Archive for December, 2011

An Overview of Food and Dining Trends for 2012

Posted 31 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Two Top: Persimmon Restaurant, Bristol, R.I.


Making foodservice related predictions for 2012 is a fun game and one that requires reflection on the prior year to determine where things are headed in the short term. Looking back on 2011 it was a pretty good year for foodservice. For or fun and sanity, Americans turned to eating out as a lower cost recreational activity throughout the year. As of this writing, the U.S. foodservice industry, according to the National Restaurant Association, continues to set sales volume records and has added over 200,000 jobs since the depths of the recession representing a real bright sector in the  economy. Chefs continue to gain momentum as cultural icons and America’s fascination with all things culinary appears to be expanding rather than receding. 2012 will be a year when chefs continue to expand their reach in media, food manufacturing and retail, commercial foodservice and travel. That this sector of the economy can’t be outsourced or shipped overseas is nothing but a bright spot as well. Looking ahead to 2012 and into 2013 there is nothing but upward opportunity for the restaurant industry. The observations and predictions made below are but a spotlight on trends noticed first-hand in recent months.

The Process of Finding Food Trends:

These trends for 2012 were compiled based on my own expertise, thoughtful observations from visiting or eating at dozens of fine dining restaurants, supermarket and fast casual restaurant concepts in more than a dozen U.S. cities. When visiting a city I preplan an itinerary that involves visiting at a minimum, one fine dining restaurant rated 26 or higher for food (if available) by Zagat guide, one quick service restaurant (preferably independently owned) and a visit to the prepared food section of a least one high-end supermarket. It isn’t unusual for a visit to include multiple restaurants and retail markets as time and budget allows. My primary goal is to gauge the culinary talent, menu trends, restaurant design, service, wine and beverage, pricing and overall economy as measured by restaurant pricing and volume, even if based on a limited sampling of the local market.

During my visits, in addition to dining, I usually talk with the chef or owner of the establishment and spend time prior to the visit studying the establishment’s web site and menu if available. After dining at a restaurant and taking notes, my experiences from select visits are posted in simple form on along with a photo record of the dishes I enjoyed and, in some cases, comments and reflection. Through the past year I have once again collected hundreds of photos of the dishes I sampled. One of the interesting things about is that the site features photos of what I was served rather than studio shots of dishes created for public relation purposes. captures an experience in actual form along with notes based on expert opinion.

Early in December I synthesize these data while searching for patters in cooking methods, ingredients, menu descriptions, décor, service, and philosophy. If provided a tour of the restaurant, I look through my notes for trends in design and equipment as well. Once I have compiled a rough list of patterns from the past year I sort them according to ones that are emerging (gaining momentum) and ones that have become so ubiquitous that they have transitioned to permanent. With so much data on hand, this process of sorting and listing is time-consuming but surprisingly easy to do; the patterns become obvious at the macro level. For ease of publication and search I have posted three sets of trends.

The Food Trend Reports:

  1. 2012 Top Five Emerging Food Trends
  2. 2012 Top Five Food Items And Ingredients
  3. 2012 Top Five Food Trends That Are Now Permanent

The items listed in the links above are based on the synthesizing and sorting process noted. They are my own (with all their limitations) and represent, to the best of my knowledge, wheresome aspects of food, dining, and service are headed in 2012. Happy New Year and thank you for reading

2012 Top Five Food Trends That Are Now Permanent

Posted 31 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Wegman’s Supermarket

Culinary Science: The modernist cooking movement, mostly driven by Modernist Cuisine patron Nathan Myhrvold and coauthor Chris Young has energized a changed craft where culinary science reigns supreme. This isn’t molecular gastronomy, it is the chemistry and physics of food that underlies all we do in the kitchen. Chefs are using the science of cooking along with an improved understanding of agriculture and nutrition to innovate and improve their practice.

