03/29/2013—Everybody has a spring signal—a sensory trigger that, despite what the calendar says, actually determines the season’s true arrival. For some, it’s the smell of freshly cut grass. For others, it’s birds chirping at dawn. And for culinary-minded Lexus drivers, it’s likely that the annual alert to April’s Lexus-sponsored Pebble Beach Food & Wine plays a role.

About 30 celebrity chefs will be on hand this year (official dates next week: April 4-7), including, of course, the illustrious Lexus Culinary Masters, whose full names and credentials need no embellishment: Symon, Morimoto, Bernstein, Fearing, Kostow, Boulud, and Chiarello.

Pebble Beach Food & Wine is always a good time to check in with them, but it’s important to remember that the Lexus Culinary Masters are out there shaping the direction of cuisine all year. Just a few culinary trends the team members have been embracing, even driving, since we last saw them at Pebble Beach Food & Wine:

North America’s love for Asian comfort food—the rise of upscale ramen restaurants, Korean barbecue, giant bowls of Vietnamese pho—is a much-blogged-about trend of late, but as Chicago Sun Times food maven Marisa Renwald reflected earlier this year, it’s not a trend at all—it’s been mainstream for more than ten years.

What is noteworthy lately, though, is a growing tendency for chefs to blend Asian flavors with American comfort food. And as dedicated food fans already know, Lexus Culinary Master and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto has embraced the possibilities here in a big way via his Tribeca Canvas restaurant in Manhattan.

Just a few of the menu’s Asian-meets-American-comfort creations: umami-flavored mac and cheese, hamachi (yellowtail) tacos, and nachos with tempura shrimp and spicy gochujang aioli. According to several entries on Urbanspoon: yum.

That’s right, popcorn—but not the classic butter-and-salt variety. It seems popcorn has been replacing cupcakes as the blank slate of the snack world recently, with specialty popcorn shops steadily setting up shop in several U.S. cities. Wasabi-flavored popcorn. Cheesecake-flavored popcorn. Campari-flavored popcorn. Coconut lime curry-flavored popcorn...

Which brings us to Lexus Culinary Master Michelle Bernstein, who last year graced the menu for Orchid with her own variety of decadent truffle popcorn. (Orchid, last fall’s pop-up cabaret in the Miami Design District, featured Bernstein as the show’s esteemed caterer.)

Come to think of it, although popcorn was a surprise, truffles are to be delightfully expected from Bernstein. Her Miami-based Michy’s restaurant regularly sports the ingredient, from a creamy polenta with truffle and poached egg to a delectable squash risotto with shaved burgundy truffles.

This spring, a study came out about the generally poor nutritional state of many kids’ menus. Fortunately, Michael Symon, a long-time Lexus Culinary Master—not to mention Food Network/Cooking Channel legend and current host of ABC’s The Chew—is bucking the trend at his acclaimed Cleveland-area B Spot burger restaurants.

At B Spot, Symon offers such fare as kid-sized grilled chicken sandwiches and grilled chicken fingers, as well as sides like sliced avocados and Greek yogurt. Not bad for a renowned chef beloved for his more indulgent, carnivorous creations. Michelle Bernstein, too, sets an example: she helped launch the Miami chapter of Common Threads, an after-school program dedicated to teaching underprivileged kids to cook and eat healthy.

Cooking paleo—this was the phrase used, maybe even coined, by AP journalist Adriana Gomez Licon when reporting on Lexus Culinary Master Christopher Kostow’s visit to Mexico last year. Kostow, the three-star Michelin chef at Napa Valley’s Restaurant at Meadowood, had been exploring the possibilities of ancient Mexican ingredients used by indigenous peoples for hundreds of years.

It’s a growing trend, reported Licon in the Huffington Post, who pointed out that ancient Aztec ingredients like quelites, a range of herbs, are already being used by leading Mexican chefs such as Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol, a regular inclusion in Restaurant magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants.