Restaurant operators are using science to unlock successful food and drink pairings based on a molecular level. 70-80% of our perception of flavor is made up by what we smell. Advanced techniques like gas chromatograpy and mass spectrometry are revealing new food pairings that can bring an exciting tasting experience to the table.
In this article, we will discuss modern food pairings that will take your restaurant to the next level, including:
- Smart chefs’ recommendations for unique food pairings, like vanilla ice cream and soy sauce or natto with raw eggs and rice
- Invigorating food and wine pairings like sparkling rosé and Vietnamese cuisine
- Juice and food combinations, notably popular fermented juices like beet and carrot juices or Kombucha with salads and sandwiches
- Beer and food pairings like a smoked lager with a smoked fish dish – some beer and food pairings should match, and others should contrast based on intensity
You can pick and choose which combinations you find most appetizing, or collect some ideas to inspire your own exceptional pairings.
If you find the following modern ideas a bit overwhelming, we have also included some information about starting food pairing in your restaurant.
Food pairing findings from expert chefs
Chef / Expert:
Food pairing recommendation:
Bernard Lahousse, bio-enginner and scientist who conducts unusual eating projects to discover novel food pairings that are to-die-for
Chocolate, plum and Darjeeling
Cinnamon, beef and porcini
Strawberries and parmesan cheese
Chicken, grapefruit, vanilla, ginger and buffalo Mozzarella
Mackerel, beetroot, potatoes and horseradish
Christopher Mark of Black Sheep Restaurants
Anchovies and blue cheese (try with fresh, crusty bread)
Daniel Calvert, BELON chef
White truffles shaved over popcorn ice cream
Gizzy Alesbrook of Hotal Colombo
Vanilla ice cream and soy sauce for a sweet yet salty treat
Shun Sato, Fukuro chef
Natto (fermented soybeans) with raw eggs and rice, which is popular in Japan, thanks to its strong taste and sticky texture
Billy Otis, chef at Black Sheep Restaurants
Chili and fruit, like mango and lime with jalapeno or serrano chili
Lisette Magampon of Osteria Marzia
Strawberry and black pepper ice cream, inspired by her favorite Brooklyn ice cream shop: Oddfellows
André Chiang from Restaurant André
Charcoal grilled meats with fermented foods and vanilla
Grant Achatz from the Chicago-based restaurant Alinea
Caviar and white chocolate (it’s all about getting the right combination of sweet and salty)
Eneko Axtra from the Spanish restaurant Azurmendi
Lobster and coffee
Food and wine pairing ideas:
Wine is becoming more accessible, and can now be found in kegs, cans and other formats. More customers than ever are expecting the best food and wine pairings as part of their dining experience.
Every restaurant owners may or may not know the basics of food and wine pairings: Considering the acidity of the wine to enhance the dish’s flavor, pairing full-bodied wine with heavy food, and being aware of sauce flavor and weight compared with the wine.
You may already know to avoid pairing sulfuric foods, chiles, asparagus and artichokes with wines, but what food and wine pairings will make your restaurant stand out?
- A familiar chicken dish with a bold red wine (especially Australian wines like Barossa Shiraz) to elevate the taste of the delicious but standard dish
- Rose with an Indian curry – while bold wines stand up well to flavorful Indian dishes, a dry rosé like a Grenache with that slight acid hint will complement Indian flavors quite well
- Try a Pinot Grigio with a cheese pizza, because pizza doesn’t only have to pair with beer! A crisp Pinot Grigio will pair well with a plain pizza
- Vietnamese cuisine with a sparkling rosé or Crémant d’Alsace to add a little spice
- Dry Sherry and Madeira as cocktail alternatives with roasted nuts or salty olives
- Brut Cava with fried chicken, because a bone-dry wine pairs beautifully with fried foods
- Fish tacos with Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc, because these wines have underlying green, herbal notes
Juice & food pairings:
The popularity of juices as an alternative to cocktails, beers and wines is increasing. Some juices should be fresh, some preserved and others fermented.
