Mobile Menu

Chef's Perspective: Booze Infused Foods

For centuries, chefs have been using spirits and alcohol to accentuate, embellish, and deliver big flavors into their cuisine. By no means is this a new trend, but as time goes by, those flavor delivery methods have become more innovative, exciting, and creative. Especially as the spirits, cordials and alcoholic beverages that are now more widely available have become more diverse and globally influenced. As the ‘sip to savor’ trend moves deeper into the menu innovation cycle, look to see chefs experiment with bitter flavors found in aperitifs and digestives like Aperol, Fernet, and Campari. Aperitifs are usually a pre-dinner cocktail, as these exciting and unique flavors are believed to stimulate hunger and prepare the diner for a fantastic culinary adventure. At the same time, a digestif is usually sipped alone or paired with a cocktail to settle the diner’s stomach after a larger meal. In that case, why can’t chefs creatively bring these flavors into the beginning or the ending of a fantastical gastronomic adventure? At Custom Culinary®, our traveling culinarians see many chefs across all segments of the food service industry using various degrees of experimentation, infusing the flavors found behind the bar into every area of the menu.

In my home city of Chicago, one of my favorite chefs loves creating desserts that pay homage to classic cocktails and flavors behind the bar. James Beard award winner Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig brings in the infusion of interesting cordials and digestifs into every element of a dish. What an opportunity to bring each flavor of the cocktail into the concept! I find this to be a fascinating way to evoke the emotion of the diner since this gives the chef the ability to bring the texture of the food as another layer of expression to whisk the diner away on a journey prepared especially by creative chefs like Chef Bannos does with ease. For example, the chef masterfully infused the herbaceous flavors of Fernet into a vanilla ice cream. The exciting ice cream is paired with a peach and cherry pie that is finished with a dollop of lemon verbena whipped cream. Fernet is an Italian type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from several herbs and spices, which vary according to brand but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron. In this case, the chef focused the boozy infusion on a tiny element of the dish.

This is a perfect example of the chef’s ability to highlight other flavors and aromas through the introduction of the bitter flavor profile into desserts that typically only include sweet flavors. I especially enjoy how Chef Bannos creatively adds innovative ideas into approachable forms like a humble slice of pie. Don’t forget that this also gives the mixologist behind the bar another opportunity for more creativity to create a drink to pair with creative dishes. I believe it is innovative flavor combinations like this that not only educate diners’ pallets but also create new platforms for bringing balanced flavor profiles into every course of the meal and every area of the menu.

The sip & savor trend has the most play in high-end and casual full-service restaurants where the diner is most captivated by the creative prowess of the chef on the pass. This segment also has the most access to a fully stocked bar and a client base that is driving a higher-than-normal check average as compared to other areas of the food service industry. If I were still cooking in restaurants today, I would use the sip & savor trend to not only create a commonality and bond between food and drink pairings but also as a unique way to expose the diner to less known and unique flavors found in the world of mixology. Being able to splash some unique flavors into a sauce or a marinade might be a soft and gentle way to introduce our beloved customers to new ideas, flavors, and pairing possibilities.

In the casual dining segment, adding boozy flavors to all areas of the menu, in combination with emerging global cuisines, would be an excellent strategy to attain that cravable differentiator. Our operator partners can easily take Master’s Touch® Ancho Flavor Concentrate, a few splashes of tequila, and some freshly squeezed citrus and mix them with some chopped cilantro and bone in skin on chicken breasts and let them marinate overnight. This could become an accessible center-of-the-plate protein option or be used in many other ways across the menu. This is just one example of many ways we can be a solution for our clients.

In closing, we are in an exciting and rapidly changing era of the hospitality industry, and the boozy-infused trend that we call sip to savor at Custom Culinary® is sure to continue to be the life of the party!

Michael Manno
Chef Michael Manno


3 Familiar Ingredients to Add Sweet Beyond Sugar
3 Familiar Ingredients to Add Sweet Beyond Sugar

We’d like to offer a round of ideas worth cooking. Something sweet, something craveable, and something familiar that your guests are sure to love.

Chef's Perspective: Sweet Beyond Sugar
Chef's Perspective: Sweet Beyond Sugar

As consumers and operators are searching for “cleaner” products and “better-for-you” ingredients, sugar seems to be the next ingredient on the chopping block. 

Sweet Beyond Sugar is Just as Sweet
Sweet Beyond Sugar is Just as Sweet

The trend toward less processed sweeteners continues as chefs, operators, and consumers steer away from refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.