Restaurant food trends 2009

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd December 2008

A survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs – members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) – has revealed that nutrition and philosophy-driven food choices will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2009, America’s National Restaurant Association reports.

Local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthy kids’ meals, and new cuts of meat top the list of nearly 210 culinary items in the third annual “What’s Hot” chef survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends are kids’ vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits (including acai and mangosteen), small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum, artisan liquor and sustainable seafood.

restaurant meal

“Creativity has always been a hallmark of professional chefs. Today’s marketplace offers more options than ever before,” Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the Association, advised. “As the wider trend of health continues to grow, the trend of choosing certain foods to follow one’s personal philosophy has also gained momentum in the culinary world. As interest in food and the culinary arts grows in the United States, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the food they eat, and chefs are putting their enormous talents to work to fulfill the demand for dishes that follow these trends.”

“Our members are restaurant owners, culinary educators and executive chefs at restaurants, hotels and country clubs, and they experience first-hand the latest trends,” said ACF National President John Kinsella, CMC, CCE, WGMC, AAC. “In 2009, we will see healthier menu options with an emphasis on produce and fruit, smaller dishes and fish, and an increase in the use of local and sustainable ingredients. Going green will no longer be an alternative, as it will affect everything we do in our industry, from the use of induction cooking to finding new and exciting local food sources. And the word ‘chef’ will represent and mean a chef who cooks healthy, flavourful foods.”

In October 2008, the Association surveyed 1,609 American Culinary Federation member chefs, asking them to rate 208 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes as a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or “perennial favorite” on restaurant menus in 2009.

Nutrition/health as a culinary theme is ranked number 11 in the survey, underscoring the growing consumer interest in health and wellbeing. Among the top 20 items, nutritionally balanced children’s dishes and side items, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals illustrate that restaurant menus will continue to expand options for health-conscious diners.

Several among the top 20 trendy items are related to the emerging trend of philosophy-driven food choices, including local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood and free-range pork/poultry. Locally grown produce – rated the number-one trend on restaurant menus in 2009 – has grown tremendously in popularity for a variety of reasons. The idea of farm-fresh fruit and vegetables and minimal transportation are appealing to many, and sourcing locally is also tied to supporting local communities and businesses. Food and beverage items produced by small, artisan businesses also hold appeal, as do animal welfare and environmental concerns.

New/fabricated cuts of meat (such as Denver steak and pork flat iron steak) come in at number five on the list of trendy items. Several factors drive this trend, including culinary creativity, cost-consciousness, and interest in lean protein. These new cuts are developed to gain maximum flavour from the meat, incorporating under-used parts of the animal into innovative dishes, and customising cuts to trim fat content.

The hottest trends in culinary themes include nutrition/health, gluten-free/allergy-conscious, food-alcohol pairings, umami (known as “the fifth taste”), and the slow food movement. In the preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide.

Also included in the survey were questions about alcohol, kitchen and cost-cutting trends. The top trend in restaurant kitchens next year will be environmentally friendly equipment and practices, and the best way to save money in the kitchen is through sustainable practices, according to the surveyed chefs.