What’s hot in 2015: food and drink trends for the year ahead

This is an extract from an article I wrote for UK hospitality publication M&C Report. You can read the full version by visiting their website mandcreport.com.

crystal_ball2015 will be the year the US hospitality sector will need to rethink its tipping culture, two leading industry reports have warned. As living costs are ever increasing, as operators are dealing with rising labour costs and the debate about the salary gap between kitchen and waiting staff is hotting up, “how do restaurant owners maintain a quality workforce with unbalanced pay scales?” asks hospitality consulting agency Andrew Freeman & Co in its eighth annual trend prediction report for 2015. Indeed, the “disparity between earnings of tipped waiters and untipped back of house grunts is becoming a moral issue tinged with class warfare,” warns food and restaurant consultancy Baum + Whiteman’s latest report on the hottest food and beverage trends for 2015.

Some restaurants are taking this a step further by selling dinner tickets – another trend set to gain momentum in 2015 – inclusive of tax and service charge, hence avoiding tips altogether.

Meanwhile leading chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers are providing experiences that are less formal yet high in quality, more interactive and rooted in catering to the pleasure seeker. An increasing number of high-end chefs and restaurateurs will be following in the footsteps of Danny Meyer and Jose Andres by venturing into the increasingly profitable fast casual market, both Freeman and Baum + Whiteman predict.

As far as food and drink trends go, look out for root vegetables, seaweed, spicy sauces, sour flavours, tacos, and breakfast items sneaking into dinner menus in 2015, as well as a gin and cider revolution, added theatre to drinks presentation and miniature cocktails.

Here’s a round up of the biggest trends for 2015.

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INDUSTRY TRENDS

The End Of Tipping
With living costs rising and local governments passing “living wage” laws, lifting minimum wage and raising labour costs for operators, “restaurants are facing a unique dilemma,” warns Freeman. And as the disparity between earnings of front- and back-of-house employees is becoming more of an issue, as waiters are suing over working hours spent untipped and the debate over how tips are distributed is raging, this inequality might force operators to think more clearly about getting rid of tipping and giving everyone an hourly wage. “Most no tipping restaurants tend to be upscale. But the policy is trickling down and will continue until the deluge happens all at once,” predict Baum + Whiteman.

Shake ShackFine Dining Chefs Venturing Into Fast Casual
“A growing number of higher-end fast casual concepts (many helmed by fine-dining chefs) are emerging to satisfy the demand for great food, fast and at lower prices,” says Freeman. From Danny Meyer’s 56-unit-and-growing Shake Shack to two-Michelin-starred Coi’s Daniel Patterson and Kogi’s Roy Choi, who will launch fast food venture Loco’l in California next year; and newly crowned three-Michelin-starred chef Joshua Skenes of Saison, who has teamed up with Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman for Fat Noodle. Why the move from fine dining to fast casual? “The sector is probably the only area of food service showing meaningful growth right now,” say Baum + Whiteman.

Dinner Tickets
Nick Kokonas and Grant Achatz may have pioneered the movement with their restaurant Next in Chicago three years ago but 2014 saw the beginning of a mini revolution in reservations, with restaurant ticket sales on the rise. Indeed a growing number of restaurants are now selling non-refundable dinner tickets, including tax and tip, instead of taking reservations. Although the trend is still in its infancy, Baum + Whiteman insist it will continue to gain momentum in 2015 as the policy both improves restaurants’ cash flow and gives operators a better understanding of the amount of food and drink needed, therefore cutting out excessive inventory.

technologyTechnology Takeover
“Short of putting food into our mouths, technology is upending the way dining works,” say Baum + Whiteman. Guest-facing technology will be especially transformative in 2015 through devices and programs that interface directly with the consumer. While waiters will continue to serve tables, diners will increasingly place orders from tablets and make payments directly from smartphones. Meanwhile location-based technology and face-recognition software will improve both drink ordering and delivery at crowded bars. And although convenience and speed are obvious benefits, the real drivers of these technological advances are millennials, “who want to customise everything in sight,” and rising labour costs, explain Baum + Whiteman.

Crowd Funding
Since 2009, close to 3,000 food and restaurant projects have raised $41.5m through Kickstarter and this is a trend likely to continue in 2015. Freeman points to examples like Kyle Itani and Jenny Schwarz, who used Kickstarter to help fund their Japanese-influenced Oakland eatery Hopscotch in 2012; or chef Kevin Sousa who raised more than $300,000 through Kickstarter to fund the creation of Superior Motors in Braddock, PA. “Small pledges ($50 or less in some cases) can add up quickly and allow chefs and restaurateurs to stay true to their visions without the influence of private backers,” Freeman adds.

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FOOD TRENDS

Five Ingredients To Watch Out For In 2015
celeriacUgly root vegetables
including celeriac, parsnips and kohlrabi are replacing potatoes with lots more inherent flavour.
Seaweed is appearing beyond sushi in broths, seafood sauces and elsewhere for added umami and a dash of salinity.
Oysters are making a comeback across the country as famers are reseeding old oyster beds and discovering new ones.
Hot sauces are enticing palates, with a focus on sweet-and-spicy combinations such as habanero-honey.
New yoghurt flavours are on the rise, particularly savoury, like Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ butternut squash, beet, carrot, and tomato.

