Katz believes "Salt is going to be a buzzword this year -- from calls for sodium reduction to a resurgence of premium salts. Chefs can elevate a dish's value proposition by using premium finishing salts, like Hawaiian black lava, Himalayan pink… I'm also seeing an artisanal presentation of finishing salts."
Unusual Pairings is also a hot trend, according to Katz. "I think the constant discovery of new ingredients is going to drive more exotic flavor combinations," she says. "We're familiar with the balance of sweet, salty, sour and bitter, but now we're going to see more attention paid to that at all levels in foodservice. Take caramel, for instance. You have bitter and sweet. Add a squeeze of lemon to make it better. Add a pinch of salt to make it even better. Now you're stimulating all those places on the tongue. I think we're going to see more of that 'unusual' flavor building on menus -- not unusual to chefs, but maybe out of the ordinary for average diners."
Restaurant/Market Combinations -- "The restaurant/market combination is going to gain traction this year," says Barry Miles, corporate executive chef. "Everyone wants to know, 'How can I make my life a little easier?' Restaurants that offer a take-out market fill that big need. They also add to the whole experiential, foodie thing: Eat a nice piece of fish at the restaurant, see the prep cook in the market going to town on that fish, and then maybe take home something from their deli. It speaks to the fresh-less-processed trend that we're seeing, too."
Mills points to Healthier Kids' Menus as another trend to watch. "We'll still see kids' menus stacked with pizzas, chicken nuggets and the other standbys, but we're going to see more balance, and more better-for-you options," he explains. "The challenge is making those healthier options appealing to kids. If chefs keep the dishes pretty simple -- a chicken skewer with brown rice, for instance, then add a few veggies. Develop flavor with dressing. Throw them a little bit of a curve ball, but keep it familiar."
Food as Experience -- "Diners want to be immersed in food culture and experience," points out Freeman Moser III, senior executive chef. "Street food and pop-ups are propelling this trend forward -- moving it way beyond the phenomenon of fajitas sizzling on a hot plate in front of the customer. Now, we see open kitchens highlighting food prep, framing it like a ballet. And individual plate presentation is being elevated to dinner theatre, perhaps serving a street-food-inspired appetizer on a newspaper to give the dish a sense of place. Creative and theatrical -- that's where I think food presentation is going this year. Delivering memorable food experiences is what will set chefs apart."
Better better-for-you -- "We're going to see more restaurants paying attention to their better-for-you options," says Kira Smith, corporate chef. "They're not only going to add more dishes, but also really pay attention to flavor. Statistics tell us that diners are trying to eat healthier, and that they think foodservice could do a better job of providing healthier options. I view that as a missed traffic opportunity. Look at the influencers—menu labeling, an aging population…even the younger generation is showing mindfulness around healthy living. But the food has to taste good! Today's diners demand it."