Small City High Quality: As a national traveller there was a time when it was hard to find great fine food in smaller markets like St. Louis, Orlando, Birmingham, Denver, Salt Lake and Phoenix. Today, there are excellent restaurants in these and other small markets that mirror the major national food cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York in quality and relative creativity. A good example is ChoLon bistro in Denver where Chef Lon Symensma performs his trade. After working with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Steven Starr at Buddakan in New York Symensma could have found a home in New York but chose Denver as his new home base further elevating the food scene in that city. Chef Kevin Nashan is doing the same in St. Louis at Sidney St. Cafe. What a wonderful evolution.

Chef Inspired Culinary Media: According to some, food is second only to sex in occupying the human mind. The decade long radical expansion of food related media and entertainment commercializes this phenomenon but is all too often driven by media executives who are outside the realm of the professional chef. In 2011 chefs continued to create their own media opportunities and it is likely that some will continue to grab hold of and direct media in the year to come. A good example is the emergence of David Chang and writer Peter Meehan’s irreverent food journal Lucky Peach. Chang, the incredibly gifted (both in an out of the kitchen) owner of the Momo Fuku empire attracted Anthony Bourdain as film critic and some of the best chefs in the country contribute recipes. It’s worth a subscription. I also like the videos chefs like Mark Ladner (del Posto) and  Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park) post on YouTube. Makes me wish YouTube would create a food channel of its own so these videos are easier to find.  

Quality Chef Driven Food Manufacturing: In case you missed it, the products manufactured under the brand name of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Norman Love have earned first place in their respective categories as noted by Consumer Reports magazine. Emeril’s cookware even out ranked (paced first) the Culinary Institute of America’s line of cookware (placed last) in Consumer Reports. This emerging trend suggests that professional chefs have moved beyond simple brand marketing and co-packing of products and are focused on producing high quality food products and hard goods that consumers will genuinely appreciate. Perhaps the era of simply selling a face is giving way to a real focus on quality.

Fine Supermarket Prepared Food: To be sure, I listed the supermarket trend last year and thought it was maturing. However, just when it appeared that supermarkets had fully evolved their prepared foods departments Wegman’s, a regional chain in the North East, raised the bar an developed a massive high end global food court with hundreds of seats and amenities and rolled out the concept to huge success. Supermarkets like Wegman’s are leveraging their brand position, buying power and raw ingredient costs, vertical integration, culinary talent and product quality to produce restaurant quality food on location. According to insiders, the revenue per square foot earned in these high end prepared foods departments exceeds most other departments in the supermarket and the trend to push food preparation up front so its visible to customers (think chefs in whites cooking as you watch) is driving sales growth. Keep an eye on supermarkets in 2012, they have the revenue and resources to push into foodservice even deeper, much deeper than even I predicted in 2011.

2012 Top Five Food Items and Ingredients

Posted 31 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Mark Ladner’s Vitello Tonnato

Hand Rolled Rustic Pasta (Strozzapreti, Trofie, etc):  Menus across the country feature these simple, fresh pasta preparations and it is the simplicity in preparation and diversity these pasta’s allow that drive the expansion of their use. My favorite rustic pasta dish of the past year is Barbara Lynch’s Rabbit Strozzapreti at Sportello in Boston. Look for these rustic pastas on more restaurant menus in 2012

Cauliflower: Cauliflower is making a comeback. Michael Solomonov at Zahav serves it as a Mezze and fries it crispy with chive oil, mint and garlic. Rasika in Washington D.C. prepares traditional cauliflower (Ghobi) Manchurian Calcutta style with spicy Chinese sauce so delicious you won’t want to share. Chefs are serving it pureed with garlic, olive oil and lemon until silky smooth, roasting it, and slicing it whole to cook sous vide. The mundane is now interesting.

