Kara's CULINARY TRENDS BLOG
I take my job as CCD Innovation's Trendologist to heart and make sure to visit the latest culinary hotspots, specialty stores, and food and beverage industry events to stay abreast of emerging trends.
NEW! Follow my posts about food finds and CCD Innovation happenings to keep tabs on my discoveries.
- Kara Nielsen, Trendologist
February 2013 – Rich Table
There’s a popular new breed of restaurant in San Francisco, and elsewhere, that showcases a chef’s skill at putting together a variety of familiar and unusual ingredients in heretofore-unseen combinations, using a combo of traditional and modernist cooking techniques. These chefs draw from farmers’ market produce, locally raised meat and poultry, and fancy eggs and seafood while also making a host of products in house: cured meats and charcuterie, of course, but also fresh cheeses, condiments of all kinds, cultured butter and pickled everything. The most notable restaurant of this ilk here is
State Bird Provisions,
Bon Appétit as the best new restaurant in America, 2012. This year’s newcomer is
Rich Table, owned and operated by Sarah and Evan Rich. They are a married pair of culinary pros who have toiled long and hard in famous kitchens on both coasts and now have their own little corner of the planet in hip Hayes Valley.
To read the menu at any of these types of places is an exercise in button-pushing ingredient power. Cauliflower Soup sounds fine and on-trend, but add to that Kimchi and now it gets interesting. Popped Sorghum? Ok, bring it on! And what about Garganelli pasta paired with Oxtail, Octopus and Blood Orange? Aged Duck Breast, Sweet Potato and Tokyo Turnips sounds almost tame by comparison. Yet all these exotic-sounding compositions taste great and take diners to new places. What’s so exciting is the creativity on display and the care that goes into preparing each dish with talent and care. It’s no surprise that Rich Table’s signature starter is its eye-popping Sardine Chips, a bowl of fried potato chips with sardines threaded through each one, served with a horseradish dipping sauce. Yes, it was tasty and a conversation starter, but give me the Dried Porcini Doughnuts accompanied with a cheesy Raclette dip any day!
January 2013 – Winter Fancy Food Show
The 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show aisles always yield insights into the kind of products new and emerging manufacturers think we are seeking, plus some we didn’t know we were missing, like vegetable-flavored tea! Along with spotting trends for the show as a member of its Trendspotter team, I scanned the booths to see what themes trickled up.
This year, quinoa and chia seeds were really making their presence known. I saw chia seeds in
Al Dente Bona Chia dried pasta touting 146 mg ALA per serving and quinoa is the foundation grain in
TruRoots new Qookies, gluten-free cookies in flavors like Aztec Chocolate Chunk. Hemp seeds enhanced
Lundberg’s Hemp-a-licious Rice Cakes. Other healthful products:
Organic Valley Grassmilk made from 100% grass-fed cows; several drinks from Thailand made with sprouted rice called
Alrite Gaba Rice Drink; a tasty vegan instant cereal called
Superfood; and plenty of chips and snacks made from legumes.
Vegetables in new places were also on view, including Veggie Mama’s vegetable-based frozen ice pops and, most spectacularly,
Numi Tea’s new line of Savory Teas made with blends of vegetable flavors in herbal and black teas that taste almost like veggie broth. Flavors include Broccoli Cilantro, Tomato Mint and Carrot Curry. I loved the idea of Biscottea’s Savory Shortbread in spinach and nutmeg flavor, and I wasn’t surprised to see a few kale items in the gallery of new exhibitors.
Botanical Inspired Wild Poppy Juices
The Trendspotter team honed in on Botanical Beverages, Oil Nouveau, So Many Seeds and Top Banana as the top trends. Also included was Blue Cheese Redux, a trend I noticed right away and really sunk my teeth into thanks to
Bissinger’s Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese Wine Grapes and Pop Rogue Blue, a tasty blue cheese popcorn, made with
Rogue Creamery’s new Blue Heaven, a powdered blue cheese also on view at the Creamery’s booth. To see the full list of official show trends, read the
NASFT’s press release.
