2017: A Menu Odyssey

Trends for the new year from the National Restaurant Association’s annual survey.

You sit in a chef-driven, fast-casual restaurant. You start with a pupusa appetizer. You move on to an ahi poke salad. For your entree, you have a heritage-bred, free-range beef shoulder tender on a bed of ancient grains; to the side are African-spiced heirloom vegetables. You sip on a house-made soft drink. For dessert, you have artisan ice cream atop a smoke-flavored donut.

Or something to that effect, now that it’s 2017, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual food-and-beverage trend survey.

According to the survey, chefs remain a growing part of branding. In fact, not since chef Ettore Boiardi began putting his face on canned pasta has food been so closely identified with the chef.
But apparently with great recognition comes great responsibility. One of the top trends is “hyper-local sourcing” — meaning chefs are tending their own gardens, pickling their own cucumbers, mixing their own condiments, curing their own charcuterie, brining their own hams and smoking their own sausages.

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In fact, chefs are even expected to save the world. Per the survey, sustainable seafood, food waste reduction and environmental sustainability in general are among the top trends.

The waste reduction trend may partially explain the No. 1 trend of 2017: new cuts of meat. As chefs endeavor to use more of the animal, they may be more inspired to use cuts like shoulder tenders, which are difficult for butchers to extract but extremely, um, tender. Then there’s the flat iron steak, which is nearby on the cow but in contrast is tough. The payoff is in the flavor. Other trendy beef cuts include the Vegas strip and Merlot and Denver steaks. Some of the no-waste, nose-to-tail movement has apparently lost its appeal, however. The survey says heart, stomach (tripe) and liver are “yesterday’s news.”

For the front of the house, restaurants are increasingly brewing their own beer and distilling their own spirits in on-site barrels. With this trend comes an unprecedented exaltation of the barkeep, who must now create and accommodate a menu of signature concoctions and culinary cocktails.

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Breakfast, meanwhile is going international. One of the top trends for 2017 is ethnic-inspired breakfast items like chorizo-scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, Asian-flavored syrups and coconut-milk pancakes. But the nation may be divided on this point, because another top trend is the lumberjack breakfast — lots of eggs, bacon, flapjacks — which is as American as breakfast gets.

The survey also points to cooling trends in 2017: You’re less likely to order vegan or vegetarian cuisine. You’re less likely to eat quinoa or gluten-free noodles. You’re less likely to find a food-beer pairing on the menu. You’re less likely to demand grass-fed beef. You’re probably not buying a pre-paid ticket to dinner for a specific “showtime” at a restaurant that refuses to make free reservations. For some reason, people are becoming less interested in low-sodium dishes. And tapas is on the downswing.

Per the survey, food trucks are no longer the in thing. But simultaneously,“street-food inspired dishes” like tempura, kabobs and dumplings, are a top trend for 2017. The survey also points to a United Nations study estimating that 2.5 billion people worldwide eat street food each day. Of course, once you move any kind of street food inside a restaurant, it’s no longer street food.

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Some trends from years past are moving right out the door. Insects are being exterminated from menus. Algae is going the way of kale. Sharable cocktails and fun-shaped kids’ items are both in decline, which does not bode well for the future of humanity. On the other hand, healthful kids’ meals are a hot trend for 2017, so while romance and fun may be in decline, at least the kids will be fit.

Top 10 Food Trends for 2017

1- New cuts of meat

2- Street food-inspired dishes

3- Healthful kids’ meals

4- House-made charcuterie

5- Sustainable seafood

6- Ethnic-inspired breakfast items

7- House-made condiments

8- Authentic ethnic cuisine

9- Heirloom fruits and vegetables

10- African flavors

Source: National Restaurant Association, What’s Hot: 2017 Culinary Forecast


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