Food trends are fascinating; we are obsessed with what we eat. But more importantly, these trends tell larger stories about who we are. Looked at yearly, they depict the shifting sands of consumer behavior.
For example, I've just learned that ordering food delivered from restaurants surges, improbably, on ... Valentine's Day! It's not because of the death of romanticism in America or because restaurants are heavily booked. Just the opposite: Lured by the ease of Internet ordering and speedy delivery by Uber or Amazon, people increasingly are "eating out" at home and abandoning restaurant dining rooms.
So a big trend for 2017 will be companies opening experimental kitchen-only restaurants whose sole purpose is to send prepared meals to your home. They are called "phantom restaurants" (also known as ghost restaurants) because no one ever visits them. They're located in low-rent locations but staffed by real chefs and cooks. Even Olive Garden, just last week, said that it was considering building kitchens in warehouse districts that could deliver to a major city, an idea earlier floated by the fast-growing Panera Bread company.
I've attached an article on this very subject by Financial Times's restaurant critic Nicholas Lander as reprinted in last week's blog by Jancis Robinson, one of the world's premier wine experts (and someone I’ve adored for decades). Expansion of delivery-only kitchens is reshaping the restaurant business -- and perhaps also our waistlines. Or it may simply satisfy an innate desire to nest.
Every year I write about food trends as gleaned from the best in the business, and there are many exciting ones on the horizon. Is seaweed the next kale? Are wildly creative sandwiches reshaping how we think about breakfast? Will congee be the next new thing? (I am crazy about it; any time of the day.) There's all this and lots more in the 2017 food and beverage forecast from Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants, which you can read about here. Most intriguing in this report is an analysis of why vegetables are becoming the new "comfort food," and whether that means we're saying goodbye to mac-and-cheese.
What are some other trends on the horizon? Well, gentrification of the $4 “chopped cheese” for one. A sandwich, made famous in the bodegas of Harlem and the South Bronx, went viral this year, causing a stampede to the upper reaches of the city. This mélange of ground beef, American cheese and condiments, all piled on a hero bucks the trend of highly contrived, super-creative, attention-getting food served elsewhere at more like $4 a bite.
Another trend? Chef magicians turning food-waste into delectable things to eat. I am one of them and among the first to fry carrot tops to use as a garnish, and definitely the first to boil the peelings of fresh asparagus to resemble fettuccine. I also make “compost soup,” and transform leftover bits of iceberg lettuce into a wondrous vegetable by simply sautéing with olive oil and lemony sumac. I pulverize old gnarly carrots into “nibs” and toss them with couscous. So good. And essential to creating a sustainable planet.
Other trends? Chefs who use menu language in new ways and intentionally break from traditional forms. I now teach a class at the New School for Social Research (in New York City) called “The Language of Food,” which looks at menus as a form of literature. And chefs, like poets, use the fewest possible words to express desire and hunger, getting to the essence of a dish quickly, like good haiku. More? Specialty drinks with LED lights inside the ice cubes has a certain poetry of its own, as does “candy floss” (the British word for cotton candy) used in brand new ways.
More? It’s time to click on Whiteman’s forecast for 2017 – sporting the 13 hottest food & beverage trends in restaurant & hotel dining, not to mention 23 prescient buzzwords. According to Nick Lander’s in December’s Financial Times, “Michael Whiteman is a striking example of a lifetime well spent in the American hospitality business.” As the guy who (with his partner Joe Baum) created the world’s first food courts and five of New York’s three-star restaurants, including the legendary Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room, he knows a thing or two about what’s happening.