Bissinger’s Blue Cheese Wine Grapes
Rogue Creamery Blue Heaven
Here are a few more notable trend themes and products I spotted:
Beer as an Ingredient:
- Beer Flats Crackers in Porter and Pilsner Flavor
- Steve’s Ice Cream Brooklyn Blackout flavor with a Brooklyn stout
- AJ’s Red Ale Mustard
- Gaucho Rancho brand of chimichurri, dulce de leche, alfajores
- Buenos Aires Alfajores, made in Oakland in three styles including gluten free
- Don Juan Steak Sauce
- GimMe Seaweed Crumbles
- Japan Gold Seaweed Snacks
- NaGo Seaweed Salad
- Snapdragon Foods Dragon Bites rice crackers - Nori & Wasabi
- La Tourengelle Pistachio Green Goddess Dressing
- Sabatino Fior di Pistachio pistachio paste
- Sahale Pomegranate and Pistachio nut mix
- JCoco Black Fig & Pistachio Chocolate Bar
Finally, one of the best products I smelled was a new spice blend from spice importers See. Smell. Taste. based in San Francisco. Their spice masters have put together a unique blend called swarnadwipa that is an ancient recipe from Southeast Asia. Intoxicating with ginger, garlic and coconut aromas among many others. A product I wished I had tasted was Smoked Chocolate Chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Bakery in Seattle, a vegetarian way to add a touch of bacon to your cookie!
From Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery
Saffron Road chickpea snacks
December 2012 – Chocolate Lab, San Francisco
Chefs’ Council® member
Michael Recchiuti launched a new café not far from his
chocolate factory in San Francisco’s hip Dogpatch district this past December. Michael calls it
Chocolate Lab, a fitting name for a place where he can go and play with sweet and savory ingredients. A delegation from CCD Innovation made it their duty to explore the menu at Chocolate Lab and discovered a number of culinary trends in play, along with a very cool design and some whimsical touches in the café.
Just to reinforce the name, the café’s logo shows a chemistry beaker seemingly running over with chocolate; the beaker re-appears as a water pitcher. Settling down to the compact counter in front of the open kitchen area, I was thrilled to find a Tourteau Fromage on the savory side of the menu. Dubbed a Savory Goat Cheese Soufflé here, it’s really a classic French-style, barely sweet cheesecake that was perfectly paired with simple greens and some roasted vegetables.
Grilled Open Faced Sandwiches, known in France as tartines but also a relative of the au courant smørrebrød, make up the core of the menu along with a salad, cheese plate and charcuterie platter, making this a perfect all-day and all-night menu. Sandwich toppings range from smoked country ham and triple cream cheese with cranberry relish and spicy mustard to Bay Shrimp Salad or even a slice of vegetable frittata, garnished with salsa verde. Sticking to the trend playbook, pickled vegetables are plentiful.
White Chocolate Tartlette
Leaving room for dessert is a must here, whether it's a chocolate mousse cake, white chocolate lemon-lime tartlette or even tarte Tatin. Michael’s signature chocolate truffle flavor, Burnt Caramel, makes an appearance in ice cream featured in a sundae and an affogato. Truffles, a cookie plate and a selection of dragées remind diners that this man is a candy maker after all, even if he is returning to his pastry chef past with tarts, ice cream and custards. Next time: the hot drinking chocolate!
November 2012 – Lolinda, San Francisco
For those of us who can’t make it down to Buenos Aires, San Francisco’s
Lolinda Steakhouse offers a bit of culinary compensation. Opened by a popular restaurant operator in town, Lolinda takes inspiration from the gaucho grub down South American way, something hard to find in the Bay Area. The main attraction is the steaks, of course, hot off the grill and served on a slab of wood with a hearty steak knife. Meat choices range from Tira, or crosscut beef sort rib, to Entraña, skirt steak, and Morcilla, blood sausage. The Ojo de Bife, or ribeye, was a real winner when I visited Lolinda, but also enjoyable was the Mixed Grill offering a sampling of other dishes. Rounding out the menu are several ceviches, cold salads, stuffed empanadas and tasty fried croquetas, made with yucca, ricotta cheese and rocoto aioli for dipping (rocoto is a kind of chile pepper). Spanish, Portuguese and South American wines offer diners some new choices.
