Illustration by Tim Cook
What lies ahead for food, trend-wise, seems to be more of the same — although perhaps a more accurate way to describe the future of food would be to say that the trends we're seeing will only intensify.
Tired of hearing about local? It's not going away, and that's a good thing. Tim Bereika of Secco Wine Bar says that local — meaning farmers' goods grown or raised within 100 miles of Richmond — will transcend to the hyperlocal: "Chefs will continue to source ingredients locally but will also try their hand at growing some of their own produce." A few restaurants, such as Mamma 'Zu, have done this for years, but in the future, more and more chefs will be eyeing the backyards and roofs of their restaurants for farming potential.
This brings the idea of "house-made" to a new level, and by extension, more and more ingredients that would have been purchased in the past will be created in-house. We've seen a lot of house-made sausage during the past few years, but things like butter, yogurt and even cheese will start out in the restaurant kitchen instead of on the farm. Chefs are starting to can specialty items, too (pickled ramps are a good example), so that they can serve them all year round.
The food world is starting to look back at the past for ideas. Canning and preserving are one way to do that, but chefs like Sean Brock of McCrady's and Husk restaurants in Charleston, S.C., (and former sous-chef at Lemaire) are leading the way and taking it one step further.
"I definitely see the burgeoning trend of agricultural preservation continuing and expanding," says chef, food writer and Richmond magazine contributor Kendra Bailey Morris, "revitalizing and restoring ancient grains, seeds, heritage-breed animals — even lost cookbooks and cooking techniques."
The kind of reimagination of Southern food that got Brock profiled in The New Yorker and which is practiced by local chefs like Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt and Jason Alley of Comfort and Pasture, is also poised to become the next big trend in food. Although regionally specific dishes like the Québécois dish poutine (fries with gravy) or treats like whoopie pies are showing up on menus, the familiar, much-loved food our grandmothers made (and that we, in the South, take for granted) is being discovered in other parts of the country and making an appearance in restaurants outside of the South.
The emphasis on local also means more specialty stores like Belmont Butchery will pop up. Gregory of The Roosevelt says, "I'd like to think we can keep getting closer to a Euro-style shopping scene … butcher shops, fish markets and bakers. There should be one in every neighborhood."
No one expects kitchen equipment to dramatically change in the next five years from the outer limits set by molecular gastronomy. Instead, smartphones and tablets will change the way we cook and think about food. A few interactive apps from well-known cookbook authors like Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver are out now, but in the future, many more cookbooks will be accompanied by a companion app bursting with videos, interactive diagrams and web links. You'll even be able to communicate via social media directly with the author straight from the app itself.
Technology will also change the restaurant experience. "Customers [will be able] to order from their phones or servers using mobile devices," says Gregory. "We're already getting really close to that." Payment will be via phone as well, with a bar code or app such as Card Case that sends your credit card information directly to the restaurant's computer. In fact, your photo and name will be sent to the computer automatically from your phone when you walk in the front door so that the server knows who you are before you even sit down.
At the same time that diners will be perusing menus (no doubt on their smartphones) littered with local ingredients, chefs will be scouring the rest of the world for new, exotic ingredients and dishes. You'll see dishes made with piri-piri sauce, using a hot pepper from Portugual and former Portuguese colonies Mozambique and Angola; lots of versions of chia fresca, a South American drink traditionally made with lime and slippery chia seeds (yes, the same kind used for Chia Pets); and the endlessly mutable dish congee, a type of Asian rice porridge that can contain any number of different savory additions. "Chefs [including myself] are borrowing techniques/ingredients from all over the world," says Bereika, "and creating a cultural mash-up on the plate."
Vegetables are moving to the center of the plate, and according to Bereika, "Portion sizes will shrink with a matching price tag to boot." This is due to our shrinking economy (vegetables are cheaper than meat) and to the growing health consciousness seeping into most discussions about food. The focus has been on meat (particularly pork) in the last few years, but inevitably, diners will turn away from charcuterie and want to see more vegetables, fish and seafood.
Health consciousness has also drawn attention to food allergies, and chefs are listening. When I went to the Fancy Food Show this past summer, the phrase you heard everywhere was "gluten-free." There are various theories about why so many people have developed allergies to different foods, but experts agree that the allergies are real. Expect to see more disclosure on menus, and dishes tailored to a diner's specific needs becoming standard.