Sablefish and Clean Oysters: Sablefish (Black Cod) is a sustainable seafood species mostly found on the west coast that has gained traction on menus from Seattle to Chicago. With a light white flake, wonderful rich flavor and firm texture Sablefish is a leader in the seafood category. My favorite of the year was the Black Cod prepared by Chef Jason Freney at Canlis in Seattle. In addition to Sable Fish clean oysters are the rage. Ever since American Mussel Harvesters figured out a way to eliminate bacteria from shellfish by soaking them in sterilized running sea water for 24-48 hours the results have been industry changing. Back in October I feasted on a raw bar buffet of AMH’s oysters along with Chef Thomas Keller at an event in Newport Rhode Island. Keller was inspired to hear how AMH purges the oysters and a week later connected his culinary director at Bouchon with AMH’s sales office. The increased safety of these oysters and clams is motivation enough to pay the slightly higher cost.  

Vitello Tonnato: This veal and tuna dish is old school Italian and gained popularity after Sam Sifton wrote a story about the dish in the times back in August 2011. Over the past couple of years I found the dish on occasion usually at an established Italian restaurant in one of the larger metropolitan markets but it wasn’t until I visited Del Posto and sampled Mark Ladner’s version back in May 2011 that I gained a full appreciation. On my second visit to Del Posto, I had the dish again and it was even better. This is a fantastic dish and I a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous Ahi tuna on so many menus, a fish that is often treated with carbon monoxide to prevent discoloration. Look for more Mediterranean and Italian restaurants to copy Del Posto in the coming year.

Offal:  One of the best dishes that I sampled in 2011 was the venison heart that Chef Alex Talbot of served during the 2011 Star Chefs conference in New York. Talbot seasoned and cooked the heart at 57c in water bath for nine hours, cooled, cleaned, and trimmed the hearts and sautéed them. Served with charred pecan topping, they were delicious. I also had fantastic duck hearts at Zahev and lovely Ciccioli at Baccalone in San Francisco. Offal is making a comeback and this time chefs know what they are doing. Chef Chris Cosentino of Baccalone and Incanto fame in San Francisco told me that his definitive work on the subject (offal) will be published by Williams Sonoma in March 2012. Look for increased interest from chefs and consumers alike.

2012 Top Five Emerging Food Trends

Posted 31 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

2013 Culinary Trends

2012 ~ The Year When Cooking will Really Matter

Cooking: This is a simple and self-evident trend but it is worth unpacking; cooking matters more than ever. The best restaurants in the country demand that new cooks demonstrate excellent culinary technique before a permanent job offer is made. This has been the case for years but outside the fine-dining segment of the market the demand for culinary skill depended on the restaurant segment and ownership philosophy. This has changed as high-end chefs enter the full-service and fast-casual markets where culinary skill was often secondary to efficiency. These chefs have brought culinary talent and scratch cooking with them and flipped the regional and national chains,, business that for years have selected centralized manufacturing and efficiency on their head. In turn, this has put pressure on local operators and regional and national chains to invest more in on premise cooking and culinary talent. Major companies like Sodexho and Compass Group have also taken notice and understand that there is a direct link between the craft of cooking that occurs on site and other major consumer-driven demands like sustainability and nutrition. Those that promote local onsite scratch cooking benefit from an expanded web of cooks who bring broader perspectives and potential innovation to the organization while meeting the needs of customers. Operators large and small, fine and fast recognize and are investing in cooking again. Let’s hope this continues.

Digital Culinary Networks E.G.: Kitchit and Trace & Trust: Social networking is old news but the use of web-based networking continues to gain ground in foodservice. One of my favorite examples of this is Trace and Trust a digital network of fisherman, distributors, fish processors and restaurants. The key to Trace and Trusts business model is the ability to track fresh seafood from the exact location where it is harvested all the way to a restaurants back door. This is the precise and trusted supply chain control chefs required to assure the seafood they buy is properly and locally harvested. Another example is Kitchit, the new online network connecting consumers hosting an event with a personal chef and/or caterer online. Kitchit is the brain child of a small group of Stanford graduate students and the reaction from the professional culinary community has been unusually positive. Look for expanded use of Trace and Trust and Kitchit to expand beyond San Francisco to a city near you in 2012.