October 2012 – Miami Beach
I was delighted to discover Miami Culinary Tours when researching a recent trip to Miami Beach. Without much time in advance to do my own food and restaurant scouting, this tour was perfect for a trend scouter like me. The daily South Beach Tour explores the food and architecture of this storied part of town. Our guide Mirka Roch Harris covered both the culinary and restaurant history of South Beach while providing the lowdown on the gorgeous Art Deco architecture and its revival in the last several decades.
The tour featured samples of Spanish, Columbian, Cuban and Jewish cuisines, illustrating the rich diversity of the local population and its tastes in food. Andalusian gazpacho; Columbian plantains stacked with chicken (patacones); a tasty drink made from Columbian beer and cream soda called a refajo; empanadas and alfajores (oh, I ordered that at the South American Charlotte’s Bakery); a refined Cubano sandwich at The Tudor House; strawberry ice cream frozen to order with liquid nitrogen at the Miami Beach Caffé & Restaurant; traditional Jewish rugelach in several flavors at Jerry's Famous Deli; a tiny Cubano coffee, pre-sweetened and served with thimble-sized cups for sharing at David’s Café. The tour was a fantastic culinary journey and gave me a great understanding of this unique town.
Refajo of beer & cream soda
Miami Beach, a town that is also home to a number of celebrity chef-owned restaurants, such as The Bazaar by José Andrés. Centered in the SLS Hotel, the modern dining room plays host to creative, molecular-infused food and Spanish classics, a reflection of Andrés' talents and heritage. I kicked off my meal with a Passion Fruit Up cocktail, made with rum, passion fruit, ginger-laurel syrup and a crazy float of passion fruit foam. Truthfully, it was really too sweet a cocktail for me but I did enjoy all the passion fruit flavor while trying to both sip the drink and slurp up the floating foam. I sampled fare from the "Miami Meets the World" side of the menu (pdf), seriously enjoying the Kueh Pai Ti, or the Singapore street food of mini pastry shells filled with shrimp, peanuts and chili sauce. The tiny espresso cup of Onion Soup topped with a foie gras foam layer was a lovely sip while the Dragon Fruit Ceviche struck a dramatic tone coming in a halved dragon fruit shell and mounded with fanciful hibiscus foam. The actual ceviche was accented with pecans, a first for me and a delightful, flavorful crunch next to the raw tuna. Lemon air made an appearance on the Brussels Sprouts, tarted up with apricots, grapes and a lemon puree. Sounds strange but tasted wonderful and light, as the sprouts were torn apart into single leaves, making for a sort of petal-like salad effect. I felt it fitting to finish with the Key Lime Pie, totally deconstructed into a fancy line of lime curd here and a pile of graham cracker crumbs there with whipped cream interspersed. Each bite was balanced in a slightly new way, which made for a fun, interactive close to a "bazaar" experience.
September 2012 – Los Angeles
The Return of the Jewish Deli. Global Charcuterie. Gourmet Donuts. How many trendy food items can fit under one roof? Well, at Umamicatessen in Los Angeles, plenty. Add Third Wave Coffee, Mixology and Craft Beer to the list and don’t forget Umami!
Umamicatessen is a food lover’s paradise and an ideal place to take in a number of hot food trends. In a large, open space in Los Angeles’ hip and happening Downtown neighborhood, the restaurant is a sort of food hall but with no separate lines. The general seating area is bordered by a charcuterie counter, PIGG, featuring a glassed-in revolving meat display case; a coffee shop, Spring for Coffee; a Kosher style Jewish deli, The Cure; a bar and finally the Umami Burger kitchen tucked in back. Somewhere someone is frying doughnuts to order and, of course, there is a soft-serve ice cream machine.
Little Gem Salad with Cracklins
Being in town for just a day, I went a bit hog wild, trying a number of alluring dishes, mostly from PIGG, a concept from San Francisco offal master Chris Cosentino. I started with the Pork Corn, popcorn flavored with juniper and rosemary and cooked in pork fat. Next, the Little Gem salad topped with cracklins and a nduja vinaigrette; nduja is a spicy Calabrian soft sausage spread that Chris makes and sells here in San Francisco at his salumi shop, Boccalone. The PIGG Style Fries were a favorite, topped with pickled peppers, ham puree and "brainaise." I didn’t see any brains but it sure tasted great. A selection of pickles paired nicely with a can (yes, a can with an open lid hanging to one side) of pork rillettes. What better way to conclude than a couple of doughnuts. I sampled the Beignets served with a chicory and café brulot custard, and the Tres Leches with cajeta. No, I didn’t finish a thing, but did wrap up the leftovers to bring back with me on the plane. Hope no one noticed the "eau de porc" wafting from the overhead compartment!
