Food Trends

By Tine Roycroft, Lynn N. Capri, and Josh Lyford

Each year, there are trends in dining ~ just like those in fashion, technology, films, etc. ~ that are a logical progression from the year before ~ like when we saw tapas become popular at a few select specialty restaurants before the trend caught on like wildfire the following year and seemed to be on everyone’s menu. Then there are the trends that come out of left field, like when blood sausage became a much sought-after main course for a [blessedly!] brief time (I blame Andrew Zimmern and his bizarre fascination with bizarre foods for that one!). Now, not all trends reach us here in Central MA ~ some are born and die, just flashes in the pan, in NY or LA or overseas (lots of trends come out of Japan each year), and some reach us slightly modified , but others do, and we’re going to introduce you to some of each, from the weird and obscure (wait ’til you read about corn fungus and edible dirt) to the yummy, like Mexican sandwiches called cemitas, to the technology that’s changing the whole concept of how we go out to eat. And since we’re most interested in the trends that will be shaping our dining experiences over the next year, we’ve called on the experts ~ local restaurant owners and chefs ~ to hear what they have to say about what’s headed to our plates next.


Japanese Steakhouses

In today’s food trends, Japanese steakhouses (and sushi bars) are on the rise. The art that goes with the cooking is the attraction factor. The food is cooked right before your very eyes with a creative display of flames. When going into a Japanese restaurant, it pays to know a little bit of the Japanese cuisine food trends. At the very least, familiarize yourself with the culture that comes with the food.

~ Mochi is the rice cake that you see in most Japanese steakhouses menu. Rice is a good source of carbohydrates and is always part of a Japanese meal. Rice may be served steamed. If you plan to dine here, expect to find rice on your table.

~ The ingredients used in a Japanese dish are usually seafood. Even with Japanese steakhouses, seafood is still served. The most common in the menu are fish, clams, fish cakes, and even seaweeds. Of course you can also expect to find noodles and mushrooms as these are essential ingredients in most Asian cuisines as well.

~ The tables in Japanese restaurants are customarily set for bowls. They are used for both rice and soup placed at your left and right respectively. Before you eat, notice that the chopsticks are placed in between these bowls.

~ The hibachi is the hot plate where the food is grilled. This is always common in Japanese steakhouses. Another name used for the hibachi is the teppanyaki. Whichever is used, you know that your food is being cooked the Japanese way.

Today’s menus in Japanese steakhouses are already influenced by other Asian cuisines. Some have even incorporated western flavor into their recipes, but majority of these restaurants still stick to their culture, giving you a variety of dishes from which to choose.

We got a chance to talk with John McHugh, co-owner of the new Hirosaki Prime Steakhouse on Worcester’s Grafton Street, and ask him about his take on the Japanese steakhouse trend.

Why do you think the trend of Japanese steakhouse is really taking off here in Worcester County ~ with yours at the forefront?


Well, that’s simple ~ It’s not just taking off in Worcester County, it’s taking off everywhere because it’s new, healthy, and ~ at least if you’re eating here at Hirosaki Prime ~ it’s delicious!

What is your definition of a Japanese steak house?

Our definition of a Japanese steakhouse is a unique dining experience. Entrees are skillfully prepared and presented with great flair by one of our master teppan-yaki chefs, artfully created following the ancient customs of Japan.

What makes your restaurant stand out from the rest?

For us, it’s more than just one element. For instance, we have a chic design/decor plan/layout that promotes the most stimulating ambiance. Also, we have amazing chefs who masterfully prepare your entree right before your eyes to ensure great entertainment that will enhance your dining experience. We also use all prime meat [think Kobe!], which I’ve never heard of any Japanese steakhouse doing ~ and for that matter I don’t think anywhere in Worcester County offers as much prime selection as we do; pretty much all of our competitors use only “select” or “choice” meat. Last but not least, we provide 5 star service ~ and a restaurant is only as good as its service.

Today’s menus in Japanese steakhouses are already influenced by other Asian cuisines. Some have even incorporated western flavor into their recipes, but majority of these restaurants still stick to their culture, giving you a variety of dishes from which to choose.

Visit for more about the restaurant, which also encourages you

to use Open Table to make your reservations!


Café Cuisine and Culture

America will experience a resurgence of café cuisine and culture as an extension of the “smart casual” shift in fine dining of the past three years. The smart casual movement provided consumers with great quality fine food in a casual dining environment that was more approachable and comfortable but didn’t tip too far to the casual side. Today smart casual is shifting again to a more complicated café cuisine reminiscent of the quality you can find in local full service restaurants in continental Europe.

