New Year. New Trends.

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By Lori Olsen

November/December 2010

With the New Year quickly approaching, it’s hard to believe that another year has flown by! Instead of looking back on the past, I think it’s more interesting (and fun) to look forward and speculate which way the industry will be shifting, the trends you so desperately hope never rear their heads again, and the possibilities in store. I asked restaurant industry professionals about their thoughts on next year and am thankful they all took the time to answer10_novdec_newyearnewtrends_1.jpg and make their own predictions. 2011 is almost here, so here’s a little insight into the restaurant industry straight from the professionals!

Deborah Schneider, Executive Chef/Partner at SOL Cocina – Newport Beach in Newport Beach

Great Taste: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Deborah Schneider: Pop-up restaurants and mobile food events; organics becoming more prevalent; sustainable/responsible sourcing (especially of seafood) in low-mid range restaurants; new attention paid to vegetables/grains as center of plate items.

GT: What trend do you hope fizzles out by next year?
DS: Celebrity chefs.

GT: What menu items/dishes do you see gaining popularity next year?
DS: Smaller, cheaper “entrees.”

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
DS: It’s going to be all about value for a long time to come. To keep prices moderate but still be creative, more chefs and restaurateurs will explore “the fringes” – odd locations, pop-ups and mobile food, unusual and cheap ingredients, and play the hipster/discovery angle.

Joe Manzella, Proprietor of the two TAPS restaurants and The Catch in Anaheim
GT: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Joe Manzella: Gastropubs will continue to be hot. Fresh herbs continue to make their way into cocktails….and desserts. Mocktails.
Small Plates are staying strong.

GT: What trend do you hope fizzles out by next year?
JM: Sushi being served in restaurants that don’t serve sushi as a core menu offering. So awful and reaching. Let’s hope huge, obnoxious portions go away.

GT: What menu items/dishes do you see gaining popularity next year?
JM: Bison continues to gain acceptance for all the right reasons: nutritional wonder food and great taste.
Ocean trout.
Salumis.
Tableside preparations.
Anything that is sustainable.

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
JM: I think upscale dining will continue to be slow. Fast casual will grow due to price point issues only. Value will continue to be the order of the day.

Tai Obata, Executive Chef at RA Sushi (all U.S. locations)

GT: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Tai Obata: We always keep our guests’ favorites on the menu, but each year we make room for some exciting new trends. We predict that the tapas trend will continue to flourish as we continue to see our guests ordering smaller portions. These small plates are perfect for sharing and make great appetizers or a new accompaniment to an ice cold beer. In addition, we anticipate specialty rolls to develop and thrive in 2011.

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
TO: We expect business to grow in a positive direction. Regardless of the economy, people still want to go out and have a good time.

Alberto Vazquez, Chef at Mediterraneo at Westlake Village Inn

GT: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Alberto Vazquez: I think family style and very comfortable, humbling cuisine will thrive because of the economic crisis. People will stick to the basics. Also, I feel that gourmet lunch trucks will continue to grow strong.

GT: What trend do you hope fizzles out by next year?
AV: All the molecular cooking. I have a great appreciation for it, but really enjoy old school cooking and the art of food being made on a stove over open fire versus in a laboratory.

GT: What menu items/dishes do you see gaining popularity next year?
AV: Here, I expect our Granchio Napolitano to surpass all other pasta dishes. Also, the Coq Au Vin, and very classic dishes will become very popular as they are great winter dishes and very traditional.

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
AV: I think that the restaurant industry will still be in a very humble economic position. People will still want to come to a classy restaurant but enjoy family style cuisine. People want to feel like they’re in a high end establishment without having to pay the high end price.

10_novdec_newyearnewtrends_2.jpgJoshua Buckner, General Manager, and Adam Horton, Chef at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas
GT: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Joshua Buckner: I think cross restaurant/chef marketing will see a big explosion over the next year. We live in the age of “The Celebrity Chef”, providing scores of distinct faces to match the cuisine. Events featuring a multi-course menu executed by several chefs, delivering cuisine that is within the parameters of the restaurant’s brand will flourish. These afford the chefs an opportunity to share ideas and try innovative things they might not otherwise perform in their own restaurants.Adam Horton: Fluid gel is the new coulis, hydrocolloids (sodium alginate, methylcellulose, etc.) are becoming a mainstay in many high end kitchens. Sous vide is becoming a standard. And I don’t see bacon going anywhere anytime soon.GT: What trend do you hope fizzles out by next year?
JB: Restaurant discount marketing. Restaurants already operate on very slim margins. Adding freebees and discounts encumbers the restaurant’s ability to be profitable in an already sluggish economy. Besides they also tarnish brand image for the higher end restaurants.

AH: Pipettes. I don’t really see the need to have to squeeze sauce from a tube into my mouth in order to get the flavor that’s intended to be in the dish. I think it’s hokey and gimmicky.

GT: What menu items/dishes do you see gaining popularity next year?
JB: Molecular gastronomy. Newer cooking techniques, such as Sous Vide (under vacuum), provide a whole new experience for the diner. Second is sustainable seafood. The oceans are a great resource for food provided that we help keep them healthy. Third is the focus on farming. Great strides are being made to feature local, sustainable produce. Many chefs are developing relationships with farmers to procure the absolute best ingredients for their dishes.

AH: What I’ve noticed is that everyone is looking for lighter with more intense flavors. I’m thinking you’ll see a lot more pure flavors such as purees made from vegetables cooked in vegetable juice or light, intensely flavored broths.

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
JB: I think financially, it will be a little better than the last two years; consumer confidence is starting to come back. Spending habits certainly changed and will take a while to recover the levels they were at several years ago. As an operator, I have tried to find ways to embrace the consumer’s new habit without redefining our brand. Adaptability is key because this industry is changing rapidly. Operators need to stay open to new ideas and concepts, but not change so much that they alienate their core client group.

AH: I think it’s on the pickup. I think the small plates and affordable chef driven restaurants will do well. You’ll start seeing much more of the dining crowd shifting away from big corporate chains and going to restaurants with passionate, creative chefs behind them. I think fine dining will also see a rise because the thought, work, and creativity involved is something no one would want to have to do at home.

Blaze Brigman, Director of Operations of LodgeWorks
GT: What trends do you see flourishing in the next year?
Blaze Brigman: Creative imbibing and the “house” inspired beverage mixes and infusions. The growth potential is enormous considering most mixes are distributor provided.

GT: What trend do you hope fizzles out by next year?
BB: All trends are good for the industry, even when they don’t hold ground. New, of-the-moment ingredients and hot trends lend to more creativity and push interest and demand.

GT: What menu items/dishes do you see gaining popularity next year?
BB: We see regional ingredients and menu items continuing to grow. When travelers are away from home, they want to taste and feel the area they are visiting. Regional menu items and ingredients provide that escape and new experience.

GT: What is your forecast for the restaurant industry in the next year?
BB: Our forecast is that 2011 will be a solid year. We are always looking for better efficiency models while continuing to create a delicious and innovative experience for our guest. From the guest’s perspective, the industry continues to experiment and grow. There is much attention from the media and cross over from the entertainment industry…we are growing foodies pretty young these days, and that fuels the interest.