Team StarChefs fanned out across the country in 2016 covering more ground than ever before. In more than 600 in-person tastings with chefs, pastry chefs, somms, bartenders, brewers, bakers, roasters, charcutiers, and artisans of all stripes, we visited 30-plus cities and towns in 14 states—Delaware to California and Florida to Colorado and throughout the Rust Belt and our Northeast region including the four boroughs of New York City (sorry Staten Island!). From fashionable uniforms to pork sig sig, and (very good) public school soup to vodka, weed, and looming drones, themes emerged. Here’s the year in trends as seen by the StarChefs editorial squad.
The Year of Weed (and not just the kind you smoke!)
As marijuana goes mainstream, new opportunities within the hospitality industry abound. Pastry Chef Mindy Segal of Chicago’s Hot Chocolate has launched Mindy’s Edibles. Chef Miguel Trinidad of the 99th Floor (allegedly) throws underground dinners featuring herb in New York. Even Snoop Dogg has his own line THC laced chocolate bars. And in 2016 we also met Denver’s Philip Wolf, a certified Pot Sommelier—yes that’s a thing!
Seaweed has also infiltrated kitchens. San Francisco Chef Jeremy Wayne of La Folie makes seaweed chicharones. Miami Pastry Chef Jill Montinola of Seaspice tops a chocolate and toasted rice dessert with “seaweed snow.” And Chef Sarah Welch of Republic Tavern in Detroit likes seaweed with her strawberries. And on the ICC main stage, Ivan Dominguez of Spain’s Alborada presented “Seaweed in a Modern Galician Kitchen.”
Welcome Back Vodka
This year the prodigal son of spirits returned, and hospitality-lovin’ bartenders forgave their old grudges. No matter the size of your bowtie or mustache, you can’t hide from the liquor guests never stop asking for. Vodka cocktails are back on legit menus and they’re mature, balanced, complex, and profitable. Bartender Nicolas Torres of Lazy Bear in San Francisco mixes two vodkas and infuses them with caraway, dill, star anise, and lemon peel for his “J-Dilla” cocktail. Rob Ferrara of Miami’s Lure Fishbar, mixes vodka with watermelon, lemon, and orange bitters and pours it over watermelon ice for his Catch and Release cocktail. At L.A.’s Ace Hotel there’s a drink called Doo Wop Motel, made with oyster shell-infused vodka, blanc vermouth, fino Sherry, Maldon, dry Riesling, and bay leaf tincture. And at ICC this year, vodka propoenent Giuseppe González of New York's Suffolk Arms led a bartending workshop on this, the purest of spirits.
Back to Basics
We’re talkin’ eggplant parm, wings, and chicken pot pie. No bells and whistles here. Just solid technique and thoughtful execution. A sort of “low tech” cooking in reaction to the skill sets of the available labor pool, or perhaps a response to unsustainable high-concept restaurants, as well as to the modernist approach that thrilled us and changed cooking more than a decade ago. In Pittsburgh, we had a dish of shaker-dried corn at Trevett Hooper’s Legume. We ate pickled green tomatoes, sour cream, bread crumbs, and lemon shiso oil from Csilla Thackray at The Vandal; and pierogies at Apteka. Dave Mancini of Detroit’s Rondinella gave us an exquisite gratinato di finocchio. At Denver’s Beast & Bottle, Paul Reilly served us an elegant ratatouille. Spike Gjerde cooked us oyster pie followed by pie a la mode at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen. And at his bi-coastal Cannibal restaurants, Francis Derby has streamlined his dishes so they're easier to execute at pick-up, which allows him to reduce the number of cooks on his line.
It’s an app-app world, and the trend of delivery-oriented apps along with online-only restaurants, meal-kit delivery, meal replacements (like that hideous nog Soylent), decked-out tech company cafeterias, and even the prospect of drones, is making it harder than ever to fill a room. We can still feed people, but we may not actually see them. But it’s also expanding career opportunities for chefs. Delivery is a trend we’re keeping an eye on as it evolves, and the industry evolves with it.
Forget about endless mimosas or bloody Mary bars. Breakfast is serious business, and can be a 7-day-a-week boon. Restaurants like Outerlands in San Francisco with Pastry Chef Brook Mosely's incredible morning offerings, Kelly Fields' Willa Jean in New Orleans, Rose Cafe, Republique, and Eggslut in L.A. are all bucking brunch in favor of breakfast, generating buzz, and putting butts in seats starting at 7am.
Prêt-à-porter has progressed into the kitchen, from custom aprons like those worn by Niven Patel of Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami, David Bazirgan of Bombara in Boston, Bartender Ryan Maybee of Manifesto in Kansas City, to the specially designed dresses worn by Somm Andrea Morris commissioned by restaurant Nix in Manhattan—it was all about zipping up or tying on self-expression in 2016.
Amaro Goes American
Bartenders have also realized an unlimited format for bittersweet self-expression. Amaro has gone American. House amari programs have popped up across the country, from the saffron amaro at Spuntino, to Project Amaro at Seattle’s Brovo Spirits, to Wildhawk from Bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout in San Francisco—a bar dedicated to vermouth. And Brad Thomas Parsons has published one of our top books of the year with his masterwork Amaro, arguably one of the most comprehensive texts on the subject.
Peru Is Peaking
From the influence of chefs like Hector Solis, Gaston Acurio, and Virgilio Martinez, Peruvian cuisine made headway in 2016, with Brooklyn’s Llama Inn and La Mar in Miami leading the way. We’ve even seen anticuchos popping up on menus in non-Peruvian spots like the Beach Plum on Martha’s Vineyard and Valentino Cucina Italiana in Fort Lauderdale. Chef and ambassador of Nikkei cuisine Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido is continuing the tradition of rockstar Peruvian chefs on the world stage.
Filipino Food in America
Lastly, 2016 has been a pivotal point for Filipino cuisine in America. Represented by the likes of Miguel Trinidad’s restaurants in New York (Jeepney and Maharlika), in L.A. by Alvin Cailan's Amboy and by Pastry Chef Isa Fabro, by Bad Saint in DC, and by Chef Carl Foronda’s pork sig sig at 1760 in San Francisco, Filipino food is at a tipping point and we’re ready for the watershed.