Five Menu Trends For 2015
tacosTacos
Mexican food has long swept the country but now chefs are honing in on traditional tacos.
Breakfast for dinner Next year’s egg is scrambled, and it’s showing up on dinner menus. Savoury pancakes in many varieties are flipping onto dinner plates, too.
Trimming down the fat Chefs are reverting to old-world cooking techniques, such as using skewers, rotisseries and smoke, to turn up the flavour without relying on fats like oils, cream or butter.
Sour flavours From pickles to vinegary shrub-based cocktails, sour flavours will appear in everything from the bar menu to desserts.
Soft serve Seasonal flavours and innovative sundae combinations and a plethora of sophisticated toppings make this nostalgic item the new dessert.

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DRINK TRENDS

Five Drinks To Watch Out For In 2015
ciderCider
is following in the footsteps of the craft beer movement, with artisanal and hard ciders now available on tap, in bottles or cans and mixed into cocktails.
Gin isthe spirit of 2015. New York’s Gin Palace offers only gin and gin-based cocktails with more than 70 varieties, including gin and tonic on tap.
Spiked milkshakes are thrilling diet-be-damned adults, who are splashing booze into ice cream favourites.
Flavoured whiskey is replacing vodka, with bourbon, rye, blends and Scotch enjoying a renaissance as drinkers want more body.
“Whackadoodle hybrids” such as rum-tequila or vodka-cognac are trending as are sweetened spirits flavoured with cinnamon, apples, ginger, vanilla, cherries, even pumpkin pie spices.

Five Drinks Trends For 2015
MiniCocktailsMini cocktails
The short cocktail, or miniature versions of full-sized cocktails, caters for indecisive guests or those who want to sample different drinks, offering a taste at lower prices.
Flasks Bartenders are incorporating flasks into the mix. At Rose.Rabbit.Lie in Las Vegas large-format cocktails are served in customized glass flasks that guests can take home with them.
Creative packaging Wines are bottled in old milk bottles, wine flights are served in test tubes, and wine labels with bold creative names like WTF Pinot Noir are removing the snobbery of wine drinking often associated with the Boomer generation.
Liquid nitrogen Forget Heston Blumenthal making instant ice cream, in 2015 liquid nitrogen will be the next big thing in coffee. Nitro-coffee delivers a cascading effect and rich, creamy mouth feel, much like Guinness.
Dramatic Drink Delivery Restaurants and bars are adding theatre into the mix. Gaspar Brasserie in San Francisco serves the Café Brulot, an after-dinner drink that is lit tableside and extinguished with coffee.

 

Chef profile: Nancy Silverton

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

Nancy Silverton by Tom CaltabianoWinning the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef award in the USA is much like winning the Chef Award at the Cateys in the UK. It’s a very big deal. The award is limited to an elite club of chefs who have truly made a lasting impact on their country’s culinary industry. So it’s refreshing to see that Nancy Silverton, chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant group Mozza, takes her recent award with a pinch of salt. “It’s funny because it’s not like the Olympics where you can really measure somebody’s performance. Sometimes I think it’s really arbitrary,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have won, of course. But it’s not like it has gone to my head or I thought: ‘Yes! Now I’ve finally made it.’ I have been in this business for a very long time and I think that’s probably part of why I won.”

With a career spanning more than 35 years, Silverton is only the fourth woman in the 25-year history of what are often called the Oscars of Food to win Outstanding Chef – the others were Alice Waters (1992), Lidia Bastianich (2002) and Judy Rodgers (2004). But even this achievement doesn’t seem to faze her much either. “Of course, it’s great but there just are fewer women than men running kitchens,” she insists. “What’s more interesting is that I am the first pastry chef to win it. Awards are not generally given to pastry chefs. Even in a large restaurant with a pastry department, those who run it are very rarely recognised.”

As far as pastry is concerned, Silverton is now widely considered the doyenne of her craft in the USA. Through her now iconic Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery, which both
opened in Los Angeles in 1989, she helped redefine the culture of bread baking in the country, and won the inaugural James Beard Foundation’s Pastry Chef of the Year award in 1990. This year, La Brea, which Silverton sold in 2001, remaining a consultant, celebrates its 25th anniversary and is one of the largest sellers of fresh bread in the USA, supplying grocery stores and restaurants nationwide. Silverton has published numerous books over the years and now runs the successful Mozza restaurant group together with partners, Joe Bastianich and acclaimed New York restaurateur Mario Batali, with outlets in California and Singapore.

