The end of one year and the beginning of another is the perfect time to re-examine the role of culinary trends as a gauge of popular culture. How we eat, what we eat, and where we eat are all indicators of the larger popular consciousness. Tastemakers and trend analysts use a variety of ways to determine what’s hot and what’s not. The fact is that most gastronomic trends have a shelf life.
Technological innovation, food science, increasingly inquisitive customers and rising labour costs will be driving factors in food and beverage trends at restaurants and hotels next year, according to a recent report by food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman. The culinary world continues to embrace smartphones, mobile apps and all sorts of devices and programs that interface directly with the consumer. Locally, think of The SmartAPPetite app which communicates to users not only what, when and where local food can be procured, but offers reliable dietary information and nutritional recipes as well.
One of the top trends in 2015 will be the continuing popularity and obsession with fermented foods (think kombucha made with tea, sugar bacteria and yeast, or other aged, pickled or cured foods). Pistachios will be the nuts du jour. We are being told to expect to see smoked flavours as this year’s taste sensation.
This past year, the preoccupation with chilies and heat continued — ghost chili-infused honey is one taste that’s gaining considerable buzz. Food lovers continue to seek out their next big chili high, and upscaled spicier ramen noodles are at the top of that list.
Waffle sandwiches and flavoured salts are popular. In New York City, savoury ice creams and savoury yogurts including beet, parsnip and carrot, and Middle Eastern flavours like hummus and spicy harissa oil are the rage. Pimm’s Cup #1 (the drink of Wimbledon) is finally making a comeback. Matcha (finely milled or fine powder green tea) and coconut sugar are among the top predictions as food trends.
Energy protein bars made from cricket flour helped introduce the idea of insect-eating to North America. The discussion about eating insects is just beginning, but it is not expected to go away, as environmental sustainability and nutrition become progressively convincing arguments. Chef Jeff Stewart of Creepy Crawly Cooking, along with the bug experts from Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory featured bug cooking demos this year at Savour Stratford. Besides learning about entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) there were lots of free samples.
A Spanish company has developed laser labeling for fresh produce, which can apply logos, provenance specifics and even QR codes on to fruit and vegetables. Farewell, annoying and un-eco-friendly stickers and welcome benign food tattoos.
The kombu salad, with its iodine crunch of seaweed, is unlikely to become as over-hyped as the kale boom but its popularity is on the rise. Speaking of seaweed, according to Baum + Whiteman, “Consumers recognize it as a packaged snack and as a California roll’s wrapper. But chefs are adding it (often silently) to poaching broths, seafood sauces, even risotto, for its punch of umami and evanescent background flavor and dash of salinity. They’re inspired by a sustainable sea-to-table ethos … and also by new-Nordic cooks searching for food under tree stumps and boulders.”
Chef Rene Redzepi and chef de cuisine Daniel Giusti of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant (short for nordisk mad meaning Nordic food) serve dishes prepared under tenets drawn up for the New Nordic cuisine. In 2010, 2011, 2012, and again in 2014, Noma was ranked as the “world’s best restaurant” by Restaurant Magazine, based on a poll of international chefs, restaurateurs, gastronomes and restaurant critics. Each year the awards provide a snapshot of the world’s gastronomic scene — an internationally acknowledged and esteemed reference point which showcases leading trends from around the world.
After the innovations of the New Nordic cuisine in Scandinavia and chef Ferran Adrià’s experimental modernist cuisine at El Bulli in Spain, interest in Mexican and Latin American cuisines has been spiking among food enthusiasts. Culinary pundits are expecting to see further international expansion of Peruvian cuisine in the near future.
Traditional Mexican is making way for top-quality takes on tacos and ceviche at high-end restaurants around the globe — taking inspiration from one of the world’s most esteemed kitchen auteurs, innovative Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. It seems that everyone is interested in finding new ways to reinterpret the taco.
A highly refined version of Newfoundland cuisine is a strong contender for the world’s next “it” cuisine. According to Derek Dammann of Montreal’s Maison Publique and Jamie Oliver’s Canadian partner, chef Jeremy Charles’s wild foods at Raymonds, and chef Todd Perrin’s Mallard Cottage, “will make St. John’s the next major food travel destination in the world.”
Made in small batches with specialized, local ingredients, “craft everything” has become a foodie mantra. The movement for craft beer brought new enthusiasm, flavours and sales to the beer industry. Look for this movement to encompass other beverages and culinary items, as millennials are being given credit for driving most of the upcoming trends.
To start a food trend from agriculture is “one of the riskiest” things an entrepreneur can do, states Toronto writer David Sax in The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue. “Yet every day,” he writes, “there are countless farmers, scientists and gardening dreamers with a trowel in their hand, digging in the dirt and planting the seed they hope will one day change the way we eat.”
Over the years, I have often found it remarkable the way culinary experts, food media, market researchers and trend predictors seize a collective thought or idea with such a synchronicity of timing. This certainly has been the case with regard to the “local food” movement, the food truck and night market phenomena, and the ascent of culturally diverse street food being re-imagined in restaurant kitchens.
When I go out to dine, I am attracted to restaurants that support local farmers, small-scale producers and food artisans by procuring and featuring local ingredients, products and wines. Patronizing farm-to-table restaurants makes perfect sense because it supports and sustains economic activity on a local level. I primarily support small-scale farmers and frequent farmers’ markets and only shop in grocery chains as a last resort.
To keep informed and stay up-to-date with the culinary world, I regularly attend food events, press preview dinners and consult with culinary innovators, chefs, farmers and food artisans who are inter-dependent, community-focused, passionate and interested in advancing the culinary conversation not only in Ontario but across the country.
Savour Stratford continues to be a prime example of collaborative culinary innovation by linking food to place with the still emerging, modern cuisine du terroir and its commitment to origin and season. Highlights of Savour Stratford this past year included the “Intimate Tutored Talks and Tastings” with culinary experts discussing trends from foraged wild edibles to fermentation, preserving seafood, the pairing of craft beers and sampling Ontario VQA wines, and The Grand Tasting, a stylish garden party showcasing chefs and producers who were paired to create a strictly terroir-driven regional tasting experience. It is easy to see the local food movements are not short-lived trends, but transformations in the collective mindset of chefs and culinary specialists around the globe.
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.