PIGG Fries with Brainaise
August 2012 – San Francisco
That Nordic cuisine trend we’ve been talking about for a few years now is finally starting to emerge in the Bay Area dining scene. Now, its ethos of ultra-local ingredients composed in a way to almost recreate a native environment has long been thriving here with chefs like Daniel Patterson at Coi. But actual dishes are rather new, as is an entire Scandinavian restaurant called Pläj, (pronounced "play").
Pläj serves familiar Scandinavian tropes such as meatballs and herring, venison and beets, but does so with great care and style. Nordic cheeses, spices and other ingredients, such as rye croutons and pickled cucumbers, offer diners something new after years of eating Californian, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Yet the menu does draw inspiration from around the world: The Taste of Herring features saffron tomato, coriander chili-lime and ginger smoked soy versions. This is just one of seven seafood dishes that include a Krondill poached lobster under a poufy cloud of foam. Tender Porter-Braised Ox Cheeks were topped with jaunty rings of fried onions and balanced with roasted beetroot and horseradish. The meal was a tasty change of pace.
Bread lovers have been impatiently waiting for master baker Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine to unveil the new sandwich shop and bread ovens he snuck into the Bar Tartine restaurant space. He's focusing on Northern European style breads, often made with sprouted grains like rye, and using them heavily on the menu for both dinner and the new lunch offerings from chef Nick Balla. The smørrebrød some with intricately flavored toppings, all produced in-house. Smoked sturgeon, potato and dill sauce; goat cheese with broccoli, onion jam and chili; white bean spread with smoked eggplant and roasted tomato: These are just a few of the choices. Each ingredient is prepared for maximum flavor and the combinations are beguiling. Alongside was arguably my favorite restaurant dish in San Francisco right now, Smoked & Fried Potatoes with Ramp Mayonnaise (made with ramps pickled in-house earlier this year). The smoky notes of the potato take the humble spud to new heights; the bath of ramp pickle juice sealed the deal for me!
July 2012 – Berkeley & Emeryville
Drinking around town remains a stellar way to keep up on bar and cocktail trends along with the tasty bar snacks that love them. In Berkeley, Mexican regional cuisine inspired the new Comal, opened this summer to great fanfare and excitement because of its creative menu and two bars as well as its state-of-the-art sound system that manages noise in the large space. But I was plenty excited myself to taste a few of the cocktails based on tequila and mezcal. A favorite was the aptly named Jack Satan made with Tres Agaves Reposado tequila, hibiscus syrup, infierno tincture and lime salt on the rim of the glass. The hot kick raised the drink to a new level and I enjoyed the experience of the sanded rim. I need to return to sip the Comal Swizzle made with mescal or tequila mixed with Falernum (a Caribbean sweet syrup), pineapple, passion fruit, lime and Cascade hops tincture. The chips with three salsas serve as the perfect bar accompaniment.
Emeryville's Honor Bar lives up to its name, with a bucket of beers sitting in the bar room available for self-serve. It’s up to each imbiber to report his or her consumption to the bartender, giving us all a chance to reinforce our personal honor. The cocktail menu really spoke to me. I’m not as fond of drinks made from the brown spirits like bourbon and rye that are popular right now so this menu built upon rum, vodka, gin and tequila in addition to bourbon, reeled me in.
After great deliberation, I chose the Riot in Paris made with rhubarb-infused gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Crème Yvette and house-made strawberry bitters. Honor Bar also serves a special Punch of the Day and a number of beers on tap in addition to what’s in the bucket. Snacks here were quite sophisticated and included Warm Burrata Cheese on a salad of asparagus, duxelles and mache; 60 Hour Carnitas with white corn tortillas; House Made Scrapple (a little trend itself); and Thai Chili Jam Ribs, which I tried and wished were spicier. I got a big surprise when my Fried Garbanzo Beans turned up in their shells, seasoned with Japanese togarashi and lemon, but I dug in and enjoyed the edamame-like experience of finding the bean within its skin. Pickled Summer Vegetables made from asparagus, lemon cucumber, breakfast radish and romano beans were another ideal bar snack, but next time I'll be a little bolder and see about the Bucket O'Yard Birds with maple sausage biscuit, mac salad and hot sauce. Maybe a beer from the tub next time?
