The word “hospitality” has always conjured up an image of food and drink being enjoyed together in a convivial, welcoming atmosphere, and there has long been a strong tradition of marrying the two. From icons such as Nico Ladenis famously saying it was the dish ‘poulet au vin jaune’ (chicken cooked in a yellow wine) that inspired him to become a chef, today there’s a whole world of innovation going on around the interaction of food and drink. Some of it more successful than others, it has to be said. Here are a few examples:
Diversifying drinks in the cooking process
While chefs have always relied on alcohol to give richness and depth to sauces or to macerate fruit for a dessert, now they are using a wider range of types of drink in more diverse ways, for example, when finishing sauces traditionally using lemon or cooked and reduced wine, instead using a spirit such as madeira or brandy neat giving a much stronger but cleaner flavour. Or taking it even further using neat spirit to make a fluid gel to stir into a sauce just before serving to give greater intensity to a dish. Macerating a piece of fish in vermouth before steaming gives it a much more perfumed and firmer flesh.
Drinks as food (or vice versa)
We’re also seeing the emergence of drinkable meals, taking the smoothies to the next level by adding grains, pulses high in protein, or vegetables. While this is unlikely to take off in restaurants (I hope), we could see it becoming a new food fad for takeaway office lunches or gym cafes sometime soon.
Food in drinks
A martini with an olive might be staging a retro comeback – but food in cocktails can now take many forms. Techniques such as ‘spherification’, adopted from the molecular gastronomy of restaurants such as El Bulli are now finding their way into drinks – you’re as likely (or perhaps more so) to find tiny jelly-like balls of cassis in your Kir Royale these days than you are to find them on your plate.
A wild twist
Foragers – in recent times courted by chefs to bring something new and wild to their dishes – are now finding their services in growing demand from bars, as infusions of wild herbs and flowers are increasingly being distilled and used as the basis of cocktails. Plant waters, such as birch sap, maple sap and cactus sap are adding a new twist to the cocktail menu.
Pairing wine with food is just the start – today pubs and restaurants are matching up beer, cider or spirits with their dishes. Cocktails are being drunk with cheese (who would have thought a Negroni and Pecorino cheese would work so well together?) Some restaurants (eg Noma in Denmark) are even pairing soft drinks…
Kicking off the day with brunch drinks
It’s not uncommon to see a Bloody Mary on a brunch menu, especially in some parts of the City of London. But now, other beverages like champagne or Mimosas are being added to menus. Or for a really different caffeine kick, cold brew coffee is a new trend – leaving ground coffee to steep in cold water over night. Makes a change from a cappuccino certainly.
While some of these are clearly fads, they all demonstrate how the connection between food and drink is taking the hospitality sector – bars, pubs, restaurants and events – in new and surprising directions. Done well, a little innovation and experimentation is a great way to spice things up.
Report by Bruce Wilson, Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd
Bruce Wilson is a Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd, which specialises in advising food, catering & hospitality businesses on pre-planning, site launch, and on-going management advice. www.bawconsulting.com/foodsolutions