According to Katie Ayoub, managing editor at Flavor & The Menu magazine, it’s not good fences that make good neighbors, it’s good mole sauce. Her magazine spotlighted “Modern Mexican” as one of the 10 trends for the year ahead, and Ayoub says she knows why: our southern neighbor is just close enough, and just familiar enough, to make a great jumping-off point for exciting new culinary developments.
Borrowing big flavors
“Mexican food has always been popular in this country, but now, propelled by an energized culinary curiosity, consumers are looking beyond burritos and tacos,” says Ayoub, who covers flavor trends, strategies and solutions for a publication aimed at food and beverage menu developers. “There’s so much to explore within Mexico’s rich food culture, and chefs here in the United States are borrowing big flavors and ingredients, translating them onto their own menus.” The variety that’s currently found on many menus is impressive, and Ayoub notes a range from “beautifully complex moles to a world of chile peppers beyond the jalapeño, like the ancho or pasilla.”
What’s also exciting is the original spin many chefs are bringing to the table. “Instead of trying to replicate Mexican dishes, they’re digging into regional flavors and applying them to their menus—without laying claim to a Mexican theme,” Ayoub says. She notes a particularly good example of this trend at Manolin, a “new American eatery” in Seattle, which runs a menu of seasonal moles with its selection of grilled fish. The brunch category continues to display more global influences, and Ayoub is seeing “eclectic chilaquiles and thirst-quenching micheladas popping up everywhere.”
“Consumers’ familiarity with Mexican fare gives chefs a bridge into offering bolder flavor combinations,” she explains. “They are using a taco or torta as a carrier for unexpected builds, like tacos with mole-spiced carrots, chipotle-date yogurt, pumpkin, sesame seeds and cilantro, found on the menu at Big Star in Chicago.”