June 2012 – Paris
Culinary delights in Paris are certainly not hard to find. Its esteemed patisseries kicked off the bubbling macaron trend stateside, bien sûr, and continue to advance the art of flavoring the tiny treat. Pierre Hermé, today's reigning macron master, introduces an actual collection of macaron flavors each year, like couture fashion. 2012 is the year of gardens, or Les Jardins featuring such intricate flavors as Green Tea, Chanterelle Mushroom & Lemon and Orange Flower, Rose & Ginger. Stunning to look at as well as to eat.
Wonderful macrons aside, how trendy is the city's food these days? Plenty actually. I was delighted to discover the city's first gluten-free bakery, Helmut Newcake. I tried a very respectable cream puff pastry (mocha flavored, always my favorite), a Finacier made of almond flour and a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. I was impressed and also realized that with the mastery of just a few basic French doughs, in this case the cream puff pastry and also a sugar tart crust, a great number of variations can be concoted. It really made me realize that we should adopt this style in the U.S., too, instead of trying to build a better muffin out of starches and rice flour. One look at the attractive pastry case is all it took.
The best restaurant meal I had was at Verjus, owned by a young American couple. Yes, I could have had a similar farm-to-table meal back home, but I wanted to see how this place fit into the Parisian culinary scene. It was amazingly delicious! Great care, wonderful ingredients and creative compositions go to show that talent and culinary imagination are always important. The gazpacho had incredible flavor, the duck beautifully cooked and prepared. The meal was outstanding and also shows how the young chefs in Paris are really changing the scene, borrowing ingredients, flavors and dishes from other cultures, and crafting terrific food.
My one disappointment was missing visiting any of the Parisian food trucks, namely Le Camion Qui Fume, a burger truck owned by an American woman who did her culinary training in Paris and decided to take on the French bureaucracy to open a truck. Her hamburgers got plenty of raves online but the schedule was a challenge, so I missed out but loved the thought of Le Camion bringing new energy and vitality to the culinary offering in the City of Lights.
May 2012 – Au Cheval, Chicago
There's an exceedingly hot restaurant row in Chicago these days on Randolph and with each visit to town, it's a challenge to keep up with new openings. Last year I took in Next and Aviary; this visit I managed to grab a drink and snack at the very popular Girl and the Goat. Boy, was I ever pleased that it offered a gluten-free bread plate…pretty much a first for a fancy dining spot. I then sampled the chickpea fritters with pickles, red onion and Crave Brother's mozzarella.
Au Cheval Foie Gras Terrine
But the real meal rolled out at Au Cheval, a new bar and diner just across the street. Music flowed from a reel to reel player, believe it or not, and the place had a great vibe, perhaps thanks to its extensive beer list. The menu consists of creative takes on a variety of diner-style foods, all together rather tough to describe. There are egg dishes and a riff on poutine, fried chicken and also marrow bones, burgers and a fried bologna sandwich, and plenty of foie gras. I dined with Josh Shonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrow, a great new book that looks at ways food will likely be produced in the future. Josh had never tried foie gras so we sampled the foie gras terrine served with toast and tart cherry jam. I loved it; he endured it but I hope it grows on him. Following the foie came the chicken, actually spicy, slightly Chinese-style wings. I can't say I have ever combined two such dishes, but in this era of eclectic menus full of a chef's favorite things, it was par for the course. And really tasty and fun.
