(Chicago, October 2012) Culinary Visions® Panel collected insight from foodservice professionals, scoured more than twenty trade conferences and surveyed over 3,000 consumer foodies to get their take on the foods and flavors most likely to captivate consumers this coming year. This year the conversation was about the cultural significance of food and the role consumers play as curators.
Curation has become the new art form practiced by opinion leading chefs who are among the important cultural curators of our time. Consumers, who have been digitally enabled, have become enchanted with the idea of becoming the curators of their real or imagined lives. Following are highlights from the insight collected that includes both food professional and consumer foodie perspectives, and what it suggests for the coming year:
Reversing the Flow
Conventional wisdom in the food business has looked to fine dining and cutting edge independent chefs to drive the trends. Today many leading chefs are inspired by the street markets of Asia and Latin America and the classic American state fairs which have stimulated fun and exciting ways to serve food.
Real food, pure and simple, is the secret to successful new products. Nothing sells like pure and simple as consumers clamor for clean fuels for their bodies and demystified ingredient statements for their minds.
Menus on the Move
Food trucks have become part of the culinary landscape in major cities, and have migrated to industrial areas and college campuses. They are far more than a new delivery system; they are leading the charge in finding new ways to deliver a truly unique dining experience.
Look for innovative menus to move to even more unexpected venues enticing all kinds of consumers. For the farm to table crowd, farmers are renting their fields to chefs and their guests. For adventurous fine diners, Diner en Blanc (a flash mob of upscale diners decked out in white bring their own lavish meal to a public place) has been exported from Paris to nine cities in the U.S. and twenty worldwide. The pop-up dinner is the experiential antidote to a tight economy taking advantage of underutilized real estate all over the country. There are always options for the well-heeled consumer to drop a bundle for the promise not to be dropped from a dinner table suspended by a crane.
Catering to Kids
Chain restaurants have cracked the code on healthful, family friendly dining. Family dining is now benefitting from chefs who bring their culinary training and their family heritage along with their own kids into affordable, casual restaurants. Catering to food allergies and preferences is second nature to parent-chefs, which makes their restaurants even more appealing. Families are finding new ways to share their evening meal together and dispense with the take out containers or cleaning up their own kitchen.
The chefs who create these family friendly restaurants are welcomed into local neighborhoods where residents recognize their value to the community because they have seen the positive impact chefs can have on young consumers’ respect and understanding of food. Chefs who work in school kitchens are bringing a new level of nutrition literacy and good taste to the consumers of tomorrow.
Meal times have expanded from the traditional three to seven as snacking increases among time starved Americans hectic schedules. Small plates are no longer a trend; they are just part of the way Americans eat today. Major restaurant chains have re-imagined menus with snack items like popcorn, pickles, cotton candy, olives and deviled eggs. Consumers can choose to have a bite or try it all.
New age vending machines offering customization and fresh food are breaking vending out of its desperate food reputation. Look for greater variety of offerings and more healthful options to feed this 24/7 on demand food culture in all segments of the industry.
Canning, Curing, and Cutting in House
As the push toward local is finding its way into almost every segment, chefs are moving toward preservation. Pickling is proving to be a popular way for chefs to add their personal touch and showcase a unique aspect of using local ingredients year round.
A few years ago there was little expectation that nose-to-tail would move beyond a few independent chefs who embraced it as a novelty. Nose-to-tail is a sustainable practice that is expanding awareness of a wider range of meat cuts and going mainstream. Fast casual restaurants, college and university campuses and other foodservice segments are experimenting and finding a receptive consumer audience.
Home and Away Flavors
Look for a rediscovery of regional American cooking as chefs continue to explore the culinary cultures from cities and towns around the country. Memphis, Harlem, and New Orleans are all playing a part in bringing these regional American cuisines to the forefront.
This will be the year for destination flavors that are fresh, hot and sweet. Niche cuisines are slowly making their way onto menus, giving consumers an opportunity to expand their palates. Chefs are using ingredients as a way to bring these flavors to the menu; look for ginger, cinnamon, exotic citrus, sriracha, chiles and sweet-heat blends like honey and harissa.
From hyper local to exotic foreign lands, vegetables have become an undeniable part of the healthful culinary landscape. And selling the farm is all the rage with entrepreneurs and large enterprises alike. From school lunch to gourmet retail shops, consumers are ravenous for vegetables. The latest twist is stem-to-root cooking with fruits and vegetables. This trend is about making a lot more than flavorful stocks – look for leaves, pits, rinds, stems, seeds and peels to turn up on trendy menus.
Kale is taking over healthy menus in quick service restaurants and on college campuses. School foodservice operators are turning vegetables into super heroes with kid-appealing names like power punch broccoli and x-ray vision carrots. French fries are evolving from potatoes to sweet potatoes, eggplant, zucchini and wider range of vegetables. Everything about today’s vegetables is chic and appealing including those sporting a black color like garlic and mushrooms.
The beverage industry has been a hotbed of innovation across all fronts. Healthful, handcrafted, heady, hearty and happy are just a few adjectives to describe the latest in beverages. Amber spirits, house made tonics and bitters have created a whole new bar scene. Non-alcoholic beverages are getting a flavor boost with fresh ginger soda, handcrafted sodas, and exotic lemongrass flavored iced teas. Juices and smoothies have become the elixir of our day with unique, delicious and sometimes palate-challenging blends of fruits and vegetables. Even desserts like milkshakes and floats have moved to the beverage menu.
The parallels between food and fashion have always captivated the senses. From artfully presented entrées to couture condiments, innovative chefs are feeding the senses of consumers with an appreciation for fashionable plates.
Food mimics the fashion industry in the capriciousness of desire and the ability to continuously recycle and reinvent. Brilliant and painstakingly detailed construction and artful deconstruction are part of the art. Chefs and fashion designers are the vanguards and the trend-makers who are bringing couture style to a mainstream audience in the grand democratization of fashion and food.
In the year ahead, the consumer curator will have a lot to say about the trends. Individual relationships with food and beverage are key to understanding the trends and the psychology of what inspires people to choose what and where they eat.
The Culinary Visions® Panel has been serving up insight and ideas from food professionals and consumer foodies since 2002. Go to www.culinaryvisions.org to find out more about what cutting edge chefs, emerging leaders and consumer foodies are saying about tomorrow’s menu.
October 23rd, 2012