Survey identifies 'hot' menu trends for 2010

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Local sourcing of ingredients, sustainability and nutrition will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2010, according to the National Restaurant Association's annual survey of more than 1,800 professional chefs — members of the American Culinary Federation (A.C.F.).

Locally grown produce, locally sourced meats and seafood, sustainability, mini-desserts and locally produced wine and beer top the list of approximately 215 culinary items in the "What's Hot in 2010" survey. Completing the top 10 trends are nutritious kids' meals, half-portions, farm-branded ingredients, gluten-free/food-allergy conscious meals and sustainable seafood.

The top trends this year reflect wider societal trends and consumers' growing interest in these issues, said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the association. "Many restaurants are sourcing some of their ingredients locally, and you often see chefs shopping at farmer's markets to create a host of better-for-you options that today's diners want," she added.

"This is retro — it's what we did in the past when chefs relied on local markets because we did not have the luxury of today's transportation system," said Michael Ty, C.E.C., A.A.C. and A.C.F. national president. "We are going back to our roots and the foundation of our craft that made it more pleasurable."

In October, N.R.A. surveyed 1,854 A.C.F. member chefs, asking them to rate 214 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes divided into categories as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2010.

Sustainability is the leading culinary theme revealed by the survey, which is ranked as the third-hottest trend. Whether applied to meat, produce, seafood or alcoholic beverages, the concepts of environmentally friendly practices and local sourcing are appealing to restaurant operators and consumers for several reasons, including freshness, minimal transportation and supporting local communities and businesses.

Nutrition is another culinary theme that ranks high on the list of trends at number 15. Other menu trends in the top 20 include newly fabricated cuts of meat (such as Denver steak and pork flat iron), farm-/estate-branded ingredients, regional ethnic cuisine and non-traditional fish (including barramundi and Arctic char). Simplicity as a culinary theme and smaller portions for a smaller price are also menu trends for 2010, reflecting the shift in consumer preferences toward value and comfort during the economic downturn.

Topping categories within the survey are: amuse bouche and mini-burgers/sliders in appetizers; quinoa and braised vegetables in side items/starches; ethnic-inspired and traditional ethnic items in breakfast/brunch; bite-size desserts and artisan/house-made ice cream in desserts; regional and fusion in ethnic cuisines; artisan cheeses and black garlic in ingredients; and specialty iced tea and organic coffee in nonalcoholic beverages.

Liquid nitrogen freezing/chilling was ranked as the number-one trend, followed by braising, sous vide, smoking and oil-poaching/confit, in the preparation methods category.

Television, trade shows and independent restaurants were ranked by the chefs as the best places to get inspired regarding sources for trendy food and beverage ideas.

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