Last month Restaurant News released its chef predictions for restaurant food trends in 2012, and there’s a lot to be cautiously optimistic about. Why cautiously optimistic? Read on and you’ll find out.
Locally sourced meats and seafood are trend number one; locally grown produce is trend number two. This is great, depending on what the definition of local is. Remember, Restaurant News isn’t just a publication for small, independent restaurants. It covers everything from fast food to chain restaurants to small local independents. Consider that McDonalds recently launched a Meet Our Suppliers campaign that smacks of localwashing and one upscale chain restaurant that focuses on regional seasonal menus just emailed me and asked if I’d like to come in and try their winter seasonal menu with a tomato salad first on the list (local tomatoes aren’t very easy to come by in my region in the winter). Restaurants may say things are locally grown, but local has turned into a rather loose term. It’s best to ask questions.
Healthful kids meals came in at number three, but Restaurant News’ example of that trend was that McDonalds increased their commitment to a more healthy menu. That’s not encouraging. However, number 19 is more encouraging — children’s mini-meals (smaller versions of adult menu items). I find this encouraging because perhaps the trend of offering kids only chicken nuggets, burgers and sad little mini pizzas (all with a side of fries) is ending, and restaurants are beginning to realize that children can eat the same foods that grownups eat, only in smaller portions. Whole grains in kids’ meals, number 10, is also something that could be a good thing. I’d like to see an example of how whole grains are being incorporated.
The item I’m most optimistic about is locally produced wine and beer, coming in at number eight. Unlike foods that are labeled local yet the exact location can be frequently unknown, wine and beer are labeled sometimes down to the town where they are produced. In the South Jersey/Philadelphia region where I live, local beers appear on bar menus all the time, but local wines are few and far between on menus. When local wine is on the menu, I’ll almost always choose it.
Other items to be cautiously optimistic about are the culinary themes that are trending: sustainability (number five), children’s nutrition (number six), and health/nutrition (number 16). Like the term local, however, those terms can be interpreted in many ways, so it’s best to ask questions at restaurants.