Courtesy of Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman
Baum + Whiteman are creators of high-profile restaurants around the world...
Their predictions follow:
1. - WHAT’S THAT CRUNCHING SOUND? As the economy crawls sideways, like blue crabs at the shore, mom-and-pop eateries will be hit the hardest. Each time a big national chain cuts its prices, or flings a million half-off coupons into the market via social networks, independent restaurant numbers will take a dive.
2. - THE WHOLE WORLD ON A PLATE. Look for excitement at the lower end of the market where devil-may-care entrepreneurs are piling flavors from all over the globe onto a single dish. Gastronomically, everything goes. Bite into a sandwich of chipotle pork chop with burnt sugar glaze, carrot kimchee and tarragon mayonnaise, and your taste buds will announce that these flavors came from a global Mixmaster... This is what’s emerging: A multi-ethnic, multi-sensory dining experience where flavors clash on purpose.
3. - A WIDENING “FLAVOR GAP”: The menu items discussed above contain ingredients and multi-ethnic combinations that are alien to your local Panera Bread or Pizza Hut or even Five Guys -- because chains’ financial stakes are so high, they’re compelled to serve the fewest number of items to the greatest number of people.
4. - INSTEAD OF BREAD: Stretching for even more differentiation, look for sandwiches piled on things other than bread. Arepas, for example. Flattened tostones. Bao. Waffles. Rice cakes. Think of KFC’s notorious Double Down calorie bomb… but with more inventive ingredients.
5. - INNARDS AND ODD PARTS: We said it last year … and we’re saying it again: Tongue – lamb and beef -- and gizzards are hot. They’re moving up from ethnic neighborhoods (think Mexican and Korean tacos) and onto menus of upscale restaurants... Even fancy places will discover that they can sell tongue tacos at the bar and izakaya-style gizzards on skewers, and pigs’ ears and ox tails will show up on white tablecloths.
6. - IN A PICKLE: House-made vegetable and fruit pickles will appear on more and more menus as chefs concoct ever more complex ways of making these preserves.They’re not your grandmother’s pickles -- chefs are going global with additions of Asian fish sauce, Mexican peppers, ginger, yuzu, smoked paprika, star anise. Some are selling bowls of their own pickled products as individual menu items.
7. - AT LAST, KOREAN HITS THE CHARTS: Thanks largely to food trucks, Korean food has entered the American lexicon. Bulgogi, kimchee, kalbi, bibimbap are all the rage in Wednesday food sections, which means that shelter magazines will start running dumbed-down recipes in 2012 and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Korean-inflected fried chicken appearing on some chain menus.
8. - NO, EVERYONE’S NOT BROKE: About a quarter of America’s population is still happily working and another large chunk has a bit less – but not nothing – to spend, and after deep psychological retrenchment they’ll be returning to restaurant life. They’re not burning money, but they’re still having fun spending. And when they do, they’re seeking fun, interesting food and a sense of adventure. From this, we see the following:
8a - Comfort food hits the wall: When the recession hit three years ago, Americans gravitated to “crisis food”: homey roast chicken, soothing meat loaf, voluptuous mac-and-cheese, unchallenging sushi, and the Holy Cheeseburger. Now we’re bored by gastro-nostalgia. Instead, we’re demanding new taste thrills and culinary invention. Mac-and-cheese is being reworked with pork rillettes, or with chicharrones for crunch and braised pork necks for depth; or it is being stuffed into sandwiches along with fried chicken or chicken-fried steak.
8b - Early drinking , late night dining: People making sales and service calls, and supervisory staff, are spending more time in their cars, so they’re shifting social times to cocktails at four and dinner at ten. That’s because they’ve only chatted and texted with colleagues also scattered on the highways, and 4 p.m is a logical time to rendezvous somewhere, unwind with a cocktail and maybe have lunch that was missed earlier.
8c - Round things that go pop in the mouth: Kimchee- and-parmesan-filled arancini, fried goat cheese balls, spherical falafel, meat balls of all kinds, bacalao croquettes, crispy oxtail risotto balls – all of them dropped briefly in the fryer and served with multi-ethnic sauces and dips – are becoming hot-hot sharable bar food. They’re contemporary, drink-friendly finger food and no one seems to mind the calories.
9. - BEER GARDENS: Outdoor or indoor/outdoor, beer gardens will boom around the country, –especially from restaurants and breweries with unused backyards, oversized parking lots or available rooftops. The bigger the better. Good, cheap beer, often at five bucks a pop, and unchallenging food like pretzels, hot dogs and burgers, draw crowds seeking a fresh air alternative to indoor bars or lounges. Movable roofs and warmers make them year-round businesses.
10. - WHEELS COME OFF FOOD TRUCKS: Dozens of food truck operators will open brick-and-mortar shops in 2012. Many will put their vehicles on the block; others will attempt to run both businesses. The reason is clear: There’s more money to be made in storefronts now that food trucks – pioneering in social media marketing -- prove that eccentric menus have great market potential, and after the trucks create strongly branded identities that attract customers and satisfy wary landlords.
11. - CHOCOLATE DIRT: THE FORAGERS ARE COMING! A few years back, an unknown chef at restaurant Noma, in Copenhagen, created a strange series of tableaux on his dining room tables, using tree bark, pine needles, lichens and other things normally grazed by reindeer... Molecular gastronomy hasn’t exactly evaporated, but now you might get trampled by dozens of upscale chefs rushing to harvest dinner from the underbrush and under rocks – or assembling dishes that looked like they might be untamed gardens.
12. - JAPANESE CRAFT BEERS will gain a following.. They’re already is making inroads on beer-centric menus and Asian-inflected restaurants and they give lots of local artisan brews a good run for their money.
13. - FORGET SKYSCRAPER ARCHITECTURE. Chefs are shifting from stacking food as high as possible to stringing out ingredients in caterpillar-like lines along oblong or rectangular plates. This may looking like “dribble art” but at least it keeps the flavors separated. Ceviches, tartars, sushi and sashimi primarily, with salads as the next frontier.
14. - PERU GAINS MOMENTUM: Peru’s food is cross-pollinated by Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Andean flavors and cooking techniques. It is the source of the world’s most exciting ceviches and tiraditos (another raw fish dish), and it is where pisco sours come from... We predict that this is the next cuisine, so you need to know about causas, lomo saltado, aji amarillo, anticuchos, cuy (you know … whole roast guinea pig, legs, head and all) and tiraditos, along with vibrant, acidic fruits and juices that go into their unique raw fish preparations.
15. - WRONG ON HAMBURGERS: We predicted last year that “gourmet burgers” would peak in 2011. But they haven’t and we may be premature. Seems that a new burger chain launches every few weeks without regard for the growing density of competition.
(1) Misuse of words like “artisan” and “heirloom” and “local” will pollute their meaning, especially as chains co-opt them for marketing slogans. Adding a whole grain to factory bread doesn’t make it “artisan” and not all misshapen tomatoes are “heirlooms” from “local” growers. “Green” and “sustainable” are in this category, too.
(2) There’s a looming oversupply of farmers markets.
(3) Too many chefs are smoking too many foods