focus on international foods will help inspire your students and bring ever-changing, creative recipes to the table.
Chef Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, MBA, is vice president of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts.Photo courtesy of Kendall College.