Cutting-Edge Appetizers Turn Heads

Incorporating Core Values — Creativity, Authenticity And Sustainability

Chefs demonstrate their appetizer creativity in different ways. The Playground DTSA (Downtown Santa Ana), CA, changes its menu every day with exciting dishes such as “land and sea” hen of the woods and lobster mushrooms; and a “green” salad of green strawberries and green almonds, jackfruit curry, elderflower fritters and watermelon kimchi.

Authentic dishes either stay true to their original cuisine or add a twist of fusion. At Guelaguetza in Los Angeles, dishes call for specialty squash, squash blossoms, huitlacoche and regional herbs; True Food Kitchen’s new miso eggplant consists of a miso-soy glazed and roasted Japanese eggplant served with roasted peppers and lentils over a minted tahini sauce; Sweet Chick, NYC and LA, appetizers bring in Southern greens and pickled vegetables; the Omni Scottsdale appetizer menu offers berenjena — eggplant roasted with herbs and tomatoes served on fresh sourdough while The Bistro at Topsail, Surf City, NC, calls on unique yet familiar Southern flavors in its boiled peanut and mushroom paté.

Manfred Lassahn, executive chef, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, CA, melds culinary creativity with sustainability. “Taking something you normally wouldn’t even consider and turning it into something over-the-top cool, and zero-waste, is rewarding. For example, I created a shaved, mixed radish flatbread with radish top pesto. When your menu is zero waste or root to fork, sustainability sells itself.”

Chef Vikram Vij of My Shanti and Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver, BC, exemplifies the successful combination of creativity, authenticity and sustainability. “At My Shanti, we make all the chutneys with local berries plus our own Indian spices. We prepare our sauces first, then add produce and cook them down to the right heat and flavors while maintaining nutrition value. At Vij’s, we’ve become known for our blend of Indian ingredients and West Coast produce. We also use our platform to draw attention to sustainability issues when we can – for example, by naming a dish after the endangered Monarch butterfly.”

Millennial Appeal

Millennials have become the target market for many restaurants. US Foods reports Millennials spend more on dining out than any other demographic, and the demographic prefers local restaurants. The company helps local chefs and independent restaurants create products and food experiences specifically targeted to Millennials ­­— globally inspired appetizers such as guacamole deviled eggs and avocado caprese salad with authentic ingredients, international flavors and high-quality products that are both responsibly prepared and satisfying for the taste buds. The National Restaurant Association suggests engaging Millennial guests by explaining food sourcing, telling stories about farmers and chefs and demonstrating authenticity.

“Our Millennial guests want to eat more vegetables,” says Chef David Burke, of Tavern62 by David Burke. “As a chef, I really enjoy the challenge of designing a vegetarian or vegetable-driven dish that they can get excited about. It’s a fun challenge to make produce the star of the show rather than falling back on a protein garnished with vegetables.”

“Appetizers are fun for Millennials, who like to dine in groups and share the experience of a variety of dishes, ingredients and flavors rather than a full plate of one dish,” says Miki Hackney, corporate chef, Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Vernon, CA. “Shishito peppers can be interactive, as usually one in 10 is hot. Kale sprouts add a flavor twist and can be amped up with spicy, sweet, vinegar or charred profiles. Seared slabs of king trumpet mushrooms evoke smoky, meaty satisfaction in a vegan dish, and refreshing watermelon chaat offsets the bite of crunchy, raw onions and crisp mint for a punch of flavor.”