The Restaurant Trends Report of 2011

by Emily Bell, Jeff Harding, Caroline Hatchett, Katherine Sacks, and Francoise Villeneuve, with Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
Will Blunt, Antoinette Bruno, and Shannon Sturgis
December 2011

Endless holiday presents. Optimistic resolutions. Product to stock an overworked kitchen. The end of the year is typically flooded with lists—none more rampant than trends. The grand “I told you so” and “guess what?” proclamations of the industry, trends lists are our way of assessing the year that’s gone and gauging the year to come. And while we’re not interested in tooting our own horns (we’ll save that for New Year’s), we’re pretty sure that more than a few of last year’s trends were sumptuous slam dunks.

A Mapuche woman peels nalca root in Curarrehue, Chile

Foraging is no longer the exclusive privilege of the outdoors. We’ve tasted just picked, plucked, and plated flora from coast to coast (to Third coast). And the DIY explosion was no flash in the pan—we saw it evolve from a sign of post-recession resourcefulness to the stamp of culinary integrity. Whether it’s fresh-roasted coffee or an almost universally confident level of charcuterie, we’re tasting house-made in Austin, New Orleans, Portland, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, and beyond.

A Dish from "Nordic Naturalism and the Emotions of Time and Place" at ICC 2011

2011 saw us tackling some new frontiers, but we’ve been keen on the Northern European climes that have fascinated the food scene since René Redzepi first took the stage at our 2008 International Chefs Congress. We’ve since investigated for ourselves, discovering what we like to call a Nordic Zen—the calm, organic intensity of Nordic design, diet, materials, textures, and aesthetics. (Mathias Dalgren provided one of our favorite manifestations with his "Variation of Sloe Berries: Sloe Berry Meat Pie with Sloe Skin and Sloe Pit.") We’re not sure exactly what it’s going to wash over, or that it will be all-inclusive of Nordic nations, but we’re pretty confident we’ll see the wave of Nordic Zen continue to rise. 2012 may be its definitive year.

Not that anything defined is de facto finished. Every year brings change—and 2011 was no exception. Mixology, like comfort food, no longer has to clothe itself in any particular aesthetic trappings. Pastry chefs are disappearing outside of major markets. And the historicism once reserved for mixology has made its way to savory cooking—thanks in no small part to the star power of a few key trendsetters.

Suffice to say 2011 has been a year of endings, essences, and exploration. From an emphasis on experience with Sixth Sense cuisine, we’re heading to a cuisine of identity and innovation. We’re applying modern scientific vigor to the roots of our most basic methods, and taking what we learn to new horizons. So put your own lists aside and enjoy ours.