Culinary Trends 2007

by Heather Sperling and Antoinette Bruno with Will Blunt
December 2007



The Death of Fine Dining?
Going Green
At the Table and on the Plate
Concept Restaurants
Woment in the Kitchen
Your Face on the Big Screen


Statistics From Our 2007 Culinary Trends Survey

Industry breakdown by sex:

Male 76%

Female 24%

Percent of chefs that:

Attended Culinary School - 74%

Recommend culinary school -87%

Use farm or producer names on their menus – 41%

Say their ultimate career goal is to own a small fine dining restaurant – 27%

Percent of restaurants that:

Have a mixology program – 34%

Have Wine Program – 69%

Have Sommelier – 32%

Have a pastry chef – 41%

Have a website – 77%

Percent of chefs that:

Have appeared on TV shows – 22%

Have a publicist – 12%

Have Personal website – 20%

Average entrée prices:

Over $34 – 14%

$25-33 – 34%

$16-24 – 31%

$8-15 – 13%

The American culinary industry’s explosion has been coming on with a dull roar for some time now, and while much of what we see within the course of a calendar year isn’t “new,” per se, there have been a number of exciting developments brought to the table in 2007. LIBATIONS I’ll Take My Martini Straight Up, with Spanked Mint and Flamed Lime Zest This year’s major trend – the one we see in every city, from New York to Atlanta to Boise, Idaho – is mixology. The cocktail has changed so much in the recent past that its makers need their own name and, whether they like the moniker or not, it’s one that’s on the lips of diners both on the coasts and in the country’s interior. Drinks are shaken, muddled, and stirred. Garnishes are twisted, flamed, and spanked. Spirits are infused in jars proudly displayed behind the bar, or even back in the kitchen in Cryovac® bags. Mixology has been steadily growing in New York and San Francisco for years; in 2007, Chicago appeared on the cocktail map, with a rapid growth in the number of people and places focusing on the craft. The recently opened Violet Hour is, like New York’s Little Branch and Milk and Honey, an homage to prohibition cocktail culture in lounge form. At MK, John Kinder is infusing neutral grain alcohol with an assortment of ingredients (oysters, roasted sweet potato, vanilla and pear) through sous vide. Peter Vestinos of Sepia uses house-infused spirits to make a different Old Fashioned each month (currently it’s Woodford Reserve infused with figs and almonds), and Adam Seger of Nacional 27 wields farmers’ market ingredients as comfortably and stylishly as he brandishes his shaker. Cocktail culture’s penetration of various outlets – from speakeasy to restaurant-lounge to serious dining establishment – is an indicator of its staying power (its role as a serious revenue booster helps, of course). Rodenbach Grand Cru, and Beer Pairings Too Craft and specialty beer – mainly from the US, Germany, Belgium, France, and Japan – has spread from gastropubs and beer gardens to restaurants of all levels. Jason Ferris, the sommelier at Gilt in New York, pairs Hitochino White Ale with Chef Chris Lee’s bratwurst, and Sommelier Chad Ellegood of Tru serves Meantime Brewing Company’s Coffee Porter with Meg Galus’s Dense Chocolate dessert. Across the country, beer is acting like wine – we’ve seen a growth in the number of dedicated beer lists, tastings, flights, and specialty glassware as well. Esoterica by the Glass The front section of the wine list is booming. Gone are the days where 3-4 wines make a decent offering – the number and variety of wines poured by the glass, and the price of these glasses, has soared. Two years ago it was the entry point for a glass was around $6; today it’s often found at $8-$12. Offering various formats and sizes – ½ glass, quartino, flights, and so on – is an increasingly popular way to grow wine revenue. It’s time for a new edition of The Wine Lover’s Companion. Each year the wine savvy of American diners grows, creating an audience for a wider range of wines. Italy has been a hot spot – for Pigato from Liguria, Tocai Friuliano from Friuli, Nerello Mascalese from Etna Rosso – favored by sommeliers, and Germany and Austria’s lesser known indigenous varietals are becoming better-known and sought out, as diners are willing to give obscure wines a try (even if they can’t pronounce the names). Next year look for more varietals from Portugal, Georgia and Hungary. EXPERIMENTATION In the past year, we’ve seen “kitchen science” continue to move from experimentation to practical integration. Useful elements of experimental ventures – with machinery and industrial ingredients – are finding their way into the mainstream, helping chefs create better textures, purer flavors, and more consistent results. Think back to the start of nouvelle cuisine: when there’s a major culinary shift, it takes shock value to grab attention and experimentation to shake out the failures from the successes. In recent years, certain chefs have created successful business models that allow for experimentation (Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz); today we’re seeing the trickle-down effect of the tools and techniques they’ve embraced, and the kitchen vernacular they’ve made familiar. THE DEATH OF FINE DINING? Fine dining as we once knew it – as the be-all-end-all, as the standard bearer, as a stuffy, formal, hands-off dining experience – has been redefined. It’s certainly not dead, but chefs have emphatically diverged from the path of