1. Artisanal Cheese Carts & Courses
As a cheese lover, I can’t understand why the broader dining public has failed to embrace cheese. During the early part of 2010 I noticed cheese courses or cheese carts at fine dining restaurants from coast to coast. By the end of 2010 more than a few of these restaurants pulled their cheese courses or carts due to low volume. This disappoints me but I am encouraged by the high quality and often local cheeses available a local markets and at retail. Although restaurants are shifting away from the cheese course and cart, great cheese is more available than ever.
2. Micro Greens as Universal Garnish
The “micro greens as garnish” addiction among chefs in America is abating. As I wandered the country in 2010, micro greens were everywhere. They were so prevalent that they were no longer special. A shift had taken place where micro greens were no longer a complimentary component of a specific dish, adding flavor, texture, and eye appeal. Instead they had become the equivalent, in many cases, of the standard curly parsley garnish of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; garnish for garnish’s sake. Look for smart chefs to shift away from micro greens as a universal garnish or find better and more thoughtful ways of using microgreens in the year to come.
3. Constrained Spending
Finally, after three years of suffering, fine dining is expanding again as individuals and organizations open up their wallets to spend on the finer things in life. As 2010 comes to an end, more than one of my colleagues operating fine dining restaurants are reporting the best second half they have had in years. Spending has not returned to the unrestrained mode that existed prior to 2007 but the constrained spending that hampered fine dining restaurants has shifted and opened up a bit. This fading trend may contradict my earlier comment about the $6.00 meal but they are two separate things. Consumers are willing to spend from time to time but seek out value as well; both trends will continue in the coming year. As an eater, I am happy to see the extreme constrained spending of 2010 fade a bit. However, let’s not go too far and return to the excess of the early 2000’s.
4. Chef Gardens
In 2011 chefs will shift away from tending their own gardens. In the past year I visited more than a handful of restaurants that were operating their own full-fledged garden. These weren’t small herb gardens or token plots with a few vegetables growing, they were large gardens intended to provide a source of raw ingredients for daily restaurant operations. To a person, the chefs I spoke with about their gardens agreed that they had become a pain to operate and were money loosing ventures. Although some restaurants have found real success and profitability in operating a chef’s garden (Arrows in Ogunquit Maine and Fruition in Denver come to mind) most restaurateurs and chefs are shifting toward allowing local farmers to handle growing high quality products rather than do it themselves. For reasons of cost, time, expertise, and quality of life, chefs will focus on the kitchen in 2011 and leave the gardening to qualified local farmers.
5. Organic Foods Fade, Integrity Reigns
In 2011 chefs will continue to move toward a position of sourcing “food with integrity” rather than emphasizing organic foods in a effort to find balance while providing consumers with quality. The lack of universal standards for organic foods has contributed to this shift. Chipotle restaurants started the “food with integrity” movement, a shift driven by founder Steve Ells of whom I am a huge fan. Chipotle gave momentum to the fast casual restaurant market and provided a road map for restaurants across the country through its “food with integrity” focus. Rather than draw attention solely to organics, the “food integrity movement” seeks to find ingredients that are sustainably raised (often organic) with respect for the environment, animals, farmers, and consumers in terms of value. Look for a decrease in organics in 2011 and an increase in food integrity.