Posted on Thursday, 12th March, 2020
Edited on Wednesday, 23ʳᵈ November, 2022
While chefs have long made produce the hero of the dish, hero-ing a key flavour along with the produce is now coming to the fore. With many key flavours ebbing and flowing, there’s always something new to play with. How chefs use a key flavour to complement their produce makes the difference between a good dish and a great one.
On this path to create tasty heroes, we’re now seeing venues actually named after a key flavour profile. Modern Chinese restaurant XOPP in Sydney’s Darling Square is a new one out of the box by making a hero of the XO sauce, which is a key flavour. To honour the famous XO pippi dish, the Wong family dubbed its new restaurant XOPP. In this instance, the restaurant name heroes the flavour front of house, while chefs back of house also hero that umami profile in the kitchen.
If you think of all those burger venues that have popped up in the past few years, one thing remains a constant – an intensely flavoured sauce that accompanies the patties on a bun. In the southern fried stakes, Morgan McGlone pairs his brined birds with a super boost of umami in sweet paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and ground coriander in the signature coating of his Belles Hot Chicken in Sydney and Melbourne. For Matt Moran, it’s flavourful fresh produce from the gardens of his Chiswick restaurant in Sydney that create dollops of zesty mint salsa on his signature lamb shoulder.
Vegetable lovers and salt-of-the-earth chefs Shannon Martinez and Duncan Welgemoed have made a hero of fundamental Italian flavours with earthy green vegetables, such as kale and peas, as well as their unique takes on roasted cauliflower dressed with tahini and pomegranate or smoky barbecued carrots doused in burnt butter and kombu.
One of the holdovers from the Southern wood-smoked BBQ trend from a few years back is the distinctively rich and smoky flavours. Miss Moonshine's in Ponsonby, New Zealand makes a hero of the local produce as well as the woodsmoke that flavours it. On a larger scale, The Acres, in the old bowling club in Sydney’s Greenacre, has become home to a massive Yoder smoker on one of the disused bowling greens. This is used effectively to infuse a flavoursome smoky profile to a range of key dishes. We all know that red meats love an abundance of smoke, but subtle smokiness is working well with game, poultry and fish. Even plant-based dishes, sauces and condiments have become vehicles for signature wood-smoked flavours.
Fresh citrus is another resurging hero flavour profile. Simon Sandall uses citrus from the pocket handkerchief garden at Boronia Kitchen in Sydney, while the abundance of produce grown by Attica’s Ben Shewry at the nearby Rippon Lea Estate provides signature flavour for his menu. As citrus and acids can cure proteins as well as add distinctive flavour, Luke Mangan uses pickled ginger juice to cook the fish in his famous Kingfish with ginger, fetta and rocket dish.
A major key to hero-ing particular flavours is ensuring how to maintain consistency.
1. Plan ahead
Everything from the scale of service to seasonality and expense of produce can affect the end result, so planning is an important part of the process. Tony Panetta, Executive Chef at International Convention Centre Sydney, caters for an executive office menu of 4 to a sitting of 300 pax. To begin the planning process, Panetta goes straight to the source. “We know to ask questions from suppliers. We ask ‘What do you have? What’s coming up? Not just tomorrow or next month, but next season." Once you know what you’ve got to play with, then the creativity can kick in!”
Savvy chefs begin by creating small batches and test-running the results with some discerning diners, as there is no point in putting all your eggs in one flavour basket if there’s no general appeal. And creating the same flavour, whether you are cooking for 6 or 60, needs to be a constant.
3. Keep an eye on exciting commercial products
Not all chefs have the luxury of picking a yuzu from their kitchen garden, or the convenience of a 2-tonne smoker with a disused bowling green to place it on, to infuse hero flavours into dishes on a consistent basis. Innovative chefs are testing and experimenting with emerging commercial products and equipment to get these fundamental flavours out of even the humblest kitchens.
Introducing flavours that punch above their weight requires a fine balance, one that takes time to perfect. So get creative, dine out on the result and get some “mmmmmm” in your menu.