classical fine dining. Diners still crave 4-star cuisine and service, but not the staid atmosphere or the dress code. An increasing number of restaurants, like Gray Kunz’s recently opened Grayz, serve high-concept, high-quality food in a lounge-like setting. You can get a full menu at the bar, which is often seamlessly connected to (or even encompasses) the restaurant. This is especially prevalent in hotels, which are giving up their lobbies and creating vibrant lounge environments offering full-service menus (like Table 8 in Miami, and Room at Hotel Twelve in Atlanta). Private dining is taking up more and more space. Craft, Country and the new Aquavit space in New York have large private dining spaces (Country has 12 private rooms!). Dante deMagistris opened his new Boston restaurant, Dante, with a large private dining area, and the incredibly popular Table 52 in Chicago, which opened recently in a small downtown carriage house, has reserved its entire top floor for private events. New restaurants are choosing to allocate prime real estate to private dining – this is a testament to its role as a money maker. GOING GREEN Sustainable practices – eco-friendly cleaning supplies, green building materials, recycling and using recycled materials – are becoming more commonplace. We’re just staring to hear about the concept of “zero waste,” and organizations like the Green Restaurant Association work with a growing crowd of clued-in and concerned chefs who are taking part in what is shaping up to be a societal shift. Chefs are also growing their own. In the past it’s been part of a few restaurants’ concepts – like Clark Frasier at Arrows in Maine and Holly Smith of Café Juanita in Seattle – but growing in the back, or on the roof, or even on the windowsill, is become more common and more feasible. It’s an outgrowth of chefs’ desire to connect with their product in the most direct way possible and, more than ever, there is a community infrastructure in place to support this: the owners of Uncommon Ground in Chicago reached out to the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s organic garden for help planning their restaurant’s rooftop garden. AT THE TABLE AND ON THE PLATE Old World and New World, Together at Last House-made charcuterie is popping up across the country, and the repertoire has extended beyond quick-cure guanciale to include a range of complex cured meats and sausages. Todd Immel at Table 1280 in Atlanta is curing coppa and a variety of sausages in a kitchen closet; in San Francisco Nate Appleman of A16 makes a variety of salumi, and Jonah Oakden of Blue Plate smokes his own pastrami. In-house curing is a way to put a personal spin on old world artisan traditions, and on the charcuterie plate. Alternative and heirloom grains are making appearances as well. David Gilbert serves barley risotto at Luqa in Dallas, and Charlie Trotter put buckwheat salad in his deconstructed version of Shabu Shabu at Madrid Fusion. Anson Mills’ organic heirloom grits and polenta can be found in Momofuku in New York and North Pond in Chicago. Fregola (aka Sardinian couscous or Israeli couscous), farro, quinoa, and spelt are taking the place of more familiar starches – at Les Nomades in Chicago, a bastion of French fine dining, a torchon of rabbit and squab is served on a bed of heirloom red quinoa. The eastern half of the country no longer has to look to the west coast for artisanal cheeses – Wisconsin is once again making a name for itself in the cheesemaking realm. Green County, outside Madison, is the home of a growing number of farmstead cheesemakers whose products are changing the common conception of Wisconsin cheese: European-style washed-rind, cave-aged cheeses, plus an astounding variety of cheddars and what they’ve dubbed “American Originals.” Haute Plate Couture Plating isn’t so straight forward these days – a plate may not be involved at all, in fact. We’ve seen a lot of organic surfaces this year – we’re not talking hot rocks, but rather salt blocks and tobacco leaves in Miami, and wooden boards (for pizza and sandwiches) at Willow outside Washington, DC and Table 52 in Chicago. We’ve seen oven-to-table plating, of which Staub is definitely the star – their small cast iron vessels are used to hold roast meats and desserts at Craft in Dallas, and a grilled octopus dish at Sepia in Chicago. The serving vessels aren’t used for the cooking – they don’t come hot – but they do imbue the dish with a fresh-from-the-oven appeal. And then there’s the other end of the spectrum: plates everywhere! Tracy Miller’s Soda Fountain Plate at Local in Dallas is actually five plates in one – a small milkshake in an espresso cup, a sugar cone in a tiny bowl, and mini ice-cream sandwiches on a small square plate, all of which sit in a wide bowl, which sits on an even wider plate. Compartmentalized plates are appearing as well – some with recessed bowls within a larger plating area, some with squares or rectangles cut out of a larger space. At Boka in Chicago, Chef Giuseppi Tentori serves his pork belly on a rectangular plate with two wide indentations – the pork rests in the front one, and bok choy and a soba cake are in the back. Pastry Chef Elizabeth Dahl’s stout panna cotta is a bit of an optical illusion – what looks like a flat layer of gelee-topped puree is actually a ¾-inch deep panna cotta that fills the plate’s recessed bowl. Customize-It, Don’t Criticize It Tableside