CHICAGO — When it comes to that ever-curious species, the human consumer, peering through crystal balls is a long-practiced and practically irresistible art. Especially when we're entering a new year, and we're itching to know what the days ahead might bring.
In the food department, we're eager to know what we might find on our plates, in grocery aisles and on the pages of all the foodie slicks that slide through the mail slot.
For the latest round of prognostications, the 2011 edition, we turned to trend-spotters and food forecasters, coast to coast. We checked in with people whose job it is to read as many as 56 newspapers a day, 38 magazines a month. People who each day track 15 governments and U.S. government agencies (a whole alphabet soup, from USDA and FDA to CDC and FTC).
One prognosticator, Ann Mack, a journalist turned director of trend-spotting for JWT, a global marketing communicator, says her New York City apartment is a "firetrap" with all the periodicals she stuffs in every available inch of real estate.
Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc., who first trained as a toxicologist with the FBI and Scotland Yard, and later became a chef and then a dietitian, says it's her job to "read patterns that emerge out of chaos" and come up with what'll be sizzlin' hot just around the bend.
Clark Wolf, the foodie guru who proudly claims that he's the one who brought that chichi leaf, arugula, to northern California back in 1980, was another of our crystal-ball readers. And Marian Salzman, the trend-spotter who coined the term "metrosexual," rounded out the bunch.
For the last few years we've been "scared to death" by the economic recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, says Badaracco, but we are emerging from the shadows ever so gingerly and trying adventures in the food department, seeking value over frugality and finding comfort in foods with history (from brand names we grew up with to knowing who raised our bacon). Resilience, not retrenchment, is the new buzz. And a demitasse of luxury is back in vogue.
Here's the trend-watchers' dispatch from the future:
No matter which name you pin to it, it's all still big, big, big. Comfort food, alas (or at last, depending on your penchant for endless mac ‘n' cheese), has been shoved aside for all things artisanal. We see it in everything from artisanal rum to heritage pigs. Foraging, we're told, is "the extreme local." And, in this vintage department, we have the heirloom apple getting the treatment recently given to the tomato. Ones to watch for are Cornish gilliflower, with a smell reminiscent of clove, and strawberry chenango, of roses.
Here we see brigadeiro, the national chocolate candy of Brazil. There's already an in-home delivery service in Manhattan, and a new brigadeiro shop in St. Paul, Minn. The New Nordic cuisine is charged by Rene Redzepi, the grand forager and chef of Noma in Copenhagen, although we won't be guzzling elderberries or puffin eggs here. As we continue to look for nutritional booster packs, matcha, the powdered green tea from Japan, will add antioxidants to whatever we mix it into, and up our caffeine intake, while we're at it.
MORE MUSCLE DRINKS
Drinks with things that build muscle will grow as baby boomers learn that's one way around joint aches.
SCHOOL LUNCHROOMS GET SMARTER
More nutritious choices at schools. JWT's Mack predicts cues to steer kids clear of higher-calorie choices.
Wolf says the meats we'll be roasting will be locally, not industrially, raised. Brace yourself, we'll be experimenting with head-to-tail cooking.
VEGETABLES GET THEIR DUE
Taking a star turn in the year to come: kale, fennel, heirloom anything.
Smoke, international salts, regional honey, tea, cardamom, exotic garlic (black garlic), flowers and turmeric.
PUSHED FROM THE KITCHEN
Rock star chefs will be bumped by rock star butchers and humble gourmets (the ordinary Joe down the block who cooks a mean fried chicken).
With Americans ever keen on bumping up our nutrient intake, the culinary cocktail is on the rise. Also, look for beer sommeliers and nanobreweries, the micro-microbrewers.
Portions on the plate will be shrinking, from protein dwarfed by piles of vegetables to restaurants giving a wee bit of a taste of this or that.
THE COMMUNAL TABLE
Now it's a must in any restaurant; "like the high chair, you've got to have it," Wolf says. "Americans are frightfully independent yet drawn together, community seekers."
RANDOM HOT SPOTS
Pie shoving out cupcakes; meatless Mondays; hot dogs (back again?). Food trucks are going nowhere. And "Mad Men" cocktails give a nod to the rising retro star, and remind us that we have room again for a splash of luxury.