Last year was filled with cronuts, cupcakes, pretzel rolls and Sriracha. Local sourcing was huge. And kale was everywhere. But, what will 2014 hold?
This year, it looks like kale is being supplanted by cauliflower, ramen may be overtaken by dumplings, and pretzel rolls are hitting the mainstream hardcore (if you can judge by the fact that Wendy’s is now serving them up). Oh—and the local movement is still huge.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary forecast, which predicts menu trends, top trends for 2014 will include nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, pickling, ramen, dark greens and Southeast Asian cuisine.
On the other hand, food items on the downward spiral include Greek yogurt, sweet potato fries, bacon-flavored chocolate and housemade ice cream.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I can’t even promise you that 2014 is going to be all that much different. But, based on what I’ve seen, and read, here are my predictions for what will stick in 2014.
- Midwestern food. Here in Milwaukee, we’ve known the value of comfort food for decades. But, the rest of the nation is catching on. The Food Network has named Midwestern food movement as the No. 1 trend for 2014.
- Local overdrive. From local meats and seafood, to locally grown produce, you may have thought you’d seen it all. But, restaurants are going more and more local. They’re building rooftop gardens, harvesting from their own farms, and canning their own produce. In addition, we’re starting to see small-scale farms branching out into more heirloom produce and "exotic" proteins like goat, rabbit and pigeon. So, the movement still has a lot of great traction.
- The elevation of the humble vegetable. We’ve been seeing this trend rising for a number of years. A 2012 Harris Poll commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group found nearly half of Americans eat at least one non-meat meal per week, up from 40 percent back in 2007. And restaurants are capitalizing on new habits. You’ll spy more vegetarian and vegan fare at local hotspots (like the vegan charcuterie plate at Wolf Peach). And I suspect we’ll see the humble vegetable sliding into a more major role on dinner plates as the year moves on.
- Ancient grains. Now that we’ve all tried quinoa, next on the list will be chia, teff and freekah. And with the "gluten-free" movement growing, wheat-free will be on trend. On The National Restaurant Association's annual survey to forecast hot culinary trends, gluten-free food and non-wheat pasta made some of the biggest jumps on the list.
- Bread, bread and more bread. Despite the prevalence of gluten-free dining, bread is back, big time. If the success of Rocket Baby Bakery isn’t a good enough example, just look at the number of restaurants putting out bread baskets again (it’s increasing). Some are even charging for bread service. But, the days of bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil is over. Look for more chef-inspired spreads on the tables (like the flavored butters they offer at Braise or the "ham butter" at Hinterland), including unique options like whipped lardo, infused oils, and quark.
- Pickled and fermented foods. We’ve watched the rise in pickling at local restaurants (e.g. the housemade pickles at Honeypie and Comet). And we’ve seen a few more playing around with fermentation. This time the trend is moving beyond kimchee (which will branch out far beyond the stereotypical cabbage-based condiment). For instance, fermented hot sauces similar to Siracha are already being produced at places like Hinterland, which also brews its own kombucha for cocktails and makes its own vinegar. And pickled vegetables and other house-made fare are a staple at spots like Odd Duck.
- Middle Eastern flair. Pomegranate molasses is sprouting up on menus far and wide, as are seasonings like za’atar, Baharat and caraway. So, I predict a tide toward warmly spiced Middle Eastern flavors. Don’t believe me? Watch for little clues – like more baba ghanoush (hint, there’s already some in the lamb dish at c.1880), tahini, and Aleppo pepper. And I’m waiting for shakshuka to show up on someone’s brunch menu very soon.
- Tea. With Starbucks teaming up with Teavana to open its first Tea Bar, we’re going to see more happening in the world of tea. That’s good news for Rishi Tea, based in Milwaukee and one of the largest tea suppliers in the nation. It could also bode well for tea spots like Verduras Tea House and Cafe in the Third Ward and The Pfister, which offers tea service during the colder months.
- Housemade soda. The popularity of the SodaStream has gotten home cooks mixing up their own bubbly concoctions with everything from fruit juice to alcohol to herbal tea. Carbonated cocktails have become popular in the bar scene. Spots like La Merenda were on the cusp of the trend (Chef Sandroni employed Larry Hanlong to make soda at his restaurant). And all I can say is there’s going to be more, more, more. And, by the end of the year, craft soda may actually mean something to people.
- Ice cream sandwiches. Cupcakes have plateaued. They’re everywhere, and we’ll continue to see them. But, dreamers hoping to open their own dessert shops should focus on the ice cream sandwich. Andrew Freeman, CEO of a San Francisco-based hospitality consulting firm, predicts they’re the next big thing, which means that Purple Door Ice Cream is doing the right thing by offering even more of these novelty items at their new scoop shop in Walker’s Point.
- Tasting menus. According to consultants like Baum+Whiteman, luxury is returning to the dining scene. Spots like Sanford, Ardent and c.1880 are already offering tasting menus as regular offerings. But, as the trend trickles into the mid-price marketplace, you can expect to see more restaurants jumping into the game. And I’ll bet you’ll see a spot or two jump in as "tasting menu only."
So, that’s what I’ve got. But, before I close, I just want to toss out one more thing.
Last year, in my trends column, I wished for a ramen shop. And that worked out pretty well for me. So, this year I’m wishing for a real live donut shop. Not Dunkin’ Donuts, mind you… I’m thinking more along the lines of Top Pot in Seattle, or Voodoo Donuts in Portland.
Seriously. It would be huge.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.