service is one remnant of fine dining that’s going strong. Plates are being finished on the table, most often with sauce pored from a small creamer, teapot, or porcelain soy sauce dispense, in all levels of restaurants. This interactive touch is one way to make customers feel engaged and entertained – and special. Chefs are taking a clue from caterers, with specially printed, customized menus for tastings and private parties. Kitchens are opening up to the dining public – literally. More and more restaurants have the kitchen as the focal point of their dining room, drawing diners into the cooking experience, and making dining more compelling and interactive. What Gray Kunz was criticized for in 2004 has become a major trend in restaurant design. It hasn’t been a proliferation of restaurants with kitchens at their center, so much as glass-lined kitchens along the side or flowing directly into the dining room, like at Hook in Washington, DC, or at Degustation in New York, where 19 seats surround a compact kitchen (a plancha and range, with a thermo-circulator tucked underneath). Small Plates, Big Plates The small plates trend is the Energizer Bunny of the dining world – it keeps going (and growing…). And in the process, it’s eroding the power and the place of the entrée. Fine dining and upscale casual diners no longer want one dish as a main course – diners can now choose a variety of small plates (and create their own tastings), or large portions to share. SWEET/SAVORY - SWEET The two were never foes, but in the past few year’s they’ve joined forces, coming together in a whole new way. The integration of savory flavors and techniques into pastry (and vice versa) was an exciting trend in 2006; in 2007, pastry continues to be in the spotlight. Pastry chefs are putting olives in desserts; Sam Mason and Pichet Ong have finally opened their own restaurants, and Elizabeth Falkner has a third on the way. Savory entered pastry in the past via spices and vegetables; at Tailor, P*Ong, and Citizen Cake, sweet techniques are finding their way into savory dishes (Ong uses a dessert technique, like mousses, granitas, or creams, in nearly every savory dish at P*ong) as pastry chefs take over the savory kitchen. CONCEPT RESTAURANTS Spice Market, Craft, N9ne Steakhouse, BLT and other concept restaurants are moving into hotels across the country to take the place of the traditional hotel restaurant. Recent successful restaurant concepts – like gastropubs, noodle bars, and upscale casual ethnic restaurants – may be the next to take this step (Zakary Pelaccio is following in Spice Market’s footsteps and opening the Korean-themed Chop Suey in the Renaissance Hotel in Midtown Manhattan early next year). We’ve already seen comfort food make its way into hotel dining – will upscale street food be the next concept to roll out to hotels? WOMEN IN THE KITCHEN Throughout the past few years of industry growth, we’ve found ourselves asking one question over and over: where are all the women chefs? (And we’re not talking pastry.) This year we have some answers, straight from source. From a survey conducted as part of our ­ article on women chefs, we found (as we hoped to find) that 91% of you disagree with the statement that “the kitchen is a man’s world.” 40% said there was no difference between a professional kitchen run by a man and one run by a woman – but a common sentiment is that, on the whole, women may have to work harder to prove themselves. Nearly every female chef acknowledges that women have the extra burden of family as a challenge to their career – but they refuse to call the challenge insurmountable. One common solution is to pursue different roles in the industry, namely in catering and corporate management. Another is, simply, to wait. Says Suzanna Goin of Lucques: “I got my career under control before I had kids. If you are a 24 year old line cook and have a kid I think that it’s going to be really hard. I have one woman working for me that is in that situation. She has a mental breakdown every 2 months and I talk her down.” YOUR FACE ON THE BIG SCREEN The chef world has gone electronic – from and (note: not real websites) to MySpace and Facebook, chefs’ presence continues to extend further and further beyond the kitchen. 77% of restaurants have websites, 20% of you have personal websites, and 22% of you have appeared on TV – these outlets, plus print media, have created a linked culture of chefs and chef followers that spans the country and the globe. In 2008 we hope to see more women “on the big screen” as spokespeople, trendsetters, and visible leaders of the industry. And we expect to see more farmers in the spotlight as well. Product knowledge in the culinary industry is greater than ever before, and this doesn’t just mean how to best cook an ingredient, but also where that ingredient came from, and why that matters. Chefs have gushed about Alan Benton’s ham, Lee Jones’ greens, and Jen Small’s Flying Pigs pork for some time now; the difference is that their listeners – both consumers and the media – are growing. Broader appreciation and recognition of the people not just cooking but producing our food is growing. Benton’s website has the following apologetic note: “Due to the recent article featuring our bacon in Saveur and other magazines, we have been absolutely overwhelmed with orders. We are temporarily closing our online catalog. We are also not taking phone orders.”