PUT OFF BY PASTRY

But being a pastry chef wasn’t always Silverton’s chosen profession. After dropping out of college to pursue a restaurant career, she went to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu in 1977, which put her off her now beloved craft. “It was very different back then,” she recalls. “Ingredients weren’t great: a lot of stuff was frozen, a lot came from a can, nothing was seasonal or fresh and it was all about technique. “I didn’t do very well there and my worst subject was always pastry and they were kind of instrumental in my initial dislike of that part of the kitchen. They were so strict and every time I would question things – do I really have to put seven eggs in this, what if it’s too eggy? – I was always met with a stern ‘No!’ Pastry really scared me at first because there seemed to be no room for variation.”

Returning to Los Angeles, Silverton was hellbent on working at Michael McCarty’s acclaimed Santa Monica restaurant Michael’s, but to her dismay the only position available was as assistant pastry chef. In the hope of being moved, she took the job but under the tutelage of Jimmy Brinkley discovered that pastry didn’t have to be boring. “I was sold,” she beams, thinking back. “I was so lucky to work with such a young, genius pastry chef, who hardly ever measured anything. We made all these fun, interesting desserts and it was a real turning point for me.”

In 1980 she decided to embrace pastry and went to France to study at the École Lenôtre, run by famous French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, to hone her skills. On returning to
LA, she helped Wolfgang Puck to open Spago as executive pastry chef. “Spago had such a big national presence,” she says. “Everyone was talking about it. At that time LA was the place for restaurants.” After working at Spago for a few years and a short stint in New York, in 1989 together with ex-husband Mark Peel and partner Manfred Krankl she opened La Brea Bakery and six months later the Campanile restaurant adjacentto it. “It was a lot of juggling and looking back there were a lot of hard times,” she recalls. “I would work at the bakery from midnight to 8am, then sleep for three hours, work a little, nap a little, go back to do desserts at Campanile – it was crazy.”

But the hard work paid off and both bakery and restaurant became Los Angeles institutions for years to come. With authentic artisan bread noticeably absent in the USA at the time, Silverton began teaching herself the art of sourdough bread baking. She developed a baguette, rosemary olive oil loaf, olive bread, country white, whole wheat and dark Normandy rye. “There really wasn’t much going on with bakeries at that time. There were a handful in San Francisco and New York, but that was it,” she says.

Two years after opening La Brea, she moved the bakery to a much larger, fully staffed commercial site and split it off as a business separate from Campanile. “It became clear that the bakery could really be something,” she says. “My partner had the foresight to separate the two businesses because we knew one day someone would want to buy it.” That day came in 2001, when La Brea was sold to investors in a deal quoted as anywhere between $56m and $68.5m. Silverton continued to work at Campanile until 2005, when she split from ex-husband Mark Peel. Two years later she opened Mozza.

ONE-WOMAN MOZZARELLA BAR

Osteria Interior(1)

The inspiration for Mozza was a lunch that she served to famous San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower, who told her about Obicà, a mozzarella bar in Rome. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do in LA: find a tiny little space and run a mozzarella bar where I’d do everything myself.

She was backed by Batali, who had long rejected the idea of investing in a restaurant in Los Angeles, where “nobody eats after 9pm and everyone’s on a diet”, but who loved the
mozzarella bar idea and immediately came on board. Looking for the perfect site they found one that happened to have a pizzeria attached. And so the idea of opening a pizzeria as well as a mozzarella bar was born.

“We immediately split all of our ideas. In the pizzeria, it’s all about the pizza: we have salads and antipasti, but they’re on the side. In the osteria, it’s more about the pasta. We have a very traditional way of looking at this. Pasta is done so poorly in this country, so we really want to be as close to Italy as we can.” The menu includes garganelli with ragu bolognese; ricotta and egg ravioli with browned butter; corzetti stampati with eggplant, olives and fresh ricotta; orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard; and tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. Then there’s the mozzarella: burrata is served with Tsar Nicoulai caviar; with leeks and fett’unta; with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto; or with bacon marinated escarole and caramelised shallots. Bufala mozzarella comes smoked with prosciutto di Parma; with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade and caperberry relish; or with jumbo asparagus, sieved egg and bottarga.

Her pizza meanwhile is widely considered among California’s best. “It’s not Neapolitan, nor is it Chicago or New York-style,” she says. “It’s a mix between the pizza bianca sold
around Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and [Phoenix chef] Chris Bianco’s pizza.” The dough rests 36 hours before being used, and includes rye flour and some malt, giving a crust both spongy and softly chewy inside with a crispy crunch on the outside.

Pizzeria Mozza has since expanded to Newport Beach and San Diego, and the Mozza trio opened an osteria and pizzeria at the 2,500- room Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in
2010. Silverton says they are planning to open a few more osteria/pizzeria outlets in Asia.

After 30-odd years in the industry, where does she continue to draw inspiration from? “The world of food really inspires me, whether it’s an ingredient or something I eat,” she says. “But my way of cooking has never really changed. I have always been very interested in fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have never been interested in manipulating food or cooking with toys. My philosophy is that when you compose a dish you have to have the ability to edit it. I’ve always been an editor and I know intuitively when a dish is lacking or when the lily is being gilded. You’ve got to have that balance.”