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Kruse Report: Three trends pushing culinary casualization

Casualization is a broadly based and rapidly expanding cultural phenomenon that is impacting the restaurant industry. It represents a sea change in what, where and how consumers eat, and it was the subject of the 14th Annual Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival held in November at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif.

It’s open-minded
World-class chefs are chucking the old orthodoxies in favor of approaches that are compatible with contemporary tastes and convenience demands. That was demonstrated at the conference, where Maria Jose San Ramon, a widely celebrated specialist in Spanish gastronomy, not only endorsed the use of good quality canned foods and convenience ingredients, but also showed vermicelli noodles as a quicker alternative to more laborious rice when time is an issue in making paella.

It lifts the spirit
Eggs, perhaps the most casual and least expensive of proteins, can boost both sagging spirits and dull dishes, and Korean-American chefs, who attended the conference in force, claim credit for their welcome revival on mass-market menus. The current rage for putting fried eggs on hamburgers, they contended, reflects their popularity atop rice bowls in many Asian dishes. Indeed, eggs are fundamental to many international dishes, and conference attendees could sample fried eggs with potatoes from the Basque country, Mediterranean deviled eggs stuffed with tuna and an Italian frittata with ricotta cheese. In a real ingredient tour de force, attendees were privy to Asian spicy fried rice with roast duck, fried shallots and a 65-degree egg — a custard-like specialty that emerged from the molecular gastronomy movement, made by slowly cooking an egg with an immersion circulator at 65 degrees Centigrade.

It leaps borders
Menu casualization also owes a great deal to the impact of globalization, which has demolished both trade and culinary barriers. Bill Kim, chef and co-owner of super-hot Urbanbelly in Chicago, looks to Italy when he makes his dumplings by using the classic tortellini fold, which he nimbly demonstrated to a rapt audience at the conference. It was a perfect illustration of the free exchange of trends and techniques, foods and flavors that informs the new, relaxed attitude toward dining around the world.

See more from the Worlds of Flavor conference

Contact Nancy Kruse at [email protected].

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