Whether it’s grandma’s ravioli or a late-night Philly cheesesteak, every food that we eat comes with memory — or forms a new ones if we’re trying something new.
“Flavor is taste and smell, and those things are separate, and weaving that in with your other senses — and your baggage,” said culinary scientist and cofounder of Pilot R + D, Ali Bouzari.
Fresh off of the Under 30 Food Festival on Sunday night, the foodie conversation spilled into the next day with a conversation moderated by FORBES reporter and 30 Under 30 Food & Wine list curator Maggie McGrath in a breakout session at the Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia to discuss how they are disrupting the $700 billion food industry.
Panelists Taylor Hanson judged the Under 30 Food Festival on Sunday night and Aditi Malhotra and Kelvin Fernandez both entered their dishes into the competition. Malhotra, with a melange of her favorite chocolate treats and truffles, and Fernandez, with his crispy arepas that earned him the title of the “Arepa King” after recently beating out the TV show’s namesake on “Beat Bobby Flay.” All three were also joined onstage by Bouzari.
It’s tough to create something new though, and move into the future, without also harkening back to the past. Each panelist touched on how a nostalgia has affected their cooking. That “baggage” that Bouzari mentioned is what makes different people experience food differently from past experiences.
“I go back and think what my mom used to make me,” Fernandez says. At age 24 he became the youngest Executive Chef in New York City fine dining while manning the kitchen of the Strand American Bistro. He now commands the kitchen of La Marina in Manhattan. He shared how his mother taught him to make flan, and how he then worked to take it to the next level for his restaurant’s menu by adding new textures and flavors to an old, but delicious, standby.
“In the food business there is no plagiarism,” Fernandez says. “You’re either going to make it better or make it worse.”
Born into a family of restaurateurs, Aditi Malhotra says she bases many of her artisan chocolate flavors on her experiences eating at friends’ homes growing up in Queens, New York. Fast forward several years, and the CEO-chocolatier trained in Switzerland at the Glion Institute now runs her own artisan chocolate shop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
“I’m in an industry where you eat with your ears and your eyes first,” she says. To create new chocolates, Malhotra said she aims to recreate flavors that her customers had as a child and make them into her own. She plans to make holiday cookie inspired chocolates for the end of the year.
“The job of a chef is to make you feel comfortable and at home so you can have the best experience,” Hanson added.
Hanson looked at the conversation from his perspective as a craft beer brewer, which is all about
“Craft beer has been to go back to your great-grandfather’s beer,” he says. “Not your father’s.”
He has recently taken his “MMMbop” fame and transformed it, with his brothers Isaac and Zac, into Hanson Brothers Beer, and Mmmhops based in Tulsa, Okla. They now sell their beers in five states but are aiming to expand to ten more by the end of the year.
Despite this focus on nostalgia, change in the food industry is accelerating at a faster and faster pace. Bouzari compared how it took 20 years for sushi to become commonplace, 10 years for kale and only a couple of years for kombucha. The pace is quickening, so what’s next coming up the pipeline?
Bouzari touched on a few: “Taking overripe produce and turning it into blueberry vinegar, overripe peach caramel … “We’re trying to get gym rats to eat crickets … and savory [foods].”