The National Restaurant Association's annual survey of more than 1,800 professional chefs – members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) – reveals that local sourcing of ingredients, sustainability and nutrition will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2010. Locally grown produce, locally sourced meats and seafood, sustainability, mini-desserts and locally produced wine and beer top the list of nearly 215 culinary items in the "What's Hot in 2010" survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends are nutritious kids' meals, half-portions, farm-branded ingredients, gluten-free/food-allergy conscious meals and sustainable seafood.
"No one has a better view of restaurant menu trends than the chefs of the nation's nearly one million restaurants, and that is why we survey these culinary professionals on what hot, new trends we'll see in the coming year," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the association. "Many restaurants are sourcing some of their ingredients locally, and you often see chefs shopping at farmer's markets to create a host of better-for-you options that today's diners want."
Michael Ty, ACF national president, agreed. "This is retro – it's what we did in the past when chefs relied on local markets because we did not have the luxury of today's transportation system. We are going back to our roots and the foundation of our craft that made it more pleasurable."
The association surveyed 1,854 ACF member chefs in October 2009, asking them to rate 214 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes divided into categories as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news" or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2010.
"Responsible" food trends
The leading culinary theme revealed by the survey is sustainability, which is ranked as the third hottest trend. Whether applied to produce, meat, seafood or alcoholic beverages, the concepts of environmentally friendly practices and local sourcing – farm-to-fork – are appealing to both restaurant operators and consumers for several reasons, including freshness, minimal transportation, and supporting local communities and businesses.
Nutrition is another culinary theme that ranks high on the list of trends at number 15. Healthful options for children, produce, superfruits, bite-size and half portions, and food allergy conscious and gluten-free meals all rank in the top 20, illustrating that consumer interest in health and nutrition continues to grow and that restaurants are responding.
Other menu trends in the top 20 include farm-/estate-branded ingredients, regional ethnic cuisine, non-traditional fish (including barramundi and Arctic char), and newly fabricated cuts of meat (including Denver steak and pork flat iron). Simplicity as a culinary theme and smaller portions for a smaller price are also menu trends for 2010, reflecting the shift in consumer preferences toward value and comfort during the economic downturn.
Topping categories within the survey are: amuse bouche and mini-burgers/sliders in appetizers; quinoa and braised vegetables in side items/starches; ethnic-inspired and traditional ethnic items in breakfast/brunch; bite-size desserts and artisan/house-made ice cream in desserts; regional and fusion in ethnic cuisines; artisan cheeses and black garlic in ingredients; and specialty iced tea and organic coffee in nonalcoholic beverages.
When it comes to the drink menu, locally produced wine and beer is the fifth hottest trend on the What's Hot in 2010 survey. Other alcohol items in the top 20 chef-rated menu trends include culinary/savory cocktails and artisan liquor.
"Alcohol can be an important part of the restaurant experience, and the What's Hot in 2010 survey clearly shows that wine, beer and spirits are essential menu items," said Sweeney. "In addition to the local sourcing trend that is also big in food items, we are seeing a fresh approach to integrating beer into meals, with chefs and â€˜beer sommeliers' working closely to select complementary solid and liquid flavors.
"The culinary cocktail is another concept emerging as a top trend, taking guests beyond the traditional drink into more complex and adventurous culinary landscapes, often with savory ingredients such as bacon, hot peppers and fresh herbs," she said.
Also included in the survey were questions about kitchen and concept trends. The chefs rated environmentally friendly equipment as the top kitchen equipment trend, and the hottest restaurant concept in 2010 as restaurants with gardens.
When it comes to sources for trendy food and beverage ideas, the chefs ranked television, trade shows and independent restaurants as the best places to get inspired.