If you’re wondering whether quinoa and kale have run their course, if you’re curious as to what superfood will replace acai berries which overtook blueberries, you could do no better than to turn to The National Restaurant Association for the answer. Why’s that? Because their recent survey on “What’s Hot in 2014?” has responses from 1,300 professional chefs, all members of the American Culinary Federation. Here’s what they say.
No single superstar
There’s no blanket of roses at the finish line, no gold medal for the winner among superfood. It’s an education, an awareness, a journey that leaves junk food in the dark while shining a light on healthy foods, beginning with children’s awareness. “True trends – as opposed to temporary fads – show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time,” according to NRA’s research.
A garden out back
Top trends cited by up to 81 percent of the chefs are: locally sourced meat and seafood, locally grown meat and produce and environmental sustainability, with 75 percent emphasizing hyper-local sourcing of produce, that is, grown in a restaurant’s own garden. Among the remaining top responses on current dining trends are healthy, nutritious meals for children, gluten-free options and farm/estate branded items.
The report indicates that these same responses were among the top 20 trends mentioned in the earlier “What’s Hot in 2009” version of the study, with the exception of hyper-local gardening. Observers could be watchful for any impact of this hot trend on urban restaurants. While San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel tends to 60,000 honey bees in three hives on its rooftop herb garden and in Manhattan, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen can deliver rooftop-to-table ingredients, most city restaurants cannot indulge in the hyper-local farm-to-fork chef’s dream.
Produce to watch
A passion for unusual or uncommon herbs such as chervil, lovage, lemon balm and papalo got the top shout-out by 64 percent of the chefs, followed by dark greens such as kale, mustard greens, collards mentioned by 61 percent. The emphasis on organic (61 percent) produce continues, however it slipped from one of the top 20 trends of 2009 to its current place number 39. Acai and goji berries are mentioned as superfruit by just over half the chefs, although one-third indicated that this was “yesterday’s news,” and downgraded superfruit from a former top 20 trend five years ago to a current place number 63.
In the chef’s kitchen
Healthy shines through in the Items most frequently mentioned as ingredients to watch. These are: 1) ancient grains such as kamut, spelt, amaranth; 2) non-wheat flour such as peanut, millet, barley and rice; 3) non-wheat noodles such as quinoa, rice and buckwheat; 4) natural sweeteners such as agave, honey, concentrated fruit juice and maple syrup.
Although not highlighted, but perhaps included in dark greens, by chefs in “What’s Hot in 2014”, the wild card pick for the next quinoa or kale is…dandelion leaves, a staple in Slovenia! Picked in March and April (and dreamt about for the rest of the year) they make a tasty salad with cooked potatoes, eggs, and croutons or bacon bits tossed with pumpkin seed oil. Later on when the dandelions blossom, they’re gathered up to cook with sugar for syrup. Across the Adriatic in Italy, the leaves are sautéed like spinach with dried black olives, drenched in olive oil and lemon juice. This common backyard “weed”, only 25 calories per chopped cup, provides calcium, iron, fiber, Vitamins A and K in large amounts plus Vitamins C, D and E and powerful antioxidants including beta carotene and lutein. It could be that the nutrition-packed dandelion greens, already a fixture at farmers markets, some Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, just don’t impress on a restaurant menu. Clever executive chefs to “weed” them out!
The full report, “What’s Hot in 2014?” from the National Restaurant Association can be downloaded from their website.