Monday, March 23, 2009

2009 food trends

If you’re a homebody who enjoys making a big pan of macaroni and cheese, or eating a hearty, homemade stew instead of going to a fancy restaurant, congratulations: You are among the trendiest people in the country.
Comfort foods, simple meals, home cooking and recession-proof dining will be the buzzwords in the food world for 2009, according to trend-spotters and market experts. But fear not, foodies. The 2009 forecast isn’t all about meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The new year also will see the rise of Asian noodles, Peruvian dishes and drinks, ginger, cactus, certified fish, affordable wines, garam masala flavors, smoked flavors, maple syrup, organ meats and the growing use of eggs at lunch and dinner, not just as a morning staple.
Say farewell to molecular gastronomy, with its dehydrators and foams, and auf wiedersehen to elaborate restaurant concoctions that require five garnishes and three sauces. Even chefs will economize and embrace simpler, more cost-effective foods.
“There’s been a tendency among American chefs to pile as many ingredients on a plate (as possible), using the maximum number of cooking techniques. These showoff antics peak just before every economic collapse. In recessionary times, they’re now forced to cut back on both ingredient costs and the labor required to fabricate froufrou,” said Michael Whiteman of the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co., a food and restaurant consulting firm in New York.
“That’s one reason so-called comfort food starts appearing on menus and on home dinner tables. Another reason, of course, is that in stressful times, braised and baked items are more comforting to the soul than grilled-and-garnished dishes.”
Turning to comfort foods in a recession isn’t a new phenomenon. But this year’s culinary “cocooning” also is driven by the desire for simple pleasures.
“It’s driven partially by finances. But this time it’s more ‘I’m staying home not because I need to but because I want to,’ ” said Lynn Dornblaser, senior new-product expert for Mintel, which tracks consumer trends. “It’s more of a positive choice than a reaction or a feeling of fear: ‘I have my big TV, my gourmet kitchen, so I’m staying home.’ ”
And those who are staying home are looking to prepare satisfying, economical dishes, said Tanya Steel, editor in chief of Epicurious.com.
“The recession already has affected how we eat and feed our families. The search terms on Epicurious are skewing to common ingredients – pasta searches, chicken searches,” Steel said. “People are cooking at home. It’s the way to get the most value from your dollar.”
Steel also said that complicated, science-experiment food is out and simple food is in. “Intellectual ‘head food’ … is done,” she said. “It was an important revolution, gastronomically speaking, but at the end of the day people really want food they know and flavors they understand.”
So what are some foods, flavors and culinary trends we’ll see in 2009? Here are several, gleaned from a variety of trend reports:
• Breakfast: If you like eggs at any hour, you’re in luck. Look for more restaurants with all-day breakfast items. Fried or poached eggs on top of dishes (the classic French frisée salad, for example) also will be more popular.
• Asian noodles and soups: With raw-fish prices increasing, noodle bars are becoming the new sushi joints, sporting ramen, udon and soba noodle dishes. Noodles in broth, such as Vietnamese pho and Southeast Asian laksa, will grow in popularity.
• Certified fish: Concerns about overfishing have led restaurants and suppliers to buy from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based non- profit that promotes sustainable fishing practices. Avoiding vulnerable species, such as bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass and swordfish, is part of the effort. Walmart has pledged to make a full switch to certified fisheries by 2011, according to JWT, a trend and branding expert.
• Gluten-free products: Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, a protein found in rye, wheat and barley, affects only about 1 percent of the population. But gluten-free products are now considered chic, said Ann Mack, director of trend-spotting for JWT. “It’s perceived as healthy,” she said. “You’re seeing more celebrities talking about it in the magazines.” Stars are using gluten-free products as diet aids, she added.
• New flavors: Look for lavender, persimmon, star fruit, garam masala and chimichurri flavors to crop up in food products and on menus. “We’re still looking for new things,” said Mintel’s Dornblaser. She added that cactus, in both food and drink, will make its way from the Latin market to the mainstream.
• Peru: It’s the next great foodie destination, according to Bon Appétit magazine. Peruvian cuisine’s flavors and ingredients will influence restaurant menus. Move over, caipirinha and mojito: The Pisco Sour, made with the Peruvian national spirit, is the hot new cocktail.
• Ginger drinks: Ginger beers and cocktails also are hot new sippers, according to Epicurious. Spirits become more popular in recessionary times, Steel said. “One of the areas people are not cutting back on is liquor,” she said. “People are drinking more. They’re spending less on the actual bottles, but they’re drinking more. Bars are not being hit like restaurants.”
Will these trends blast off like yesterday’s sun-dried tomatoes? That remains to be seen.
What is clear is how much the economy will affect the way we eat, shop and spend our restaurant dollars. Cheaper cuts of meat, pasta, beans and economical prepared meals from the supermarket are signs of our recessionary jitters. Supermarket sales are growing, as is traffic on their Web sites.
Steel said: “People are looking for coupons and using them.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for restaurants, though. Bi-stros boasting affordable, filling fare are making a comeback, Whiteman said. Menus featuring spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, pad thai and rigatoni carbonara may escape the sting of the Dow.
Also look for more small, tapas-style plates, Whiteman added.
If there’s one exciting dining trend to emerge from our diminished dollars, it’s the “underground restaurant,” according to the Baum & Whiteman report.
These “black market” eateries are unlicensed, one-night-only dining ventures staged by skilled cooks in warehouses, garages, cellars, vacant nightclubs and personal dining rooms. They usually feature a set menu and are BYOB.
What Whiteman calls “gastronomic speakeasies,” they are mushrooming because they’re fun, usually affordable and offer a “sense of adventure,” he said.

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