Forecasting food trends is a bit more art than science.
Remember the Cronut?
The doughnut hybrid was born in May 2013 at a New York bakery. The birth announcement went out on Grub Street, and Web traffic soared. By January 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that not even a frigid winter storm could deter New Yorkers from standing in long lines for their beloved Cronuts. By August, National Geographic declared the Cronut had gone global.
But it was clear the trend (or was it a fad?) already was winding down by October 2014, when “Good Morning America” debuted the extremely difficult recipe for Dominique Ansel’s trademarked confection — a recipe that proved so laborious even on paper that it made the $5 price tag and two-per-customer limit seem like a bargain.
Never miss a local story.
Then poof. The pundits were on to madeleines, the next go-to confection, although I’m betting they’ll have as much luck with that one as they did with macarons, which were frankly just a little too airy and dainty to have mainstream American appeal.
For fascinating insights into these sorts of trends, read “The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue” (Public Affairs; $25.99), by David Sax. He notes that before digital media it took time to track a trend, like the fuzzy decade or so it took before the improbable kiwi finally stepped into the limelight.
Kale’s rise was meteoric by comparison, but it probably won’t register with the mainstream American taste buds until kale shows up at a McDonald’s.
Far-fetched? Perhaps, but a dozen years ago whoever would have thought Sriracha would make a splash at Subway?
A few years ago I scoffed at the idea of Nordic cuisine (reindeer meat, anyone?) making its way to Kansas City, but I continue to keep my eyes peeled, because it might happen in a flash. And then it’ll be gone, just in time for Cronut 2.0 to tickle our collective taste buds in 2015.
Lucky in lard
Sometimes a food is in, and then it’s waayyy out. Like lard. In an increasingly obese society, lard has been, well, the butt of jokes. Health fanatics labeled it public enemy No. 1, but frankly, if you’re willing to let a Cronut sully your lips, why should you banish a natural fat that makes pie crust so darn flaky and fried chicken so crispy?
With the worst European crop in memory putting olive oil in short supply, lard is likely to be at least part of the solution. Plus, given America’s enduring love of bacon and the interest in nose-to-tail sustainability, a new day may be dawning for the other white fat.
Call the pot black
Just who gets to inherit Grandma’s cast-iron skillet is likely to leave the family feuding. Sure, you can invest in Le Creuset if you have extra cash, but the old-fashioned stuff you find at a flea market is best, if you’re willing to recondition the ones that have gone rusty.
Over the past year or so, a half dozen cookbooks focusing on cast-iron and Dutch ovens have crossed my desk. The iconic Dutch oven used by pioneers traveling westward to create one-pot meals is today used by several local food truck entrepreneurs to heat and hold their precious cargo.
A pearl of a trend
The National Restaurant Association annually polls the 1,300 members of the American Culinary Federation to find out which food, cuisines, beverages and culinary trends will be hot over the next year. This year sustainable seafood comes in at No. 8.
And if you think that sustainable seafood isn’t getting much traction in landlocked Kansas City, you haven’t been to Jax Fish House, a Denver-based seafood restaurant that “brings the coast to the coastless.” It opened a raw bar and fish house on the Country Club Plaza in October.
Try Jax’s proprietary Emersum oyster, a briny East Coast oyster grown sustainably in the Chesapeake Bay by Rappahannock River Oysters, a company that has won awards for its sustainability practices.
As American as apple pie
Every food court in America serves standard pizza, tacos or eggrolls. And one day Indian dosas, Peruvian causa (guacamole/crab salad) or a Mediterranean dukkah (a nut-and-seed blend typically used as a condiment with hummus) may seem just as mainstream.
The National Restaurant Association says ethnic ingredients that go mainstream is a top 5 “overarching” trend. As immigration continues to shape our food tastes, watch for authentic interpretations, as well as the introduction of ingredients into mainstream cooking, and curious new products at the grocery store, including exotic flours, and spicy and vinegary condiments. Already you can get your ghee and your togarashi at local Whole Foods stores.
Where expletives meet superlatives
Sure, Gordon Ramsay’s bleeped expletives give his reality TV food show a certain drama. But 2014’s best professional kitchen voyeurism came at the old-fashioned movie theater, where food fans (and average eaters) got to delve into the nuances of the food world in deeper and less bombastic ways.
First came the charming movie “Chef,” featuring Kogi food truck phenom Roy Choi as a co-producer, and appearances by Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson. Then Helen Mirren inhabits the character of a snooty French Michelin-starred restaurant owner in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”
Next up: “City of Gold,” a 2015 documentary that delves into the influence of food writing using Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold (LA Weekly and more recently the Los Angeles Times) as a “Virgilian guide” to the L.A. food scene. The film is entered in the Sundance Film Festival in late January.
Mixology goes mainstream
If you’re talking cocktails, then everything is up to date in Kansas City. Think Ca Va, Julep and J. Rieger & Co., just to name a few of 2014’s upstarts.
It’s tempting then to play role reversal and look down on New Yorkers who resort to wetting their whistles at Denny’s — yes, that all-American chain diner better known for hangover breakfasts than craft cocktails.
But The New York Times reported in September the franchise is installing bars in a few New York locations, and one Las Vegas location offers a full bar and, naturally, a wedding chapel.
National Restaurant Association Food Trends 2015
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Environmental sustainability
4. Healthful kids meals
5. Natural ingredients/minimally processed
6. New cuts of meat
7. Hyperlocal sourcing
8. Sustainable seafood
9. Food waste reduction/management
10. Farm/estate branded items
What’s Hot at the Bar for 2015
1. Micro-distilled/artisan spirits
2. Locally produced beer/wine/spirits
3. Onsite barrel-aged drinks
4. Regional signature cocktails
5. Culinary cocktails (i.e., savory, fresh ingredients)
Google’s Top Recipe Searches for 2014
3. Banana bread
6. Crock-Pot recipes
8. French toast
10. Pork chops