Culinary themes are trendy movements that can take over the landscape of one, or many more, neighborhood establishments. Protecting the environment and providing healthy, nutritious menu items, has pushed many restaurants to alter their individual themes slightly to keep up with the trendsetters around them. 1,300 chefs from the American Culinary Federation were given a questionnaire about trendy items across multiple foodservice platforms from the National Restaurant Association. These members of the ACF predict what’s going to be hot in the coming year, by responding to a particular item with “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or “perennial favorite.
In the first two blogs of this series, we discussed the game changing trends happening in alcohol and dessert. In this post, we’ll examine the changes taking place in culinary themes. These themes affect a number of aspects in your establishment, including the type of food being prepared, the manner in which it is prepared and the type of impact your restaurant has on the outside world.
Trend No. 1
Environmental Sustainability: 79% Hot Trend, 7% Yesterday’s News, 14% Perennial Favorite
The movement toward “green” practices has certainly been evident for a while in many areas, but it’s now starting to make a strong industry-wide impact in foodservice establishments. What does it mean for a restaurant or bar? It starts with conservation. Using less plastic, implementing higher efficiency light bulbs, and keeping nonessential electrical items off during off-peak hours are simple tasks that could go a long way in making your restaurant a more sustainable place. As far as food goes, organic and locally purchased fare increases a restaurant’s environmental sustainability. The organic foods use no preservatives or chemicals, while sourcing locally produced foods cuts down on emissions by reducing travel.
Trend No. 2
Gluten-Free Cuisine: 76% Hot Trend, 12% Yesterday’s News, 12% Perennial Favorite
As knowledge of celiac disease has increased, so has the amount of gluten-free food products across the United States in both grocery stores and foodservice establishments. Gluten is a protein complex in wheat, rye and barley and can give those with celiac disease digestive and immune system issues. Items free of gluten have become more prominent in the past few years including breads, pastas, and beer.
Trend No. 3
Hyper-Local Sourcing: 75% Hot Trend, 12% Yesterday’s News, 13% Perennial Favorite
The desire for local produce, meats and seafood has increased recently from foodservice operations nationwide. It was made evident in the 2013 and this, the 2014, Culinary Forecast. As mentioned in the no. 1 trend, environmental sustainability, part of the allure of buying and sourcing locally is the positive effect it has on the domestic economy. Hyper-local sourcing takes this even a step further, where by definition, to be hyper-local the product is purchased within approximately 125 miles of the point of use. The resulting reduced emissions and happy, thriving neighbors make for great reciprocity and a nice local atmosphere. Even in major metropolitan areas, you’re bound to find someone down the street growing their own vegetables or someone within a 45 minute drive with livestock. Hyper-local sourcing appears to have great staying power, and consumers are seeking restaurants and bars that feature locally grown products in their menus.
Trend No. 4
Children’s Nutrition: 74% Hot Trend, 7% Yesterday’s News, 19% Perennial Favorite
Much has been made of the alarming epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States that continues to this day. But just to jog your memory, here’s a concerning statistic from the Center for Disease Control: more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. Federal regulations have implemented changes to schools nationwide with the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and while not required by law, foodservice establishments are following the movement as well by providing lower fat and calorie options on their children’s menus.
Trend No. 5
Nose-to-Tail/Root-to-Stalk Cooking: 71% Hot Trend, 13% Yesterday’s News, 16% Perennial Favorite
This type of food preparation puts absolutely nothing to waste. Every part of an animal or vegetable is put in to play with nose-to-tail cooking. English chef Fergus Henderson kick-started the trend in 2004 with his book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. Since then, the idea of maximizing the food output of an animal or piece of produce has become increasingly popular.
Trend No. 6
Health/Nutrition: 70% Hot Trend, 6% Yesterday’s News, 24% Perennial Favorite
As with children’s nutrition, the statistics for adulthood obesity are also frightening. The increase of lower calorie selections on menus from both chain and neighborhood eateries have further proven that foodservice establishments want to provide a healthy alternative. They also aim to draw in the health fanatics who typically would shy away from eating out at a restaurant.
Trend No. 7
Grazing: 67% Hot Trend, 18% Yesterday’s News, 15% Perennial Favorite
Variety is a beautiful thing. It is what has made neighborhood diners a consistent go-to for decades. Tapas, grazing and small-plate eating has showcased the talents of artisanal restaurant chefs by providing their customers with an assortment of items. Its appeal is typically most apparent in establishments in trendy parts of town, and it has come to be a regular theme for a number of eateries.
