Design a Flavor Surprise

There’s something special about the moment you discover a hidden flavor or texture inside a dish. Here’s how you can create your own taste revelations.

When you pair opposite flavors or textures in a bold and sophisticated way, you are creating culinary magic, says Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread®. “It can be warm chocolate spilling out of the center of a lava cake, or something as simple as citrus zest in a rice pilaf. It’s the small hidden morsel that takes you by surprise.”

We asked Dan to share some of his favorite unique combinations.

Apricots + lavender.

“Apricots are pretty great on their own, but when you add a hint of lavender, you are creating a wonderfully sophisticated—and unexpected—flavor combination,” he says.

Unsalted butter + salt crystals.

Dan uses hollow crystal salts to finish a variety of dishes, but he says there’s something truly special about sprinkling crunchy salt crystals on unsalted butter and spreading the mixture over warm fresh bread. 

Pasta + cheese.

“I love the many varied and unique flavors you get from pairing pasta with cheese,” says Dan. “For our Pesto Sacchettini, for example, we take a tender pasta noodle and fill it with a delicious combination of six cheeses. Every bite is rich with flavor.”

Risotto + sauce.

A perfectly prepared risotto that blends the toothiness of the rice with a rich, creamy sauce is a great marriage of contrasting flavor and texture.

Croutons + soup or salad.

Try our Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup or Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, either topped with Asiago cheese croutons. “At home, you can make your own croutons from artisan bread that has been soaked in herb-infused olive oil and toasted,” says Dan. “It’s a little bite that delivers a lot of flavor.”

Chocolate + spice.

“Something about this combination confuses the palette in a fun and interesting way,” says Dan. Look for chocolate paired with cinnamon, salt, or even red pepper flakes.

When you try to put together an unexpected match at home, look for flavors and textures that complement each other in interesting ways. And don’t be afraid to experiment. “Essential oils are great to keep on hand because their flavors are so concentrated. A small amount can transform a dish,” says Dan. Lemon and peppermint are two to try.