Prognosticators of culinary trends do not look into a crystal ball, flip tarot cards or even have help from Nostradamus when predicting what's hot and what's not in the coming year. It's more of an exact science, and I'm always eager to learn what we can anticipate happening. This year, I asked Kay Logdon, editor in chief for foodchannel.com.
"We have a proprietary software called CultureWaves that watches behavioral data and allows us to search for trends - what people are eating and doing," she says. "We pull all of our research beginning in October and put it in front of our chefs and food experts in a series of meetings. These are people who live in food daily. They read everything, dine out frequently and cook."
The team also looks at statistical data and, finally, patterns begin to emerge, she adds.
So let the drumroll begin ... Here are the top-10 food trends to expect in the coming year.
1. Kickstarting new food concepts. Kickstarter, GoFundMe and other crowd-funding sites have been around a while, but they are predicted to really expand to a new level in the food and hospitality arena in the coming year. Got a new food product idea or want to build a new restaurant? Go for it and make it a crowd-pleaser.
2. Smokin' hot. Smoking is big and getting bigger. At the dinner table, it's going beyond barbecue. We'll be seeing more things like smoked cocktails and even smoked water. Nordic/Scandinavian cuisine, where smoking is common, is one to watch in the coming year, too, and there will be a variety of smoked food choices driving that trend.
3. Home bakers hone skills. High-end specialty bakery products are becoming widely accessible for home use. It's never been easier to get professional, restaurant-quality ingredients and supplies, such as new parchments, pans, recipes and tutorials. More people will embrace the idea of making premium French pastries at home.
4. The price is right for prix-fixe. The European-style prix-fixe (fixed menu) restaurant policy is making its way to American shores. More fine-dining establishments will offer a limited range of set choices and will hold firm on no substitutions. It's trickling down to the casual dining segment, too. Chains are bundling a selection of appetizer-entrée-dessert meals for two for a value price.
5. The rise of the supermarket concierge. More grocery stores will have executive chefs, offer cooking classes and also have specialists who can direct you to the best cheese, best meats and best baked goods.
6. Brunch becomes the new fourth meal. The late-morning meal that usurps breakfast and dinner is becoming the hot new meal occasion. Will brunch clubs soon take the place of dinner clubs?
7. Seasonals for all seasons. Traditional seasons are getting stretched out, with people making things like pumpkin muffins in the summer. The health benefits and the flavor are turning the fall favorite into a year-round flavor in all kinds of dishes. Restaurant chefs have increased their use of pumpkin on menus by nearly 40 percent in the last two years. Tomatoes have been an all-year staple for years, but new breakthroughs in agri-science are making the off-season varieties actually worth eating.
8. Cooking to a tea. Earl Grey and other tea flavors are starting to be used in cooking. The consumption of tea in general is still growing, and now it's moving beyond beverage onto the ingredient list for some menu items. Look for tea rubs, the way there are coffee and cocoa rubs.
9.Comfort food with an ethnic accent. We still love our meatloaf and roast chicken, but younger generations have expanded what fits into this nostalgic category, with an emphasis on ethnic cuisines. Comfort food for the 20- and 30-something crowd includes choices such as Japanese ramen, Korean kimchi, Chinese sun cakes and Vietnamese pho. Look for new twists in the coming year such as jumbo-sized "man sushi."
10. Here's the skinny. We're finally starting to see the obesity trend level off a bit with a growing number of Americans striving to eat healthier. But a developing subset of the movement to eat smarter is a new desire to be not just at a healthy weight but actually skinny. The "skinny-fit" trend is moving from a blue jeans category to a way of eating, and some restaurants are responding with tiny portions that cater to this vanity-driven crowd.
Logdon also offered some flavors to watch for in 2013:
• Poutine - French fries with brown gravy and cheese curds - will grow in popularity and have already started appearing on many restaurant menus.
• Cider and hard cider.
• Peach coffee.
• Red Velvet as a flavor, now in pancakes, etc.
• Buttermilk appears to be an item of interest to more and more chefs.
• Maple. People are beginning to express strong feelings one way or the other about maple, and it's being used beyond syrup. It's in butters, in sauces and candies and is worth watching to see if it develops into new forms.
• Cauliflower is a vegetable on the move. Fried cauliflower bites with curry sauce is a dish on Mack and Kate's menu in Nashville. And cauliflower may be something that chefs will serve as a meat substitute, like portabellos have been.
• Burrata cheese is increasingly popular in sandwiches and pizzas, but as a soft mozzarella, it may find other uses.
• Cheese pairings served as appetizers or as a dessert item will continue to grow in popularity as it becomes as acceptable in America as they are in Europe. Expect to see cheeses to be offered in more varieties.
Lee Ann Williams is a fairly new resident of Chattanooga's North Shore and says she's having trouble finding dining options on Sunday and Monday, particularly in the evening.
"It seems a lot of businesses that we normally frequent are not open on these days," she says. "I think it would be a boost to area restaurants if we were made aware of their hours on these typically off days."
Now there's no way I can list all of the restaurant hours of every eatery in town, but what are some of your favorite places to dine on Sunday and Monday evenings? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll write them up in an upcoming column.
After many months of collecting recipes from family, friends and neighbors, the New Home Baptist Church's "Gracious Gifts" is on the market, with all proceeds benefiting the Pastor's Appreciation Day.
The books is a three-ring binder cookbook, featuring recipes in seven full-color sections which also offer lots of cooking tips from the church's seasoned cooks.
The books are $13.50 per copy and may be purchased by calling 752-4001. The following is a recipe from Paula Patterson, one of many church members who contributed to making "Gracious Gifts" a success filled with many tried-and-true recipes.
4 cups oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup syrup or honey
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 (6-ounce) package chocolate chips
2/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
Mix oatmeal, brown sugar, butter, syrup and vanilla. Press into 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool. Melt together chocolate chips and peanut butter and spread on top of cooled bars.