The arrival of each new year is regularly accompanied by a host of Top 10 lists recounting the year that was. The National Restaurant Association (NRA)’s What's Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast offers instead an appetizing look at the top food trends for the year ahead, based on its survey of working chefs and where they are focusing their efforts and creativity.
By all accounts, 2015 promises to be a year when chefs bring to their restaurants and menus an even stronger focus on local, estate, and even hyper-local sourcing, as well as environmental sustainability.
NRA's Top 10 Food Trends for 2015:1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Environmental sustainability
4. Healthful kids' meals
5. Natural ingredients/minimally processed food
6. New cuts of meat
7. Hyper-local sourcing
8. Sustainable seafood
9. Food waste reduction/management
10. Farm/estate branded items
The focus on knowing where food comes from—either from within a certain distance of where it is served, or from a specific farm or estate—is the key to knowing how food is grown and who grows it. It’s also a key part of a welcome move back to emphasizing flavor and selecting great ingredients to serve, rather than stressing what to avoid eating. With much of the added sodium and sugar in our diets coming from processed foods and sweetened beverages, this focus on cooking with whole ingredients can lead to significant health benefits.
Also known as “transparency,” the increased interest among chefs in knowing exactly where and how the food they serve is grown is likely to improve labor and environmental practices, as farmers and ranchers are more closely watched and develop stronger ties to the chefs who buy their food. Transparency also seems to affect chefs’ food. That’s the finding from a new study by the Harvard Business School, which found that the food quality of meals prepared by chefs improved when they could see their diners, with diner satisfaction increasing by 17.3 percent. That finding held true when diners were looking back at chefs and also when chefs were hidden behind one-way mirrors. Apparently, design choices that favor open kitchens also lead to better flavor.
Noting that consumers are increasingly relying on restaurants for everyday meals, the NRA’s Hudson Riehle said, “it’s only natural that culinary themes like local sourcing, sustainability, and nutrition top our list of menu trends for 2015.”
Over the past year, the environmental impact of food choices has clearly moved from a future concern to a current problem. With 2014 ending as the warmest year on record, California’s drought and severe weather both continue to make national headlines. The impacts of climate change and water scarcity now regularly affect farm production and food prices, pressuring the bottom line for independent restaurants and large food companies alike.
Sourcing food directly from nearby farms can help insulate restaurants from the increasingly volatile prices now present in commodity and production scale supply chains. Meanwhile, using more sustainable and locally sourced seafood helps the world’s oceans by expanding menus to include new kinds of fish and seafood, addressing overfishing by moving away from standard fare.
But the payoff from addressing environmental issues may be greater still, as food production also is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and largest consumers of water. Restaurants and foodservice companies that focus on buying more sustainably produced foods also help solve some of the biggest problems facing their businesses. The Menus of Change® Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus offer guidance for how to improve sourcing practices and integrate health and sustainability into menu innovation.