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Most food trends tend to emerge from chefs’ adaptations of foreign cuisines, cooking techniques, or varietals; lifestyle demands or concerns; or the popularization of a specific ingredient or cooking style. However, some foods that have received little culinary notoriety often quietly emerge as high-potential food trends and are well worth watching. Traditional foods are once again creating culinary excitement.
Finger Sandwiches. With the growing desire for appetizers, savory rather than sweet snacks, and, for some, a penchant to eat light via small bites or tasting flights, it’s not surprising that traditional crustless finger sandwiches are growing in popularity. Forced into the spotlight by heightened interest in exotic teas and chai, tea houses, and “afternoon tea” as a new mini-meal option in hotels and restaurants, these more zesty condiment-driven morsels are replacing the traditional watercress, smoked salmon, and cucumber sandwiches. And delicate petite fours aren’t far behind.
Pot Pies. Around the world, pot pies of one form or another have pleased palates for generations. With the heightened demand for comfort foods, one-dish, no-cleanup meals, and a return to the “Basic 4” form of eating to ensure easily balanced nutrition, pot pies are perfectly positioned. Pot pie eat-in and take-home restaurants are popping up all over the country, serving a wide assortment of gourmet family-sized and individual pies—from Thai duck and wild mushroom to salmon and asparagus supreme and topped with wonton wrappers or Indian flatbreads.
Fruits de la Mer. With America’s increasing taste for seafood—much of it now raw—watch as the Brasserie classic “chilled fruits de la mer” (chilled lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, etc.) and other treats grab mainstream dining attention. Not only does seafood represent half of all restaurant appetizer sales, but—in addition to shrimp—crab cakes and calamari, oysters, clams, and mussels are quickly becoming big sellers. Pupu platters—complete with skewered tidbits, finger foods, and a flame for toasting—are also gaining mainstream momentum.
Dark-Meat Poultry. Moist, flavorful, popular in ethnic cuisines such as Mexican, and low in cost, dark meat is finally taking its turn in the spotlight. Similarly, duck and goose are finding a welcome role, as individual pieces are now commercially available as foodservice options. The Chain Account Menu Survey reports that 19 of its 35 bellwether Trendspotter independent restaurants featured duck on the menu in the past six months. Combining white and dark meats in salads, soups, and sandwiches is another culinary trend.
Sausage. More than 200 sausage varieties, from chorizo and andouille to bratwurst or kielbasa, are now in foodservice use. And they’re finding a very receptive consumer audience—with expanded seafood, game, and vegetarian options, too. Perhaps most startling is to see hot dogs sharing menu space with other upscale items!
Popovers. Move over, wraps. Popovers are the latest specialty baked item to attract attention as a tasty and portable food container. The egg-infused bread with a hollow interior is delicious in both sweet and savory flavors and stuffed with fillings such as meats, cheese, and fruit. Creative popovers contain everything from chicken a la king, clam chowder, and peanut butter and jelly to sweet cream fillings for dessert.
Bisques. Along with our desire for hearty, filling, and savory foods, bisques are heating up the soup category. Usually thickened with rice and flavored with wine, cognac, and fresh cream, bisques have expanded well beyond the traditional Spanish seafood soups of Biscay. From traditional lobster or she crab to squash, wild mushroom, and smoked apple, nearly anything goes.
Root Vegetables. Parsnips, beets, leeks, radishes, turnips, and salsify are enjoying more frequent menu mentions. Red, golden, and purple beets thinly sliced as appetizer chips add color to salads. Root vegetables are excellent in smashes, vegetable cakes, and purees. Other vegetable items like creamed spinach but using more gourmet greens are also coming on strong, as are celery root and Jerusalem artichokes.
Carpaccio. Sheer, thin slices of meat, game, fish, and even vegetables and fruits are riding the popularity of raw foods. Topped with a variety of condiments, from capers to shaved hard cheese, cucumber, venison, striped bass, and even mango, they are mainstreaming onto menus. Despite food safety concerns, seafood tartare—up 208% on menus since 1999—is also quietly growing in popularity.
Sundaes and Sweet Stuff. With a desire for comfort and the simpler things in life, several traditional desserts are getting unprecedented attention. Milk and cookies continue to appear on dessert menus. Eclairs, crème brulee, and profiteroles are among the latest restaurant best sellers, while creative cobblers, sundaes for adults, and cheesecake are maintaining their share of the ever-growing dessert trade.
by A. ELIZABETH SLOAN
President, Sloan Trends & Solutions, Inc.