I constantly try to deny the millennial stereotypes, but when it comes to menu trends—especially those I’m excited about—I fall right into those generational traps. Ethnic and spicy get me salivating. I’m okay spending more on artisanal and house-made products. And, importantly, I often want my food and drinks to be more than just sustenance—I want them to be part of some kind of dining experience. That said, I’m also anti-pretentious food (I guess that more casual vibe also is pretty millennial—dang!).
When poring over the list of trends predicted by more than 1,600 chefs in the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot survey, there were a few that got me really excited about what menus might include a few months down the line. Others, I’m crossing my fingers they fall by the wayside.
1. Artisan butchery
Granted, this category seems to be a catch-all for all things cool with meat. But it’s one that this millennial can get behind. I understand the drive toward a more plant-balanced diet, but as a Midwest-bred girl, I’m not going vegan anytime soon. So more chefs butchering meat in house, finding new ways to make less-popular cuts tasty and create their own sausages and other cured meats in-house is a great move forward. Plus, if more chefs butcher in-house, that likely means finding uses for the whole animal, thus less waste.
2. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items
As someone who loves the morning meal but has no interest in sweet treats for breakfast, inspiration from ethnic fare sounds like an ideal way to move past the omelet. In addition to my love of savory options for every mealpart, I’m looking for breakfast to serve as fuel … which usually means a protein-rich dish. Whether it’s chorizo-packed chilaquiles or ramen with a soft-cooked egg, these dishes pack punches on both the flavor and protein fronts. And hey, if it’s some kind of portable bowl or wrap (such as a Mediterranean-inspired quinoa bowl), even better.
3. Onsite barrel-aged drinks
Not only does onsite barrel aging add a new layer to the batch-cocktail trend, it creates an interesting appeal for repeat guests. Chef Daniel Patterson’s Plum Bar in Oakland, Calif., keeps a batch cocktail in a large barrel behind the bar. It takes quite awhile for guests to drain that sucker, so as it ages over the weeks, the flavor of the cocktail changes. As a millennial, it’s all about the experience. And for regulars, that creates quite the experience—they get to taste and even understand how flavors change and develop with time. It doesn’t hurt as a sales tactic, either. Guests come back on more than one occasion to try that specific cocktail over time.
4. House-brewed beer
Not so much
Unless you are a brewpub or have a trained brew master on staff, why not leave craft brewing to the experts? By now, pretty much every city has a barrage of really good local beer options. Trying to one-up the experts by making your own house-brewed beer typically results in ale that’s okay at best. Is it worth the “brewed in house” menu description if you’re only going to get people to order one before switching to the good stuff?
5. Ethnic fusion cuisine
Not so much
At the recent reThink Food conference at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif., Stuart Brioza, chef-proprietor of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, summed up fusion cuisine perfectly as “confusion cuisine.” On par with my millennial ways, I do love ethnic fare. And yes, the U.S. is a melting pot of different ethnicities, so an array of influences may likely creep into a chef’s influences. But to intentionally mash up two cuisines often just muddles the delicious complexity of one specific region’s food, doing a disservice to both semi-represented food spheres.
6. Seafood charcuterie
Not so much
Charcuterie is one of my favorite starters or shared plates. I could eat seafood for almost every meal. But combined, it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried it twice (even once at a Michelin starred restaurant). It’s just weird. Whitefish rillettes just don’t work as well as pork; beef is much better suited to carpaccio than octopus ever will be; multifish terrines are just funky. Maybe I’m biased because, unlike the growing number of pescetarians, I do eat meat on a regular basis, but I’d say save the raw fish for sushi and the cured fish for bagels (and savory breakfast bowls—we’ve heard smoked fish in savory oatmeal might become a thing … fingers crossed!).