For a chef, making a prediction is something like creating a new dish. It's part art and science; a "feeling" combined with facts. Yet just because the calendar changes to a new year, it's not as a though we can predict an entirely new ingredient or cooking method. Rather, the culinary calendar is more of an evolution of trends and tastes.
That said, I do see several shifts in the coming year involving flavors, spices and seasonings, and ethnic cuisines.
When I'm thinking about flavors and what's coming, I think of Millennials and the "iGeneration." They are the tastemakers of the family and in our greater community. If my kids are any example, the trend is toward sour. They love candy that's so sour it makes my toes curl. If I take that into cuisine, I think sour flavor is coming to the forefront. One way we get sour flavors is through fermentation and we continue to be interested in fermented flavors.
I personally like where this is going because we're now talking about umami, or the fifth taste. Chefs and food companies can be more successful by adding more complexity, more sophistication or flavor perceptions to a dish. In today's environment, an ingredient like sea salt has become the cost of entry and we're looking to add even greater depth. I believe in adding a "mystery" flavor to make something memorable. It's the one ingredient in Dr. Pepper, for example, that gives it such a distinctive taste—and yet you can't quite put your finger on it.
Spices, Seasonings, Sauces
Talking about complexity and mystery takes me to gochujang. It has fermented flavor and it has heat but it's not too spicy. I like some elements of heat. This brings less heat than sriracha and is something you can use liberally in a barbecue sauce (Asian or not), for example. You can accomplish something that guests and customers will talk about. It's just one of those ingredients you wouldn't think might fit in lots of dishes—but it does.
Harissa is a little bit like that as well in that it is very versatile. What's interesting too is that there's no single standard of identity for this North African sauce. It's like you might talk about curry and the fact that my mom's might be different than yours. All harissas have a basic peppery, spice tomato style profile but they all can vary depending on personal taste. I've just been involved with a few projects where we added harissa to vegetables or a sauce to introduce distinctively different tastes.
What's appealing about Korean cuisine is that it offers flavors both familiar and unexpected to the American palate. It's the combination of sweet, spicy and fruity ingredients that make the flavor profile interesting—and it's anchored by the grill, which is a cooking method Americans are confident utilizing.
While Korea presents perhaps the last big untapped "macro" cuisine, there's also a trend toward micro cuisine tastes. At the Culinary Institute of America's 2017 Worlds of Flavor conference, I saw Chef Digby Stridiron of balter in St. Croix. He's exploring micro cuisines that resonate with people. In addition to capturing the culinary traditions of the Caribbean, I know he connects dishes to his ancestral ties with Africa and the West Indies. Another example is Chef JJ Johnson of The Cecil and Minton's in Harlem. Like Digby, JJ combines influences from unexpected places—such as Southeast Asian with Southeast American—all with soul food sensibility.
Finally, I'll mention something else that I'll call "Japanese Pub." You already have these restaurants in Los Angeles and New York City. Everybody drinks beer and we’re talking about food that tastes good with beer. We're talking about things like chicken wings and other hand-held items. There's a broad spectrum of Japanese seasonings—such as togarashi or furikake—that add distinctive new flavors to fries and other items.
Originally appeared in the December, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as World on a Plate.