Matt Martinez is a marketing specialist at Foodesign.
12 Chef Trends from ACF's Chef Connect 2018
I had the good fortune to walk through ACF’s Chef Connect last week. Hundreds of chefs had gathered from around the eastern region of the United States to explore new ideas and flavors on the horizon of the culinary industry.
Here are 12 current and upcoming trends that are actively pushing towards a wider, more mainstream adoption in 2018:
#1 - Artisan Flatbreads
Positioned as a canvas for culinary innovation, artisan flatbreads are a flexible, time-saving tool for creating fresh takes on pizzas, sandwiches, or anywhere a typical bread is too boring.
#2 - Artisan Crackers
Crackers are perfect for carrying new and interesting flavors, whether through the specific grains used in the cracker itself or as a vehicle for fresh combinations of other ingredients. Bye-bye bread basket, hello cracker bouquet.
#3 - Ancient Grains
Spelt, millet, barley, freekeh, bulgur, sorghum, farro… they’re baaaaack! Used throughout history by various civilizations around the world, chefs are now re-integrating these underutilized grains into their cuisine as a juxtaposition to played-out favorites like rice or potatoes. Each of these grains have unique benefits and characteristics; for instance, did you know that sorghum popcorn exists? The more you know…
#4 - Microgreen Variations
There was a time when simply saying that a dish was topped with microgreens was enough to impress even the most seasoned diner. But, as there is no vegetable genus named “microgreen,” chefs are digging a little deeper into the specific varietals available. They can range from herb-based microgreens like basil and cilantro to vegetable-based microgreens like broccoli and purple kohlrabi to more unexpected sources like clover, buckwheat, chia, and sunflower. Long story short, there is finally a legitimate culinary reason to have Chia Pets in fine dining restaurants.
#5 - Nut Milks
The day when nut milk only existed in the shadow of milk milk has passed. Nut milk is painstakingly extracting itself from the limiting label of “non-dairy milk alternatives” and is starting to grab the limelight for itself. Almond milk, cashew milk, pumpkin seed milk, flax milk, hazelnut milk, even hemp milk… expect to see nut milks being substituted into recipes in the coming years. Perhaps you won’t even notice when your meal becomes vegan without announcing itself as such in big capital letters.
#6 - New Cuts of Meat
Branding can only do so much; the fact is, diners are getting bored with regular old pork and beef. Talk of tenderloin is now met with rolled eyes and stifled yawns. But fortunately for everyone who isn’t a pig or cow, there are new and interesting cuts of meat gaining traction on menus across the nation. With intriguing names like “secreto,” “zabuton,” and “merlot cut,” chefs are digging just a little deeper to get the most out of our farmland friends.
#7 - Kitchen Equipment for Smaller Spaces
Food establishements are pressing closer and closer to their diners and squeezing into smaller and smaller spaces to be as convenient as possible. As a result, chefs now require flexible, compact and simple-to-operate equipment that can provide the variety their customers demand. Combination ovens (combi ovens) are on the forefront of the small space equipment revolution, but innovation is happening across the board – for instance, Ice-O-Matic’s Elevation series, which vents out of the sides and top, allowing it the flexibility to fit into more compact spaces.
#8 - Menu transparency
At some point over the last decade, diners decided to reject the bliss of ignorance and began demanding that restaurants tell them exactly what they were eating. As a result, this push for transparency has forced chefs to start taking notes and present their list of ingredients, additives and caloric results in as palatable a fashion as their dishes. Not every chef does this yet, but it’s getting better.
#9 - Organic and Antibiotic-Free
While the technicalities surrounding these terms can be a bit fuzzy and confusing, the idea of eating organic and antibiotic-free has struck the imagination of eaters everywhere. Chefs are still scrambling to find regular suppliers at acceptable prices, and each industry is slowly shifting in that direction. But expect organic, antibiotic-free eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, and even popcorn to appear on more and more menus over the next year.
#10 - Third-Party Validation
It’s almost entertaining how long it has taken most chefs to realize that Instagram posts, Google and Yelp reviews, and other third party validation sites can have massive influence over potential diners (and therefore their bottom line). But they’re finally waking up to its significance, and are even hiring professional social media experts in the same way they’d hire a pastry chef.
#11 - Teas and Infused Water
Customers aren’t drinking soda anymore, so chefs are finding ways to fill that void by stirring up new health-conscious creations. Water is being infused with more than a lemon wedge, and popular options often include complimentary fruit and herb combinations. The foray into new teas, however, can prove more challenging, as certain types of tea (like oolong) can require a bit of an education before a typical tea drinker will accept them into their repertoire.
#12 - Wine, Beer and Spirits Education
With many options comes great responsibility. The world of alcoholic beverages has expanded to near-unfathomable proportions in recent years, and, frankly, customers are starting to get overwhelmed. While sommeliers are viable options for some restaurants, they are a financial and practical impossibility to most. To help combat this frustration, chefs are beginning to provide training sessions for their servers. Armed with a bit of knowledge, servers can gently guide their patrons into the best choice for their specific palate. So get ready to have your cracker bouquet arrive with a side of learning!
If I had to find a takeaway…
If I were to try to connect a thread through each one of these trends, it would go right through “a demand for variety and challenges associated with that demand.”
Never in the history of the world has variety reached this scale. And, let’s be honest, it’s probably not going anywhere but up.
There is both a yin and yang to having a world where we can get almost anything at a moment’s notice. As the culture becomes more aware of what options exist and starts walking away from older preferences, significant educational and logistical challenges inevitably arise.
Chefs are tasked with taking care of their customers by providing them with a satisfying meal experience. While that may seem simple and romantic, dealing with the push and pull of consumer trends can be more difficult to deal with than it may seem from the outside.
Over the course of my years working in and around foodservice, I’ve become exceedingly grateful for those who have committed themselves to the task of tackling each new year’s ebbs and flows with gusto.
And it looks like 2018 is gonna be a doozy.
We hosted a party for the chefs attending ACF's Chef Connect this year...
Check out some of the highlights in the video below!