Celebrity Chef Casual Gourmet/Take Out: Celebrity chefs have moved well past the fine dining segment of the foodservice marketplace and continue to launch casual restaurants with fine food. Some of my favorite examples this past year include Jody Adam’s Trade in Boston and Billy Kim’s growing “Belly Shack” group in Chicago. Epicerie Boulud, Chef Daniel Boulud’s market and take out shop on Broadway at 64th in the city is another example. Customers want great fast food produced by chefs (brand names) they can trust. Chefs, in turn, understand that money is to be made in the emerging casual gourmet market and that they own the night when it comes to integrity and customer loyalty. As Billy Kim recently said “there’s nothing wrong with making money if you are going to work so hard”!

Performance Cuisine: Performance cuisine, cuisine engineered to meet the strict dietary and athletic performance demands of specific clients without any loss in appeal is going to expand in 2012. For years Bachelor of Science in Culinary Nutrition graduates of Johnson & Wales University have been hired to act as personal chefs to celebrities and athletes because each has the unique skills and knowledge required to produce foods that yield dietary performance without sacrificing sensory quality. One graduate shared that Madonna’s performance based diet while on tour was regimented and as disciplined as her work out routines. Another colleague and former chef to the LA Lakers gave me insight into the challenges he faced meeting the specific performance based dietary needs of team members (Kobe ate differently than Pau). But the driving trend behind performance cuisine in the coming year will come from the impact the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons that recently opened at Stanford University will have. The Arrillaga commons features performance and wellness cuisine developed in partnership between Stanford Atheltics, the Stanford Medical School and the Culinary Institute of America. This isn’t an echo of the neutri-ceutical movement of the 1990’s it’s a full-fledged trend toward informed food choices based on wellness and performance needs and at Stanford thousands of performance meals will be served each year. Perhaps Stanford will see an increase in the number of wins across all athletic teams in 2012 due to improved food choices.

Understanding the Senses:  Dr. Rachel Herz, an author and researcher on smell, emotion, and cognition, opened my mind to the sensory sciences after we spent a couple hours talking at a recent lunch. Her work has many applications to the culinary world; so much of what we do links sensory experiences with emotion. Additional recent research conducted by Dr. Jeff Woodbury at the University of Wyoming allows sensory biologists to map the neural network our senses employ when activated by an input for the first time in history. As we learn more about how the sense work chefs will surely use this new found knowledge to advance the craft. It is likely that 2012 will bring deeper knowledge about how the senses of touch, smell, and taste function. It wouldn’t be surprising if chefs use this new knowledge to their advantage in 20212, 2013 and beyond.

The Top Five High-End Supermarkets of the Year

Posted 23 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Over the past twelve months I’ve had the privilege of visiting and studying dozens of supermarkets throughout the country during my travels. From the Market Basket in Chelsea Massachusetts  to the Piggly Wiggly in Enterprise Alabama to the Safeway just up from the embarcadero in San Francisco I have visited a range of markets in some delightful and less than desirable destinations. It is clear that geographic and demographic factors highly influence the quality and types of food sold. Locations with a solid middle and upper-class customer base attract supermarket retailers at the higher end of the scale and these higher-end markets are blurring the line between the traditional definition of a supermarket and that of a quick service restaurant. Late last winter I started to focus on these high-end supermarket retailers paying visits to national and local high-end markets whenever the opportunity presented itself. My interest includes the prepared foods department, fresh seafood, meats and produce. After a year of visits and contemplation, I offer the following power ranking of my top five high-end supermarket retailers based on the quality of prepared and fresh foods offered. To be sure, the markets listed below are massive businesses. Even the smaller regional players like Harris Teeter are billion dollar revenue generators. With $4 billion in sales and only 200 stores, Harris Teeter is roughly half the size of Wendy’s restaurant chain. And these high-end markets are just starting to flex their foodservice muscles.  I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings in this fast growing and fast improving retail category.