“Sophisticated sour” is a modern flavor trend that pairs well with salty meats, tangy cheeses and more. Some of these sour flavor profiles come from:
- Fermented drinks
- Varietal citrus
- Sour berries
- Tart cherry
Many of these sour and fermented juices have health benefits, which appeal to health-conscious consumers. For example, tart cherry is known to improve sleep, and the number of tart cherry products have increased 87% between 2017 and 2018. Other guests prefer mocktails or juices in order to avoid alcohol for various reasons.
Fermented vegetable products like beet, carrot, and mushroom juices can be added to any drink or recipe. Consumers are craving fruit and vegetable flavors that can offer them dining options that are healthful and authentic.
Juices made with root vegetables pair well with spices and earthy flavors. Imagine a beet/apple juice with a spicy and herb-coated chicken with some roasted greens. For a heavier dish, the juice should be refreshing enough to cleanse the palate, but still flavorful enough so it doesn’t lose its power next to the meal. A dessert juice should be a little sweet and a little complex, with underlying flavors based on the dessert it needs to complement (maybe a little vanilla, dates, or star anise).
Beer & Food Pairings:
Consumers are looking for food-friendly beer pairings. Locally brewed beers and international flavors all enhance their dining experience.
The National Restaurant Association determined that food-and-beer pairings has been a top beverage trend just since 2018. Featuring beers with various food offerings will help them sell and may very well increase the restaurant’s profit margin.
The following ideas come from restaurant operations all over the world.
- A saison farmhouse ale can add a peppery and savory taste to a Wagyu steak
- A west coast India Pale Ale can enhance the flavor and texture of a ribeye
- A smoked lager with a smoked trout spread
- Trendy sour brews like gose, citrus-flavored shandy and radler with moules frites or an oily fish
- Hearty stouts and porters paired with cheese dishes
- Hoppy IPAS and spicy foods
- Lighter sours and pale ales to accompany salads
- Craft beers highlight the flavors with cooked-in beers, such as beer cheese soup with amber ale
- An American IPA with fruit flavor nuances with spicy wings
- American pale ale with a thin crust pizza
- Less bitter amber lager with a deep dish, meat-laden pizza
- Brown ale or porter with bangers and mash
- Crisp lager with chicken schnitzel
- Hoppy ale with dishes featuring a Cajun-spiced dill pickle
- Belgian-style white ale with creamed corn and avocado salsa
Pairing beer with starters, appetizers and tapas is a great way to introduce beer pairing to your staff and guests.
Make sure the staff is trained up on beer and food pairing so they can make fantastic suggestions to your guests. Intensity, contrast and harmony, as well as weight and texture are the keys to an optimal pairing process. Consider regional beer pairings as well. Craft beer expert David Soper, the Head Brewer of Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri provided some tips for pairing regional beers and top dishes. For more support, reach out to your beverage saes rep.
Online chef course: The Art of Plating
How to start food pairings:
How can you please guests and make a profit with food pairing?
Remember your basic flavors:
Think about what components in your dish will create those flavors, and how your wine, beer, or food pairing will complement, mirror or contrast with them. Consider whether you want the flavors to blend together, or if you prefer contrasting flavors for balance.
You should also note how heavy or light the food is. In general, the “weight” of the pair should match. For example, pair lighter fare with lighter wines, and heavier meals with bolder wines. You don’t want one part of the meal to overpower the other.
For example, pale ales are aggressively flavored, and therefore go well with most dishes as long as they are not too spicy or seasoned. On the other hand, stouts and porters should be paired with hearty sauces and grilled meats.
When it comes to food pairings, your own research and trial-and-error will read you to the right food combinations that make your restaurant memorable.
How to train staff:
Beyond finding the perfect food and drink pairings, you’ll also have to advise your staff on how to make recommendations to the guests. Your training program might include:
- Materials about different weights and flavor profiles of dishes and drinks, pairing recommendations (and why certain pairings work), and regular quizzes on the information
- Provide notes for every beer, wine and dish to give staff an idea of how to pair them
- Consider staff incentives to motivate the staff to sell the wine, beer and menu items by discovering incredible pairings
- Have staff try various food pairings and food and drink pairings on their own as part of their training, so they can genuinely tell the guests about their pairing preferences
Brainstorming and taste-testing various food pairings can be a fantastic staff activity. Everyone can share their opinions, bond and become more committed to restaurant offerings. Together, you can come up with modern food phenomena that help your restaurant operation rise above the rest.