A Sandwich by Any Other Name


We’ve seen the gussied up hot dogs and gourmet hamburgers. Now there are cemitas coming to charm our taste buds ~ Mexican sandwiches with lots of flavor (think black bean spread, queso blanco, warm crisp-fried chicken cutlet, lots of mayo, pickled jalapenos, avocado, and iceberg lettuce). Order a cemita with head cheese and you’re halfway to banh mi ~ Vietnamese sandwiches taking over the world with paté and pickled vegetable fillings now mutating into other glorious (at least for the adventurous palate) flavor combinations (think liver paté, head cheese, jalapeños, pickled carrot and daikon shreds, bbq pork, sweet mayo, jalapeños and lots of cilantro in a warm baguette). There’s an Asian-esque meatball version making the rounds, too, as are baos¸ which traditionally were yeasty steamed buns with savory fillings but are now being formed as fluffy flatbreads to wrap around banh mi-like ingredients. Tartines have grown from a slice of bread with a simple spread to foo-foo open-face sandwiches with $15 price tags.

Also look for more regional American and ethnic sandwiches where ingredients like eggplant parm, fontina, yellow squash, pickled jalapenos, bbq potato chips, braised lamb, peanut butter, mint jelly and pappadam can all live happily under the roof of a single sandwich. Porchetta is a filling to watch, especially when it’s combined with chipotle aioli, ham, gruyere, and pickles ~ even chains like Panera are embracing the not-your-average-sandwich trend and adding ethnic ingredients to traditional American sandwiches to create some really delicious flavor profiles.


“‘Mad-Men’ style retro cocktails, high-cachet gin and bourbon, craft beers and punch (including sangria)” will maintain their popularity, and rum ~ with a seemingly endless variety when it comes to style, region, etc. ~ will continue to shape the landscape of cocktails in the coming year. Also, we’ll get to try more pre-mixed cocktails that riff on nostalgia-based drinks, punches made for adults (look for goji and acai super fruit flavors, so we can feel good about drinking them), and “healthy” cocktails sweetened with alternative sweeteners like agave syrup, cane sugar and Stevia.

If you’ve been a wine drinker long enough, you’ve probably noticed wines breaking the 14, 15, even 16 percent level of alcohol, when just two decades ago the average was more like 13 percent. This trend will do a sort of split, with some wines going even higher in alcohol content and some winemakers caving in to wine lovers’ complaints that these “bodybuilder wines” are clumsy and unbalanced, difficult to drink with dinner and incapable of aging well in the cellar.


The combination of energy drinks and alcohol ~ whether sold in a single can [potentially making them illegal] or ordered together ~ are in no danger of going out of style. Red Bull and vodka and Jaegerbombs are still faves at the bars, plus there are new kids on the block like Purple, which mixes 3 Olives Purple Vodka with soda water or Sprite or even plain water.

Latin-inspired cocktails will be gaining popularity across the country, too. The Nuevo Latino culinary culture has become mainstream and new cocktails are simply a natural extension.

Start taking a close look at beverage menus and you may start noticing an interesting ingredient in cocktails ~ beer! With all the unique flavor profiles of craft beers to choose from ~ from Black Lager to Flemish Red to Milk Stout ~ bartenders have started using beer instead of soda to add new life to their creations. It makes perfect sense, since the same things that make a beer unique make a cocktail unique: sweetness, bitterness, acidity, sourness, and ~ most importantly ~ originality and depth of flavor. (Check out PulseBrew on-line this month for great cocktail recipes that feature beer as a main ingredient.)


Paul Barber, owner of Shrewsbury Street’s hot spot The Flying Rhino, weighed in on the return of classic drinks as well as many of the other trends he’s bringing to the Rhino’s clientele.

Barber is all about keeping his restaurant’s menu fresh, interesting and utterly delicious. Never one to be caught snoozing, Barber seeks out the best in local produce to serve to his diners.

“We work closely with Paquette Farms up in Shrewsbury and get our local ingredients from there. They even grow things for us,” Barber says. “They’re growing lemongrass for us this summer. Now you can’t really grow lemongrass up here, but he’s doing it! We have a great relationship where we shoot menu ideas back and forth and discuss what we can grow and how we can incorporate it into our dishes.”

Apart from staying local, Barber and The Flying Rhino are following the trend ~ or lifestyle choice ~ of staying healthy.


