For ThinkFoodGroup’s research and development team, known as ThinkFoodTank (or to José, the Delta Force), creativity is key.
Every day, they are tasked to explore and research new concepts, continually push our restaurants forward through innovation, and develop new dishes and ways to get the most from ingredients.
The team begins by brainstorming what a new restaurant or menu concept will look like – defining the parameters of the concept as a whole – and sketching its DNA.
A country’s or region’s history, cultural significance, ingredients, and techniques are all in play when the team goes about building an authentic and unique concept. Some concepts rely on more than one cultural heritage – like China Poblano’s Mexico-meets-China menu – for which the team aims for a combination of historical and cultural accuracy alongside some clever culinary combinations.
Here’s a look into a research trip to Peru, which provided our team the inspiration to open China Chilcano, our restaurant that explores the traditions of Peru’s native Criollo population alongside its immigrant Chinese and Japanese communities.
When the team discovers or learns about a new technique or piece of equipment, they will tinker with it and experiment with every ingredient imaginable to see what performs best.
One recent discovery involves freeze-drying – freezing an ingredient until all of its water has turned to ice, then using a vacuum to sublimate those ice crystals into vapor.
The result is a light, airy take on the original – you may have had freeze-dried strawberries or “astronaut ice cream,” but what about a Soy Chicharrón or a puffed-up Freeze-Dried Gummy Bear?
Another look at a classic avant-garde technique: spherification. This video shows the application of this technique as it’s used for a favorite minibar dish, “Baby Carrots in Escabeche.”
When the team encounters a new ingredient, they will do whatever they can to understand everything about it: break it down into its component parts in order to discover something unique in it, isolate whatever is new and interesting, and then create a dish that will accentuate it.
Typical Ingredient Process
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If a farmer brings in a new breed of vegetable, a forager drops off a unique mushroom, or a butcher introduces a new cut of meat, the team will start exploring. Once they hit upon an ingenious new use for that ingredient, they will build a dish or a drink around it.
The team will repeat this process for a wide variety of ingredients in order to design an entirely new menu – and do it again the next season. At a restaurant like minibar by José Andrés, where menus rotate throughout the year, the team may work with dozens of ingredients, tinkering and testing until they’re ready for service.