#5 Trader Joes:  Nation Wide

Trader Joe’s is fantastic and is a category leader when it comes to individually quick frozen single portion prepared entrees. The company also leads the high-end supermarket category when it comes to retailing foods with globally influenced flavors. The company stays ahead of its competition by sending buyers around the globe on an ongoing basis to explore flavors, new products and emerging food trends. What I like best: IQF individually portioned prepared meat and seafood entrees with global flavors.

#4 Whole Foods: Nation Wide

Whole Foods: The Best Fresh Fish, Natural Food Buffet

Whole Foods is the category leader in natural and organic foods and was one of the original innovators in retail to dedicate a high proportion of retail square footage to prepared foods. The range of items offered at each prepared food station and within the hot and cold buffets is excellent. If I am in the mood for quinoa or tofu, its awlays avaialble. As I travel the country and visit Whole Foods outlets in various cities the lunch hour crowd shopping the prepared foods department appears to be from a common demographic. It appears that Whole Foods attracts a certain crowd. Although I tend to purchase my natural and organic items from alternative retails who are a bit more sensible when it comes to price there is one product category that I purchase almost exclusively at Whole Foods: fresh and prepared (ready to cook) seafood. There are excellent competitors in the high-end supermarket category but none handle seafood on a national level as well as Whole Foods. What I like best: Fresh, whole skin-on salmon, arctic char or skinless boneless halibut fillets. From Bellevue Washington to Bellingham Massachusetts the fish at Wholefoods is absolutely fresh.

#3: Harris Teeter: Mid-Atlantic

Harris Teeter: The Best Simple Scratch Food

The prepared foods, meat and seafood section at Harris Teeter was a sleeper for years until the company began to transition to higher quality back in the 1990’s. It wasn’t until I visited the new Arlington Virginia store that the full impact of Harris Teeter’s evolution really struck me. With more than 200 stores and $4 billion in sales, Harris Teeter is a regional powerhouse in the prepared foods category.  Walking the Arlington store, which is surely the prototype for future outlets in affluent urban locations, it is immediately apparent that the layout and design was well thought out.  The square footage dedicated to prepared foods, hot deli, salad and specialty stations is higher compared to most competitors and the layout itself is a study in good merchandising. Although outstanding in quality, Harris Teeter doesn’t menu the same range of unique high end prepared foods other competitors offer. To keep things simple I sample a slice of pizza followed by sushi. Both are freshly prepared and excellent if not simple. What I like best: the $5 one entrée two sides meal solution package, the sushi bar and fresh and prepared seafood department.

#2 Uwajimaya: Washington State

Uwajimaya: The Best Asian Prepared Foods, Fresh Shellfish

Uwajimaya is the high-end supermarket you have probably never heard of. The reason it’s included as part of my top five list is due to the quality of fresh meats and seafood and Asian prepared foods offered at each of the four outlets in Washington State. Compared to the others on this list, Uwajimaya has a smaller prepared foods footprint but the market has the finest, most extensive line of fresh seafood and Asian ingredients of any market in the country. Like smaller markets in Asian neighborhoods throughout many cities in the US and Canada, Uwajimaya has a huge tank full of live fish. However, there are very few markets (small or large) in the US that have the sophisticated salt water circulation tanks with fresh oysters and clams that Uwajimaya does. My idea of the perfect prepared food is a half dozen fresh shucked oysters and that’s exactly what I had at Uwajimaya (three Totten Inlet and three Hama Hama) and they were perfect.

Hot Buffet

Then I wandered over to the sashimi station and bought a three ounce pack of sliced Hamachi followed by some sliced pork belly (Buta Kakuni). I love this place. The food is awesome, the fish fresher than any market in the country and the selection unique for a market of this size. What I like best: The outstanding quality of the hot prepared foods (especially the pork belly), the grab and go bento boxes, artisan fresh sashimi, and fresh-out-of-the-water oysters.