“I feel that people are really starting to listen to the nutritional information that’s out there,” he says. “I’ve done some work with the American Heart Association. When they did a walk event down Shrewsbury Street, we ran a heart healthy theme menu. There was a different special every day and it sold great. We’ve since kept that idea and about three to four days a week, we have a special from the heart healthy menu.”

Barber says that he’s noticed people paying more attention to portion sizes as well. The “value meal” that some restaurants serve, with large entrees and extra big side dishes for a low price, aren’t as popular any more, he feels. “The whole idea of ‘super large’ that and ‘super size’ this is going by the wayside.” Barber says. “It’s just not good for you to eat all that food.”

On the alcoholic beverage side of the restaurant biz, Barber admits to being old school when it comes to cocktails and he loves the fact that so many of the classic cocktails are returning. But Barber remains Zen about it. He knows that his favorite drinks are in style now, but who knows what next month may bring.

“I think it’s all cyclical,” he says. “Comes in ebbs and flows. Now it seems like the old school cocktails are coming back. That’s fine with me. I’m getting tired of having so many flavored vodkas on the bar! That being said, there are some people who still like the sweet. We have a watermelon mojito that people love. The trends go back and forth.”

At The Flying Rhino, they are now exploring social networking tools like Facebook. But Barber says that they have yet to use deal sites such as

“I’d rather maintain the value of our food with a good menu instead of trying to keep up with the coupon clippers who are just looking for a good deal,” Barber says. “It’s a hard decision to make because things like Groupon are really popular right now. But growing up, when I was a dishwasher, they started those two-for-one specials and I saw a lot of restaurants go down because there were too many of those specials going out. ”

For more information, go to


And talk about trendy for 2012, there’s actually a cocktail named The 2012 ~ only time will tell if this trend/drink lasts beyond the calendar year.


  • 15-30 ml Everclear alcohol
  • 30-60 ml Blue Curacao liqueur
  • 150 ml orange juice
  • 30 ml grenadine syrup


  • Fill a collins glass with ice.
  • Add the Everclear alcohol, then the Blue Curacao liqueur.
  • Add the orange juice and stir.
  • Add the grenadine syrup.
  • For a better look, do not stir after adding the grenadine syrup.


Buying from local business has been increasing in popularity over the past few years. Some restaurants are taking local to an even further level ~ they are growing their own products and doing their own butchering. You just can’t beat on-site slaughter for freshness!

Better Nutrition

farm-market1If you’ve watched any of the episodes of Jaime Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, ( you’ve seen him trying to up the health quotient of elementary school cafeterias’ meals and show restaurants and fast-food chains that they can indeed stay in business after exchanging some of their less-healthful menu items for healthier ones that are just as delicious. Jaime might be the celebrity face attached to the Better Nutrition movement, but he is certainly not alone in stressing the importance of good nutrition ~ and doing something about it. Many different news sites are discussing 2012 being a landmark year for healthier food trends ~ for schools but also for fast food chains and restaurants.

Worcester own Smokestack Urban Barbecue, for example, has brought BBQ from the South right to us and General Manager Kevin Scopetski wants people to know that the delicious does not have to equal unhealthy.

At the Smokestack Urban Barbecue, Scopetski should be able to kick back, take it easy and not worry about staying on top of various restaurant trends. Since this dining location is one of the very few BBQ joints in Central MA, that could make it trendsetting enough. Still, Scopetski is consistently making certain that the delicious Smokestack comfort food meets and exceeds all dining expectations ~ and is happy to admit that he incorporates the “healthy eating” trend into his preparations.

According to the BBQ guru, the Southern states have always enjoyed the lip-smacking ribs and spicy, sweet chicken and over the years, the trend has made its way up to the North. New York City embraced the glorious grilling a few years ago, says Scopetski, and now it’s coming home to Massachusetts.

“We get a lot of people coming in here, telling us that they’re really happy they don’t have to drive for an hour to find this kind of food,” he says.

The general manager has been in the business long enough to see some of the food/alcohol trends go up in flames. Right now, he feels that tapas style meals are falling out of favor with the diners.


“A few years ago, the big things was tapas ~ small appetizers that everyone could share. That was big 2-3 years ago and I see that kind of fading out now. It seems like comfort good is making a comeback.”

A trend that is here to stay (we hope!) is a push for healthy meals that include local ingredients. Scopetski is first to admit that the Smokestack serves mouth-watering comfort food ~ and comfort food isn’t always diet-friendly, but theirs is superb.

