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Like it hot? Time to spice up your winter menu!

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I think of myself as a spice expert. I worked with the brand Tabasco way before I was hired for this position. When I was growing up in Welland, Ont., the secret ingredient in my mother’s tomato sauce and meatballs was Tabasco Brand Original Red. My mother used it, and now I’m using it.

By Chef Ryan Marquis

When I go out, I like to be adventurous. I order something I couldn’t make at home: braised lamb shank, an exotic fish, pheasant or quail. And I am always looking for the spices and flavours.

If you check out a lot of the trend reports and market research data, you’ll find that people want full-flavoured, spicy foods – a lot of chilis and South Asian cuisines with sriracha, piri piri, and any kind of ghost pepper.

According to Technomics research of 2009, 46 per cent of Canadians preferred very spicy foods and sauces. By 2011 that number had risen to 48 per cent, and for 2013, we’re looking at 54 per cent of the Canadian population who like their foods and sauces big, bold, and full-flavoured.

This is the year of the pepper … and it’s about time! Tabasco has been around 146 years, and now it has found its rightful place. I always say, we sell drops, not cups of flavour.

I’m a little biased here, but I think every kitchen should have a bottle of Tabasco Brand Original Red Pepper Sauce. A growing number of diners are following a low sodium diet, so they want natural enhanced flavour in their food. They’re changing their lifestyles and they want to know what’s in their food.

To capture diners’ interest, operators need to look more at seasonality and change their menus at least biannually.

In the colder months people tend to go for foods that coat their stomachs. Now that they’re getting their palates into big, bold and spicy, at this time of year they crave comfort foods with a twist.

A really easy way for operators to spice up their menus for winter is to change their soups and vegetable dishes, for instance offering a grilled or roasted asparagus dish, finished with Tabasco Green Jalapeño Sauce and parmesan or asiago cheese.

There are some simple ways chefs can use their menus to capture winter holiday excitement. First, they should consider marinating their proteins versus using salt and pepper for seasoning. Everyone roasts a turkey and lathers it in butter this time of year. How about marinating or rubbing the bird with some kind of seasoning or sauce, letting it sit for 24 hours, and then roasting?

Instead of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing done the traditional way, you can incorporate more flavour by turning to hot sauces and spices like cumin and coriander, which elevate these dishes and make them exciting. Your meal becomes more adventurous than the same old same old.

Your turkey gravy is basically thickened stock. Why not liven it up with chipotle or Tabasco Brand Garlic Sauce so it becomes more a southwestern type gravy that adds fun and flavour to the food you create?

When we talk about spice, we tend to talk a lot about savoury, but you can also use it with sweet in a marriage of spicy and sweet foods. I do a chipotle sugar pie, for instance, using Tabasco Brand Chipotle Sauce, where I macerate cherries in habanero. This combination of sweet and spicy is ready to explode.

When we work with our key customers on menu innovation, we look at their menus, identify opportunities to enhance flavour, and determine how they can bring bold food to their menus. We show them how they can drive revenue by using the “power of the diamond” plus people’s desire for bold flavour exploration all year-round including winter.

When we look at your cooking, we want to be your secret ingredient.

Chef Ryan Marquis is Corporate Chef & Ingredients Sales Representative for C.W. Shasky & Associates Ltd.