By Gillie Houston,
New year, new trends. As 2015 draws to a close, we’ve taken a look at all of the foods and restaurant trends we’ll be seeing a lot of next year. From fresh takes on bright, healthful fare to exotic Pacific and Asian influences, these are the things that will be dominating the food scene — and your diet — in 2016.
Even if you’ve never personally tried poke, chances are you’ve heard of it. This traditional Hawaiian salad made up of raw fish, seasonings, sauce, fruits, and vegetables has taken the West Coast by storm this year, and is primed to sweep the rest of the country in 2016. As many Americans start to favor fresh and healthy foods instead of heavier dishes, poke is sure to fulfill that dietary need.
During the average lunchtime at trendy Los Angeles spot Sweetfin Poke, customers stretch out the door of the restaurant awaiting their fast and fresh creations. Their signature BYOB (Build Your Own Bowl) option gives eaters the chance to be creative. Protein choices range from Spicy Yuzu Salmon to Kale Snapper to Shiitake Chile Tofu, and are dressed up on rice or salad with the toppings and sauces of your choice, from avocado and mango to creamy Togarashi sauce. It’s like Chipotle — but fishier — and it’s about to blow up in a big way.
The no-waste movement got a huge bump in 2015, thanks in large part to activist chefs who have made no-waste their new primary cause, and are churning out innovative menus to prove it. Next year will be the year that more and more kitchens and restaurants declare themselves waste-free, whether that be motivated by genuine food waste concerns or a desire to not miss out on the next big thing. By embracing “ugly” and expired foods and putting an emphasis on reinventing leftovers, restaurants and consumers will be turning their focus to minimizing excess.
This movement’s transformative moment could be traced to Dan Barber, the Blue Hill at Stone Barns chef who made splashy headlines this year with his wastED pop-up, which offered gourmet dishes made completely of typically discarded ingredients, such as vegetable pulp and misshapen pasta. Other chefs have since taken an active stance against food waste, including Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, who recently partnered with Hidden Valley to give demonstrations on how to cook with these normally wasted ingredients.
Bread is back and better than ever. (Photo: Clinton Hussey/Corbis)
The Return of Bread
Bread’s gotten a bad rap for years, as the no-carb Atkins diet fad gave way to the gluten-free mega-movement, leaving this good old yeasty dietary standby in the lurch. However, bread is about to get a big revival as authentic, ancient grain-containing loaves are suddenly in style again. Though the gluten-free craze isn’t going anywhere this year, as bread is made with healthier, more wholesome ingredients, many will be renewing their allegiance to the flour-based goods.
Trendy menu items like artisan toasts, bagels and babka, and gourmet pizzas and flatbreads have also given the bread renaissance a boost, and have sparked a revitalized investment in bread by chefs and restaurants. Even our Cookbook of the Year, Hot Bread Kitchen, focused on the art of artisanal bread baking and the charitable possibilities behind it. So, bread lovers, rejoice! 2016 is going to be your year.
This canned pantry staple you probably flinchingly remember from your childhood is suddenly hot again, thanks to the rise in Hawaiian-style cuisine, and many chefs’ unique incorporation of it in their menus. This Pacific staple has gotten a chic upgrade due to Spam Masubi, a sushi-like dish made by layering Spam on sushi rice with seaweed. Major chefs are also utilizing the meat in new (and expensive) ways. John Daley, head chef of the upscale New York Sushi Ko, often includes the tinned meat in his highbrow $150 tasting menu.
At Manila Social Club, a trendy Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn, Spam “fries” — fried cubes of spam — are served cheekily in the can from which they originally came, as an homage to this comfort food that many Filipinos grew up with. Whether you’re ready to embrace Spam or not, retro dishes are also going to be a big trend in 2016, and it doesn’t get more retro than this loaf of metal-encased mystery meat.
Artisan Ice Cream
Vanilla? Boring. Chocolate? Snooze. All right, all right — though these venerable ice cream flavors aren’t going away any time soon, funky twists on the classic creamy dessert are on the rise. Artisan ice cream makers like Ohio’s Jeni’s Ice Creams and New York’s Ample Hills have built devoted fan followings, thanks in no small part to their unique, seasonal flavors. Creameries are pushing the limit with wild creations that appeal to adventurous eaters and food bloggers alike — from Sriracha to Summer Corn to Prosciutto.
Some are walking the wild side with their wacky creations, including New York-based Ice and Vice, which has created sundaes like the Bacon Egg and Cheese — with salted caramel bacon butter ice cream, egg yolk custard, cheddar whipped cream, and spicy maple syrup on a bacon-fat brioche. Others are redefining what ice cream is altogether. Taiwanese shaved snow cream is an up-and-coming trend, and there was no escaping the rolled ice cream mania this summer. Any way you scoop it, funky, fancy, and fantastic flavors are here and ready to dominate the cream scene.
