Let's look into our crystal ball, shall we? I spent a little time talking to restaurant industry folks, reading prognosticators online and just cogitating on what 2019 might hold for restaurant fare and grocery store goodies.
PACIFIC RIM FLAVORS
Whole Foods gathered 26 subject experts, from produce field inspectors to master sommeliers, and they predict we will see more exotic Pacific Rim flavors — think Filipino flavors and cuisines that haven't yet had wide purchase in the United States. That, plus more probiotics functional foods and nutrition bars that cater to the keto, paleo and grain-free eaters (I regret to inform you I've received a lot of news releases for grab-and-go bars made of chicken and beef), and more savory ice creams. Now that hemp is legal, we'll see more hemp-product items (and heck, CBD oil is the "it" ingredient of the moment), and plenty of people anticipate the sea vegetable kelp and other sea greens will make a bigger showing. This was one of my predictions for last year, but maybe I jumped the gun.
LESS REAL MEAT
The National Restaurant Association has some of its own visions for this new year, based on a "What's Hot" survey it does annually with members of the American Culinary Federation. They anticipate more plant-based meat alternatives, veggie-carb substitutes for traditional starches and globally inspired menu items (especially for breakfast, things like shakshouka, the egg-and-tomato-sauce dish). And they're making the bold claim that different or innovative cuts of meat will rise in popularity. I went to a couple of Niman Ranch events this year and this seems like a reasonable prediction to me.
THESE ARE GROSS
Here are a couple of things I predict that are stone-cold awful: Have you seen those new lines of chocolate hummus? What is it — a dessert? a weirdly sweet-savory snack? — we're going to see more of that. Snack foods that straddle the sweet and savory divide. This next one may sound paranoid, but as restaurants have more data about us from Open Table, Yelp, email lists and more, they will monitor consumers more carefully. It's in their best interest to know their customers' tastes and proclivities as best as possible. So, don't think you're being all anonymous with that Yelp burn. Next time you go into that restaurant, they may know precisely who you are.
Oh, and oat milk. We're going to see a lot of oat milk.
THESE ARE GOOD
And some good things: Fermentation is going to continue its rise as we realize how good fermented foods are for the gut biome. But also because they are delicious. We may see a backlash against phones at the table, Instagram-bragging dishes and so forth. Or maybe that's just my wishful thinking.
It looks like plastic drinking straws are on the outs. Same goes for foam to-go containers. Let's hope plastic grocery store bags are next in line. Plastic water bottles, we're gunning for you.
Here's hoping for a healthy and happy New Year to all the diners of Tampa Bay!