BELLEVUE, Wash. — Duck fat, high-brow mac and cheese, mobile espresso, underground take-out and pies on a stick are changing the culinary scene across the country, Hartman Group researchers have found.
“These are things that could have long-range effects on our food culture,” Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group, told SN.
She added that cooking techniques are changing and, in their flexibility, will probably be long-lasting.
“It's not fusion cuisine, but instead, chefs are combining traditional techniques with new flavors. For example, David Chang is flavoring broth with American, smoke-cured bacon instead of with bonita flakes,” Abbott said.
“An example of fusion cuisine would be mixing Thai and Mexican cooking, with no cultural reasoning.”
What's happening now is creative, but mostly sticks to what people are used to eating. For example, macaroni and cheese is a known entity, and popular. Chefs are experimenting with a “high-brow” version, cutting it in wedges and topping it with fried onion rings. Abbott calls this an example of “applying chef techniques to traditional food.”
Vegetarians are using smoky paprika instead of bacon or other cured meats to flavor vegetables.
Another popular menu item that's getting pushed up a level is grilled cheese.
“Grilled cheese sandwiches are coming back but they're made on artisan bread, with higher-quality cheese and maybe have Granny Smith apple slices in them,” Abbott said.
“There's so much going on with chicken, too, right now. Brining, and kicking it up with global flavors.”
Also, much is made of comfort food. Traditional chicken dishes and even humble meatballs are getting a new look, Abbot pointed out.
Long thought to be unhealthy, the lycopene and olive oil in meatballs has more recently put them in the good-for-you column. Same goes for fat, at least the right kind of fat. Abbott said duck fat is one of the right kinds.
“From a health perspective, it wins. It [has a high percentage of] monounsaturated fat, and it has a high smoking point. Especially good for frying potatoes. Delicious.”
While it's somewhat expensive at butcher shops and boutique stores, duck fat goes a long way. “You need very little,” Abbott said.
She added that she sees a huge variety of vegetables becoming more mainstream and popular.
“That's because we're seeing them prepared in interesting ways. For instance, chard au gratin. Add some butter and crumbs and it tastes wonderful,” Abbott said.
Brussels sprouts are even gaining in popularity.
“The number of hits [on Hartman's website] we've had for brussels sprouts recipes is phenomenal,” Abbott said.
Nordic cuisine is hitting the headlines and so are some products from that area of the world such as cloud berries.
Some of the emerging trends Abbott talked about may not have made the headlines, but they're definitely spreading.
Take mobile coffee, for instance. It started on the West Coast. Bicyclists mounting espresso machines on their bicycles and taking the brew to their customers, such as at commuter train stops and in front of office complexes. That was probably first seen in Seattle, but now mobile espresso by bicycle is flourishing in Portland, Ore., Denver, Philadelphia and New York.
To try to keep its clients informed about such cutting-edge endeavors, the Hartman Group has just launched an online newsletter, HartmanSalt.