Kale is out, and seaweed is in. After many years of kale dominating the leafy vegetable world, many are calling seaweed the new go-to green. Not only is it environmentally friendly and plentiful, but seaweed is also packed with fiber, antioxidants, iodine, and good fats, making it the new darling of the health world. Add to that America’s fixation with healthy snacks — including the uber-popular packaged seaweed strips — and you have the recipe for a new green superstar.
According to the Specialty Food Association’s 2016 Trend Forecast, seaweed is “set to explode thanks to its sustainability angle and umami appeal.” And if that weren’t enough, consumers may soon be munching away on a new strain of bacon-flavored seaweed for breakfast. A vegetable that tastes like bacon? Sign us up.
Ube doughnuts from the Manila Social Club in New York show off the trendy purple treat. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
There’s a good chance you’ve never tasted, or perhaps even heard of, ube before — but that’s about to change. Filipino cuisine is hot right now, and perhaps its best known and most instantly recognizable ingredient is this vibrant purple yam, which will be found all over in 2016. Look for ube doughnuts, ice cream, and cheesecake because these purple sweets are about to begin a meteoric rise through the American food landscape.
West Coast hot spots like Cafe 86 have already embraced the vegetable, which gives food a fun, natural shock of violet color, and soon this trend will expand as people all over embrace this Southeast Asian specialty.
Respected restaurateur Danny Meyer, the man behind Shake Shack, set the no-tip precedent earlier this year when he announced he’d be eliminating tipping in all 13 of his New York restaurants. “Fundamentally, the cost of going out to a fine-dining restaurant is false,” Meyer said in his November announcement. This change, which will mean higher menu prices and higher wages for restaurant workers, is all but guaranteed to set off a no-tip wave across the country. This trend comes in partial response to the vocal national outcry to raise the minimum wage in fast food spots and restaurants.
“I think that because it is Danny Meyer and he is considered a leader in the restaurant industry, that a lot of people are going to look at this move,” New York State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleischut says. The first national chain to mirror Meyer was Joe’s Crab Shack, with many more chains and independently owned eateries likely to follow as we move into next year.
This fermented vegetable grain bowl from L.A. cafe Gjusta is just one example of how fermentation is taking over. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
The funky, earthy flavors of fermentation will be big this year, as people stock up on artisan pickles and pile kimchi on just about everything, from sandwiches to savory pancakes. In addition to lending dishes a unique, acidic flavor, eating fermented foods hugely benefits the health of your gut. When food is fermented, the sugars and carbohydrates are broken down by healthy bacteria, resulting in a pungent burst of flavor. That’s why foodies and nutritionists alike are jumping on the fermentation bandwagon.
At healthful Los Angeles hot spots like Gjusta and Sqirl, fermented veggies and grains take center stage, recognizable instantly by their vinegary funk. Even the juicing guru behind L.A.’s popular Moon Juice has said that sauerkraut is sexy, as the probiotic-rich food tastes good and is good for you.
Latkes, a traditional Jewish pancake, have become cool again, thanks to a Jewish food revival. (Photo: Samantha Linsell/the food passionates/Corbis)
New Jewish Cuisine
Believe it or not, the food that graced the kitchen of countless Jewish grandmothers is suddenly the chicest new, old cuisine. If you’ve noticed bagels, lox, challah, and potato pancakes dominating your Instagram feed lately, you’re not alone. This old-school cuisine is suddenly trendy, so get your schmear ready. This revival comes in part because of many chefs’ exploration of heritage cuisine as an effort to get back to their roots. “Jewish cooking has had a tendency to focus on the past,” wrote Leah Koenig in the introduction to her book Modern Jewish Cooking, but “we are in the midst of an exciting sea change.”
Chef Alon Shaya has embraced modern Israeli cooking at his critically acclaimed New Orleans restaurant, Shaya, which was recently named the best new restaurant in America by Esquire magazine. Meanwhile, buzzy New York hot spots like Russ & Daughters and Sadelle’s make an art form out of smoked fish and bagel platters, the likes of which Jewish and non-Jewish New Yorkers alike wait hours to taste.
