This post is sponsored by Sweet Street.
Fresh, seasonal fare appeals to diners looking for balanced meals that still feel special, and farmers markets can offer a burst of culinary inspiration for chefs. In this interview, Marriott International’s Culinary Director of Classic Brands/Select Services Diego Fernandez discusses how ingredients shape his menu, where he looks for culinary inspiration and his favorite ways to put seasonal produce on the menu.
How do ingredients shape your menu? How do farmers markets and other vendors inspire culinary creativity?
Fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients are always an inspiration. In one of my recent travels, I visited a farmers market and the experience was memorable. The producers were so proud of their produce that they treated them like jewels. The butcher and seafood mongers would tell you their secrets and share traditional family recipes on how to prepare a specific cut of meat or fish, the cheesemonger would do a cheese sample on the spot, so I could taste the differences between the varieties of regional sheep milk cheeses. Meeting the suppliers and producers is also a way to get inspired. You can’t underestimate the power of a good story behind the ingredients. It creates a special connection between the producer and cook and, ultimately, the consumer.
Where else do you look for flavor inspiration?
I love to travel. When I travel, I love to discover the local flavors and try to stay away from the touristic areas and go where the locals go. The list can be long but when I’m looking for inspiration, I turn to my family, anything design/art related, social media, kitchen equipment/technology, magazines, eating out and people. Talking to people can really inspire you -- from colleagues, to the taxi driver who recommends the best places to eat their favorite foods, or someone who is not a chef but loves to cook and shares what they made for dinner the night before. There’s always a word, type of cuisine, ingredient, method of cooking that resonates with me and ignites my creativity.
Trends toward eating locally and healthfully are driving consumer demand for fruits and vegetables on menus, but diners still want options that seem indulgent. What are some of your favorite ways to cook with produce?
Roasting or grilling are my favorite ways of cooking vegetables (and fruits, too). The natural caramelization that happens when you cook them that way bring many layers of flavors and textures naturally that you don’t need to add anything else to them.
What about baked goods and desserts -- what are some sweet options that showcase produce?
I have a sweet tooth. Anyone that knows me can tell you that! I think there are some great options out there. For example, the new zucchini spiced and pumpkin swirl cakes from the Sweet Street Farmers Market Pullman Collection are a perfect example. They taste wonderful and can complement a seasonal menu, bringing that seasonality into a breakfast or coffee break menu.
Diego Fernandez is the culinary director of classic brands/select services at Marriott International, where he specializes in developing kitchen layouts, restaurant concepts and menu designs, as well as building relationships with vendors.
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