“Everything we do is all made in house. It’s all homemade food,” he says. “We buy from local butcher shops and a lot of our produce does come from the Worcester area. At the end of the day, we just want people to smile and enjoy the meal and feel good because the restaurant they’re at supports their community.”

Smokestack recently signed a contract with and now people will be able to make reservations online when they get a hankering for a hunk of BBQ.

For more info, go to

Food Trucks

In a Foodservice Equipment and Supplies (FES) article on upcoming trends, they bring up the food truck.

Now, no need to cringe, the idea of food trucks being “Roach Coaches” is an outdated one ~ sure, a few of those might still be trolling around the city at lunch time, but many food trucks are now legitimate mobile mini-restaurants.


Gluten-free menus will crop up everywhere this year. Look for more gluten-replacing starches on menus: quinoa , chickpeas, grits. Lactose-free items will be showing up more and more as well. Sodium, MSG, and high-frustose corn syrup are targets, too, and lots of chain restaurants will be advertising that their food is free of, or only contains the barest trace of, those nasties. Paula McCarthy, executive chef of Amici Trattoria in Shrewsbury, by no means jumps on every dining trend that crosses her path,

but does embrace a select few, including the move towards gluten free food.

amicilogoPaula understands the importance of staying on top of the culinary game. She’s constantly on the hunt for fresh, innovative ways to satisfy all of her customers. She travels, studies, and explores each exciting avenue she can find. gb-dining-couple-copy

“A lot of the things that we’re trying to do include introducing people to more regions of Italy than they are typically exposed to,” McCarthy explains when discussing her menu. “And I’ve been presenting the food of Emilia Romagna, Piedmont and really getting into it. Italy is a huge country with a lot of diverse cuisine. I’m having so much fun studying it and incorporating it into Amici’s dishes.”

The restaurant is an intimate setting, but don’t let the cozy atmosphere, charming ambiance and menu chock full of favorites lull you into thinking that this dining spot isn’t cutting edge.

“We are trendsetting in that we are introducing these lesser known foods from the ever popular Italian peninsula,” McCarthy says. She is also paying close attention to the changing diets and dietary needs of her clientele.

“A lot of people are getting away from refined white flour products,” she notes. “I create a lot of specials that have little or no refined carbohydrates in them. In fact, there are a number of items on my specials tonight that have themes other than pasta. We have about nine risottos on the menu and I frequently run other ones as specials. And polenta and gnocchi are available too. It’s not all about spaghetti and penne.”

McCarthy has also created an entirely gluten-free menu at Amici’s sister restaurant, The Steakhouse, and has just introduced a similar menu at Amici.

“We have gluten-free pasta available,” she says, “And right now, we’re experimenting with rice pasta as well as some other new products that I’ll be taste testing. Some of the products out there that I’m testing are good, but some of it’s really nasty. I want to serve my customers only the best and I think we’ve found some really wonderful options.”

McCarthy is happy to see that some of the once-trendy, “sillier cocktails” are being erased from restaurant menus and the more classic cocktails ~ well-made Manhattans and Sidecars, the classic craft cocktails ~ are taking center stage.

Finally, when it comes to technology, Amici Trattoria is utilizing Open Table and having great success with it. “I’m known as low-tech girl,” McCarthy laughs. “But I know that Open Table is a huge asset for us.”

For more information, stop by

New Cuts of Meat

Denver steak, pork flat iron, Petite Tender ~ these are what chefs are saying will be a hot trend for the upcoming year.

Seafood with Integrity

Even with so many different types of eco-labeling and certification programs in use, chefs lack a reliable way of determining whether the seafood they serve has integrity. This has resulted in a shift toward hyper-local sourcing of seafood (in some cases) and chefs demanding verification that their sources follow Best Practices in the farming/wild catching of the seafood.

Online and Mobile Ordering and Applications

If these days you can order a pizza with a quick text, just imagine what we’ll be able to do in years to come. But it’s not just online/mobile ordering that will be on the rise, it will be a variety of applications. For instance, get ready for iPad wine lists. The New York Times found one particular restaurant’s wine sales increased 11% just two weeks after they rolled out their wine list on the iPad. It looks as though the mobile trend will continue to grow, make things quicker and more convenient for customers.


