Hot Menu Trends for 2014

Local topped the list again in the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” chefs’ survey of food and menu trends. Looking to 2014, locally-sourced meats and seafood and locally-grown produce retained their #1 and #2 rankings, respectively.

Other items remaining in the spotlight are environmental sustainability (#3) and healthful kids’ meals (#4). Moving up from last year are gluten-free cuisine (from #8 to #5); hyperlocal sourcing (e.g., restaurant gardens from #6 to #5); and wheat noodles/pasta such as quinoa, rice, and buckwheat (from #12 to #8). It’s interesting to note that 10 food trends have remained in the top 20 since 2009: locally-grown produce, healthful kids’ meals, gluten-free cuisine, sustainable seafood, health/nutrition, new cuts of meat, ancient grains, ethnic-inspired breakfast items, nontraditional fish, and fruit/vegetable sides in kids’ meals. There are three new additions to the top 20: nose to tail/root to stalk cooking (e.g., using entire animal/plant) at #11; ancient grains (e.g., kamut, spelt, amaranth) is #15; and grazing (e.g., small-plate sharing/snacking instead of traditional meals) ranks #17. By contrast, moving out of the top 20 are house-made/artisan ice cream (now #45); black/forbidden rice (#31); and food trucks (#41).

Also trending downward – considered “yesterday’s news” by more than half of the chefs surveyed – are foam/froth, bacon-flavored chocolate, fish offal, gazpacho, fun-shaped children’s items, mini-burgers/sliders, barnacles, flowers, dust, and molecular gastronomy. Gelato, micro-greens, tapas/meze/dim sum, and dessert flights are also among the items that chefs report are cooling off.

The five newest – rated “hot trend” by 59% to 67% of those surveyed – are grazing/small plate sharing, hybrid desserts (e.g., cronut, townie, ice cream cupcake), uncommon herbs (e.g., chervil, lovage, lemon balm, papalo), natural sweeteners (e.g., agave, honey, concentrated fruit juice, maple syrup), and kale salads. Other preparations chefs cited as being of the moment were pickling, fermenting, smoking, sous vide, and liquid nitrogen chilling/freezing. Fried chicken, Italian cuisine, frying, and barbeque scored the most votes in the category of perennial favorites.

Looking into the future, when asked which current trend will be the hottest menu trend in 10 years, 38% answered environmental sustainability and 22% said local sourcing, indicating the staying power that chefs believe these practices will have; 18% said health/nutrition; 10% children’s nutrition; and only 8% gluten-free.

Note: The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2014” is a survey of more than 1,300 professional chef members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF). For more info, click here