Today, the culinary arts influence food product development as never before. While taking inspiration from the restaurant world is not new, adopting the chef’s approach to taste, texture and appearance is.
Culinology, a discipline developed and trademarked by the Research Chefs Association, blends culinary arts and food science, thus bridging the gap between technical skills and scientific knowledge. Culinology, blends the flavor, texture and appearance sensibilities and techniques of the trained chef with food science to yield food product R&D that assures “manufacturable,” safe and stable foods.
So, how do the culinary arts currently influence development of baked foods?
TEXTURE, TASTE, APPEARANCE.
“From a culinary standpoint, the three vital components are flavor, texture and appearance,” said Michel Suas, president and founder, San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI), South San Francisco, CA. The institute specializes in training bakers and pastry chefs. He ranked appearance as No. 1 because “it triggers flavor and texture expectations. For example, a rustic look to pastry signals a crunchy, crispy texture.
“Flavor, texture and appearance must be related,” Mr. Suas continued. “The consumer can visualize how it tastes before eating it.”
The importance of texture was emphasized by Danny Bruns, CRC, CCA, corporate executive chef, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, Americas Region, Beloit, WI, who described it as an aspect of appearance. “Coarse textures such as that contributed by sea salt or herbs on the product’s surface also provide a visual cue,” he observed. “The right texture must be delivered.”
First and foremost, however, is the customer. While most chefs consider the diner their customer, those practicing the culinary arts in commercial bakery settings view the restaurateur and his or her chefs as the customer. “Culinary influence also applies to usage such as our new Antipasto Bread and how the customer uses our bread,” explained Jon Davis, vice-president of culinary development, La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, CA
Textural factors drove this project, according to Mr. Davis, who said, “The bread was developed to have a specific bite yet hold up to toppings and preparations.”
“When toasted up, it has the appearance of a crusty loaf,” explained chef Nancy Silverton, founder of the bakery and now a partner in Los Angeles’ Mozza restaurants, “but is much more user-friendly than traditional artisan breads.”
The new breads are offered in Rustic Italian, Roasted Garlic and Toasted Walnut. Differences in ingredients and processes were explored, according to Mr. Davis.
Bread provides an excellent means of translating the culinary interest in texture into the bakery emphasis on variety. “People want more flavor from their breads, as well as breakfast pastries that are more interesting and nutritious,” Mr. Suas said.
SFBI is currently working with the Ancient Grains line from ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE, conducting seminars in the use of these grains — amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. “These flours have not been readily available before, but now they come controlled from farm to mill to baker,” Mr. Suas observed. “They bring unique texture, flavor and rustic appearance to breads, and they allow bakers to make something that is enjoyable to consume.”
He cited spelt as one example, noting that this grain had formed the basis for many diet breads in the past that were not very palatable. “Spelt products do not have to be that ‘brick’ of the past,” he said. Another is teff, a cereal grain from Africa now being grown in North America. “Teff has a beautiful flavor with rich chocolate and coffee notes when toasted,” he said.
Mr. Davis confirmed the interest in whole grains and their ability to “enrich” and “fortify” baked foods. “Our industry needs to better educate ourselves about whole grains,” he said. “Further refinement of whole-grain baking is needed, and much of my current work is looking at whole grains.”
The general trends running through culinary circles are similar to those found among packaged foods: health and wellness, retro (or classic) in new formats and simple and clean (or a short ingredient list), according to Kevin Doebrich, culinary intern, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, Americas Region, Beloit, WI. Expanding on the retro theme, he ticked off products such as red velvet cake, German chocolate cake or traditional French pastries offered in miniature format. But he also noted the use of vibrant, bright, natural colors, rather than pastels or shades.
“You can tie retro with bite size in samples and shooters,” Kerry’s Mr. Bruns observed. The shooter format takes the form of thick liquids or pastes but flavored to evoke classic sweets such as brownies. “The small portions represent an easy, low-risk way to try new things, instead of spending a lot of money on a full-size cake.”
Classic flavorings and toppings in new formats represent another culinary influence suitable for bakery product development, according to Mr. Bruns. “There’s the angle of ‘familiar with a twist,’” he said of products that are based on a home recipe or a comfort food but re-engineered with a modern delivery such as chocolate-flavored sandwich cookies reconfigured as pop-able miniature snacks.
The idea of cross-training between culinary arts and bakery skills touches on another area where culinary influences can be felt in the baking industry. “A baker needs more than baking skills today,” said Klaus Tenbergen, Culinology program director and assistant professor, California State University, Fresno, CA. “He or she also needs culinary skills, and employers at high-volume bakeries are looking for such multiply-skilled individuals.