Over the past year, a radical pricing strategy has been causing quite a buzz in the restaurant world, and in 2012 it looks like the idea will spread to more and more restaurants: establishments are allowing diners to name their own price for their meals. The Panera Bread Co. chain was the first big name to launch a pay-what-you-want location, also offering customers the option of working volunteer hours in the restaurant in exchange for payment. Now there are a dozen or so other restaurants across North America that follow a similar model, including Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen. Soul Kitchen is part of the rocker’s Soul Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to bringing about positive change, helping those in need “one Soul at a time.” It features a menu of tasty, healthy meals with no prices listed. The restaurant allows diners to pay what they can afford, with a suggested $10 donation. Guests can also volunteer an hour of time in exchange for their meal. Donation-based restaurants like the Soul Kitchen are cropping up all over the country, feeding those who cannot afford a meal and serving as a gathering space for people to work together and support one another.


Where should you go for dinner? Do you need reservations? Want to place your order before you get there? Want to find some great deals? Does the restaurant’s have a decent wine list? There’s an app for [all] that!

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If you and your friends or loved ones can’t agree on where to have dinner, let UrbanSpoon choose for you. Shake your phone and the app suggests restaurants in your area. Make a game and say whatever it chooses is where

you go, no matter what. Then the only one who’ll get blamed if not everyone enjoys the meal is the app!


With OpenTable for Android you can make free, instant, and confirmed restaurant reservations at more than 15,000 OpenTable-enabled restaurants in the US, Canada, and the UK. Plus, OpenTable members earn valuable Dining Rewards Points redeemable for Dining Checks good at any OpenTable restaurant.


ot2How does it work? Specify your dining date, desired time and party size to view available tables at nearby restaurants ~ listed by proximity or plotted on an interactive map.

Mike Covino, owner of Niche Hospitality, is one of the forces that propels Worcester’s restaurant scene forward, always introducing new and unique ideas. As the owner of The Citizen, Mezcal and Bocado, Covino doesn’t think of himself as trendy, instead simply saying that staying current on movements within the dining world is an absolute must. He was one of the first restaurant owners in the city to use Open Table, and we got to talk to him about that technology ~ and about which current trends he has carefully chosen to incorporate into his businesses.

“We’re not trying to be trendy,” Covino says. “To hop on the trend just for the sake of hopping on a trend is not what our approach is. We try to stay true to what our concept is and if there are trends that fit…we’ll explore them.”

When a diner heads to The Citizen, located at 1 Exchange Street in Worcester, he is actually arriving at 3 different dining destinations. There’s The Citizen, which is a wine, cheese, and chocolate bar, there’s The People’s Kitchen, the full service restaurant above The Citizen, and there’s Still and Stir, which is the cocktail bar.

“At The Citizen, we’re always buying the best…We do a lot of gourmet comfort food and our goal is to use our local ingredients and the best ingredients and put them into amazing dishes like our American Chop Suey, our fried chicken.”

Despite not riding the trend train (and perhaps even staying a step ahead of it), Covino acknowledges that it does exist; while he appreciates some elements, others he’s more than happy to see disappear as quickly as they appeared.

“I’m not sorry to see some stuff on the beverage side of things go,” Covino says. “The artificially-flavored syrups, the sticky sweet flavorings are really starting to go because of the advances in mixology. Having 30 flavored vodkas on the back of your bar is a thing of the past and I’m glad that’s gone.”

Covino believes there is a real interest in returning to a balanced cocktail ~ and in some cases that means using liqueurs or spirits that might have been around for a number of years but have been under-utilized.

“Our bartenders are very serious. They understand the flavors, the need for balance, and do a lot of continuing education to expand their knowledge. They’re coming back with classic cocktails, made with the proper ratios, and there’s a real process to create a flavor profile ~ whether its picking their own bitters or making their own syrups from natural fruits instead of some sickly sweet mixture.”

In terms of technology, Covino has embraced Open Table, saying that his restaurants receive many reservations through the site and that it’s a terrifically powerful tool. He’s slow to warm up to Groupon, however.

“I do think that Groupon can devalue the menu a little bit for restaurants. With Groupon, they send the offer to 100,000 people who are loyal to Groupon and are waiting for the next deal to drop. I think Groupon is an awesome idea for some things, but from a restaurateur’s perspective, I think it devalues the brand. Giving discounts to my loyal followers is a good thing that works for me.”
For more on all the Niche Hospitality locations, please visit

iPad Wine Lists

The New York Times found one particular restaurant’s wine sales increased 11% just two weeks after they rolled out their wine list on the iPad.

7 Apps for Frugal Foodies

If you want to get a good deal on your next dinner out, never mind the print out coupons ~ just bring your phone.

