The Big Trend for 2012 May Be the Death of Restaurant Trends
While other industries are touting electric cars and phones that give advice, chefs and restaurateurs are taking a step backward. And that's a good thing.
Though television might have us believe that every kitchen has a tank of liquid nitrogen, some of our favorite chefs and foodies insist that classic is best. We asked them to gaze into a crystal ball and foretell the future of food. From Mom's cooking to Mad Men-style drinking to a trip to the farm, the answers took on their own trend — everything old is new again.
Local, Fresh, Simple
At last year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, iconic chef Alain Ducasse told an enraptured audience that his biggest influence was his grandmother, who literally pulled vegetables from the ground in her garden for that day's lunch. Local chefs and foodies agree with the master.
Ted Inserra, chef at O-B House in Fort Lauderdale, thanks our year-round sunshine for the abundance of local seafood, produce, and citrus. "Chefs want the freshest ingredients, so we're turning to local independent farmers, fish vendors, and brewers," he said.
Norman Van Aken — founding member of the South Florida Mango Gang, the group of chefs that put South Florida cuisine on the map, and executive chef at the Miami Culinary Institute — sees more people eating their veggies, as long as they're fresh. Van Aken wants us to look out for "more vegetable-focused plates and more sustainable seafood offerings." If you're looking for a career change, Van Aken foresees the need for more foragers, people hired by restaurants to seek out the best pickings from local farms, docks, and distributors.
Lee Schrager, founder and executive director of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, is looking forward to the "continued popularity of the farm-to-table movement" and to "seeing creativity with ethnic spices."
Renewed Passions, Smaller Spaces, Street Foods
Even in this world of television deals and rock-star status, many chefs are rediscovering their passions for food by downsizing into smaller spaces and working on chef-driven menus created from the heart.
Paula DaSilva, executive chef at 1500 Degrees at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach, is looking forward to the pop-up scene spreading in South Florida. These temporary restaurants can appear for a day, a week, or longer and are already trendy in New York and Los Angeles. Delray Beach already featured one appropriately named venue, the Pop Up, which opened and closed in a matter of four months last year. DaSilva says such places offer "a distinct beginning and end... and an opportunity to get really creative with off-the-wall food."
Michelle Bernstein is the owner/chef at Michy's and Sra. Martinez in Miami and host of Check, Please!. She's also a frequent guest on Top Chef. Bernstein expects we'll see big-name chefs moving to "smaller, intimate passion-project-style restaurants."
Roy Villacrusis, ex-chef of Kapow! Noodle Bar, wants to see restaurants focus on a specialty item. "Like the recent popularity of taco bars, expect to see other food items like tempura bars, kushiyaki [skewered] bars, and noodle bars. It may not be as dominant in our area, but I think a resurgence of sushi bars will be experienced by some neighborhoods."
More chef-run joints are on the wish list of Ralph Pagano, executive chef at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino. He's also hoping for three-martini lunches to make a comeback. Maybe the much-anticipated fifth season of Mad Men will help that trend.
Food Trucks Staying in One Place?
Last year saw a tremendous surge in the number of food trucks taking to the streets of South Florida. There are several scheduled local food-truck roundups, including at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Young Circle in Hollywood. But food trucks have certain disadvantages, like permitting issues, and close quarters on a truck mean a limited menu.
The next logical step would be for trucks to move into traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants, says Troy Thomas, owner/chef of the Rolling Stove food truck. That trend began when the MexZican Gourmet's chef, Ze Carlos Jimenez, opened a restaurant in South Miami.
To Serve Man... and His Best Friend
Dogs already share our homes and our hearts, so why not our dinner tables? You wouldn't be surprised to see a pooch dining in a restaurant in Paris. Charlie Soo, executive chef/owner of Talay Thai in Palm Beach Gardens, sees the growth of pet-friendly restaurants and cafés. "I hated the idea until I got a Chihuahua," says the chef. But don't bring your dog to his restaurant just yet — unlike France, we have laws against pets in restaurants.
Trend? What Trend?
Mathematicians say that random chaos is actually a trend, and some chefs seem to agree. Geoffrey Zakarian, owner/chef at Tudor House in Miami Beach and recent winner of Next Iron Chef season four, was being philosophical when he told us, "The trend is anti-trend. Bring on great service."
Then there are chefs who ignore trends and beat to their own drummer, like Jonathan Waxman, owner/chef of Barbuto in New York City and a contestant on Top Chef Masters. "I abhor trends," he told us. When you cook like Waxman, who needs a trend?
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