Interview with a Flavor "Psychic"

Interview with a Flavor "Psychic"

Food & Drink

Interview with a Flavor "Psychic"


Each year since 2000, the spice and flavor gurus at McCormick & Co. issue their annual Flavor Forecast, a look ahead at emerging flavor pairings we can expect to taste in the year ahead. The selections are always imaginative, often intriguing, and sometimes a bit weird. (Toasted Sesame and Root Beer?)

McCormick draws on the expertise of sensory analysts, chefs, trend experts, food technologists and cookbook authors who convene and converse periodically throughout the year, finally settling on its predicted Top Ten flavor pairs by year’s end.

We recently caught up with Kevan Vetter, Executive Chef at McCormick, who coordinates this culinary prognostication team, and asked him about the experience.

Tell us how you go about the process. Do you gather all these people in a room, or is it a big conference call or what?

Well, it’s a pretty diverse group—flavor experts at McCormick, restaurant chefs from all over, food insight groups—and we talk throughout the year. Almost as soon as one year’s forecast is put to bed, we start to talk about the next year. We’re already talking 2010 now. It’s a year-long labor of love for us. We talk to consumers and restaurateurs, try to find out what’s happening above and below the radar. Then we’ll put together some group sessions and discuss what we see happening and ask the chefs to start kicking around some creative ideas.

Dill and avocado oil. A top ten pick for ’09.

Why is it always about flavor pairings, rather than solo flavors—or why not threesomes?

It’s evolved over the years to become pairings. We’ve just found it’s more interesting to pair up flavors. We like to compare and contrast. What flavor is going to complement another? Which ones will be interesting contrasts that bring out something new in another flavor? We’ve just found the pairings to be more fun to think about.

How do you get it down to a Top Ten list? Is it hard to gain agreement on that final ten?

We have lots of conversation and negotiation. Over the course of the year we’ll have literally hundreds of ideas and potential pairings up on the board. People will come together—converge and diverge—then we try to start narrowing down the list by about mid-year. But we stay very flexible. Things can change quickly as you know. We’ve been known to make changes or adjustments at the very last minute, right up to the deadline.

Who makes the final call on the Top Ten? Is that you?

No, no. Absolutely not. It’s definitely a collaborative effort by the entire team: chefs, trend watchers, McCormick flavor experts—we’re a company that’s full of foodies. Everybody weighs in until we have a consensus.

Are these flavor pairings something our readers can expect to see when they dine out in 2009?

We think so, yes. Some of the pairings may sound exotic, but people are more adventurous now. We especially see a lot of instances where a chef will take something familiar—a comfort food like short ribs—and give it an ethnic or hip twist to create a dish like Sesame Root Beer Braised Short Ribs.

What are some of your personal favorites from 2009’s Top Ten?

I’d put the Mint and Quinoa right up there. It’s a great match. Mint is certainly a familiar flavor, crisp and clean. Team it with Quinoa, an emerging super grain that’s high in protein and other good-for-you nutrition, with lots of flavor and texture, and you’ve got a really special combination. Quinoa’s new but we’re already seeing it in many mainstream grocery stores. Our recipe for Rack of Lamb with Quinoa-Hazelnut Crust and Mint Pesto is pretty amazing.

Sesame Root Beer Braised Short Ribs

Another favorite pairing for me is Toasted Sesame and Root Beer. That’s our ‘eyebrow raiser’ for this year. It’s a little whimsical. Root beer is an iconic beverage with that earthy, sweet and creamy flavor with vanilla undertones…contrasted with the nutty intensity of the toasted sesame. This is definitely one of our contrasting flavor pairings. We’ve made Toasted Sesame Root Beer Cake and a brittle, plus the Sesame Root Beer Braised Short Ribs I mentioned earlier. They’re all really good.

Do you look back at previous years’ predictions and see how accurate you’ve been?

We, do, yeah. And I’d have to say we’ve done pretty well. We chart what we said would happen with what did happen and overall we’ve been on target. We were among the first to talk up pomegranate.

Have you ever looked back at a previous year’s forecast and said, ‘Okay, we really whiffed on that one?’

No…not really. Well, we might’ve been a little off on the Wasabi and Maple pairing prediction we did in 2007. But we did see a couple things: a wasabi-maple dip and someone was doing a dressing or something. But it didn’t go mainstream (laughs), I’ll admit that.


1. Toasted Sesame and Root Beer

2. Cayenne and Tart Cherry

3. Tarragon and Beetroot

4. Peppercorn Mélange and Sake

5. Chinese Five Spice and Artisan-cured Pork

6. Dill and Avocado Oil

7. Rosemary and Fruit Preserves

8. Garam Masala and Pepitas

9. Mint and Quinoa

10. Smoked Paprika and Agave Nectar

For a more complete taste of the 2009 Flavor Forecast visit the McCormick website.

Check out McCormick’s 2009 Flavor Pairings recipes:

Spicy Pulled Pork in Tart Cherry Sauce with Vanilla Slaw

Sesame Root Beer Braised Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes

Rack of Lamb with Quinoa-Hazelnut Crust and Mint Pesto

Smoked Paprika Shrimp with Poblano Polenta and Red Pepper-Agave

Sake Green Tea Martini with Crushed Peppercorns

Warm Rosemary Brie Cake with Peach Preserves

Grilled Scallops and Persimmon with Dill-Infused Avocado Oil

Peppercorn Mélange Chicken with Udon Noodles in Lemon Grass-Sake Broth

Smoky Margarita

Mixed Greens with Five-Spiced Bacon and Poached Egg

Pepita-Crusted Halibut with Blood Orange Jicama Chutney


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