The 2013 StarChefs.com Trends Report

by Sean Kenniff, Meha Desai, Dan Catinella, Caroline Hatchett, Will Blunt, and Antoinette Bruno
Antoinette Bruno
December 2013

Culinary Trends of 2013

Smoke Trends

Savory Trends

Pastry Trends

Beverage Trends

Food Culture Trends

In 2013 we observed with fascination as Americans willingly traded in tortillas for triangular, cheese-dusted, corn-chip composed taco shells at one of the country's fast food pit stops. We lined up for cronuts and at Shake Shacks. We got wasted and waited for those Southern, buttery, dough-balls from Empire Biscuits. From fried chicken to foie gras, if it was served on a waffle, we ate it. We watched the umami-meets-burger romance continue to unfold, birthing bi-coastal baby Umami Burger. The ramen burger went viral, and we continued to queue up for traditional ramen, sometimes for hours, at Ippudo and Ivan Ramen in New York and Hapa Ramen in San Fran. It has been a year of crazes, manias, and rages. But as the StarChefs team tasted across the country, we ignored the fleeting food frenzies and absorbed more entrenched, substantive food trends, rather than the strictly trendy—and we’re not just blowing smoke.

Smoke. It has wafted from the savory side into the pastry kitchen, and, from there, the curly cues of smoke wound their way round the bar into our cocktails and continued to engulf the beer taps. This trend’s point of ignition is, of course, barbecue—itself another ongoing trend that has roared to wild fire proportions. Going rogue with refinement, barbecue has risen out of regionalism, and at this year’s ICC StarChefs harnessed the energy from that blaze with the 1st Annual SMOKE@ICC competition (Grand Champions from Austin’s Carillon walked away with a team trip to Korea and a Southern Pride Smoker). SMOKE@ICC’s next stop will be in Austin, Spring 2014.                          

Barbecue is an important component of another larger trend we saw progressing throughout the nation from Philly to L.A.: Southern food. The South is now defining American cuisine. And as we saw with our first ever class of Carolinas Rising Stars, Southern chefs are letting the rest of the country eat biscuits and smothered waffles while they dig deeper, forging a new Southern American cuisine.

Since the invention of sliced bread, there has never been a better year to order a sandwich in America. Sandwich shops and sandwich chefs hit news heights in 2013. Paesano’sLiverace” sandwich is just one decadent and deliciously dirty example.

2013 was also a good year for pie. On our tasting trips we saw the trend expanding with meat pies and other savory pies. We saw the overall pastry trend of the anti-aesthetic aesthetic plating style continue—with the outstanding outlier being the dramatic, idiosyncratic, extravagant plating of Atelier Crenn’s Juan Contreras.            

Fortified by the resurgence of the artisan, the new American chocolate movement gained momentum in 2013, as did canning among craft brewers, light roasting among coffee roasters, and, yes, juicing—among everybody (save a few staff hold-outs). Another beverage trend that continues to evolve is that of the uber bartender. Learning from the legacy of living legends Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders, mixologists are realizing the possibilities, power, and influence of the beverage professional, expanding the notion of what a career in bartending means. 

2013 was also the year of whatever and wherever. The new food dream manifested in chefs and artisans alike moving wherever they wanted—sometimes that meant abandoning urban centers and returning to rural hometowns—and cooking whatever the hell they wanted, from charcuterie to scones. And crowdfunding has become a key part of financing the dream for many scrappy and determined young professionals from coast to coast.

The trends of 2013 have been realized just as the dreams of 2014 are being dreamt. We’re on the look out for the 1980s dim-sun trend to reemerge as a form of service for non-dim-sum foods. But before you go dusting off the old dim-sum cart, graze through our trends reports—just don't expect corn chip tacos.