Savvy restaurants have turned to a variety of social networking, coupon and geo-tagging phone apps, offering visitors equipped with smart phones specials and free food. All it takes is a few taps on the phone screen. No fancy smartphone? There are low-tech options, too, which let potential diners opt in to receive offers via text message.

While the apps below are a great starting point, don’t forget to check out your favorite restaurants directly, as more and more will have their own apps, helping them stand out from competitors and keep customers loyal.


Just pulling up this free social networking site on your phone’s browser can lead to savings. Deals exclusive to Facebook fans of a restaurant count for plenty of discounts, and if you use the site’s free app, Facebook Places (available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows 7 and other devices), to check in, you can get extra deals, too.


Check-in via the free app (on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm and other devices) when you arrive to unlock special deals, or use it to supplement foodstore rewards.

The free iPhone-based reward program lets consumers receive downloadable, personalized 2D barcodes to local businesses ~ primarily in and near Boston, for now. Servers scan them tableside straight from your phone to activate the discount, which can be anything from a free drink to a half-price entrée to a dollar amount off your total bill.


Earn points on this free iPhone and Android app for checking in when you visit a location, take a picture there or perform challenges the retailer sets up (like turning your foil burrito wrapper into an origami masterpiece ~ hey, I’m not making this stuff up!), then redeem the points for discounts.


Groupon offers huge discounts ~ usually 50-90% off ~ at popular businesses. Just sign up and because you personalize your free account, you get deals that are most relevant to you, including cool new stuff with your city’s featured deal of the day. It’s a great way to get discounts at restaurants, bars, and pubs. Get any deal with the touch of a button, keep track of your Groupons by location, date and expiration, and redeem them any time you want without killing trees. Just download the iPhone or Android mobile apps. You can share your Groupon discounts and give them as gifts, too, and you’ll be giving a present that’s worth twice what you paid, and without going shopping or paying shipping costs.


Following the right restaurants on the free social networking site ~ accessible from any smartphone ~ can yield extra discounts and deals. The latest trend: code words that, when said to a server, get you that day’s special. It’s cloak and dagger meets couponing.


A free iPhone and Android app, YWaiter lets you place takeout and dine-in orders straight from your phone.Placing an order often entitles you to an extra discount, too.

Living Social

LivingSocial offers one fantastic deal every day with discounts of up to 90% at local restaurants (as well as bars, spas, theaters, and more). To sign up, all you need to provide is your city and email address, which is kept confidential. Each day, you’ll receive a substantially discounted deal. Purchase the deal with just a click, and the next business day you’ll receive a link to your voucher. Want an even bigger discount, like…free? Use the “Share for Free” link you receive and send it to your friends. If three people buy the deal via your link, then your deal is free.

Yelp Check-ins

The latest version of the popular business review and recommendation site’s free app (available on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm, Windows 7 and other devices) now lets you check in when you arrive at a venue and yields special offers when you mention Yelp to your server.

THE COOLEST (and arguably geekiest) NEW TREND: MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY (aka Culinology, aka the application of scientific principles to the understanding and improvement of small scale food preparation) test_tubes1

The fields of culinary arts and culinary science had a baby, and its name is Molecular Gastronomy. Many famous restaurants now have cooking and food laboratories on their premises, while universities and colleges around the country are beginning to offer degrees in culinology (a degree program that blends food science ~ the study of the chemical composition of food and food ingredients, their physical, biological and biochemical properties, and the interaction of food constituents with each other and their environment ~ and technology with culinary art). If you’re like me and watch every episode of “Top Chef,” you already knew that this trend was going to be BIG. And you have to admit that it’s pretty cool, what with all that liquid nitrogen, emulsifiers, infrared spectrometer nuclear magnetic resonance machines (for real!), syringes and 24 carat gold and all the weird combinations (fried calamari with cantaloupe, anyone?) of flavors and textures ~ some never created before under any circumstances ~ that result.

Want to see some of this wizardry in action? Tune into “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen” on the Syfy Channel and check out

And if you want to find out even more cool stuff about the science of cooking, take a look at these sites: (The Accidental Scientist’s Science of Cooking) and


Urban Foraging

Now that some city slickers have figured out how to raise chickens at home, urbanites are taking aim at another farm favorite: pick-your-own produce. New tools are making it easier to harvest wild, indigenous edibles that sprout up anywhere from city parks to sidewalk cracks. Neighborhood Fruit (for iPhone, $1), a GPS-enabled app, forages for the nearest trees growing on public lands across the country.

