Three major factors — high commodity costs, consumers’ growing sense of culinary adventure and the ingenuity of chefs and restaurateurs — will drive food trends in 2013.
My predictions for the coming year range from the shoo-ins, like breast, to the fanciful, such as bush tucka.
Chicken breast. 2013 will undoubtedly be the year of the chicken breast. That might not sound sexy, but due partly to the drought that damaged the nation’s corn crop, a primary component of animal feed, commodity experts expect most other meat to be expensive for most of the year. (Some cuts of pork may be affordable until Easter.) Wing prices will be high, and to the annoyance of restaurateurs who buy wings by the pound but sell them by the piece, wings will likely remain popular.
Many of the largest restaurant chains introduced new chicken breast items and “boneless wings” made of breast in 2012, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see more of that in 2013. As NRN contributor and commodity expert John Barone said in a recent webinar on the drought’s impact, “The takeaway is to see how you can use more breast meat on your menus.”
Skin. It’s crunchy, usually salty and generally bad for you, so of course people love it — particularly of pork, duck and chicken. Salmon skin is considered more healthful; expect to see more of that, too.
NRN contributor and menu trends expert Nancy Kruse noted the trend at this year’s conference, noticing its prevalence as an added bit of crunch at many independent restaurants. Expect to see more of it in 2013 as the whole-animal trend continues and as chefs, looking to trim costs, seek to use every last scrap of food.
Avocado. People generally try to satisfy one of three needs when dining out, not including their expectations of taste: They want something fast; they want something that’s good for them; or they want to indulge, whether in terms of time, calories or money.
Avocado hits the sweet spot that satisfies all of those needs. High in fat, unctuous in texture, and not inexpensive as far as fruit goes, it’s an indulgent treat. But since avocado is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and rich in antioxidants, it’s also considered healthful. It is becoming increasingly popular on sandwiches, also demonstrating its convenience.
But with high food costs, fears of overfishing, and diners becoming increasingly adventuresome, junk fish is now a delicacy. Sea robin, lion fish, green crabs, scup and other fish that used to leave fishermen and chefs scratching their heads will increasingly find places on the menu.
Custom beer. Beer trend expert Peter LeFrance predicted this one: Restaurants will increasingly commission breweries to make signature beers. Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y., makes custom brews for Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack and Blue Smoke restaurants, and Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Sapporo Brewery in Japan brews a special brand for French restaurateur Joël Robuchon to serve in his restaurants.
We’ll also see more chefs brewing their own beer. Seattle area-based John Howie says he plans to brew his own beer at a restaurant he’s opening in Bothell, Wash., next year. Nearby, he’s testing a distillery for gin, vodka, and varietally- and winery-specific grappa. Don’t be surprised to see more restaurants doing their own distilling, although probably off-site for legal reasons.
Game meat. The chief executive of New York City-based better-burger chain Bareburger says bison burgers outsell the restaurant’s burgers by two to one, and lamb burgers by four to one. Other chefs report a growing popularity of elk, and venison is now a regular addition to Season 52’s winter menu. Antelope is making strides, too, although it might not find its place on menus for a couple of years.
I don’t expect to see goat on chains that don’t have Caribbean themes for a while, but it’s certainly a darling of whole-animal-roasting independents. Expect to see more of that in 2013.
Bush tucka. Tucker is Australian slang for food, and “tucka” is how Australians pronounce the word. Bush is their term for the countryside, making bush tucka a collection of aboriginal herbs, seeds and fruits. Herbs include lemon myrtle and pepperleaf; fruits range from muntries, kakadu plums and finger limes; and seeds include wattleseed, which is like a poppy seed with personality.
Some of these ingredients are starting to catch on. I had finger limes at a recent meal at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tenn., where chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson get them from California.
“They’re almost [an] obnoxiously lime flavor,” Habiger told me, adding that he likes the kaffir lime-like aroma, and the crisp pulp that “kind of pops in your mouth like topiko.”
Be on the lookout for more of these exotics from down under in 2013.
Sriracha. This hot sauce, named after a town on the Gulf of Thailand, broke away from the pack of Southeast Asian flavors to become the darling of 2012. It made its way onto the menus of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Pei Wei Asian Diner. We’ll see more of it in 2013. I suspect kimchi — already hot at independent restaurants and unstoppable in food trucks — won’t be too far behind.
Potatoes. Much has been made of the drought that devastated the U.S. corn crop in 2012, but the weather was fine in potato country. Growers of this favorite indigenous starch reported a bumper crop for 2012, meaning potatoes should be inexpensive and plentiful in 2013. Plus, potato marketers are learning the magic of highlighting the starch’s provenance and variety.
Tropical fruits. Flavor experts say consumer passion is stirred for these exotic, but not unfamiliar, items. Expect to see coconut in iced coffees and cocktails, passion fruit in cocktails and iced teas, and mango and guava in lemonade. Tangerine and pineapple won’t be strangers either — and ginger, though not a fruit, will be seen in a growing array of cocktails, teas and housemade sodas.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 27, 2012 A previous version of this story misstated the ownership of Eleven Madison Park.
Contact Bret Thorn at email@example.com.
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