“The principles of culinary arts and bakery have not changed,” he continued, “but what has changed is what we do with them. The ‘basic’ here is the dough, but what you do with it makes the difference. There are many ‘forgotten’ ingredients that can be taken into new applications and used with new technologies.”
Taking such basics to the next level, however, is often unfamiliar territory, “so training becomes important,” Mr. Tenbergen said.
He described savory pastries, a concept that he will demonstrate at the 2010 International Baking Industry Exposition to be held at Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 26-29.
He observed that meat loaf is a common concept in many cuisines, so he decided to combine it with puff pastry and sweet doughs. “It combines culinary arts and baking in one dish, yielding savory baking,” Mr. Tenbergen said. “It’s a concept that uses existing skills to exchange different ingredients and materials, to think outside the box.”
Savory baked products exist in many parts of the world, but are not yet mainstream in the US, according to Mr. Tenbergen, who cited Eastern Europe’s pirogies and the handheld meat pies of England and South Africa. Combining foods and flavors from different cultures is a basic culinary technique. “It’s a matter of using ingredients and formats in different ways,” he noted.
LAYERING, NOT FUSING.
In the culinary world, such combinations represent a formulating approach known as “fusion cuisine.” Now, this concept is being revisited in a new way. “Another culinary trend that fits well with baked foods is the layered flavor approach,” Mr. Bruns said.
“This uses inclusions, fillings, enrobed coatings and so forth to top the product with a complimentary or contrasting flavor to add extra dimensions to the eating experience,” he continued. “For example, you have ‘sweet and heat’ and ‘sweet and salt,’ which are both popular now. Layered flavors also translate well into snack foods. The idea of ‘layered’ is what used to be fusion.”
Layering enables the consumer to experience both primary and secondary flavors, not just a blend of both, La Brea Bakery’s Mr. Davis explained. “There are many interesting combinations. Not all work, but they serve to spark ideas. That’s the creative process.”
The culinary influence can also be noticed in flavor choices. “The current trend is to minimize sugar and sweet flavors in pastries and to use the more distinctive flavor of the fruit, for example,” SFBI’s Mr. Suas said. Specifically, the approach is to make the flavor more identifiable, and the flavors of choice tend to be more acidic than sweet.
“Also, red berries are really in favor now,” he continued, naming raspberries and blackberries. “But also plums and peaches are coming back.”
Superfruits — pomegranates, black currents, cranberries, blueberries and other highly colored fruits high in antioxidants — represent another trend. “Consumers already perceive them as healthy but are increasingly familiar with their flavors,” Mr. Bruns said. “People are more willing to try new flavors, and these can take the forms of jams, syrups and purees — all basic culinary components.”
Mr. Suas credited the new interest in intensely flavored fruits to the growing popularity of farmers markets, which “introduce people to what the texture and flavor of these fruits really are,” he added. Improvements in transportation and shelf life of these raw materials have also helped emphasize freshness of flavors.
The McCormick 2010 Flavor Forecast (see “Flavor Forecast” below) listed “always in season” as a major food trend that emphasizes preserving the peak ripeness for year-round enjoyment, fresh at the ready.
Another culinary aspect of flavor is authenticity. “Ethnicity in flavor must be authentic,” Mr. Bruns stated. “For example, you would want to use a true Mexican chocolate in a new dessert inspired by Hispanic cuisine.”
Calling out flavor sources can add to that authenticity, so they become not only more exotic but also more detailed, according to Mr. Davis. In other words, it’s not just cinnamon, but Saigon cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon. “This detail translates well into bakery applications,” he added.
Combining traditional ingredients with exotic elements characterizes the 2010 Flavor Forecast, issued by McCormick & Co., Baltimore, MD, through its Food Away From Home division, which supplies the food service industry. This year marks the 10th such forecast, targeted at menu offerings. The forecast "is all about merging two ingredients that will inspire and create an authentic and fulfilling experience in one bite," said Colleen McClellan, food insights strategist, McCormick.
The 10 pairings recommended in the flavor forecast are:
• Roasted ginger and rhubarb
• Thai basil and watermelon
• Caraway and bitter greens
• Bay leaves and preserved lemon
• Almond and ale
• Turmeric and vine-ripened tomatoes
• Pumpkin pie spice and coconut milk
• Roasted cumin and chickpeas
• Creole mustard and shellfish
• Chives and fish sauce