Trends Report @ The 2016 StarChefs Congress

By Sean Kenniff


Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno welcomed attendees to ICC and dove right into trends.
Antoinette Bruno welcomed attendees to ICC and dove right into trends.

Hello Everybody and welcome! It's great to see so many familiar faces. We're so happy and proud to have you here for this pivotal ICC where we’re pausing to reflect and look forward together. This year—at the 11th Annual International Chefs Congress—StarChefs is asking the entire community: What Is Progress?

Every main stage demo, every workshop, all the business panels will in some way address this question. And for the first time ever we’ll hold an open discussion on the main stage: “Finding Success in the Big Squeeze,” hosted by Ted Lee, Daniel Holzman, and Dale Talde. Rents, minimum wage, millennial labor, food costs—all the hot button issues will be up for grabs, and you’ll be part of the conversation.

We’ve seen so many extraordinary examples of progress as StarChefs has traveled the country this year. And I'm delighted to share those progressive ideas and more in the  2016 Annual Culinary Trends Report.

In Cleveland, we visited EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute: the only white tablecloth restaurant in the country whose staff consists entirely of formerly incarcerated men and women in both the kitchen and front of house, giving them a foundation in hospitality and support for successful re-entry. From our “Chef as Community Builder” panel, Ben Hall of Russel Street Deli always has a $2 soup on his menu, and has partnered with Detroit public schools to help feed 55,000 children a healthy, affordable lunch. Also on the “Community Builder” panel, Claus Meyer believes in food as a vehicle for social change. He established the Melting Pot Foundation which initiated a cooking school project in Danish state prisons, and a cooking school and restaurant in La Paz, providing culinary education to impoverished Bolivians. The Melting Pot Foundation has also opened the Brownsville Community Culinary Center Training Program in Brooklyn.

OKRA Charity Saloon in Houston, the brainchild of Bobby Heugel and Chris Shepherd—who take to the main stage today—has generated nearly a million bucks for 46 local charities since 2013. Find out how, here on the main stage. And Alvin Cailan of L.A.’s Eggslut, who is part of the “Ultimate Opening Checklist” panel, has opened restaurant incubator Unit 120 because, as he says, “The last thing I want to see is good people with good intentions going broke over restaurants that they could have tested.” 

This goodwill, altruism, and ingenuity comes naturally to people in our business, but it also reflects one of the major industry-wide trends we’ve seen building for some time: “Be Nice.” Call it the Danny Meyer effect or the Millennial Mentality, the hospitality industry is spelling its name with a capital H. From front of house to the kitchen and especially behind the stick, we’ve heard “Be Nice” not only as a mantra but a rallying cry.

2016 has also been The Year of Weed—and not just the kind you smoke! As marijuana goes mainstream, new opportunities within the hospitality industry abound. Thinking about entering the cannabis industry? Don’t miss the discussion on the main stage with Mindy Segal of Mindy’s Edibles, Miguel Trinidad of the 99th Floor, Elise McDonough of High Times, and certified Pot Sommelier Philip Wolf—yes that’s a thing!

Seaweed is also infiltrating kitchens now more than ever. 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 main stage, Ivan Dominguez will present “Seaweed in a Modern Galician Kitchen.”

And then there’s Quintonil, the word for pigweed in Spanish, more commonly known as a species of amaranth. It’s also the name of the #12 restaurant in the world. And its Chef, Jorge Vallejo, will present “Reinvention and the Mexican Avant-Garde” on the main stage.  

This year the prodigal son of spirits returned, and hospitality-lovin’ bartenders have forgiven 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 New York Bartender Giuseppie Gonzalez of Suffolk Arms will host a Vodka workshop with a menu’s worth of cocktails that balance craft with crowd-pleasing.

