One of the most important things we can do for our chefs is immerse them in the culture and foods of projects that they are working on. In the past, we have sent them to Dearborn, Michigan for a Middle Eastern food safari and down to Memphis in May to dive deep into competition BBQ. Sending our chefs to these locations is important, but Chicago also provides a wide range of cuisines to sample. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we want to make sure our chefs have access to that. This time around they traveled just a few miles up the road to Seafood City, a Filipino grocery store with a massive food court right inside.
The chefs and the marketing team walked the aisles. The grocery store was filled with many excellent and unique Filipino ingredients, but the stand-out items were not even part of the grocery store at all. There is a full service counter, where you can get fresh seafood and then have it shelled, shucked, or descaled right there for you. There was a solid line of customers all taking numbers to get their fish processed before leaving.
The other interesting thing was that the bakery section is a separate store from the rest of the grocery space. We stepped into a smaller section with its own registers and employees, and looked around. A lot of the items being sold were purple because they use a lot of ube, which is a purple sweet potato native to the Philippines. If used as an ingredient, the bread or pastry takes on its purple hue. The whole bakery smelled sweet and fresh. Finally, we sampled a variety of dishes at the food court. There were noodle soups, fried rice, and an egg roll type dish called lumpia. One of the more intriguing things we ate was Kare Kare, which is a stew of oxtail in a peanut sauce. It had elements similar to other familiar Asian cuisines, but was just different enough to feel like a whole new taste.
It was an eye opening trip for both marketing and culinary. While we are by no means experts after one visit, as we explore this trend more and more, we certainly have a great base to refer to.
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