#1 Wegmans: Northeast

Wegmans: The Best Prepared Foods Departent in the Country

Wegmans earns my top spot in the high-end supermarket category for their continual innovation and improvement in prepared food quality each time a new store opens. This company is always pushing the envelope. The newer stores feature a prepared foods department (a food court really) integrated with the fresh meat and seafood departments, bakery and beverage. The massive food court includes seating for more than 100 people and each seating area has its own large screen television; find me another market with seating as nice!

The food court features hot and cold buffets with varying themes including Asian, Vegetarian, Chicken Wings, and dim sum. Flanking the food court there’s a bakery with more than a dozen artisan breads and a twenty linear feet of fresh pastries, all prepared in the massive scratch bakery just behind the display. Wegmans has the best pastry and bread of any supermarket retailer in the country. During my last visit, the seafood crew put a whole swordfish on display right in the center of the store. Talk about fresh! Wegmans’ corporate chefs are some of the most highly qualified professionals in the industry and the product on display is a result of this talent. What I like best: the steamed pork bun, fresh prepared seafood, beef and chicken entrees, sushi, pastry and bread.

 Fresh Whole Swordfish on Display

Perfect Whoopie Pie Display

The Dorrance: Providence, R.I.

Posted 14 Dec 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining


When Travel & Leisure Magazine named Providence, Rhode Island the third best city for foodies in the country this past September I smiled. The city has more than its fair share of excellent restaurants and is gaining influence nationally as a food destination. It helps that hundreds of Johnson & Wales University culinary students reside in the city while earning a degree and a number remain upon program completion to work with a local chef or pursue a dream of owning a fine restaurant. Ben Sukle of The Dorrance, a newly opened restaurant in the city center is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

When I bumped into Ben Sukle in New York this past October he was helping Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food deliver a culinary demonstration. Talbot prepared a rack of venison roasted on juniper branches that were foraged by Sukle back in the Ocean State. After the demonstration Ben and I chatted and he told me he was just a few days from opening The Dorrance as Chef de Cuisine. Sukle is over six feet tall, in his mid-twenties with a graceful yet boyish demeanor. He is a 2008 graduate of Johnson & Wales University and served as Chef de Cuisine under owner Matt Jennings at La Laiterie bistro in the Wayland Square neighborhood of Providence prior to departing to find his own path. After La Laiterie he made his way to Noma in Copenhagen for some inspiration. The juniper branches under venison are a perfect representation of the modern Nordic aesthetic of Chef René Redzepi of Noma, a chef who earlier in his own career completed a similar stint with Chef Ferran Adrià. In 2010 Noma displaced Adrià’s El Bulli as the best restaurant in the world; apprentice displaced master.


When I visited The Dorrance it had been open for just two weeks. Ben was still working out the restaurants kinks with a limited staff and long hours in the kitchen. The menu reflected a range of interesting combinations including beef brisket with snails and turnip; smoked beef tongue with chilis and pickled green tomato; and roasted dry aged duck with beets, kohlrabi, and quince. This isn’t typical Rhode Island cuisine but it is Ben’s cuisine. The influence of Chef Redzepi is clear but that influence is grounded in a local farm and ocean to table mentality and a hand-crated approach.  


Travel & Leisure mentioned the “boat to table” focus of Providence restaurants when it ranked the city third in the country and Sukle continues the tradition by offering a perfect pan roasted porgy (Scup) with pole beans, potatoes and salsa verde. Porgy are plentiful in local waters, have a wonderful white flesh and offer a sustainable alternative to other white fish species that under pressure. It’s nice that Sukle is willing to take the risk and feature sustainable species like scup; he also offers local scallops. Welcome to the Ocean State.

In the kitchen, Sukle uses modern cooking techniques and his plate presentations unveil the diversity of options and creativity when cooking sous vide. He also cures and pickles various meats and vegetables and air-dries his own duck breast for the duck entrée. Although still a work in progress, his Avant-garde cuisine stands out in the local marketplace and adds a new dimension to the Rhode Island restaurant scene. That Providence was ranked third is a testament to the many established and emerging chefs in the city. As the next generation of chefs like Sukle ply their trade in the city has much to look forward to.