May 2012 – national Restaurant Association Show, Chicago
Well, the NRA show, or "Restaurant Show" is no Fancy Food Show but it was an interesting place to prowl on the lookout for foodservice trends. Exhibitors are primarily restaurant equipment manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and other purveyors along with franchise folks, HR helpers and lots of point-of-sale systems. I noticed a few big culinary trends, namely fancy pizza and frozen treats, mostly soft serve. Gelato, ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen anything seemed to be all over while the lines for hot pizza vied those for Chicago-style hot dogs. A few booths I explored closely were from Polyscience and Pre-Gel. The Polyscience booth showed off bubbling immersion circulators, a rotary evaporator, the Anti-Griddle and the infamous Smoking Gun. At the spacious Pre-Gel "salon," I fell for pastry cases chock full of cupcakes and frozen pops decorated with a proprietary coating, taking the decorating trend to a new color spectrum.
For more trend sightings at the show, read Bret Thorn's trend findings from Nation's Restaurant News.
May 2012 – Minneapolis Highlights
I love going to Minneapolis, a true Midwestern town with warm, lovely people and just as many food trends as anywhere else. Here's a list of the trip's culinary highlights:
- Breakfast Lollypops at Hot Dish in the airport. These are sausage links dipped in pancake batter and deep-fried, served with maple syrup for dipping.
- The Oliveto cocktail at Marvel Bar made with olive oil, egg white, lemon, Licor 43 and Gordon's gin. I want one right now…
- The Mahnomin Porridge at Hell's Kitchen made from native-harvested wild rice simmered in heavy cream, brimming with hazelnuts, dried blueberries, cranberries and maple syrup. They even sell this in kit form!
- Castle Rock Creamery Cheese Curds and the Socca Flat Bread topped with Manchego, mushrooms and arugula at Pat's Tap while playing skee-ball with my dear pal, Christopher.
- Gluten-free mixed berry pie from the very cool Wedge Co-op.
April 2012 – ShopHouse Asian Kitchen, Washington D.C.
After reading so much about ShopHouse Asian Kitchen in Washington D.C., I was excited to be able to visit when on the Atlantic Coast in April. This new restaurant concept is from the fine folks at Chipotle Mexican Grill and opened at just the right moment, when interest in the flavors, ingredients and forms of Southeast Asian cuisine is at a new height. There have been other chains that have dabbled in this region, Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen comes to mind from The Cheesecake Factory owners, but the fast casual format seems to be the winning one —affordable, fast, convenient. Here diners order a bowl or banh mi sandwich assembled to their liking choosing from a base (rice or rice noodles or bun) and a flavored meat or tofu, then adding veggies, sauce, toppings and garnish. Unlike some menus that allow this type of consumer customization, there are no pre-ordained suggestions. I could imagine the perfect Thai or Vietnamese assemblage, but none are listed. It's all up to the consumer.
The good news is that these are copious, tasty bowls made from well-sourced ingredients that have been seasoned nicely. The down side is that it all moves very quickly. One has to order from the overhead or printed menu to keep the line moving instead of picking from what looks good on the ingredient line. I was pretty pleased with my concoctions but recognized that with some practice, I could build a better bowl. Serious Eats did its own sampling and loved the meatballs. Perhaps one day when there are as many ShopHouses as there are Chipotles, I'll get more chances to create the perfect bowl!
Pork-Chicken Meatball Bowl
March 2012 – new york city
The annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals took place in Manhattan this year, giving me a chance to explore culinary trends in the bustling city. The most amazing meal was at Torrisi Italian Specialties, a 20-course affair creatively riffing on New York's storied restaurant and culinary history. Assembled by food history-loving chef-owners, Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, the meal pays homage to such influences as the deli, the oyster, Delmonico's restaurant, Little Italy and Chinatown as well as Russian immigrants and even the soda fountain. Read a great recap from Serious Eats to get the full picture. Torrisi isn't the only restaurant looking to food and restaurant history for menu inspiration; Heston Blumenthal's Dinner, in London, is based around hundreds of years of food history found in ancient cookbooks.
I consumed about a stick of butter at a wonderful lunch at Prune but it was a delicious meal that meant so much more to me after having read chef-owner's Gabrielle Hamilton's exceptional memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. She, like many chefs today, prepares a personal cuisine, inspired by her French roots, her adopted Italian family, her relationships with various local purveyors, and her soulful style. No bells and whistles here, just a lovely meal in a sweet vintage room reminiscent of a little Paris bistro but with the colorful Lower East Side cityscape just outside.