Night Markets

The norm in East Asia for decades, the night market has finally come to the US. Pairing the breezy, open-air setting of a greenmarket with an under-the-radar, after-dark vibe, these nighttime gatherings attract experimental cooks and customer who are up for adventure.

Single-Item Restaurants

Today’s hyper-focused chefs are devoting their kitchens to turning out a single signature dish, albeit in countless customizable variations. Example? Chedd’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese in Austin, TX boasts 35 cheeses, 8 breads, and 31 extras that add up to a whopping 8,680 grilled-cheese sandwich possibilities.

Bicycle Cafés

A sophisticated new breed of hybrid repair shop cafés is popping up to cater to the two-wheeled foodie set. Some locations sell made-to-order bikes and high-end coffees, some offer maintenance with a side of light Italian fare, and some invite patrons to kill time during tune-ups with pints of Belgian Slag Pils (but just don’t drink and bike).


You can rent a wreck and you can rent a handbag, so why not rent a farm ~ or at least a tiny piece of one? For example, if you “adopt” an orange tree from Finca Ca’s Sant orchard in Mallorca, you’ll receive shipments of its ripe fruit ~ and the marmalade and liqueur that comes from it ~ for just $135 per year. Italy’s Nudo olive groves lets you select a tree, each with its own unique flavor profile, and then all the extra virgin oil (about two liters) from your leafy foreign friend is yours come spring for around $105 per year.

Chefs on the Move

The recession created lots of empty restaurants and lots of chefs with no kitchens. So we now have popup restaurants ~ restaurants, like food trucks, with no location at all. Impromptu food places will pop up all over, some for a night, some for a week. Chefs, especially more noteworthy talents, get to strut their stuff, often serving food they’d never dare put on a permanent menu, then it’s off to the next gig ~ no long-term leases and ongoing overhead. Customers first found these popups via Twitter and word of mouth, but now popups are treated in the press alongside major restaurant openings.

Next up will be kitchen swapping: big name chefs will trade kitchens for a night or two, keeping life lively for themselves as well as customers. Some chefs now have permanent one-night stands, taking over humble dives or diners once every week. Often with only one or two dozen seats, snagging a place at these popups will become something of a status symbol and a culinary adventure. After that, get ready for rotating bartenders spreading the news about their exotic cocktails and popups being run by food and booze companies to show off their products.


“Ice cream! Ice cream! We all scream for ice cream!” That’s the old chant ~ but soon, we might be screaming because of the ice cream, as flavors like foie gras, salted licorice, cod, and salt & vinegar (thank you, Britain) make an appearance. Think that’s bad enough? Here are my picks for the top five bizarre food trends people around the world are enjoying (or at least trying out).


1) Edible Dirt ~ Yes, you read correctly. The handfuls of dirt that the strange kid at the playground used to snack on are now edible. It’s made of charred ingredients ranging from mixtures of malt and beer to onion or mushroom ash. Chefs are using this “soil” to create an earthy appearance to food, even serving it in terracotta pots.

2) Pigs’ Feet ~ Around for centuries (I’m guessing for as long as pigs have been), pigs’ feet are now being used in the kitchens and served on the tables in restaurants helmed by great chefs.

3) Cheese ~ We’re not talkin’ about just any cheese, oh no, but cheese made from breast milk. Chef Daniel Angerer of New York (no surprise there) decided to use his wife’s breast milk to make cheese while he was looking for sustainable food products ~ and he actually placed it on his menu. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this is one trend that does NOT reach us here in Central MA!

4) Corn Fungus ~ (Told you it was coming!) Cuitlacoche ~ or corn smut, as it’s also called ~ has long been popular in Mexico and results from corn kernels becoming engorged with tumors after they’re infected by a fungus and take on a mushroom-like taste. Personally, I like to avoid any food that can be described with the words “tumors” and “infected,” but that’s just me ~ and maybe I’ll be missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

5) Body Sushi- This trend has popped up in TV shows (Remember the episode of “Sex in the City” when Samantha “dressed” in homemade sushi for Smith right before she broke it off with him for good?) and ~ we’re sure ~ in the kitchens/dining rooms of some very daring young women, but Nyotaimori is where you actually are able to use a person as your serving dish for sushi. A naked woman, private areas covered by leaves, lies on a table and sushi is placed all over her body for diners to enjoy. It is believed that body temperature sushi allows diners to better experience the taste and texture. There are so many comments we could make, but we’re going to take the high road and…not.

