Chef Irene Li
We recently spoke with Irene to find out more about the world of mobile foodservice and its differing processes from work-life in a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.Read Bio
What are some of the top flavor trends you've noticed right now?
Well, Mexican food is still resonating with people. It has been around as a food trend for a long time with the taco and palata craze taking over and still going strong. We’re also seeing a lot more South American flavors from Peru, Argentina, Chile; a combination of flavors some are already familiar with but with a different spin. They’re like the findings in a Mexican pantry but are going deeper with what’s already been familiar flavor; chili, spice and heat.
Korean-inspired flavors are leading the Asian trend category with fermentation taking the lead in new-age kimchi’s. Poke is massive, Hawaiian style ceviche, all fresher yet again are something familiar with new twists.
What about spice trends?
For spices, ginger is definitely growing. Turmeric is also becoming popular. In the 70's, we just saw it as a color and now we're using it to enhance our recipes. I actually inherited a jar of it from my mother when I moved out at 16. Looking back, when I was a kid, i thought spices lasted forever, but now I know I can't keep them forever.
What is your favorite herb or spice these days & your most enjoyable or creative way of using it?
I'd say Dill is my absolute favorite because it's a very common but underused herb. It is usually used in South Central European stews and soups (Georgian, Armenian, Ukrainian) and different meat dishes. I also love parsley, both curly and flat. I use it in Middle Eastern and Greek dishes; fresh ones like salad and tabbouleh of course!
On your food journeys, what kind of discussions have there been on the topic of spices & herbs?
I have been part of conversations on sourcing and traceability, both very important to touch on with any core ingredient being brought from far away. Major questions for these discussions have included:
McCormick spices & herbs are sourced directly from farmers. The company monitors this process from harvesting to milling to distribution. How would you want other companies to take steps in following suit?
I’d want them to ensure ethical practices, traceability as well as sustainability. We need to get them to think about the source, especially with chocolate, sugar and other goods that we don’t grow ourselves but are still favorites in our pantries. It’s important for us to understand the place of origin, the quality, who it’s coming from, and, again, its overall sustainability. Within five years, this will become a further mandate for people than it already is.
Why do you think it’s important for people to know from a quality standpoint that their herbs and spices are sourced from developing countries?
People who care about our food systems and sustainability are also concerned with the ethical sourcing of their food. Workers’ rights and fair trade are a very important part of a holistic approach to food systems. This extends to the spice trade as well, especially when we factor in global importation. We want to understand how food is produced and be assured that people are paid fairly and working in healthy and safe work environments.