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2014: Living in the Future

January 6, 2014

What does the future hold? Well, in billions of years the sun is going to explode and take the Earth and any remaining evidence of our brief time on this planet along with it. This great act of natural destruction will diminish our solar system back into the base elements out of which it was formed and propel them back out into the cosmos.

Consider this my cheery thought for the day.

Universal certainties aside, I’m not really sure anyone can tell you the future. Although, there can be some really interesting nuggets for discussion when you pick apart the prognostications of the prognosticators. So, no. I’m not going to offer up my list of food trends or predictions for 2014.

I did happen to hear a radio show last Friday, however, that took on this very topic. It was on the Albany public radio station, WAMC, and you can hear it for yourself here, thanks to the magic of the internet. The two guests were chef Dale Miller and Times Union columnist Steve Barnes.

And they had some interesting things to say.

Over the course of the hour, much of which was taken up with listener phone calls (the analysis of which is probably worth a separate post) the duo offered up four food trends. To their credit, a lot of time was spent on the importance of local and seasonal foods. Steve offered up the compelling comparison of a backyard summer tomato to those available in the height of winter at upstate supermarkets.

They also touched on a move to smaller portion sizes, growing awareness and availability of gluten free dishes, and suggested that Vietnamese cuisine is a “top trend right now.” To me it would seem that Vietnamese hit before Korean and while the former is still popular, even the latter is no longer feeling quite au courant.

Anyhow, chef Miller is ballyhooed locally for being one of 68 Certified Master Chefs in America. There is no doubt that the ten-day test which claims a 90% failure rate is intense stuff, and puts him within an elite group of professionals. The American Culinary Federation, which is the organization that certifies this and other professional distinctions, also produces their own list annual trends.

Actually, they’ve been doing this for years. Sometimes, instead of looking at the trends themselves, it can be interesting to see how the trends change year to year. Or in this case, how they don’t.

The ACF Top 10 food trends for 2014
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood (#1 in 2013, #1 in 2012)
2. Locally grown produce (#2 in 2013 & #2 in 2012)
3. Environmental sustainability (#4 in 2013, #5 in 2012)
4. Healthful kids’ meals (#3 in 2013, #3 in 2012)
5. Gluten-free cuisine (#8 in 2013, #7 in 2012)
6. Hyper-local sourcing, e.g. restaurant gardens (#7 in 2013, #4 in 2012)
7. Children’s nutrition (#5 in 2013, #6 in 2012)
8. Non-wheat noodles/pasta, e.g. quinoa, rice, buckwheat – NEW
9. Sustainable seafood (#9 in 2013, #9 in 2012)
10. Farm/estate branded items – NEW

We say goodbye to #6 from 2013 New Cuts of Meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, teres major). Whole grain items in kids’ meals hung on in the #10 spot in 2013 and 2012, but is now out. And the much beloved “Locally produced wine and beer” that was last seen in the #8 spot back in 2012 hasn’t been heard from again.

Okay, so the top ten may not be the most fluid list. Sure, we see our interest in gluten-free cuisine replacing our concern for children’s nutrition. And its encouraging to watch the slow creep of environmental sustainability up the ladder. But most of it has been locked in place for years.

I can’t wait for more restaurants in the Capital Region to embrace local, sustainable, and seasonal foods since clearly they are an enduring trend and not just some passing fad.

These themes are further echoed in this slideshow that takes several different pieces of well-researched guess work into the trends of the upcoming year, and comes up with some similar stories. But it also has a few twists:

1. Locally sourced everything
2. Veggies galore
3. Healthier kids’ meals
4. Gluten free
5. Instant ice cream
6. Nuts
7. Better-quality pizza
8. Chicken wings
9. Upscale comfort food
10. Mashup dishes
11. Umami
12. Biscuits

The mashup dishes take into consideration the cronut craze of 2013, and let’s not forget the ramen burger. I thought it would take Albany at least five years to get a cronut, but I was proven wrong. Maybe we’ll get a liquid nitrogen powered ice cream shop before too long. Although I have to say this feels more like a fad than a new technique with staying potential, kind of like Dippin’ Dots or astronaut ice cream before it.

Bottom line is that everyone, everywhere agrees the big trend is locally sourced everything. And they’ve been saying it for years. The Capital Region is making progress, and it’s good to see. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike permalink
    January 6, 2014 3:13 pm

    Believe it or not we already do have liquid nitrogen powered ice cream in the capital region! Home Front Cafe in Altamont. They have been making ice cream this way for at least a couple of years.

  2. January 6, 2014 6:10 pm

    Look up “trend” in the many available online dictionaries (my favorite is google’s, which shows the use of the word “trend” itself peaked about 1980 and has been going down ever since) and you will see a consensus that it refers to something that is changing.

    Thus, the concept of an “enduring trend” is an oxymoron. And locally sourced everything cannot be the #1 trend every single year. Sorry, but I’m calling shenanigans on the hallowed ACF.

  3. January 6, 2014 7:01 pm

    I’ll go with biscuits, though, and add:
    1. koji
    2. high end renditions of junk food (cf the Tater Tots at Comfort Kitchen)
    3. Korean fried chicken (actually, all kinds of riffs on fried chicken)
    4. Over the top healthy kids instant meals.

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