Culinary Innovation (a Glocal GULP!)



The first comment I received about this blog came from my sister in a mail that I translate and quote: "...I don't innovate hahaha but it's interesting... well, I DID innovate a fish recipe that came up pretty good." My sister has PhD in molecular biology at UT, and as a hobby is studying Chef. She joked about "innovating" a recipe, but she is not far from the truth.

Cuisine involves creation and includes everything innovation is all about, from considering cultural identity and anthropological aspects, consumer focus, mixing obtainable resources with different processes to even achieving a personal author style or brand. Every country has developed its own cuisine throughout time, can it be a measure of cultural creativity?

Mexican food is a famous type of cuisine. Leaving tacos behind, we have some of the most elaborated dishes. Take "mole" (pronounced 'maule') for example. Mole is a thick traditional Mexican sauce usually placed on top of chicken. "Mole Poblano" is a special type of mole that is prepared with dried chili peppers such as chile ancho, pasilla, mulato and chipotle; ground nuts and seeds likealmonds, indigenous peanuts, and sesame seeds; spices, chocolate, salt, and a variety of other ingredients including charred avocado leaves, oregano, onions, banana and garlic. Who was the first person that thought combining chili and chocolate would actually taste good? … and then add another 20 ingredients!

Restaurants strive for innovation in order to be competitive, constantly evolving their menus. In 2009 I read an article in Business Week called “The Challenges for McDonald's Top Chef” and I saved the article written by Michael Arndt just because I’ve never imagined what a Chef of an international corporation has to go through. McDonalds has a director of culinary innovation!! Think of his constraints, as Michael Amdt writes: “He's only allowed to prepare dishes that can be made by entry-level help at every one of the chain's U.S. 14,000 locations and from ingredients available in industrial quantities year-round. And, oh yeah, the food has to appeal every day to millions of customers who don't have a lot of money or time or the stomach for anything too unusual.”

Add this to McDonald’s "glocal" approach and you even have more innovation criteria to handle. Glocal is a term used to combine what is global (such as their standardized quality, prices and processes) and local, such as products that appeal local markets, like excluding meat in India. Sometimes a local approach might change the entire recipe. For example, all Mexican food at Dominican Republic that I tried in restaurants wasn’t even close to the original, but they like their own inventions and like feeling it is Mexican. The original recipes would probably be too spicy for them, and restaurants would flunk.

From sushi with beans and chipotle to chocolate-pizzas, I’ve tried some strange food fusions. Restaurant names also transmit their fusion ideas to the brand. Carlos Ruiz Gonz├ílez, professor at IPADE, wrote in an article that Sushi-ito, one of Mexico’s most famous sushi restaurants, added the “ito” since in Mexico we like using this diminutive suffix for the things we like or care while still conserving an orient-like pronunciation.

For culinary innovation, always keep in mind access to ingredients, installation and employee capabilities, time-to-serve, plate’s quality iteration and specially your market’s taste buds. The sky is the limit... and health inspectors.

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