Trend No. 8
Simplicity/Back to Basics: 65% Hot Trend, 9% Yesterday’s News, 26% Perennial Favorite
With all the trends and culinary expeditions out there, it is also often nice to go back to some traditional menu items. Some establishments are taking this approach with their food items while using top quality ingredients to reacquaint their customers with favorites such as BLTs and grilled cheeses.
Trend No. 9
Food Trucks: 61% Hot Trend, 24% Yesterday’s News, 16% Perennial Favorite
If you’ve been near the business district of a big city during lunch hour in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed a much larger number of food trucks present than ever before. Food trucks provide busy, on-the-go people with a finely crafted meal without having to sit down and spend time in a brick and mortar establishment.
Trend No. 10
Cutting Edge Kitchen Equipment: 61% Hot Trend, 18% Yesterday’s News, 21% Perennial Favorite
Restaurant equipment manufacturing companies are coming up with more diversified and efficient ways to prepare food every year. From microwave drawers to a vacuum style extracting coffee brewer, the possibilities of food preparation are becoming more convenient and space saving than ever. The National Restaurant Association has a Kitchen Innovations Awards competition every year to recognize the leaders in cutting edge kitchen technology.
Trend No. 11
Foraging: 58% Hot Trend, 27% Yesterday’s News, 15% Perennial Favorite
As humans, we are bound to go back to our primal instincts over time. Like our ancestors from many years ago, restaurateurs have implemented foraged items into their menu, bringing the overall hyper local sourcing trend to a new high.
Trend No. 12
Food-Alcohol Pairings: 56% Hot Trend, 13% Yesterday’s News, 30% Perennial Favorite
Like a fine wine with delicious pasta, pairing liquor with meals accentuates the flavor of both. Scotch and steak, beer and pizza… the possibilities are endless. While its trendiness value is down, it is becoming a perennial favorite for restaurants and consumers alike.
Trend No. 13
Molecular Mixology: 55% Hot Trend, 37% Yesterday’s News, 8% Perennial Favorite
Physics and chemistry don’t belong behind the bar, do they? Molecular mixology has become a science of drink making, using molecular gastronomy to alter the flavor and shape of cocktails and spirits. Take a look at these drinks (but are they really?) from MolecularRecipes.com.
Trend No. 14
Pop-Up/Temporary Restaurants: 54% Hot Trend, 39% Yesterday’s News, 8% Perennial Favorite
Pop-up restaurants, where chefs use an unconventional space for an evening of food preparation and dining, have had their time in the sun during the past few years, but now members of the ACF have deemed them to be close to a passing trend. Matt Duckor of BonAppetit.com takes a look at its decline in this article.
Trend No. 15
Umami: 52% Hot Trend, 30% Yesterday’s News, 17% Perennial Favorite
Japanese for the word “savory,” Umami is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami menu items pack a boisterous, “meaty” flavor to give regular items a little more of a substantial feel. Though it is lower on the list, savory flavors of umami inspired items are often quite delicious. UmamiInfo.com will answer any question you may have with the theme.
Trend No. 16
Chef Tasting Menus/Chef’s Tables: 50% Hot Trend, 25% Yesterday’s News, 25% Perennial Favorite
With the neighborhood and local aura encompassing the restaurant industry in the form of humble, delicious food items, it only seems fitting that chef’s tables and VIP areas are becoming less trendy. The deemed grandiosity of chef’s tables certainly doesn’t flow along with much of the ways in which restaurants are trending in 2014.
Trend No. 17
Chef/Restaurant-Branded Retail Products: 43% Hot Trend, 39% Yesterday’s News, 19% Perennial Favorite
From Paula Deen to Rachael Ray to Emeril there are thousands of retail products available branded with the names of celebrity chefs. This trend of chef and restaurant branded items has been going on for a while now, and probably will for a while, but it seems as if it won’t feature too many new faces or personalities, according to this trend forecast.
Trend No. 18
Molecular Gastronomy: 39% Hot Trend, 54% Yesterday’s News, 7% Perennial Favorite
Molecular gastronomy is indeed a thing of the past. The scientific formation of food is still interesting, but it doesn’t look like it will be a big theme in restaurants in 2014.