Memories from the Exploring Phenomenal Foods and Flavours: A Culinary Master Course for Dietitians - Part I

Caprese Salad served at the welcome reception for the Dietitians Flavors Course

(HealthCastle.com)  Recently, I had the good fortune of attending “Exploring Phenomenal Foods and Flavors:  A Culinary Master Course for Dietitians”, hosted by the Academy of Food and Nutrition’s Food and Culinary Professionals Dietetic Practice Group.  It was a 2.5 day course, held in beautiful California.

It began on a Thursday evening with a welcome reception.  I was the only Canadian dietitian who had made the trip to this course, so I was eager to meet other like-minded dietitians who share my passion for culinary arts and nutritional science.  The reception consisted of 4 tables full of brilliant foods.  What I most appreciated was the culinary demonstration that food, for it to taste great, does not need a lot of fancy ingredients and additions.  Using simple but flavourful ingredients from real food, combined with simple culinary technique can yield a high-impact flavor experience where you just enjoy the food itself. 

Day 1: Focus on Ingredients and Flavors: Modern American Eating:

We spent the morning in Napa with Chef Lucien Vendome, the Director of Culinary Innovations at Nestle.  I learned that Nestle is the company behind Lean Cuisine, and that his team, is responsible for creating food products that will meet consumer demand.

Chef Lucien talked about how we can build flavor in 2 ways:

  • Horizontal flavor – is flavor created from combining quality ingredients.  He described this flavor experience as “birds on a wire”.  The ingredients are there – and you can taste all of them – but, that is all.  There is no depth to the flavor.  
  • Vertical flavor – this is flavor created from combining quality ingredients with culinary techniques that manipulate the naturally occurring properties of the ingredient.  This kind of flavor creates depth and a much richer culinary experience.  

For example, you can eat cooked sweet potatoes and eggplant (horizontal flavor) or you can roast them to create a richer, more “vertical” flavor by simply taking the same ingredients and applying a culinary technique (roasting).

Creating flavorful foods with healthier ingredients:
Chef Lucien then talk about how to create traditional flavors of foods we love while incorporating ingredients to make the final product a healthier, but still a flavorful replica of the original.   He demonstrated this concept in many ways:

  • Caesar salad dressing with white bean puree to reduce the total oil content
  • Mashed potatoes with cauliflower to reduce the overall calories
  • Meatloaf with added mushrooms and rice
  • Seven grain risotto to include more whole grains and fiber
  • Potato salad with a lighter dressing [I believe this was lightened up with pureed white beans].

Spotting a Food Trend:

Trends are merely forecasts or predictions about what might happen.  So how do you spot a food trend?  The process of taking something from an idea to going mainstream occurs over ~42 months.   Chef Lucien lead a brilliant discussion on food trends, and how he, and his Culinary Innovations Team work to prepare food products that will be available in the marketplace in time so that, when consumers are demanding it, the food product is developed, product tested, and is ready and available at the marketplace.

Some trends highlighted:

  • Consumers are starting to think about food as medicine and prevention.  That what you eat matters. 
  • Consumers are wanting to know where does food come from.
  • Food as fashion.  We want to eat colorful foods.
  • Food as entertainment.
  • Small is big.  Portable foods, small foods that you can share, smaller portions as in tapas yield low risk commitment.

If you wanted to create a product with a word/concept, like healthy, ingredient-focused, ethnic, fun, seasonal, how would you do that?  What images jump out for you when you think of “convenient”?  We then went through an exercise where we selected images to demonstrate the concept of “convenient”.  This exercise helped to show the process of how we might go about creating a food product that conveyed convenience. 

I had new insight into the complex task of taking a concept and translating this into a final food product – and the many complex steps that go into this process. 

A morning full of tasting experiences left me with a very full tummy but a mind forever stretched with new thoughts and approaches to culinary approaches to food and nutrition.

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