In 2013, many foodie trends took the world by storm. First, there was farmers-market-fresh kale, followed by the curious chia seed, the gluten-free quinoa craze, sea-salted everything and, who could forget, the Vietnamese soup pho.
What’s the outlook for 2014?
It is no secret many Americans are favoring local groceries and restaurant selections, opting for sustainably sourced, healthier homegrown produce, meats and menus featuring ingredients from neighborhood farms.
In a study conducted in fall 2013, the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the largest food service trade association by membership in the world, surveyed nearly 1,300 professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) on which foods, cuisines, beverages and culinary themes would be hot trends on restaurant menus in 2014.
The NRA currently supports some 500,000 restaurant businesses. In partnership with the organization’s state restaurant associations (SRA), the NRA has more than 750 employees working to improve small business operations and empower owners and operators by advocating for the food service industry at the state, local and national policymaker level.
In order to predict the outlook for 2014, the NRA conducted an online survey of members of the ACF from October to November 2013. The survey asked chefs to rate a list of 258 popular items from 2013 restaurant menus, including ratings, such as: hot trend, yesterday’s news and personal favorite.
Chefs Weigh In
The suitably titled study, 2014 Culinary Forecast, has established the top 20 trends of the New Year, finding a not-so-surprising emphasis on sustainable selections, with locally sourced meats and seafood coming in at No. 1. The study’s runners-up included: locally grown produce, healthful kids’ meals, gluten-free cuisine, hyperlocal sourcing (e.g., on-premise restaurant gardens), non-wheat noodles and pasta (e.g., quinoa, rice and buckwheat), farm-branded items, nose-to-tail and root-to-stalk cooking, whole grain items and ancient-inspired grains such as kamut, spelt and amaranth.
Other trends that made the study’s Top 20 list include: new cuts of meat (e.g., Denver steak, pork flat iron, tri-tip); ethnic-inspired breakfast items, such as Chorizo scrambled eggs and coconut milk pancakes; grazing (e.g., small plate sharing and snacking); nontraditional fish (e.g., Branzino, Arctic-char and barramundi); fruit and vegetable children’s side items and half portions for half the price.
Natural sweeteners topped chefs’ lists, as well. Agave, honey, concentrated fruit juice and maple syrup reigned supreme over artificial counterparts and dairy-free options (e.g., soy, rice and almond milk). Coconut water and house-made drinks and simple syrups are also proving to be popular in 2014.
Breaking the findings down by course, the NRA found house-cured meats, charcuterie, small vegetarian bites and ethnic street food at the top of the appetizer chain. Non-wheat noodles made from buckwheat, black or red rice, quinoa and pickled vegetables won for star side dishes. As for the main course, locally sourced meat, seafood, less expensive cuts of meat and smaller portions dominated the food chain. The small bites trend continued onto dessert, with mini-sized sweets sweeping the survey and house-made, artisan ice cream coming in hot.
Chefs also agreed that local libations will continue to rise in popularity in 2014. Microdistilled and artisan spirits came in at a whopping 77 percent on the hot scale, followed by locally produced beer and wine and onsite, barrel-aged, house-brewed drinks.
Back to the Basics
With a shift in source and preparation, some of the classics remain, along with a few head-scratchers, such as bacon jam and the famous Cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. Pickling, which earned a 63 percent rating as a hot trend, as well as smoking – at 45 percent – have both remained favorite preparation methods for chefs across the country.
However, the nose-to-tail, root-to-stalk mentality, which utilizes the whole animal or plant, earned an impressive 71 percent among top chefs. There’s also a newfound emphasis on foraging for ingredients, with 58 percent of national chefs interested in the notion of gathering and making the most of what’s in their backyard.
As the food service industry progresses into the 21st century, there’s a clear paradigm shift toward going back to the basics, more along the lines of the relationship our ancestors had with food. “From farm to truck to fork, consumers are demanding greater accountability and transparency,” claims Dean Crutchfield, business contributor for Forbes online. “It’s not just food, but all products, materials, country of origin, labor conditions, philanthropy and leadership that’s forcing the trend.”
As the New Year commences, 2014 doesn’t look far off from 2013 in the food and beverage world. The issues of sustainability, seasonality and support of the local economy remain of utmost concern and continue to influence a different direction in the industry.