Hand-Held Foods: A Corporate Executive Chef’s Perspective
A conversation with Michele Sampson, a corporate executive chef with Nestlé Professional
Prepared Foods talks with Michele Sampson, a corporate executive chef with Nestlé Professional. Chef Sampson has extensive experience running fine dining kitchens as well as product development for restaurant chains. She specializes in Italian/Mediterranean and Asian cuisine.
Prepared Foods: We’ve read that restaurant operator customers want new sandwiches to drive sales. Is that true and what does that say about consumers?
Michele Sampson: Absolutely. I think consumers today differ from consumers 10 to 15 years ago. People are busier and eat on the go, much more than they used to. So they are looking for hand-held items for their main meals, not just snacks. The younger demographic of consumers are creating this trend and accelerating the need for more interesting new flavors and ethnic foods.
PF: What factors influenced hand-held food trends during the past five to 10 years?
Chef Sampson: Wow, there’s a lot that’s new within the last five to 10 years. The biggest difference is the influence and acceptance of ethnic foods. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was looking for hand-held foods. I could find Argentinian, Columbian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Peruvian and Cuban varieties of empanadas. I also found Dosas (Indian) and a large variety of Bao (Asian).
Today’s consumer wants (and will pay for) freshness, premium ingredients, new exciting flavors and healthy choices. Millennials and Gen X consumers are the driving force for this trend. They are experimental and grew up eating more ethnic foods.
PF: What’s a recent hand-held item you’ve created?
Chef Sampson: I worked on a dessert empanada that was chocolate marshmallow with a hint of chipotle. It was unique because it had a little bit of a spicy background flavor. It also had cinnamon, which is a classic combination in Mexico. Another concept was an Indian style empanada—similar to a samosa—with a potato and vegetable filling. I toasted carom seeds and put them in the dough to make it a bit more authentic.
PF: Last month, we covered global breads. How do new breads—as carriers—influence you?
Chef Sampson: New trends in bread do have some influence on hand held development. One area is health and wellness. Being able to incorporate ingredients such as flax, chia, oatmeal or quinoa into dough, could help you attract a different type of consumer to your brand.
In addition, traditional ethnic doughs—like a tamale dough or a steamed Bao dough—are well received by Millennials and Gen X’ers. I try to stay as current to trends as I can, when developing concepts.
PF: How about fillings? How do trends impact your selections here?
Chef Sampson: I think today, consumers are looking for food they feel good about eating. They want to eat knowing that there aren’t preservatives or fillers in their food. The desire to eat healthier is becoming important to many people.
We can use quinoa, lentils, black beans and vegetables in fillings and whole grains, seeds and nuts in dough—and make it taste good. Another big difference involves the emergence of ethnic flavors. It really influences the majority of products that I work on.