By Antoinette Bruno and Heather Sperling
Our 400 tastings plus the results of our recent Culinary Trends
Survey show a specific development in the 2006 dining world: the
casual chic restaurant. As sustainable philosophy continues to spread,
and science continues to enter the kitchens of both casual and fine
dining restaurants, diners expect more: higher quality ingredients,
more innovation, and more flavor. The simultaneous growth of small,
chef-driven restaurants in cities across the country has raised
the bar for diners and chefs alike, and haute cuisine is no longer
limited to fine dining establishments. Casual chic restaurants offer
the best of both worlds, and are the pervading identity of American
Nation’s appetite and willingness to try new things is growing,
and there are a variety of ways in which restaurants are organizing
their menus to satiate them. Chefs tasting menus
are not just for 4-star restaurants anymore, but are increasingly
common in restaurants of all size and stature. Of the chefs we surveyed,
68% offer tasting menus, and within that group 20% charge between
$61-$90 and 22% between $31-$61. Tasting menus are meant to let
the kitchen show off their abilities, but a tasting menu also has
to make dollars and cents. When crafted with a balance of high-cost
and low-cost items, a chef’s tasting menu can be a huge revenue
booster for restaurants of almost all dining styles.
most sustained trend in American dining is small plates.
We’ve seen an explosion of restaurants around the country
that pair a tapas-style menu with affordable wines by the glass
and a convivial atmosphere. In New Orleans there’s Cochon,
where Donald Link keeps diners entertained with unpretentious tastes
of his Cajun childhood. In New York City, Chris Santos at Stanton
Social serves an eclectic but distinctly American small plates
menu with Crab Cake Corn Dogs, Kobe Beef Burgers and French Onion
Soup Dumplings. At nearby Inoteca, Chef Eric Kleinman pairs
an extensive menu of Italian small plates with an equally grand
offering of Italian whites, reds, roses and sparklers by the glass.
are you Dishing Out?
Americans are dining out more than ever before, our collective culinary
IQ is rising, and the restaurant industry is second only to the
US Government in size. So how do chefs make their restaurants stand
out? Many chefs turn to the exotic, introducing
unfamiliar ingredients and pairing them with the familiar to inspire
experimentation and grab their diners’ (and the media’s)
attention. Both Ken Oringer in Boston and Josh Dechellis in New
York present their diners with ingredients that are traditional
in many dining cultures but still unfamiliar to the American palate
(respectively, barnacles, and tuna cheeks). At Minibar's
6 seats inside Washington DC’s Café Atlantico,
Chef Katsuya Fukushima caters to more traditional DC diners in search
of stimulation, but aren’t necessarily looking for crazy ingredients.
He transforms the familiar into something new,
making “noodles” out of feta water, and pairing them
with tomatoes, fresh herbs and feta foam. He also serves a nest
of crispy caramelized beet strings in a wire mesh bowl that echoes
the interlaced tumble of the beets.
Coinciding with this playful approach is a resurgence
of authentic, traditional dishes, only minimally
updated to make them stylish enough to live up to modern diners’
expectations. Chefs are looking to the traditional dishes of Southeast
Asia, Latin America and Africa, bringing them to the American table
with their authenticity intact. With the Malaysian street food at
Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab, Matt Hoyle’s elegant
Japanese cuisine at Nobu 57, and Iacopo Falai’s gnudi
topped with milk foam at Falai, culturally significant dishes and
culinary philosophies are not lost in translation.
From 2005 to 2006 it was Asia – think Morimoto,
Nobu, and cavernous, trendy restaurants dedicated to the hottest
Asian cuisine – and Spain. For 2007, chefs are looking south
to the ingredients and flavors of Latin and Central America.
24% of the respondents to our culinary trends survey said that Latin
America will have the most influence on culinary arts in the upcoming
year. In Mexico City, chefs like Patricia Quintana and Enrique Pujol
craft well-researched, sophisticated versions of indigenous regional
cuisine, setting the standard for high-concept Mexican cuisine.
As for the primacy of Latin influence, Marcus Sammuelson
of Aquavit would beg to differ; at the 2006 International Chefs
Congress he declared that African food would be the “next
big thing” to spread to the European and American continents.
Country to Have the Greatest Influence on Culinary Arts
aren’t just for wine anymore; with a variety of floral, earthy,
fruity, bitter, and crisp notes, beer gives the bacchanalian beverage
a run for its money at Café d’Alsace in New
York, Four Points in LA, and Belga Café in Washington,
DC, where Chef Bart Vandale pairs a Belgian beer with each dish.
Guy Savoy in Las Vegas pairs each course with artisanal
bread baked in-house. Artichoke Soup with Black Truffle is paired
with a black truffle and mushroom brioche; Slow-Cooked Dover Sole
with Baby Chanterelles is paired with sweet and nutty chestnut bread.
Black, pink, grey, volcanic and Balinese salts
have found their way onto plates over the past two years; today
chefs around the country are infusing and blending their salts with
flavors to add a new dimension to sweet and savory dishes. In Washington
DC, Chef Noriaki Yatsutake of Perry's pairs green tea salt
with smoked toro, watermelon and wasabi gelée. Pastry Chef
Romain Renard of Seasons garnishes chocolate and vanilla
cream with a cocoa nib and coffee salt in his Contrast of Chocolate
dessert. At Vidalia, Chef RJ Cooper pairs a juniper-infused
sea salt with heirloom potatoes, garlic cream, and crispy pork belly.
