Reflections from the 2016 Worlds of Flavors Conference and its influence on Wendy’s Menu

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Lori Estrada to The Square Deal as our first guest blogger. Lori is Wendy’s Vice President of Culinary Development and has been bringing unique, great-tasting menu items to Wendy’s since 2001. During her tenure with the company, she has led the successful re-invention of several menu categories including salads, chicken and the renovation of Dave’s Single, Double and Triple hamburgers.  In 2014, Lori received Nation’s Restaurant News’s LTO of the year award for the 2013 Launch of the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. Lori has brought more than 29 years of experience to Wendy’s, is active within the food and culinary industry and serves as a member on the Flavors Experience board.

Culture, Passion and Invention was the theme of the 18th annual World of Flavors Conference hosted by the Culinary Institute of America last week in St. Helena, California.

I have attended this conference a number of times and this year’s theme really resonated with me given its focus on the cultural connections with food.  Our world-renowned keynote speakers took us on a journey of how food connects chefs and consumers across the globe.  We were inspired by the way they breathed innovative thinking into regional cuisines to make them new and fresh. 

PHOTO BY LORI ESTRADA

PHOTO BY LORI ESTRADA

It was such a thrill and so exciting to reconnect with some of today’s leading chefs that I have been privileged to work with. Chef Rick Bayless was the opening general session speaker.  During his presentation, Rick shared how he grew up appreciating food from his grandmother’s kitchen which inspired his deep interest in traditional Mexican cooking. He and the other speakers shared their fundamental belief that a cook brings much more to a table than food.  Food nourishes both the stomach and the soul and that nourishing a community of team members, supplier partners and consumers is what creates lasting connections.

This philosophy really resonates with me as well as how we approach to the work we do in the Wendy’s kitchen.  It also caused me to pause and reflect on the lessons we learned from Dave Thomas and those we continue to live by, today.  One of the reasons Dave started Wendy’s and enjoyed the restaurant environment was because of the family and community that can be found in restaurants. 

AN EARLY PHOTO OF DAVE THOMAS features fresh produce

Like our speakers, Dave was also deeply passionate about creating an overall great restaurant experience.  He always said quality food is made when you use fresh, honest ingredients.  And a quality dining experience is created when you treat your customers as if they were guests in your own home.

I think about the opportunity we have at Wendy’s to share our food story and ingredient journey with our restaurant teams on a more ongoing basis. We have a great opportunity to create passion for our food with our restaurant teams so they can create a deeper connection to our customers…our guests.

We’re increasingly working with our restaurants to ensure that our teams understand the ingredients included within our products, and can better engage with our customers about our food.

Our supplier partners take great care in the cultivation and creation of so many ingredients, and we are all excited to tell the great story of our food and how we use fresh ingredients every day to create the deliciously different items on our menu.

Quality is our Recipe isn’t just a tagline.  It’s what we live by.

Another topic of the conference focused on current culinary trends and the continued support of transparency in sourcing.  More and more chefs today are not only partnering with local purveyors, but also becoming farmers themselves in order to be assured of ingredient purity.  They are creating their own supply of ingredients from produce to herbs to honey and dried fruits.  The list goes on and on.  

PHOTO BY LORI ESTRADA

PHOTO BY LORI ESTRADA

While we’re not going to start growing our own lettuce and tomatoes at our restaurants (hey, maybe one day!), we definitely believe in transparent sourcing and we focus on using the most simple, fresh ingredients to craft our menu items.

Our food and menu vision is to serve fresh and honest food, and when my culinary team approaches the development of our next salad, hamburger or chicken sandwich, they are driven by a key set of principles that reflect honesty in recipe creation; ingredient purity and the need to create something very delicious that can be reproduced at our more than 6,000 restaurants across North America.

We choose ingredients very intentionally. We’re focused on keeping our recipes simple so the product can speak for itself, remaining distinctive and craveable. 

Bacon and beef will always be heroes and we’re focused on finding the right ingredient combination to bring out their best qualities without masking their incredible flavor and texture. 

I left the conference even more jazzed and excited to lead development of tasty products for Wendy’s! We are continuing the path of our menu vision to offer our guests a range of taste experiences and nutritional offerings that are made with fresh, simple and honest ingredients.  We are so proud to bring these ingredients through our menu to our millions of customers every day.

I look forward to stopping by The Square Deal throughout the year to share other industry trends or current happenings within the innovation team at Wendy’s.

Liliana and Bry tell me you can share any comments below or you can send us a note to squaredeal@wendys.com if you have any questions about our menu vision, food sourcing or development principals.

It was nice talking with you!

Lori  

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