What’s Hot In Food Trends This Year

Food moves in trends just like fashion. Think of all the dishes our ancestors ate that we would find disgusting today. And every year, there’s something new, even if it’s a revival of something old. That happens in fashion, too.

Marketing and public relations guru Andrew Freeman has declared what’s hot and what’s not in food and restaurant trends for 2011.

Freeman says his latest list resulted from “a combination of close industry observation, coast-to-coast travel, discussions with industry experts, regular meetings with hotel and restaurant clients, conversations with press contacts, industry conference and extensive media research.”

You might scoff at these trend spotters. But corporations and even small businesses pay a great deal of money for people like Freeman to advise them. They see it as an investment in the future. Personally, I have seen these trend watchers and predictors be remarkably accurate.

Topping Freeman’s list of food trends with the most promise is the elevation of pie. No, we’re not talking about that mathematical magic number. We’re talking about that decadent, homespun dessert. For some time, the cupcake has ruled the trendy, cuts dessert/snack world. But little cakes are being replaced with pies of all flavors and sizes. Not only are there many sweet concoctions, but chefs are moving into savory pies, deep fried pies, bite-size mini pies and even pies blended into shakes. I wonder if this includes cobbler?

Smaller is bigger. The most common new business start-up in America is the restaurant. And many, many people have tried it and failed to compete with chain restaurants dominating suburban communities. But mom-and-pop shops are making a big comeback and attracting customers looking for something those big anonymous chains don’t have — personality without gimmicks. These self-financed ventures with fewer than 40 seats offer homey designs and dishes, made by friends and family. If you don’t want to make it yourself, these are the restaurants you should patronize.

In keeping with the downsizing theme, the next new trend is single-purpose restaurants which serve just one thing — in many variations. There’s a restaurant that offers just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Another sells just biscuit sandwiches and eggs Benedict. Instead of the huge menus with items covering every taste and every meal, these are craving satisfiers. Many of these places have been surviving for a long time specializing in just a few items. Now that trend is growing.

Shrinking portions. This is a good trend in the smaller is bigger meme — smaller, snack-size meals. With many people having smaller wallets, this fits right in with our busy, on-the-go lifestyle. In this category, look for mini-pizzas, two-bite hot dogs, mini bagels, cake truffles, tiny pot pies, mini tacos or burritos.

From food court to automat. Higher end restaurants and food providers are looking to the quick-serve format to bring gourmet food to the lunch counter. They are joining with farmers, artisans and specialty purveyors to reinvent the field, including quick-service windows. In New York City, one entrepreneur has brought back the old-fashioned Automat, where customers choose what they want from a wall of little dispenser windows, insert a few coins and remove hot, fresh food to eat in or carry out. Behind the windows are highly trained chefs and cooks making the kind of food you usually find in a fancy sit-down restaurant.

Simpler menus. Many restaurants are abandoning those flowery, descriptive menus in favor of a short list of major ingredients. Chefs are saying, “Trust me.” Usually, that’s a good idea, you might be surprised, but also delighted.

Going dry instead of saucy. The dry rub, powdered spices, crumbles, dustings and crumbs are increasing in popularity. Plates that once featured a swirl of compote now are “dirty” with dust.

Light my fire. Lots of people have had pizza from a wood-burning oven. But now restaurants are going beyond that to roasting vegetables and even whole animals and large cuts over open flames or buried in embers. Wood fires had a different taste than you get from other kinds of roasting.

Meatless menus. More and more restaurants are seeing vegetables as more than just side dishes. Because of the campaign to get us to eat less meat and the increasing numbers of vegetarians, chefs are setting aside more of the meat and putting veggies in center stage.

Making veggies easier to love. Many of us grow up with a decided hatred for certain vegetables. But cooks are finding that almost anything tastes better fried. In addition to deep fried Brussels sprouts, cooks are coming up with cauliflower chips, and even crispy fried kale.

Hot dogs are going gourmet. Chefs are taking the humble wiener to new heights with high end cuts of meat, natural casings, homemade dogs, new toppings and creative sauces. In fact, the dog you used to eat from a vendor stand is now the menu at finer restaurants.

Soft serve creations from frozen fruit, savory ice creams, slushy cocktails and even the infamous foams are more popular with even old-style chefs and kitchens.

Reinvented junk food are a big target for talented chefs. They are looking for ways to make munchies gourmet and treats more interesting. Watch for some new ideas coming to the grocery shelves near you.

Pop pops. While they’re looking at what can be done with snacks, chefs are also experimenting with exotic popsicles. Yes, that’s right, the treat you loved as a kid, and may still love, is going upscale. Flavors are ranging from alcoholic concoctions, savory and salty tastes, as well as variations on the sweet, fruity treat.

Homemade bread is making a comeback. Chefs are reconsidering the bread basket and making more bread in-house, developing artisan loaves and creating special butters.

Hot ingredients for 2011 include:

  • Pimento cheese
  • necks (lamb, beef, goat, pork)
  • whey
  • kumquats
  • smoked oils, butter, cumin
  • hay
  • popcorn
  • hummus
  • pretzels
  • honey

Now that you know what’s hot, you can start making your own gourmet creations and show your family and friends just how hip you are in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.