65% of chefs surveyed told us they focus on locally grown,
seasonal ingredients, but only 10% come from restaurants
where at least ¾ of the produce is locally grown. On the
menu, 39% cite farm or producer names, and 19% include glossaries
to further educate their diners on the food on their plate. Focusing
on one particular facet of sustainability is a way for chefs to
educate their customers and generate enthusiasm for the subject
– at Butter in Chicago, chef Ryan Poli offers a sustainable
caviar menu that offers farm-raised caviar from Italy, France, Germany
and the United States. In Washington DC, chef Barton Seaver promotes
the understanding of local, seasonal and sustainable seafood among
both diners and chefs. Chefs
Web and similar organizations help advance the subject,
which sees media coverage on an almost daily basis.
Organic beer and biodynamic wine are an increasingly
common find on menus that promote sustainability, as is grass-fed
beef. In line with the growing focus on sustainability, not to mention
the scrutiny placed on the American beef industry, grass-fed beef
is a trademark of restaurants like Craft Steak in New York, where
you can not only choose your cut, but your variety of beef.
Percent of Products Locally Grown
in the Kitchen
Over one quarter of our chefs report that they have an increased
interest in science and chemistry, and use this knowledge
in the kitchen with the use of gums, homogenizers, hydrocolloids
or liquid nitrogen. One of every five chefs has experimented with
complicated techniques that use innovative equipment: 31% use low
temperature cooking, 19% experiment with sous vide, and 19% with
foams. A full quarter approach food as science, while 52% approach
food as art.
In some kitchens, chemicals have come to play as
important a role as the stove and the knife. They give chefs new
freedom to play with the shape and texture of their food while preserving
the integrity of the flavor.
Techniques in the Kitchen
Chemicals In the Kitchen
a direct continuation from 2005, the most prominent trend in pastry
arts today is a blurring of the lines between savory and sweet.
Pastry Chef Sam Mason exemplified the trend with his dessert of
Chocolate and Banana Ravioli with Mustard Ice Cream and Coffee Soil
at a recent StarChefs.com dinner at the James Beard House. According
to Mason, the walk-in is fair game, and herbs, beets, and foie gras
are all popular players in his desserts. The overall impact of these
savory ingredients is twofold: they heighten the awareness of diners
as they try to make sense of savory ingredients in a new
context, and they bring a balance to the dessert so that
it is not so cloyingly sweet. The end result is an engaged diner
and an engaged palate.
Sweets are also taking a page from savory’s
book as pastry chefs continue to open their own standalone dessert
bars. In New York alone, there’s Chikalicious
and Room 4 Dessert, plus eagerly-anticipated dessert-driven
restaurants from Mason and Pichet Ong. The concept is simple: these
are full service, sit-down restaurants, with wine pairings and courses,
but dessert isn’t the afterthought: it’s the main attraction.
A significant dessert culture is being nurtured
within these restaurants and dessert bars. As the pastry chefs delve
into the walk-in and experiment with breaking preconceived notions
of the shapes, flavors and textures that end a meal, they establish
dessert as an integral part of the dining experience; and not only
for the diners, but for restaurant revenue, which greatly benefits
from the raised check averages. The trend is slowly but surely spreading
to other cities, and we expect next year to bring a comparable pastry
renaissance in Chicago, DC, San Francisco, Boston and LA. No longer
relegated to the basement, pastry chefs have found a place in the
American culinary spotlight; let's hope they embrace it.
Zak draws inspiration
from his travels and cooking in Malaysia and Malaysian street
Makoto wraps the classic
Japanese dish in Prosciutto di Parma and deep fries it for
a modern twist.
Liebrandt, formerly of Gilt
, New York
Scottish Langoustine with Speckled Black Truffle
Paul’s risky food and innovative techniques
made for one of the most exciting food experiences in the
US. Unfortunately, profit is the bottom line
Arola, Arola and La Broche
Reorganized Patatas Bravas
Sergi has his own, clean and organized version
of this traditional dish. In this reconstructed classic, Sergi
hides the bravas sauce inside the patata
Abellan, Comerc 24, Barcelona
Olive Oil and Chocolate
Carles blurs the line between sweet and savory
with a play on the traditional French breakfast
Noriaki reimagines English pub fare through
the lens of Japanese technique
Fukushima, Café Atlantico
, Washington DC
Organized Salad with Jicama, Arugula, Corn Nuts, Crispy Quinoa,
Cabrales Cheese and Raspberries
The salad is reorganized as a plated dish.
Rasberries, corn and Cabrales make for a strangely complimentary
Socially conscious chefs are choosing their
meat purveyors carefully. Donald uses sustainably-raised pork
used to make his boudin sausage.
Roasted Beet Salad with Laura Chenel Goat Cheese Foam and
The translucent beet paper is a colorful
and crisp addition to this dish and steals the show!
LeFevre, Water Grill
, Los Angeles
Bluefin Tuna, Wasabi, Red Radish Puree and Shiso
Unfussy Asian ingredients in a small plate
increase revenue and give diners a chance to taste the range
of the chef’s cuisine.
Spot Prawn Poached with Fava Beans and Wasabi
Michael uses tapioca maltodextrin, a starch
patented as N-Zorbit to stabilize high-fat ingredients and
transform them into powders. Industrial chemicals and products
are adding new dimensions to familiar flavors and textures.