This post is sponsored by TMI Trading.
Consumers are more adventurous than ever when it comes to the flavors they want on their plates. Curiosity about international cuisines is driving interest in global flavors, and fusion dishes allow chefs and foodservice operators to combine familiar dishes with global flair. In this interview, chef and educator Robert Walljasper and Chris Wilmoth, executive corporate chef for Asian food manufacturer TMI Trading, discuss what makes a successful fusion dish and how foodservice operators can make fusion work on their menus.
Global flavors continue to be a hot trend in foodservice as consumers seek out new and interesting flavor profiles. How do fusion dishes allow operators to integrate global flair into their menus regardless of their restaurant concept?
Walljasper: Today is a very interesting time as modern consumers continue to be more knowledgeable than ever about cuisine, cooking techniques and ingredients. Through personal travel, friends’ experiences or posts, Instagram and more, the diner in your establishment tonight is hungry for newer flavors. Incorporating a touch of the world into part of their meal can create excitement and generate positive online postings. For the chef or operator, fusion dishes can add contemporary flavors to spice up menus or unique limited specials.
Wilmoth: Currently we are in a restaurant climate where people have more confidence in ordering items they might not have five years ago. There is this global wonder nowadays where people want to see items on menus that reflect what they see when they travel or what they are watching on the food channels. This idea that we can mix items from our favorite recipes or interesting destinations has a huge impact on flavor. I love working with chiles and other sources of heat from all over the globe. Keeping dishes simple with platforms such as noodles allow you to bring in fresh local vegetables with high impact chiles, whether they are fresh or fermented -- or even better, combined.
What makes a good fusion dish?
Wilmoth: Flavor and craveability! I love taking classic dishes and adding a touch of something unfamiliar. Adding black bean paste to a soup or stew add such a unique flavor without changing the dish too much. Adding gochujang to American barbecue sauces adds a great level of heat without killing the true flavor the barbecue. I have added gochujang to caramel sauce in small amounts, allowing the heat and sweet to play together.
Why are snacks and appetizers such a popular segment for fusion foods? What tips do you have for menuing fusion appetizers and snack dishes?
Walljasper: The first course of the meal is a great opportunity for patrons to try new dishes, especially fusion foods. These smaller plates don’t commit the diner to a large portion, allowing them to experiment with unique or untried dishes. When incorporating new fusion dishes into the menu, create opportunities to get customer feedback and perspective on these new plates. Build up interest by sending samples to influencers or loyal customers. Offer a discount for their next dinner if a customer posts on their media accounts and tags the company’s social media.
Evolving food trends drive new types of fusion dishes. How does TMI choose which flavor profiles it uses in fusion items like the Buffalo Chicken Dumpling and Philly Cheese Steak Egg Roll, and what inspired the new Cajun Shrimp Dumpling?
Wilmoth: We had noticed that we were seeing success with our American regional appetizers and wanted to continue to grow this line. This allows TMI Trading the opportunity and flexibility to use different ways of producing traditional American flavors. The idea of doing a cajun dumpling came from the fact the New Orleans is such a huge source of American culinary tradition. So we put our minds together and pulled key spices and ingredients, and after a few tries we have made an item we are proud of. With rice, pork and shrimp -- and of course a special combination of seasonings -- we have developed a juicy, spicy, full-flavored American classic.
For more culinary inspiration and product information, visit TMI Trading’s website. Learn more about how Asian flavors and food products can work for a wide range of restaurant concepts at TMI Trading’s booth #8033 at the National Restaurant Association Show May 18-21.
Robert Walljasper is president of the American Culinary Federation’s Big Apple Chapter and teaches at the Hospitality Management Department of New York City College of Technology. He has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years in establishments such as the New York Athletic Club, New York Palace and Chez Madeleine.
Chris Wilmoth is executive corporate chef for TMI Trading. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1989 and continued to pursue his passion for fine cuisine, working in restaurants, as a national accounts manager for both domestic and international restaurant chains and as executive chef for Lee Kum Kee for six years. He enjoys working with the full range of Asian flavors and believes that ingredients of the highest caliber will always produce a great meal.
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