Inspirational Food Tours for Curious Chefs
Food tours can help chefs and operators find valuable insights and inspiration—even in their very own neighborhoods. Mondelēz International Foodservice Chef Patty Mitchell explains how to organize a food tour with purpose, and use your observations to update and improve your menu.
Why should chefs and operators consider taking a food tour?
A food tour speaks to us both personally and professionally. It helps feed our natural curiosity, as chefs, for seeing what’s out there. Food is our lives, after all! It’s inspiring to see the creativity on different menus, how the items look, how they’re served.
Food tours also serve a very practical business purpose: Operators and chefs alike can use their experiences on a food tour to see where there are gaps in their menu and what they can do to fill them. For example, looking at your dessert menu, you may find you have many chocolate-flavored desserts but no vanilla or fruit-forward desserts. What flavors, textures or dessert types are missing?
What are you looking to take away from a food tour?
I’m looking to learn what operators are doing now in terms of flavor, color, serving size and visual display. What flavors are trending? Am I seeing the same thing at all the places I’m visiting? Then I think about how I can take the trends that are inspiring to me and adapt them so they use our Mondelēz International ingredients and are cost-effective for operators.
I recommend thinking about how you can take a trendy item or idea and translate that to your establishment while staying true to who you are. The purpose is not to copy an idea, but to use it as inspiration. You can go big and create something completely new, or stay true to your business and simply tweak something you already serve—taking it slow but moving in the direction of the trends. To use the trend of over-the-top of “freak” shakes as an example, you could take a basic milkshake and elevate it with a slice of pie or something else you already have, like we did in our Ultimate Apple Pie Milkshake made with GOLDEN OREO Cookies recipe.
What trends did you observe in your last food tour, and how did you translate them into new recipes?
Matcha is everywhere right now—in drinks, desserts and more. Picking up on that trend, I created a Matcha Shake with GOLDEN OREO Cookies. It’s even vegan, which connects to another trend we’re seeing for more plant-based eating!
Trends aren’t always about ingredients and flavor. Sometimes trends work off of a color—think millennial pink or the new PANTONE® Color of the Year. It translates into everything, even food. Serving size or style can also be a trend. Are people serving mini desserts or dessert flights? (We’re actually in the process of developing an on-trend dessert flight for 2020, so stay tuned for that!)
How do you learn from other operators’ success?
I feel incredibly inspired by other chefs’ stories. Often I’ll call the chef or owner of a restaurant I plan to visit ahead of time to introduce myself and ask if they can spare five minutes of their time. When I meet them, I’ll ask them to tell us their story, the feedback they get from customers and what they think they’re doing that makes them so popular. I’m exposed to a lot as a chef, but I want to know what the buzz is about a place or what makes their donut the best in New York or LA. This helps us understand the market and figure out how to fill in our gaps.
Do you have any tips for someone planning a food tour for the first time?
First decide on what you want to get out of it. What is the goal of the food tour? Be specific: For example, you could do a whole food tour on plating!
Find the places you want to go to, do a pre-read and figure out what you want to learn from these places.
Once you’re on the tour, take notes on what you saw, and then connect with your team to brainstorm about how you can use those ideas to inspire your restaurant or menu. Think about how your findings connect to your gaps. For example, if we visit a bakery that serves the best babka in New York, we think about how we can translate those flavors and textures into ice cream or another dessert.
I would recommend doing the food tour on your own before you bring your staff or larger group, including tasting the food. That way you can familiarize yourself with the operation, talk about it with your staff and make sure it’s large enough to accommodate your group.
What’s your most memorable moment from a recent food tour? Did you have an “ah-ha!” bite or moment?
On a recent food tour in New York I went with a group to Mexican ice cream and paleta shop La Newyorkina. I spoke to the chef/owner, Fany Gerson, and I loved listening to her story. I know how hard it is to make it in this business and I know that she took a big leap, and now she has a successful shop in NYC. It makes it real to hear how a dream becomes a success.
I took away inspiration in various ways, in both her menu and her story. Her menu of beautiful Mexican ice pops in creative flavors made me think of the Fudge Pops with OREO Cookie Pieces we made. It was further inspiration and a reminder about how we can use our brands in so many ways we haven’t even thought of yet. That’s what, ultimately, a food tour should leave you with.
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