We also got Back to Basics in 2016. 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(?), 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; pickled green tomatoes, sour cream, bread crumbs, and lemon shiso oil from Csilla Thackray at The Vandal. And pierogies at Apteka—and Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, the chef-owners, are leading a team at this year’s Dumpling Battle. 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. And main stage presenter, Spike Gjerde, cooked us oyster pie followed by pie a la mode at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen.  

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 FieldsWilla Jean in New Orleans, Rose Cafe, Republique, and Eggslut in L.A. are bucking brunch in favor of breakfast, generating buzz, and putting butts in seats starting at 7am.

New pockets of the industry are evolving all the time. Like Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Asheville, North Carolina, before them, Detroit and Denver are two emerging restaurant scenes. As coastal cities become less liveable, especially on a cook’s pay, people are moving to Denver in droves—for the mountains, for the weed, low rents, the tech economy, and competitive salaries. The hospitality industry is booming and chefs like Jen Jasinski, Alex Seidel, and Troy Guard have led the way so chefs like Max MacKissock of Bar Dough, Cindhura Reddy of Spuntino, and Sam Charles and Marcus Eng of The Way Back are ready to embrace a massive influx of diners.

Detroit is back. And cooking on level that may one day rival its neighbor Chicago. Thanks to leading chefs like Michael Symon and Andy Hollyday, and chef and bartender entrepreneurs Marc Djozlija and Dave Kwiatkowski of the Detroit Optimist Society, restaurants like Katoi, Mabel Gray, and Grey Ghost are part of the Detroit Renaissance. Marc and Dave are on the “Building a Restaurant Scene from Scratch” panel. Seek them out and then go to Detroit and eat.      

If Detroit and Denver are surprising us, so are some of the micro trends we’ve seen this year: the ubiquitous carrot plate has been replaced by the brassica dish. Octopus has become the new pork belly. Chefs are loving savory custards, and house crackers. Bartenders are mixing with mustard, and feeling the chill of the Nordic influence. More restaurants are using charcoal, and in plating, we’ve seen a slew of beautiful blue plates. And like Massimo Bottura, chefs are eager to splatter—but perhaps this is a privilege better reserved for the best chef in the world.

Industry fashion has also progressed, 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’s all about self-expression.

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.   

From the influence of chefs like Hector Solis, Gaston Acurio, and Virgilio Martinez—all of whom have presented on this main stage—Peruvian cuisine is making 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 main stage this year.

Lastly, 2016 has been a pivotal point for both Filipino and Mexican cuisine in America. From Jorge Vallejo bringing Quintonil to the ICC main stage, to trail blazing fine dining restaurants Cosme in New York and Californios in San Francisco, to L.A.’s funky Broken Spanish, and paleta-inspired dessert spot Churro Borough, to Monica Dimas’ Tortas Condesa in Seattle. Mexican food in America is transgressive and transforming, making for some of the most exciting restaurants in the country.

And represented by the likes of Miguel Trinidad’s restaurants in New York, and by Pastry Chef Isa Fabro in L.A., 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.

And now let the connecting, collaborating, sharing, cooking, eating, and progress begin! And don't forget to download the StarChefs ICC app. In the spirit of this year’s focus on Progress, we nixed our paper programs in favor of a brand-spanking new mobile app. Download it to access the schedule, maps, lunch menus, sponsor offers, and more. Once you’ve checked in, you can see who’s here and chat with anyone, read up on presenters, and build a custom schedule with alerts. And after workshops you can give us immediate feedback in the app, so ICC will be even better next year.      

I proudly, enthusiastically encourage you to visit the people who have made this whole congress possible: our sponsors—patronize them, visit with them at the Chefs Products Fair. These are the people who are supporting you and this event. Take advantage of this time to create long lasting business relationships. 

Don’t forget to say hello to me and the StarChefs team, we’d love to catch up. And for all your social media posts and pictures, the hashtag is #starchefs2016. See you on the floor! Now I'd like to introduce and welcome to the Main Stage your emcee today, Richie Nakano!

Share on: