Increasingly, the food-and-drink industry’s mantra has become “another service, another show,” as more chefs and mixologists add experimentation, creativity and drama to their presentations and pantries of stock ingredients. They’re enabled by a growing legion of foodies in search of culinary and cocktail surprises, people who revel in taking selfies posed with the Next Big Things.
But just what could those be in 2016? One safe predication is that a menu of “darling dishes” will push many of last year’s trends to the back burner as the demand for the fashionable sparks the supply of the original in an ever-escalating cycle.
Oysters, ramen, burnt vegetables and “reverse-seared” roasts will continue to be show-offs this year, expert observers predict. Gaining momentum will be hand-crafted ice cream in savory flavors (feta cheese, anyone?), mung beans in many forms, pizzas with sourdough crusts topped with smoked duck or fresh fruits, single-barrel spirits, flavored booze beyond vodka, beets, smoked foods, harissa and gochujang (chili pepper pastes) and crudo, the ancient dish of thinly sliced raw fish drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings. What do you think of the returns of lard, escargot and the raw bar? Prepare yourself.
Meanwhile, wedge salads, poutine, Sriracha, blood sausage, flatbread appetizers, vaporized cocktails and shrub syrup-based drinks seem to have become yesterday’s leftovers, stuffed into the doggie bag with bacon-infused chocolate, moonshine and deviled eggs. Come to think of it, whatever happened to molecular gastronomy?
There has never been a more exciting time to be interested in the food culture. When chefs fall in love with a new technique or cuisine, we enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Ed Levine, the “founding father” of the James Beard Award-winning site
This early in the game, predicting 2016 food and drink trends is a matter of informed subjectivity and depends on who you ask. For instance, the editors at Bon Appétit magazine bet that grass-fed beef, chickpeas and the Indian spice turmeric will fast-forward.
The prognosticators at the international restaurant and food consulting firm Baum + Whiteman are anticipating the mainstreaming of poke (raw fish salad) and acai berry breakfast bowls (with oatmeal or yogurt), blazing-hot curries, veggie chips and kombucha, the fermented tea. Also, the “healthification” of restaurant dishes, with “clean” ingredients free of artificial additives.
The National Restaurant Association polled 1,575 members of the American Culinary Federation and asked them to rank the fates of 221 items in 2016. Obviously, many of the chefs don’t operate in California, because among their Top 20 Food Trends 2016 are practices we have embraced for years, including sourcing meat, seafood and produce locally, and practicing environmental sustainability.
The chefs do foresee more new cuts of meat, more food trucks and street food, more food-waste reduction and a surge in more healthful children’s menus. They categorized coconut water, insects and nontraditional eggs (duck, quail and emu) as “yesterday’s news.”
For a more personal perspective, we turned to gastronome and cookbook author Ed Levine, the “founding father” of the James Beard Award-winning site www.seriouseats.com.
“There has never been a more exciting time to be interested in the food culture,” he said by phone from his New York City office. “When chefs fall in love with a new technique or cuisine, we enjoy the fruits of their labors.”
Q: What’s coming up?
A: An increase in ethnic influences on mainstream menus, along with chefs opening Korean, Chinese and Thai restaurants with contemporary takes on those cuisines.
Q: How so?
A: We’re seeing more (ethnic chefs) with backgrounds of working in restaurants that require classic training. When they leave to open their own restaurants, they bring that skill set with them to do their own takes on that cuisine. It’s not authentic, but it’s utterly delicious.
However, the chefs leading the charge on this new ethnic frontier are not necessarily native to those countries. Think of Rick Bayless and his (modern rendition of) Mexican food. When chefs travel, they become obsessed with (international cuisines) and put their own twists on them. Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese in San Francisco and New York City (is Korean). I’m pretty certain that kung pao pastrami is not served in China.
Q: What else?
A: Look for an increase in more-contemporary Mexican food from different provinces, matched with local ingredients. Duck carnitas, for instance. Restaurateurs are going way beyond Tex-Mex, especially in L.A.
Q: How about techniques?
A: There will be more pickling and fermenting. Both are ancient, but (have become) contemporary trends that are catching fire. Look at (Michelin star-winning chef) David Chang (of the Momofuku restaurant group), he’s got an R&D lab just for fermentation.
Q: The fried chicken craze doesn’t appear to be waning.
A: It will become more widespread in independent and chain restaurants, especially in the form of the fried-chicken sandwich. Bakesale Betty in Oakland is famous for it, and it’s on the menu of (the progressive) Son of a Gun in Los Angeles. David Chang’s Fuku in New York specializes in it. When Chick-fil-A opened in New York in October, the response to the Southern fast-food chain was overwhelming.
Q: Anything new for vegans and vegetarians?
A: As more skilled and experienced chefs attack vegetarian and vegan food, it’s going to be elevated. It used to be, “If I open a vegan restaurant, I really don’t need to know how to cook because vegans are starved for places to go.” Increasingly, that’s no longer true.
Q: How about the role of technology?
A: There will be many more restaurant-menu delivery services. Venture capitalists are very interested in putting money into them. Also, I’m curious to see how the reservations wars will play out, with OpenTable and its many competitors fighting for that space. (As for customer service) a growing number of restaurants have our credit cards on file. Instead of bringing you a bill, they charge it to your card and email the receipt.
Q: What else will restaurants do?
A: More high-end places will hire designers to put more emphasis on lighting their dining rooms in ways that are flattering to their customers.
Q: What dishes will always be with us?
A: Comfort foods will never go out of fashion, especially as the world becomes a scarier place.