Q&A: Chef Michael Gunn, The Schwan Food Co.
A corporate chef’s perspective on pie trends
Prepared Foods talks pie trends with Chef Michael Gunn, director of culinary research and development for The Schwan Food Company, Marshall, Minn. Schwan’s portfolio includes the Mrs. Smith’s and Edwards brands.
Prepared Foods: Where do you go for pastry/pie inspiration?
Chef Michael: I work with an amazing team of chefs and food scientists with an incredible passion for both sweet and savory. We talk every day about what we see going on in the world of food. Pastry, pie and dessert categories are so much fun because there are so many places to go for inspiration.
Independent pie, pastry and donut shops are great sources of inspiration. They aren’t afraid to try new things and push boundaries—and their customers expect it. I also look to adjacent categories like ice cream, retail candy and even specialty cocktails.
PF: What pie trends stood out in 2015?
Chef Michael: A few trends I noted in 2015 were the combination of traditional fruits in non-traditional ways, the use of unique streusel toppings to add flair, and the reference to sea salt as an ingredient. Honey, maple, tropical fruits, herbs, salted caramel, pears and rhubarb all enjoyed more exposure on pie and pastry menus.
PF: Anything new in pie crusts for texture, flavor?
Chef Michael: I think pastry chefs tinker less with the crust than they do with fillings but there are a few trends to note. Pastry chefs and bakers are using sea salt in the crust and calling it out on the menu. I’m also seeing a rise in more traditional fats like butter and lard. Millennials want more natural or traditional ingredients in their food and appreciate the flavor and texture lard and butter can bring to a pastry crust.
PF: What were some noteworthy new pie products last year?
Chef Michael: We launched two Edwards Crème pies in 2015 that were designed with current trends in mind. The first is a fantastic Triple Coconut Crème pie. Coconut continues to be a hot flavor so we updated a classic by tripling the coconut. For this pie, we fold coconut into coconut-flavored filling. We also top the pie with toasted coconut for additional coconut flavor, color and texture.
The second Edwards pie was a Vanilla Caramel Crème. Vanilla and caramel are classic and nostalgic flavors, so to make this pie unique, we add the caramel in distinct dollops within the vanilla bean crème. This allows the two flavor components to shine individually for the consumer. And since texture is more important than ever, we use a praline crunch on the top of the pie. We make the crust using cookie crumb from cookies baked and crumbled in our bakery—just minutes before being pressed into a crust.
PF: Any thoughts on trends in 2016?
Chef Michael: Some trends will continue because many have become consumer expectations. Examples include crunchy, mini, locally sourced, artisanal and ethnic flavor influences.
Beyond this, I think pastry chefs and bakers will be using a wider variety of cookies to add texture and flavor in the form of crusts and toppings. I also think specialty flours will be used to bring more complex flavor to the crust and enhance the health halo for dessert.
In fillings we will continue to see unique fruit combinations, heirloom fruits, coconut, and specialty/artisanal liquor as an ingredient. We might also begin to see some of the sweeter vegetables making their way onto pie fillings.
Originally appeared in the February, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as FIRST PERSON.