Tabasco for Any Requirement

Corporate chef and a steward of the brand, Jason Gronlund heats up palates worldwide with Tabasco.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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FP: COULD YOU DISCUSS NEW FLAVOR TRENDS?

JG: Jack Daniel’s Grill, used on steak and chicken, is very unique with a sweet, spicy and savory profile. The combination of sweet and spicy, usually found in Asian foods, can come from sugar and Tamarind or coconut. Asians use more contrast of pungencies and flavors. Great sauces show more flavor particulates, and it’s very appealing to consumers when a sauce has lots of particulates and herbs. That’s why Montreal Steak Seasoning has taken off like wildfire. You get a little bit of crunch from it, and cardamom and citrus and garlic punches of flavor. I used to own a restaurant called Rattle Fish with a chef partner in Tampa, and we ground up Montreal Steak Seasoning in a coffee mill and used it on french fries.

FP: WHAT ARE THE DRIVING FORCES FOR BOLDER FLAVORS IN BEVERAGES?

JG: Beverages is such a unique market. People are looking for authentic and interesting flavors in their cocktails. You can find any kind of infused vodka, spurred on by Gen X. On the other side, we’re seeing consumers coming back to more classical drinks like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. There also are Latin influences in drinks like mojitos and Caprianos, the drink of Brazil. The new Milleniums’ mixologist is looking for that edge to deliver a flavor in a drink that no other does -- whether that is filtered cucumber juice, puree of cactus pads or the seed of a pomegranate. Our product line, though chile-based, has more notes than you can shake a stick at, fresh green pepper in the jalapeno, sweet and fruity in the habanero, smoky from the chipotle, peppery and savory in the garlic, and all the flavors we spoke of in traditional Tabasco sauce. All of this adds to the mixolologist’s palate to add the ‘now and wow’ in any drink.

FP: WHAT OTHER SIGNIFICANT TRENDS DO YOU SEE?

JG: There’s a competitive edge to be better. The most important thing for the consumer is getting value and pleasure for their dollar. If they spend $30 for a hamburger and it’s the best they ever tasted, they will say it’s expensive, but they’ll tell you how great it was. If they spend $10 on hamburger and it’s horrible, they will run around the world telling everyone how bad it was. People know if they go to a restaurant and get a consistent meal for $20, they are getting value for their money and they’ll stick with the reliable venue.

FP: TABASCO IS KNOWN FOR CO-BRANDING. WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE PRODUCT ALLIANCES?

JG: Yes, we do quite a bit. We have cheeses with Tabasco co-branded A-1 Steak Sauce, Slim Jims, Vlasic pickles, Deans Dips, co-branded foodservice products with J&J Snack Foods, a Tabasco cheese filled pretzel and a Chipotle cheese filled pretzel, and Hormel with Chili. We’re working on a smoked sausage product Bear Creek Smokehouse, Cheez-It crackers, and potato chips from Zapps, a traditional kettle cooked chip from New Orleans.

FP: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE UNUSUAL DISHES CREATED USING TABASCO?

JG: The truth is we can do anything from soup to nuts and drinks. One is a pineapple ginger Martini for a chain restaurant. We added just one drop of Habanero Tabasco. The client was skeptical until he tasted it without the Tabasco. He became a believer that one drop made it taste incredibly better. Our Habanero has tamarind, papaya, mango and other flavors along with the Habanero, so it makes a huge difference. We do some interesting concepts at IFT with ice cream like Hot Cinnamon Roll, where the ice cream tastes like cream cheese frosting, topped with spicy cinnamon caramel and added little cinnamon crunch pieces which makes it taste like a cinnamon roll. Instead of Rocky Road, we created New Orleans Bumpy Street - spiced chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate covered marshmallow, raisins and pecans with spice. We’ve done Granny’s Hot Apple Cobbler Sundae with Cinnamon ice cream, apple and a cobbler crunch on top, Hot Brownie Sundae with spicy brownies and hot fudge on top, and Tabasco topped vanilla ice cream, everyone’s favorite. We offer recipes on Tabascofoodservice.com - everything from appetizers to desserts.  We also have many industrial consumers, who use Tabasco in formulations. They break it out so it’s not hot, but if they took it out the flavor profile would be changed. Many of the culinary schools teach students that Tabasco is not just a topical seasoning. This year we’re going to do oatmeal cookie, spiced ice cream that tastes like oatmeal cookies with an oatmeal crunch on top. Sweet heat desserts are not new, but we’re seeing more of them and consumers are becoming used to the combination. Latin foods are pushing the trend to where our foods are going. Look at what Blue Bunny ice cream does in the Hispanic market with jalapeno and habanero ice creams.

FP: WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR IDEAS FOR NEW MENU ITEMS?

JG: When I do the interview process with the operator, my innovation comes through based on the tools I have available. We have to stay in the realm of where the customer is. If I get brain-logged, I use cookbooks for reference. I’ll find a recipe that’s classic to the cuisine and add my twist. I travel and eat out often, so it’s easy to watch for upcoming trends. People ask me how I come up with new ideas. It’s a combination of experience and art; ideas just pop into my head.

Top of his toque

FP: What is your personal formula, vision on food and lifestyle?

JG: Here’s the saying I’ve picked which sort of sums it up: Life’s journey is not arriving in the grave in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, oh my gosh ... what a ride! Food and fun should both be approached with a certain degree of reckless abandon.

FP: Could you describe your typical day?

JG: There is none! This is the part I love best about my job. Never is it mundane or repetitive; each day there is a new set of challenges that keeps you on your toes and thirsting for answers. Then the next day arrives ... game on!

FP: What ingredients do you always keep in your refrigerator?

JG: Good butter, fresh citrus and ginger, and at least herb pastes, if not fresh ... what can you not make taste good with a base like that.

FP: What Tabasco product can you not live without?

JG: That is like asking which digit on my hand I can cut off and be okay. They all have and serve different uses to me and I would be remiss if I said I only had one.

FP: What are some of your favorite foods?

JG: Simple, flavorful and ones shared with good friends along with a great bottle of wine. Food does not have to be complicated to be good.

FP: What do you do in your spare time?

JG: Rest ...just kidding. I am an avid motorcycle rider and wine collector. I also enjoy sitting behind a pottery wheel. I always enjoy answering when someone asks, ‘Did you make that dish?’ I say, ‘Yes, and the food on it.’

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