January 10, 2018 10:12:11 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
House-made condiments, street food-inspired dishes, vegetable carb substitutes, food as medicine, sugar alternatives -- these are a few of the line items popping up in an online search for the hottest national food trends predicted for 2018. Like fashion crazes and TV viewing habits, what America eats evolves with the times.
The National Restaurant Association surveyed more than 700 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation to identify trending foods and concepts for the new year. Among the Top 20 are new cuts of meat, such as shoulder tender, Merlot cut and Vegas Strip steak; sustainable seafood; healthful kids' meals; ethnic spices, like harissa, curry and shichimi; and doughnuts with nontraditional fillings, like liqueur or Earl Grey cream.
Top 10 concepts identified by the surveyed chefs include hyper-local focus, such as on-site beer brewing, restaurant gardens and house-made items; natural ingredients/clean menus; food waste reduction; locally-sourced meat, seafood and produce; and farm or estate-branded items.
Closer to home, Golden Triangle chefs see some of those same trends, and others, being strong in 2018. Matt Molina of East Mississippi Community College's Lion Hills Center, Beth Broussard Rogers of J. Broussard's, both in Columbus, and Ty Thames of Restaurant Tyler and other eateries in Starkville, shared some local perspective.
Do you know where that's been?
"I see a lot of a kind of getting back to basics, working with local farmers, from vegetables to a lot of organic meats," said Molina. In his position as executive chef and instructor, Molina works closely with EMCC students pursuing Culinary and Hotel and Restaurant Management degrees.
"There's a lot of farm-to-table, sourcing your food and knowing exactly where it came from and what it was grown with," Molina continued.
Lion Hills, like Broussard's and Restaurant Tyler, has started its own garden -- one of the trends ID'd in the National Restaurant Association survey.
"This past spring we were fortunate enough to have about 14 different herbs and spices to pick right outside and use," said the chef.
Rogers is growing some of Broussard's own produce now. Thames is harvesting fresh ingredients at his Climbing Goat Farm. All three chefs also support area farmers and producers. Rogers, for example, gets the restaurant's eggs from Scott Enlow's Black Creek Farms in Columbus.
She said, "People are interested that a lot of (our food) is coming from local farms, and they didn't care about that 10 years ago."
Thames has noticed a significant trend toward plant-based diet. Restaurant Tyler is responding by adding vegan-oriented items to its menu this month. Among them are a spaghetti Alfredo made with roasted spaghetti squash and cauliflower, and a vegan lasagna made with brown rice instead of pasta. (Thames has also helped develop Bin 612, City Bagel, the Guest Room and, opening mid-year, Humble Taco. The new tacoria in a restored Humble gas station on Highway 182 will offer some plant-based vegan options on its menu.)
"Another trend I see is dealing with probiotics," said Thames, who uses some fermentation processes at Restaurant Tyler. The "food as medicine" movement may be more noticeable at a national level, but it interests Thames.
National pundits expect to see more restaurants working alongside nutritionists in designing menus that match health-centric demands of consumers. That includes incorporating ingredients that have positive impact on gut health, such as miso, kimchi and yogurts.
Rogers has introduced several health-centered dishes to Broussard's menu over time. But while she's heard people talking about reducing carbs by avoiding "anything white" (such as potatoes), a nice dinner out still seems to rank as a special occasion and worthy of leeway, she's observed.
Molina applauds "simplicity/getting back to basics," listed as one of the Top 10 trending concepts for 2018 in the National Restaurant Association survey. It will be a focus in his kitchen, too.
"I really feel that the fundamentals of cooking is a big trend, and I feel that people are kind of losing the fundamentals," he said. Rediscovering classic cooking techniques opens doors to so much else.
The chef referenced the five French foundational "mother sauces" as an example. (They are bechamel, veloute, espagnole, sauce tomat and hollandaise.)
"Out of those, if you add or take away any ingredient, you can have 10 to 20 sauces for different style recipes," he pointed out. "It's revisiting the fundamentals of techniques, and then you can expand on what you've grown up with, what your parents taught you."
Predicted Top 20 national food trends like Peruvian cuisine, Thai-rolled ice cream and artisan pickles may not show up in north Mississippi any time soon, but local chefs are keeping their fingers on the collective pulse of local consumers. As lifestyles and preferences morph, inspired menus are the goal, striking a balance between perennial favorites and new, exciting culinary options.
To see a complete list of the National Restaurant Association's list of food trends for 2018, visit restaurant.org.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.