BUZZWORDS FOR Late 2011 AND 2012:

Coconut water, awash in a mythology of good health; bourbon, for people who actually like booze; cucumbers, lavender and hibiscus, especially in cocktails; upscale food courts; umami along with sparing use of miso; sangria with new twists; peppadew; fancy poutine, a Canadian calorie bomb, could have a US trend life of a year; macarons, not macaroons; whoopee pie; Korean spicing and condiments; pesto variations; newfangled machines vending fresh fruit and vegetables; designer donuts imitating froufrou cupcakes; meatballs; burrata; tacos with global and wacky fillings; convenience store cuisine; artisan ice pops; “free from” food labels; popup restaurants; fregola, a pasta from Sardinia; Greek yogurt; ever-larger “snacks” and multiple snacks replacing meals; meatless Mondays; reinvented grits and down-home Southern cooking; and isn’t anyone else tired of black kale?

BUZZCONCEPTS for Late 2011 and 2012

  • The “new” sodas ~ less carbonation, fruit-based flavors, and a blend of Stevia and sugar.
  • Vitamin D and milk ~ the comeback kids.
  • Chefs in schools ~ chefs working with school districts to enhance school menus.
  • Moonshine ~ it’s going legit, expect to see artisanal and exotic flavors like bacon, mango chili, and peanut butter.
  • Cupuacu fruit ~ a “fad” Brazilian superfruit that’s high in antioxidants (shhh ~ our US berries and fruits are just as high!)
  • Discomfort food ~ we as a nation are going to make a concerted effort to try new foods and eat “out of our comfort zone” (check out some of the “Odder Trends” and you’ll see what I mean!)
  • Nutmeg ~ the newly crowned king of aphrodisiacs…Yes, please!
  • Sweet potato fries ~ extremely nutritious and anti-oxidant rich, they’re taking over the French Fry monopoly from plain old Idaho spuds.
  • Simplified ingredient statements ~ food and beverage statements will be briefer in length and more concise in language…and a bit less misleading.
  • Ethnic inspired breakfast items ~ think Asian-inspired syrups, coconut milk pancakes, chorizo scrambled eggs.
  • Bite-size desserts ~ size isn’t everything, plus these are great to order and share.
  • Canning ~ canning, pickling, preserving foods will become more and more popular, in part due to the economy, health, and food safety.
  • Menus with more variety ~ to keep patrons from getting bored, more and more establishments are bringing in flavors and recipes from around the word to spice things up.
  • Value dining ~ Two-fer specials reign supreme ~ two entrees, an appetizer, and a salad or dessert to split with your dining companion for only $20.
  • Convenience store upgrading ~ Convenience stores will continue to move in on restaurant territory by increasing their food offerings.

…And The Most Bizarre Future Trend Award Goes to…


“Where’s the beef?” The catch phrase that ruled the 1980s may soon have an answer: “It’s growing in a test tube.”

Dutch scientists estimate that they’re about one year away from developing the world’s first “test-tube hamburger” made with ground beef grown from stem cells ~ and they’re looking for someone brave enough to try it.

“We are trying to prove to the world we can make a product out of this, and we need a courageous person who is willing to be the first to taste it,” Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University, who is spearheading the project, told the Daily Mail. “If no one comes forward then it might be me.”

Yup, it just might.

Post, who has previously grown pork in the lab, says this kind of scientifically-engineered meat, referred to as in vitro meat, will be essential as the world’s population increases and puts more pressure on existing farming and ranching practices. Global meat consumption is expected to double by 2050.

“I think [in vitro meat] will be the only choice left,” Post told Scientific American. “I’m very bold about this. I don’t see any way you could still rely on old-fashioned livestock in the coming decades.”

To grow the bionic burger, scientists will extract approximately 10,000 stem cells from the tissue of a healthy cow. These cells will then grow in the lab, multiplying by more than a billion times, eventually producing muscle tissue similar to the sample taken from the original cow. The tissue will then be ground and pressed into hamburger patties.

One of the challenges is to create meat that resembles what today’s consumers are accustomed to eating. Post’s previous attempts at growing pork yielded a texture that he compared to a squishy scallop, the result of its having less protein content than naturally raised meat.

But if they can accurately reproduce the taste and texture of conventional cuts of meat, Post and his team believe they can get the public on board.

“When we are eating a hamburger we don’t think, ‘I’m eating a dead cow,'” one of Post’s colleagues told the Daily Mail. “And when people are already far from what they eat, it’s not too hard to see them accepting cultured meat.”

So what do you think? Would you be willing to grill up a test tube burger next July 4th?

Thanks to