By Marilou Shea
Unlike the Pantone color of the year that’s selected annually by a chosen few, the food trends I’m about to share — most falling into a “healthy” category — are ultimately based on the masses — yes, that’s you, me, us.
As if you didn’t know, keto, kale and gluten-free diets were all the rage in 2018. So much so that some claim this trinity reached the pinnacle of popularity and will not falter from its holy perch. Their fan base will be happy to know that from everything I’m hearing and reading, it looks like they’ll continue to be popular, but whether they maintain their cult status in 2019 is debatable.
According to executive chefs and culinary experts at Benchmark, a global hospitality company, along with the National Restaurant Association, there are a few surprises and a few continuums to wake your taste buds in 2019.
Garden envy. Kale and cauliflower — the darlings of the past few years — have had their respective days in the sun. Wild weeds like sorrel, amaranth and dandelion greens will be in the spotlight in restaurants and could overshadow kale’s cult status. Also basking in the limelight will be root vegetables and distinctively flavored herbs, like lovage, chervil, lemon balm and papalo — all prepared with a unique and satisfying twist.
Veggie-ism’s star is rising. Vegetarianism, once seen as “a finicky customer preference” by servers and chefs is going mainstream, thanks to consumers becoming fixated on macro diets, which count macronutrients like grams of protein, carbs and fats. No longer a sidekick to traditional forms of protein, menus soon will feature vegetarian entrees as the star of the show with proteins as the complement. At the very least, expect to see more menu real estate dedicated to vegetarian dishes. That’s due to consumer demand and culinary experts transforming that plump pumpkin into a pleasing and tasty dish appealing to all customer profiles, not just vegetarians.
Go pro for probiotics. Kombucha, or fermented tea, has seen a massive resurrection from its original debut in the 1970s. It’s been bottled and has cool self-pour options available at grocery stores like Yoke’s. Its next chapter will see home-grown kombucha coming from boutique hotels and chef-driven eateries. Fermented products like tempeh, kefir, kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut also will see an uptick by these same businesses. As with the die-hard focus on getting as close to a food’s original source as possible, the goal here is to consume the least-processed food while upping the probiotics to improve the immune system.
Don’t bug me. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve got to ask how on Earth insects landed on the trend list? What were “you” thinking? Loathe to believe it, I dug deep and here’s what I found: chefs are looking for alternative sources of protein in response to rising costs of beef and poultry. They claim it’s sensible based on sheer volume and ability to source anywhere. Not to mention that insects are low in fat (ick) and possess three to four times the protein as beef (eek). Did you know that 80 percent of the world consumes insects? I didn’t and can’t say I’m the better for it, other than to culturally cringe internally and hope for the best.
Farm to table, continued. You’ve heard of it, you’ve read it here (there and everywhere) and like me, you probably agree that we could do more of it. In a nod to its continuing evolution, farm to table’s next act will feature custom farming that’s all about planting specifically for menu development. Chef Tom Douglas of Seattle fame has such a garden in Prosser — the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business wrote about it in June 2017. In ag circles this is often referred to as sustainable farming. It’s absolutely a good thing.
Celebrity chefs and dieticians become BFFs. Duchess Dietician of Health meet Chef Al La Taste, Chef Al La Taste meet Duchess Dietician of Health. Foodies and culinary experts talk a lot about healthy eating but that’s not necessarily nutrition. Ahem. The science of food is grounded in, well, science, and is the dietician’s territory. They are medically board-certified with a ton of educational expertise required to bear that lofty title. Seeing dieticians elevated to the status of chef is on the upswing as you, me, us, aspire to personalize our dining scenarios. The sweet spot of technology — with convenient access to calorie counts, portion controls and allergic reactions — will enable us to customize our dietary and subsequent dining options, whether in a restaurant or at a retail outlet. Personalized nutrition plans (or, diet plans — there, I said it) will soon be all the rage and then settle into a normal life as they become the norm. These plans will have a huge impact on diet and subsequently what’s offered at our favorite go-to eateries.
Beef eaters rejoice. Not to be outdone by all the plants, weeds and seeds brouhaha, if you’re a carnivore, then welcome to the land of new cuts and flavor families, like shoulder tender, oyster steak, Vegas strip and merlot cut. Their grill qualities are top notch, too.
This is an aha culinary moment where consumers’ palates are being awoken by a variety of old and new food sources, combined with creative techniques that have been sleepy in their response to a customized healthy palate. What’s not to love?
Food Love columnist Marilou Shea is adjunct faculty for Columbia Basin College’s hospitality program and Food Truck Academy, as well as the creator of Food Truck Fridays.
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