Every fall, the National Restaurant Association polls about 1,300 professional chefs—all members of the American Culinary Federation—to gather their predictions on what will be the hot food, beverage and culinary trends for the coming year. The NRA’s annual “What’s Hot” list was just released, highlighting the top trends from the survey responses.
Several current themes will endure into 2017, including healthful kids meals, housemade condiments and charcuterie, affordable cuts of meat, authenticity and clean menus. But to help keep you ahead of the curve, we picked out six of the other more surprising and noteworthy trends to watch.
1. Street food-inspired dishes
Food trucks and food halls have thrust global street foods into the spotlight, and consumers can’t seem to get enough. Although the ACF chefs mention kebabs and tempura as specific to this trend, they also note street foods from lesser-known cuisines, such as Salvadoran pupusas. Customers looking for authenticity may be ready to move on to items like Vietnamese crepes filled with veggies and shrimp (such as banh xeo) and Bolivian saltenas.
2. African cuisine
Menu developers will look to Africa for flavor and ingredient inspiration, especially the Northern region around Morocco and Tunisia. It’s a natural progression of Mediterranean cuisine, which has been impacting menus for several years. Technomic’s MenuMonitor points to two sauces—chermoula and harissa—as ones to watch, as well as the spices dukka and baharat.
3. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items
Breakfast continues to boom, with more restaurants offering the morning meal all day long. To keep customers engaged and appeal to adventurous millennial palates, operators are featuring global breakfast fare—both to go and to eat in. The Chinese rice porridge known as congee, Mexican tortas and Middle Eastern shakshuka (eggs cooked in a spicy mix of tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic), are poised to take off, especially as breakfast morphs into dinner. The ACF chefs also see ethnic ingredients blending into all-American favorites, such as coconut milk pancakes and chorizo scrambled eggs.
4. Ancient grains beyond quinoa
Quinoa isn’t going away, but now that consumers have gotten the message about the health benefits of whole grains, operators are experimenting with other varieties. Chia, kamut, amaranth, spelt and sorghum are just beginning to hit menus, showing up in salads, customizable grain bowls, breads, veggie burgers and desserts—most of which are gluten-free.
5. Regional signature cocktails
Hyperlocal sourcing is increasingly extending to the bar. As operators compete to differentiate their cocktail lists, they are tapping local distilleries for small-batch spirits—just as they did with craft beers—and marketing their local appeal. California-based chain Eureka Restaurants is a pioneer in this movement, crafting signatures including the Moscow mule from local artisanal spirits.
6. Produce-centric kids sides
Healthier kids menus have been on operators’ to-do lists for some time, but while clean proteins have gotten some play, vegetables and fruits still lag behind at many chains. However, Red Robin now offers cantaloupe wedges, carrots with dip and apple slices with kids meals, and Chili’s added corn, mandarin oranges and pineapple to its lineup. If the ACF chefs are right, 2017 may just be the year kids get more fruit and vegetable options.