Risotto with Shrimp at Prune
Being a big fan of the bold flavors found at Pok Pok Thai in Portland, OR, I had to check out its satellite wing shop on the Lower East Side, Pok Pok Wing. Along with the sticky rice and a tamarind drinking vinegar, the meal was one of my favorites and felt very New York. The shop is a below-street storefront with narrow counters that allowed a view of feet passing by on the way to bars and clubs on a wet Friday night.
A trip to Brooklyn featured a fun and on-trend meal at the recently opened Talde, named after its Filipino chef, Dale Talde, who also appeared on Top Chef. The pan-Asian menu is like a best-of list with Thai appetizers, dumplings, Saigon crepes, Hawaiian bread buns, char sui smoked pork ribs and even Korean friend chicken. The only dessert is a big, sharable bowl of Filipino Halo-Halo, a dish of shaved ice with tapioca balls, grilled pineapple, jack fruit and, this was the best part, Cap'n Crunch cereal.
March 2012 – Natural Product Expo West
This year a few ingredients really popped at "Expo West." Chia seeds were one of them. We profiled the omega fatty acid-rich chia seeds way back in 2006 and have been watching them slowly grow in popularity. Thanks to the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, the running community has embraced them. This led to appearances, after a few years of development, no doubt, of chia seeds in beverages like Chia Vie and Mamma Chia as well as meal bars, cereal and baked goods. Now they are also enriching frozen waffles, gluten-free chocolate cupcakes, tortilla chips and many more foods in the natural food spectrum.
Coconut continues to expand into coconut oil, coconut flake-based snacks, new beverages and savory Asian-accented meals. Several newish superfruits, such as aronia berry and Peruvian maca, have snuck into the marketplace while probiotics turn up in unlikely places like pizza crust. Here's a quick list of products that made my trends-to-watch list plus a couple of "Wow, can you believe this?" items:
Nature's Path Chia Plus Waffles
Vinki Apple Cider Vinegar Drink
"Wow, can you believe this?"
- Milkmakers Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies to support breast milk supply
- Maguey sap sweetener from Mexico – the maguey is an aloe plant
- CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement
- Caveman and Paleo foods like Caveman Cookies and a Caveman Foods Organic Water Kefir (think: kombucha) in spice and floral flavors
- Ayurvedic body care products
February 2012 – san francisco
One of the most buzzed about new restaurants in San Francisco is State Bird Provisions, named after California's native quail. Owned by a beloved husband and wife chef-pastry chef pair, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, that had been restaurant-less for several years, this new eatery shows off their personal style for assembling dishes that surprise and delight in their creativity and deliciousness. Local restaurant critic Michael Bauer is a fan and took some great photos.
State Bird Provisions, S.F.
The unique concept behind the menu is the roving dim sum cart, laden with an ever-changing variety of small plates and snacks (for example, house-made potato chips with horseradish cream and cured salmon roe; raw baby vegetables with a goat cheese dip; raw oysters). A small main menu lists a number of staple items over four categories (Raw, Provisions, Commandables and Desserts), but with the carts coming by throughout the evening, a meal can change mid-stream to accommodate a new dish. Pastry items also populate dishes throughout the menu, adding a welcome touch and creating some inspired pairings. I adored the Duck Rillettes and Almond Biscuit, which was really a tender, moist financier, just sweet enough to balance the savory, rich rillettes. Dessert is also a must-have. Some are tiny like the miniscule glass of "World Peace" Peanut Muscovado Milk for $2. Larger offerings show off inventive flavor combinations and pastry forms, like the Spiced Butter Cookies with Carrot Jam or Chocolate, Thyme and Honey Ice Cream Sandwich, where the ice cream is more like a chilly Bavarian cream. This truly is the most original eating experience in town right now.
I am loving the revival of old fashioned ice cream parlors and soda fountains. Maybe I watched too many old movies growing up, but they have always seemed so appealing, fun and welcoming. Of course, there is the ice cream part, too. San Francisco now has one called the Ice Cream Bar. It was lovingly put together with vintage appointments and truly evokes a nostalgic feel. This will be a cherished neighborhood gathering place, I'm sure.
