Is innovation welcome in the food world?
Innovation is a key world nowadays. If you want to survive and adapt to the constant market changes, you need to innovate and be agile.
But does it apply to the Restaurant world?
In Italy, as soon as a chef decides to revisit a dish from the tradition, people react violently.
Around one year ago, Chef Carlo Cracco released a new pizza version and everyone (or almost everyone) started complaining.
When Massimo Bottura decided to reinvent the famous “tortelli in brodo” (Italian stuffed pasta in broth), he faced the same criticism.
They say that it’s difficult to innovate in a country like Italy because the food tradition is really strong, while in others countries where the cooking tradition may be less present, innovation is welcome, as In Denmark for example.
Is it really true?
Think about Noma in Denmark (named several times best restaurant in the world), besides the innovation in the dishes, each year the chef comes with a new dining concept: temporaries etc.
In France, there has been a period, during world critics were saying the dishes had remained unchanged for years. Wine production was not spared either from similar feedbacks.
The difficulty stands in having the ability to step back from the tradition. If a specific dish has a name, and you decide to revisit it, can you still call it with the same name?
The importance of wording must be a cultural side damage. If you name a dish “lasagna” and arrives something different from the Italians’ imagery of lasagna, they will probably feel fooled, and even if the food is good, they will not enjoy it at the proper level.
But what about Spain then? Where they have an important food culture and where Ferran Adria became the pioneer of molecular cuisine; where today they can be proud of having innovating restaurants like DiverXO, Arzak, Cellar Can Roca, Mugaritz or the Hardrock Café Ibiza, to quote the most famous ones...
Lesson one: we can determine that culture has a direct relationship with innovation. Think about a multiethnic city like London, eating Thai or Indian there is a normal as eating a fish & chips.
Lesson two: it is important to know your local market. It’s not because you’re open to ethnic tastes that the average customer will feel the same. You may find people looking for innovation in Capitals, but 30km from there, people may remain traditional.
The third thought we can share is that innovation has a direct impact on food taste and perception.
So what is the goal of your restaurant?
> Do you want to offer a one-off experience where people will remember more the experience than the food in itself?
> Or do you want to offer tasty comfort food?
If your objective is to offer tasty food, you need to know that food which is already familiar always tastes better. It has been proven by some official researches. That’s why maybe Asian people are more used to Umami tastes when Europeans are not.
So if you want to offer something different on your menu, to make the difference among the competitors, do not forget that innovation should be limited to a hint. Always couple innovation with familiar or known traditional tastes. Use it as a psychological rule.
If you change the color of an ingredient, do not change the taste or the shape for example, leave one detail familiar to your customer so his brain can identify it to a taste he already knows and appreciate.
If you’re able to limit the innovation to one parameter and make it enjoyable for the most, you may create a new trend. The importance is not to end as a “flash” trend, unless your objective is, as a temporary store or event!