Fast-casual Indian spot Inday is one of many new businesses following in Chipotle’s healthy, non-GMO path. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
Healthy Fast Food
Despite Chipotle’s recent E. coli woes, there’s no doubt that the fresh, GMO-free chain is setting the precedent when it comes to fast food across America. As more consumers seek out healthy dishes and denounce artificial ingredients, the healthification of fast food has arrived fast and furious. According to Technomic’s 2014 “The Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report,” 58 percent of consumers say it’s important to pay attention to nutrition when it comes to their dining out choices. So while old-school fast food joints will scramble to make their menus healthier in 2016, a barrage of new operations will open up, offering fast but high-quality fare.
Panera Bread made the commitment earlier this year to remove all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives from its menus by the end of 2016, and many other chains are likely to follow. In addition to cutting calories and artificial ingredients, just about everyone is switching to cage-free eggs this year, as the pressure to produce healthy and humane ingredients intensifies.
Veggies Take Center Stage
Move over, meat! Now, more than ever, vegetables are taking on the starring roles on many restaurant menus, as chefs are challenging themselves to create tasty, hearty entrees from plants alone. High meat prices, fears over hormones, health concerns, and even processed-meat cancer scares have made vegetable-centric restaurants the new hot commodity in the food world.
However, if you think these “vegetable-forward” spots are just for the vegetarians of the world, you’re wrong. At Al’s Place in San Francisco, recently named Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant in America, meat is primarily listed under side dishes, while complex dishes like sunchoke curry with black lime, cod, and grapefruit and brined and fermented french fries with smoked applesauce lead the menu. Similarly, at Brooklyn’s Semilla, which also made Bon App’s “Hot 10” this year, hardly any meat is included in its seasonal tasting menus, letting innovative veggie creations like morels stuffed with ramp bread pudding be the centerpieces.
Move over, juice bars. Acai is the new hip health trend. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
Listen, juice bars, you had a good run, but there’s a new health food trend taking the morning by storm (and afternoon … and evening). Though acai has been around for a while, only recently has it become the health food du jour. The purple superfruit’s popularity has been boosted no doubt by the appearance of its vibrant, spoonable bowls, making it a photogenic favorite of health-focused food Instagrammers everywhere.
The trendy fruit has certainly experienced ups and downs since brought to America by the No. 1 acai distribution company in the world, Sambazon. After a bout of online scams and schemes looking to cash in on acai’s popularity, the berry got somewhat of a malicious rep. But thanks to the popularity of acai bowls, the antioxidant and healthy fat-rich fruit is back and buzzier than ever.
Food Hall Overload
If you live in a city, chances are you’ve eaten at or at least strolled past one of the many food halls that have been popping up across America, offering gourmet fare in a food court environment. These eateries often feature upscale, high-quality-ingredient dining experiences in a laid-back setting, making them the perfect lunch spots for busy city-dwellers (especially for those of us who struggle to pick one spot to eat).
Following the lead of New York’s Eataly and Los Angeles’s Grand Central Market, dozens of food halls have popped up this year alone, including Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, Charleston’s Cigar Factory, Chicago’s Marketplace at the National, and Denver’s Avanti. Now, even ultimate culinary trendsetter Anthony Bourdain plans to open his own hall in NYC, proving that this trend is about to blow up big time.
Spicy Asian condiments like gochujang will be slathered on just about everything this year. (Photo: Topic Images/Corbis)
Out with the mustard, ketchup, and mayo and in with the spicy, funky sauces of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Spice is the name of the game in food right now, and nothing quite brings the heat as these pepper-packed pastes. And we’re not just talking Sriracha. Korean gochujang (fermented chili paste) is going to be huge in 2016, as well as Indonesian sambal oelek, and Chinese black bean sauce. Even Momofuku restaurateur and chef David Chang has gotten into the chili sauce game with his Ssam sauce. So if you’re a spice lover, get excited to find these tangy flavors on menus all over.
Pop-ups, like this one by Chef Eden Grinshpan in New York, are the biggest trend in the restaurant world right now. (Photo: Jackie Gebel via Instagram)
Don’t be surprised if every big restaurant you hear about this year is temporary. Pop-ups are chefs’ new favorite means of showing off their skills without a big commitment. Just think: Why bother with long-term leases, rent, and utilities when you could take over a kitchen for a little while, flexing your kitchen muscles, and remain new and exciting for the extent of your stay? From big-name chefs like Dan Barber to 17-year-old newcomers starting their own small businesses, these exploratory spaces have allowed culinary creators of all levels to show off their stuff.
In December alone, there were pop-ups from Southern California’s Andrew Gruel, chef at Slapfish, and TV personality and chef Eden Grinshpan, cooking modern Israeli dishes. It seemed in 2015 just about every chef was doing a pop-up somewhere, and as the success of these short-term restaurants surges, this trend is slated to only get bigger in the new year.