The Almond Innovation Project an initiative by the Modesto, Calif.-based the Almond Board of California, offered chefs free-reign of the CIA kitchens, inviting them to do what they love best – roll up their sleeves, experiment with flavors and cook really good food (with almonds). Using a variety of almond forms to develop interesting, yet practical concepts, the dishes created at the retreat were innovative and diverse, and featured California almonds as everything but a garnish. Almond flour was used to mimic the flavor and texture of polenta and to thicken soup, almond milk as a braising liquid, and also as a base for delicate foam, almond oil to add depth of flavor to a traditional chocolate cake preparation, and crushed almond paste to add surprising, refreshing crunch to a Vietnamese spring roll.
Bringing together seven handpicked culinary trendsetters, the event encouraged them to create/innovate interesting, one-of-a-kind, almond-centric applications. Knowing that trends begin where the industry leaders play – fine-dining white table cloth chefs innovating with unique ingredients in independent restaurants, gaining attention and popularity with their creativity and imaginative style – Almond Board of California reached out to chefs who are considered pioneers in their field, but who also had some experience working in high-volume kitchens. In thinking about the story of Wolfgang Puck, who introduced the Chinese Chicken Salad with Almonds nearly 30 years ago for Spago Restaurant – that same salad that has become a menu staple on commercial restaurant menus around the U.S., from The Cheesecake Factory to TGI Friday's.
The chefs that the Almond Board worked with help to inspire the "it" cuisine of tomorrow, and since almonds are so versatile and play so well in both the independent restaurant and volume foodservice space the opportunities for innovation are endless.