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Global Menu Mix
Brooklyn_Botanic_Garden_photo_credit_Daniel_Krieger.png Daniel Krieger
Spoonfuls of Korean beef short ribs with kimchi at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Trendy, tasty Korean cuisine makes food service menus pop with flavor

Using the bold, spicy-sweet-acidic flavors of the Korean food playbook, onsite chefs can work in familiar formats like bowls, hot dogs and appetizer bites, infusing the menu with serious trendsetting flavor.

For the first time, restaurant review site Yelp used its data to predict food trends for the coming year. From a list of words and phrases growing the fastest and most significantly between 2018 and 2019 with users, Yelp trend experts found Korean cuisine and Korean barbecue “seeing a surge in popularity and we expect it to be a top cuisine of 2020.” Here’s how onsite operators at Centerplate, Aramark and colleges are implementing the hot trend.

Korean fried chicken and waffles…a mashup made in heaven

At Penn State University, the dining department partners with the School of Hospitality Management and the results have energized both parties, says Jamie Lee Robinson, senior assistant director.

“Each semester, we host interns in our units and throughout the semester-long internship, they plan all facets of a pop-up that recognizes current food trends,” Robinson says.


A Penn State pop-up served a Korean chicken waffle sandwich smothered in honey-gochujang sauce, kimchi and a fried egg.

The pop-ups tend to “tap into different cultures and bring those to all of our students so they’re not stuck with the same-old boring burgers and pizza,” says Geno Corradetti, assistant director.

One recent pop-up event wasn’t specifically Korean-themed (it was upscale waffle sandwiches) but featured bold Korean flavors in a Korean chicken waffle sandwich with honey-gochujang sauce, kimchi and a fried egg.

In Penn State’s Pollock Dining Commons, where the pop-ups take place, Korean fried chicken starts in the kitchen with a fiery ingredient list. First, raw chicken parts are rubbed with pureed ginger, salt and pepper, then coated in potato starch. The chicken goes into the fryer not once, but twice, getting perfectly golden and crisp. While the chicken is frying the sauce can be made with your choice of nut butter, toasted sesame seeds, yellow mustard, minced garlic, gluten-free tamari soy sauce, corn syrup, brown sugar, white vinegar and dried chili peppers (a few of those can be left whole for a spicy garnish). The chicken pieces are tossed in this fragrant, flavorful potion and served right away for instant oohs and ahhs.

Another item found bubbling up at Penn State, especially on bitter cold winter days, is kimchi jjigae, a classic Korean stew with veggies, dried seaweed, gochujang paste, sesame oil and kimchi in a vegetable broth base. It can be made into a heartier meal with just about any protein, from diced to tofu to pork and seafood.

Sports and spice

Centerplate Chef Roger Wilton was looking to rev up fans for new hockey season of the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS Place arena in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

“The Winnipeg Jets fanbase is one of the most ardent in sports, and we hope our menu matches their excitement,” Wilton says. Through a mix of “classic eats and new offerings,” the Centerplate team has created gourmet burgers, lots of steak items (sandwiches and steak bites) and several new bowls, including a butter chicken bowl, a spicy veggie bowl and a Korean barbecue beef bowl (photo).

Pairing classics—like the hot dog—is another way to introduce some Korean flavor to concessions menus. The Aramark team is using the tongue-tickling fermented fire of kimchi to a signature hot dog (photo) at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals. And not just any hot dog: smoked pork kielbasa slathered in barbecue sauce (this is KC, after all) and daikon kimchi slaw on a roll.

Spicy and sophisticated

Patina Restaurant Group exclusively caters weddings and events at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, using the garden setting as a springboard for many vegetable-focused menu items, some of which use ingredients harvested on site. A gorgeous appetizer found at events in the garden, Korean beef short ribs with kimchi are artfully placed on spoons for a bold bite that gets guests mingling while chowing down.

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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