CHICAGO — When it comes to that ever-curious species, the human consumer, peering through crystal balls is a long-practiced and almost irresistible art.
In the food department, we're eager to know what we might find on our plates, in grocery aisles and on the pages of all the foodie slicks that slide through the mail slot.
For the 2011 edition of prognostications, we turned to trend-spotters and food forecasters coast to coast. Our prognosticators include: Ann Mack, a journalist turned director of trend-spotting for JWT, a global marketing communicator; Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc., who first trained as a toxicologist with the FBI and Scotland Yard; Clark Wolf, the foodie guru who proudly claims he's the one who brought arugula to Northern California in 1980, and Marian Salzman, the trend-spotter who coined the term metrosexual.
For the last few years, we've been "scared to death" by the economic recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Badaracco says, but we are emerging gingerly from the shadows, seeking value over frugality and finding comfort in foods with history (from brand names we grew up with to knowing who raised our bacon). Resilience, not retrenchment, is the new buzz. And a demitasse of luxury is back in vogue.
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Here's the trend-watchers' dispatch from the future:
Artisanal/heritage/heirloom/local: No matter what you call it, it's all big, big, big. Comfort food, alas (or at last, depending on your penchant for mac 'n' cheese), has been shoved aside for all things artisanal. We see it in artisanal rum and heritage pigs. Foraging, we're told, is "the extreme local." And, in the vintage department, we have the heirloom apple getting the treatment recently given to the tomato. Ones to watch for are Cornish gilliflower, with a smell reminiscent of clove, and strawberry chenango, with a hint of roses.
World watching: Here we see brigadeiro, the national chocolate candy of Brazil. There's already an in-home delivery service in Manhattan and a brigadeiro shop in St. Paul, Minn. The New Nordic cuisine is charged by Rene Redzepi, the grand forager and chef of Noma in Copenhagen, although we won't be eating elderberries or puffin eggs here. As we continue to look for nutritional booster packs, matcha, the powdered green tea from Japan, will add antioxidants to whatever we mix it into and raise our caffeine intake.
More muscle drinks: Drinks with things that build muscle will grow as baby boomers learn that that's one way around joint aches.
School lunchrooms get smarter: More nutritious choices at schools. JWT's Mack predicts cues to steer kids clear of higher-calorie choices.
Roasted anything: Wolf says the meats we'll be roasting will be locally, not industrially, raised. Brace yourself, we'll be experimenting with head-to-tail cooking.
Vegetables get their due: Taking a star turn in the year to come: kale, fennel, heirloom anything.
Flavorings: Smoke, international salts, regional honey, tea, cardamom, exotic garlic (black garlic), flowers and turmeric.
Pushed from the kitchen: Rock star chefs will be bumped by rock star butchers and humble gourmets (the ordinary Joe down the block who cooks a mean fried chicken).
Drinks department: With Americans ever keen on bumping up our nutrient intake, the culinary cocktail is on the rise. Also, look for beer sommeliers and nanobreweries, the micro-microbrewers.
Downsizing: Plate portions will shrink, from protein dwarfed by piles of vegetables to restaurants giving a wee bit of a taste of this or that.
The communal table: Now it's a must in any restaurant — "like the high chair, you've got to have it," Wolf says. "Americans are frightfully independent yet drawn together, community seekers."
Random hot spots: Pie shoving out cupcakes; meatless Mondays; hot dogs (back again?). Food trucks are going nowhere. And Mad Men cocktails give a nod to the rising retro star, and remind us we have room again for a splash of luxury.