Similar to the powerful mixology trend comes that of soda fountain tending. The Ice Cream Bar offers a full line of creative sodas concocted with house-made extracts and syrups, tinctures, and an a really retro soda fountain ingredient, acid phosphate, a chemical that acts as a seasoning or brightener to bring out flavors. Another special potion found here is lactart, which adds a drying quality. Here's a link to the informative The Art of Drink for the curious.
Here's what I sampled, with some help:
- Cherry Phosphate – Wild cherry phosphate with house-made tart cherry syrup, cherry bark tincture, acid phosphate, soda
- My Girlfriend's Girlfriend – Roasted pineapple and pink peppercorn lactart, roasted pineapple syrup, lactart, soda, pink peppercorn tincture, gum foam.
- Too Good to Be True – Old-fashioned malted butterscotch milkshake with Juliet's rye-based butterscotch syrup, egg, milk, malted cream, blackstrap molasses.
January 2012 – Food Blog South – Birmingham
Being invited to speak at Food Blog South this year was a highlight of my winter. I met so many engaged and curious food-loving bloggers who really enjoyed hearing my take on trends and my plea for food writers to think more about trend drivers and not just the newest and shiniest new food. My personal guide to Birmingham that weekend was long-time chef, food entrepreneur, and current writer at the Birmingham Weekly Franklin Biggs who drove me around town and recounted the city's food and social history. Thanks to his encouragement, I visited the monumental and moving Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Of course, eating in Birmingham was a real treat. I tried the mandatory chicken barbecue with the local Alabama white sauce at the well-known Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q , I enjoyed an amazing private dinner prepared by Southern food expert and author Virginia Willis at one of Frank Stitt's fine restaurants, Bottega. I even made room for some fried chicken and a biscuit or two, gluten-intolerance be damned, at a wonderful breakfast at Dyron's Low Country . I owe my dear friend Shaun Chavis, the co-founder and organizer of the event and a foods editor at Oxmoor House, a huge thank-you for making this adventurous trip to the South a reality. She and the gang took good care of the speakers and it was a thrill to meet so many culinary wizards from a part of the country I hardly know. Thanks, y'all!
January 2012 – B-Side BBQ
Who needs to go to Birmingham when Chefs' Council® member Tanya Holland is smoking delicious meats in West Oakland? Intrepid Trendspotter Deputies Lee Carstens and Tina Chiu-Maes and I indulged in tasty meats and sides at Tanya's new spot, B-Side BBQ at 3303 San Pablo Avenue.
January 2012 – Winter fancy food show
The Winter Fancy Food Show is always exciting, especially as I get to join the official Trendspotter Team for the show. This year we had a couple of days to narrow down our selections for top trends and there were some interesting ones. Here are the official Top Trends along with my own list of notable products, plus a few extras.
Boat Street Fruit Pickles
Top Show Trends:
- Ancient Grains
- I was intrigued by Community Grains, a Sonoma, CA-based locally grown wheat turned into pasta.
- From Canada came Buckshots, an ancient grain snack made from buckwheat, in regular and dill flavors
- Pickling 2.0
- My favorite example of this ever-present trend was the samples from Boat Street Fruit Pickles, a Seattle café's house-made fare turned specialty product featuring pickled golden raisins, French plums and figs.
- Gluten Free Grows Up
- Along with more and more GF baked good Cup4Cup flour blend developed by Thomas Keller's pastry chef. As always, my favorite GF cookies are from Wow.
- Coconut Cracks Open
- Plenty of coconut water, soups and more but I enjoyed several coconut flake snacks and a coconut milk caramel.
- Drinks Go Nuts (and Seeds and Grains)
- One standout was Victoria Almond Water, a more indulgent, sweet beverage made from a French grandmother's cherished recipe. I also loved Simpli Oats Smoothies.
Other products of interest:
- Ciao Bella Adonia Greek Frozen Yogurt – the first of many on the market this spring
- High Road Ice Cream, Atlanta
- Sanders Chocolate Covered Potato Chips
- Sauce Goddess Salted Caramel Corn in Moroccan Twist flavor
- German-made Beauty Sweets – candies with ingredients to make one more beautiful
- The Good Bean Chickpea Snack and the Fruit and No-Nut Bars
- Yuzu Mayonnaise from Japan
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