Chew On This

CORRESPONDENTJanuary 7, 2011 

Once again, it's that time of year when "experts" (quotation marks optional, depending on whether you agree with them) of all stripes make their predictions about coming trends. Let's take a peek into the crystal ball of the National Restaurant Association, which recently surveyed more than 1,500 chefs nationwide, and published the results as the association's Top 20 Trends for 2011. You can read the full article online at bit.ly/f2qCn8.

Here are some highlights.

The word of the year, evidently, is "local." Four of the Top 20 include the word, including "locally sourced meats and seafood" and "locally grown produce," which tied at No. 1 with 86 percent of chefs giving them a nod. "Hyper local" (restaurants with their own gardens, for example) and "locally produced wine and beer" also made the list.

"Sustainable" and "organic" fared well, too, tallying a combined three entries on the list. No big surprise here, really. Unless your name is Rip Van Winkle, you're aware that the philosophies of local, organic and sustainably produced food have been hot for several years now, and the trend shows no sign of letting up. Now, if you're looking for a really hot new trend ...

"Nutrition" - especially for children - is coming on like gangbusters. Three of the Top 20 are aimed at providing healthier fare for children, while a fourth broadens the focus to include the general population. "Gluten-free food and being food allergy conscious," at No. 8 on the list, will come as good news to many.

The chefs clearly have a fun side, too. Among their other predicted trends for 2011 are artisan cheeses, ethnic-inspired breakfasts and newly fabricated cuts of meat (such as pork flat iron, or the rabbit bacon I saw on a menu recently). The "culinary" cocktail made with savory or fresh ingredients is another trend with fun potential. I think I'll pass on the bacon-essence vodka, though.

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