Food & Drink Trends 2018
Eat Your Veggies
Vegetable forward restaurants get top billing on the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast 2018.” We’re not talking bean sprouts. Chefs give as much attention to their plant based creations as they once did to meat. In the words of Amanda Cohen, whose award winning Dirt Candy was the first vegetable focused restaurant in New York City, “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to the professionals.” Grilled and smoked broccoli dogs and Brussels sprouts tacos are customer favorites. Chef Aaron Adams’ recently opened vegan Farm Spirit in Portland, Oregon, is getting rave reviews as one of the best farm to table restaurants in the country. His carrot jerky would have Bugs Bunny turning cartwheels. Megan Miller of The Salted Fig in Los Angeles highlights plant-based dishes with meat as the side. As a private chef, she has seen more clients than ever requesting plant-based menus. In St. Louis, Blue Hill at Stone Barns alums Tara and Michael Gallina put vegetables forward at Vicia but don’t shy away from proteins. They coat a cabbage with pork fat, grill it, and cut it into steaks and sometimes they even sneak vegetables into desserts. In Chicago, chef Dan Snowden calls his Bad Hunter restaurant vegetable forward even though it’s actually vegetarian. Multi-Michelin starred chef Joël Robuchon has even added a vegetarian tasting menu to his new L’Atelier restaurant in Manhattan.
Walking A Straighter Line
Craft cocktails are all the rage but sometimes people want the craft without the complications, especially in hotel bars. “The newest thing is non-alcoholic or low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails,” says Susan Terry, vice president of culinary and food and beverage operations, Marcus Hotels and Resorts. “There is decreased consumption of alcohol as boomers cut back.” Sometimes it’s due to health concerns or the legal ramifications of over consumption and driving. Or a group of women may be having a girls’ night out and one is pregnant but still wants to celebrate. Now there’s even a distilled non-alcoholic spirit. Called Seedlip, it’s marketed as “what to drink when you’re not drinking.” It’s a little like gin but is non-alcoholic. Creator Ben Branson steeps botanicals in neutral grain spirits and then distills to remove the alcohol. “You can make a non-alcoholic gin and tonic with it,” says Gary Gruver, senior beverage manager, global operations, Marriott International. “If you have a lot of meetings or it’s too early to drink, you can still have tonic and the aromatics without the alcohol.” Why? “People are starting evenings a little earlier these days or they may just want to slow down and not be over imbibing.”
Smoke and Fire
People love the smell of a campfire even in their drinks. Charred, browned, blistered — aka burnt—vegetables and fruits are “in” from the burnt broccoli salad at Superiority Burger in NYC to the orecchiette carbonara with charred Brussels sprouts at Rolf & Daughters in Nashville. Even desserts get into the act with burnt sugar toppings. Technomic reports a 61 percent increase in the use of the word “burned” on menus. Live fire cooking on expansive Argentine grills with adjustable grates that can be raised or lowered to cook directly over the coals are all the rage with chefs. Greg Denton (Ox, Portland, OR) was the first on the West Coast to have an Argentine style grill and to take full advantage of its v-shaped trough designed to catch the “black gold” juices to baste meats and vegetables. John Manion at Chicago’s El Che Bar enlisted the help of a steel worker who builds Harley Davidson parts to craft his custom made 12-foot-long, wood-fired Argentine grill. Every serious pizza place has a wood burning oven which also does double duty for meats and vegetables. Bars may forbid smoking these days, but that doesn’t dissuade patrons craving the taste of smoke in Old Fashions and Margaritas. Mescal and peaty Scotches have a naturally smoky flavor. But bartenders can also capture smoke by holding a glass upside down over extinguished flame, or infuse spirits with smoky ingredients like chipotles.
Can You Hear America Milling?
Freshly milled grains may be as important as grinding your own coffee beans. First chefs started making pasta in house, then they baked their own bread. Now many are milling their own flour to make the pasta and bake the bread. Or they’re grinding corn to make masa for tortillas. Chef Kevin Fink at Emmer & Rye in Austin, Texas mills as many as 15 different grains (popping sorghum, red fife, einkorn, etc.) for pastas, breads, and desserts. White Sonora donuts are a hit. Chef Michael Toscano at Le Farfalle in Charleston, SC, adds freshly milled sorghum to his pappardelle to give it a Southern twist. Blame San Francisco uber baker Chad Robertson but artisan loaves are now showing up on restaurant tables and in bakeries across the country. Freshly milled flour and long fermentation are the keys to the crusty, tasty loaves. Carissa Waechter, who has been selling her breads at South Fork farmers markets for a number of years, now has a brick and mortar Carissa’s Bakery in East Hampton. She mills wheat from Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett for many of her loaves.
Is Bitter Better?
Perhaps thanks to all those bitters in craft cocktails or the kale craze, Americans are getting more used to bitter flavors. Look for more bitter orange, cranberry, green leafy vegetables, broccoli rabe, radicchio, grapefruit, bitter melon, turmeric. Amaros, Italian bitter liqueurs and digestives, are also gaining in popularity and being used as a modifying spirit in cocktails. They can range in flavor from Fernet Branca’s bitter bitter to Montenegro’s bitter sweet. There are also some Italian restaurants with extensive Amaro lists such as Domenica in New Orleans and Locanda and Bar Agricole in San Francisco. The new romance with bitter flavors also explains why the Negroni, with its mixture of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin, still reigns as the most popular drink. But the Boulevardier, made with whiskey instead of gin, is gaining ground.
Rosé All Day
Summer in a Bottle, the best-selling rosé made by the Hamptons Wölffer Estate, can take much of the credit or blame for turning the pale pink vintage into a lifestyle. And it didn’t hurt that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt marketed one too. Now, this light, refreshing wine, formerly most closely associated with Provence, is the beverage of choice on happening hotel roof top bars, at beach resorts, and on high-end restaurants wine lists. Its versatility with salads, cheeses, grilled meat and fish, and pasta is universally appealing. Rosé sales, according to the Nielsen research firm, are now more than $207 million annually, up about 50 percent from a year ago. While female interest originally propelled the boom, men are fast joining the party. What other wine has its own hash tag? #RoseAllDay. Thinking even more pink, Wölffer winemaker/partner Roman Roth planted juniper and concocted Wölffer Pink Gin flavored with cumin, cardamom, coriander, fennel, anise, and lime zest and then colored with grape skin extract.
Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is the co-owner of Flavor Forays, a culinary travel company. Flavorforays.com