The future. It's there in our culinary crystal ball, barely visible through the "steam" of liquid nitrogen, somewhere underneath those pearls of agar agar and gelatin, and fried mayonnaise cubes.
As we usher in the new year, it's time for the inevitable, flawed, futile yet fun annual food prognosticating — which everyone knows will mostly end with the fortune-teller wearing pie, or whatever the "next cupcake" turns out to be, all over his face.
Food will power flying luxury cars with beer and banana peels pulsed in a quasi-Cuisinart. Black & Decker will come out with a home hydrator to rehydrate a delicious Pizza Hut pie right in your kitchen! Wait, sorry, none of that happens in the 1989 classic, Back to the Future II, until 2015. But it's always instructive when looking forward to take a quick look back — review last year's predictions, and the trends that actually panned out (or didn't).
So what were 2011's top food trend predictions? How did they turn out?
Last year, The Daily Meal's editorial director, Colman Andrews, thought hard on the subject, and tapping the collective unconscious of the site's staff, used "hive mind" to see if the trends for 2011 couldn't be determined. There were 17 predictions, ranging from Nordic and Portuguese food taking hold to whole animal feasts and the rise of the celebrity vegetable farmer.
Reviewing them alongside the actual 25 top food trends of 2011 reveals a pretty good track record. Undoubtedly, chef René Redzepi's rise to glory spurred the spike in popularity of Nordic cuisine. Did Portuguese cuisine follow suit? Peruvian, sure. Portuguese, maybe not so much. Cardoons? Wild greens and roots? Offbeat grains? Peripherally maybe, but not enough to make this year's trend list.
Whole animal feasts were a trend. Farmer Lee Jones won a James Beard Award, but organic vegetable farmers didn't necessarily storm our tables. Grant Achatz's Next opened in April with a pioneering new restaurant reservation system. 2011 didn't really mark the return of the pot or the regular pie or guerilla takeout. But rooftop and private restaurant gardens proliferated; pop-up dining was huge; and more big-name chefs ventured into airports, stadiums, and even bowling alleys.
Similarly, there were completely homemade cocktails and lots of fast-food gimmicks. Eight for 17 isn't bad — almost 50-50. Place your bets that those Vegas odds carry forward with food predictions for 2012, but don't count Sin City as the next place that star chefs feel they need to flock to.
Instead, look for that city to be Miami. Some other predictions involve doubling down on last year's prognostications — so wild greens stand a good chance and you can expect to see many more special reservation systems.
Expect burger migration, alternative round fingerfoods, and celebrity chefs duking it out Ron Burgundy-style over food halls. Forget goat; look to fish. X will be the new cupcake, and perhaps there will be an election-year surprise... wait, is that President Batali?
But now we're giving away all the fun. Below discover trends that will be big, and what's in store for the food world in 2012.
President Mario Batali and Bobby "Brando" Flay
Not content to be confined by Food Network's "small-time" studios, chefs are going Hollywood. Batali is on The Chew (the first daytime "soup") and in movies; Colicchio, Chang, Dufresne, and Ripert were on Treme (partially written by Anthony Bourdain); Bobby Flay was on Entourage. (We won't mention Emeril's abortive sitcom years ago.) We know chefs are the new rock stars, and hey, some play guitar, but look for more more chefs in Hollywood, and more celebrities mingling with them. With their higher profiles, you've seen social activism exhibited by more successful chefs. Why not the late entry of a chef in politics? We saw the rise and fall of a former restaurant executive in politics. Why not a chef? Geoffrey Zakarian looks presidential lately...
Meatball madness was big in 2011. Top Chef contestant Dave Martin's The Meatball Factory, great D.C.-based French chef Michel Richard's "Balls," and other specialty shops abound, while meatballs in some form or another have become de rigueur on American menus everywhere. The trend hasn't reached bacon proportions yet — wait for turducken meatballs with curry peanut sauce to signify that. Wait, The Meatball Factory did that? Well, expect more anyway.
But we're also likely to see other round fingerfoods… above all arancini: little fried balls of risotto, either plain or filled with cheese or prosciutto or… we shudder to think. They're getting more visibility and have gone mobile in St. Louis. If I had had some seed money, I'd have opened my own shop already.
We're not talking about raiding your tropical fish tank, but as concerns about overfishing of traditionally appreciated varieties continue, and industry players learn more about which fish are most successfully farmed, you may start seeing lesser-known fish — wild and otherwise — in your local fish market and on menus. Paiche, fugu, and toadfish for everyone!
Zahav started giving Israeli-inspired food a good name in Philadelphia a few years ago, but now with Kutsher's and Parm (Italian, but with Jewish flare) opening in New York City, expect Jewish (and Jewish-inspired) cooking of different kinds to be given a closer look. Wouldn't surprise us if goyim across the country serve brisket and matzoh balls for dinner on Christmas Eve 2012, with gefilte fish incorporated into the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
More Neapolitan and Funky Pizzas
In 2010, The Daily Meal said 2011 would feature the return of the regular pie. Would that it were so. In New York City at least, the dollar slice made inroads, if nothing else, and not for a quality effect (1-percenters aside, New Yorkers would be better served by D.C.'s jumbo slice taking root), and the pizza-as-Superbowl-dip-on-cardboard went national in the frozen food aisle. In fact, 2011 saw the demise of a New York regular-pie original, Famous Ray's of GreenwiIn 2010, The Daily Meal said 2011 would feature the return of the regular pie. Would that it were so.
In New York City at least, the dollar slice made inroads, if nothing else, and not for a quality effect (1-percenters aside, New Yorkers would be better served by D.C.'s jumbo slice taking root), and the pizza-as-Superbowl-dip-on-cardboard went national in the frozen food aisle. In fact, 2011 saw the demise of a New York regular-pie original, Famous Ray's of Greenwich Village. Sure, Grimaldi's came to Manhattan, so too did Zero Otto Nove, but Forcella brought fried pies to Williamsburg and the Bowery, and the Neapolitan craze continued to take over America.
So what's next from pizza? Look for more Neapolitan, crazier toppings, and funkier presentations. As evidenced by the mobile Neapolitan pizza operations by Roberta's and Pizza Moto, and in 2009 by IT consultant turned celebrated pizza-lebrity Paulie Gee, the tools and knowledge for how to make good pies are becoming more increasingly known. Of course, the return, nationwide, of the simply great slice joint, à la Joe's or South Brooklyn Pizza, would be nice.
Paula Wolfert introduced Moroccan food to Americans 40 years ago with her classic Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. This year, she published what was supposed to be an update of it, but turned into a new book, deeper and even more delicious: The Food of Morocco. Also new was Iron Chef America winner and Michelin-star-holder (for his Aziza in San Francisco) Mourad Lahlou's stunning Mourad: New Moroccan. Coming soon is Mediterranean food expert Jeff Koehler's Morocco: A Culinary Journey. The food in these books is full of spices (though not spicy), healthy (grains and greens), and engaging. With this attention, it has a shot at becoming a (if not the) next big thing.
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