The 2014 StarChefs.com Trends Report

by Antoinette Bruno and Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno, Will Blunt, and Aliza Eliazarov
December 2014

In 2014 a dirty little trend took us by surprise. In pursuit of almighty authenticity, chefs and their industry cohorts went beyond roots cooking or down-home cuisine. They went further than family style or rustic and even dug deeper than expressing terroir. They out did the aesthetic trick of crumbles and powders masquerading as “soils.” High-flying chefs from Peru to Iceland and Japan, as well as across the United States, have come down to earth—and not in the metaphorical sense. They stuck their hands deep into the ground and brought heaps of the stuff back into their kitchens. 2014 was the Year of Dirt.

In 2014 chefs from D.C. to L.A. also continued to tell the story of the American South. When the predominant cuisine in L.A. is Southern, you know a trend has evolved into a movement. A Southern shift has changed the way we eat. The Mason-Dixon has been obliterated and chefs are melding soul food with their regional cuisine, lending a Southern swagger and authentic twang to restaurants that are a three day drive from Kentucky or Tennessee. The South has continued to define modern American cuisine.

Last year, as 2013 wrapped-up (like a dumpling), we were eager to see if the presence of dim sum would continue to snowball and roll into 2014 as a full blown trend. Indeed, it did. The dim sum that we saw rise to prominence this year is an unabashedly Americanized, chef-driven mode of service and fun—with a debt to past Rising Stars Nicole Krasinki and Stuart Brioza’s State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, and also to David Burke before them.

Vegetables reached star status years ago, but we saw a new veggie trend grow from that. It’s smart and adds a touch of luxury to a dish whiles also increasing the bottom line—and shell fish seem to be the key.

It’s been several years since we marked the return of the butcher shop to the country’s collective main street and the revival of artisanship in charcuterie. Now we’re seeing the next evolution in that resurgence. Butchers and their businesses have progressed and expanded, reviving old recipes, creating new traditions, and devising never seen before modes of doing business and exposing whole communities and regions to new ways to see and eat meat. These new wave of butchers are making a place at the global table for New World charcuterie.

One of the most exquisite and pleasurable trends we discovered on our tastings, were pedigreed and impeccably trained pastry chefs plying high technique on the humblest of desserts, with memorable outcomes that left a mark on our minds and taste buds. This year in pastry, the technical got humble (or is it the humble got technical?). Many pastry chefs are also moving beyond the sometimes narrowly defined role they find themselves in at fine dining restaurants. They’re steeping out on their own, hustling, and defining success on their own terms. Pastry chefs are the new entrepreneurs of the food industry.

Similarly, we found bartenders are driving the industry creatively. From floats to whole business concepts, beverage professionals are inventing new ways to have fun and imbibe. Sherry has also solidified itself as a base spirit on cocktail menus. We’ve also seen an expansion in the role, influence, and creativity of the sommelier. Borrowing from the world of wine, coffee has come a long way since we first started covering roasters and coffee shops a few years ago. Terroir is now a buzz word in roasting, and in Baltimore we tasted brews way ahead of trend.

In the broader food culture, we observed a trend that was crystallized in this year’s ICC—Cooking Honest: The Power of Authenticity in the Kitchen. From Joan Roca’s pop-up book amuse bouche, to Grant Achatz’s green apple helium balloons, and Yoshihiro Narisawa’s soil soup, the ICC main stage was the epicenter of this trend for three days this past September in Brooklyn. It’s a trend we fully expect to continue in 2015, as a generation of young chefs are finding their voices and vision. But before we get ahead of ourselves, lets take a look at the trends we saw develop in 2014.