Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
For the final article of the year I have decided to write on food trends and what to look for in the grocery store and restaurants.
There is no question that for many the dinner table looks quite different than it did just a few years ago or when I was growing up. There are often multiple smart phones next to the fork as technology is playing more of a role in our eating patterns. At each plate there might be a different meal. The kids gluten- and nut-free, mom now vegetarian, and dad paleo. Google search allows us to learn more about foods and how to prepare them. There is much more interest in staying healthy. People are living longer and thus more interested in staying and eating right. To eat right, people are going online to raise their food awareness and make more informed choices.
I researched food trends from 2006 to the current day. In 2006, according to the National Restaurant Association, the top five food trends were bite-sized desserts, locally grown produce, organic produce, flatbreads and bottled water. Currently the trends are local sourcing, gluten-free cuisine, environmental sustainability, ethnic cuisines and nutrition.
Keeping it local, I reached out to Chef Michael Higgins, chef/owner of one of our favorite Springfield restaurants, Maldaner’s. He in turn contacted his sister Kim who currently teaches hotel management at San Francisco Community College and prior to that managed hotels. Michael believes Springfield is still a rather conservative community when it comes to dining choices. He is fortunate that besides locals dining at his restaurant, there are a number of tourists and many associated with state government or associations, primarily from the Chicago area. His customers are looking for “traditional comfort foods” and still like their steak. That is what he serves.
Kim, on the other hand, in San Francisco, believes the restaurant industry is in “flux.” A major challenge for restaurants is increasing costs primarily for food and labor. As a result many restaurants are reducing the size of their portions (Michael says he hears complaints about this when his regulars dine while traveling) and adding service charges rather than a tip being imposed. Kim sees more “prix fixe” dinners and reduced selections on menus in an attempt to reduce costs.
Kim and Michael are concerned about service in general and customer expectations. They believe if the norm becomes to accept lesser service standards, then the standard will be reduced accordingly. Another concern is that as the well-known chefs retire, will the next generation of chefs maintain today’s higher standards? Chef Higgins tries to keep a balance of customers: millennials, and my generation-slightly older. He does this by providing consistently high quality food and service.
Now for some trends. I went to Google and found what I thought were some interesting ones. First some quick ones.
- Men in the aisles Now that I am semi-retired I see this first hand. Men who are retired and single male households are on the rise and according to one study they account for 43 percent of primary shopping, and 46 percent assist with food preparation (Carol says I need to do more.) The same study reports that men are primarily concerned about sodium, sugar content, calories, total fat and cholesterol.
- Health Conscious-Functional Foods- Clean Labels Big trend here. Basically we are trying to be health conscious and more informed about what we eat. What is in the product? What are all those chemicals and how do they impact my body? One in 110 new products launched last year had an “organic” claim. We are looking for products (clean labels) with no hormones or antibiotics, and food manufacturers are listening. We want ingredients that are recognizable. Interest in fresh foods is increasing. Even Kellogg’s is eliminating artificial colors from their Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks.
Manufacturers know that consumers today have resources at their fingertips that make it easy to learn about the food we eat. Functional foods is another descriptor of which we will be seeing more. They are foods that have a potentially positive effect on our health. Supporters of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease. One familiar example of a functional food is oatmeal because it contains soluble fiber that may help lower cholesterol levels.
- Superfoods Two new superfoods to watch for are moringa and jackfruit. I have never been a big fan of kale and thus was interested to read about a new super green: moringa. The leaves of the moringa tree grow in Haiti, parts of Latin American and Africa. The leaves contain high levels of calcium, potassium and protein as well as vitamins A,B,C, D and E. Because the trees can grow in both tropical and temperate climates and produce leaves year-round, they can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried without losing their nutritional content. The futurists tells us that moringa will become an attractive additive. Shipping fresh leaves from so far away results in spoilage, so currently it is not commercially available in the U.S. It is currently being sold as a powder and used in energy bars and teas available from Target and Amazon. As awareness grows we may expect to see commercial planting in the U.S.
Jackfruit, some say, will be the new alternative to meat. We are reducing our meat intake and switching to vegetables, just like Mom told us to do so. The search is on for new meat alternatives, and tofu for many has lost its trendiness. The goal is to find alternatives that have the texture and taste more like meat. Jackfruit is a large fruit with a spiky outer shell and comes from trees mostly grown in South America and Southeast Asia, making its way to us. The inner flesh, somewhat like a pear when raw, develops a savory flavor when cooked.
- Turmeric Talk about trends, I could not believe how popular the spice turmeric has become. I always thought of it as a yellow powder in the traditional McCormick spice jar and primarily used it for Asian-style cooking. Google reports that is it the number one rising star among food trends. It appears that turmeric is amazing and there is a lot of good science to prove it. I am not a doctor and did not stay in a Holiday Inn but the articles indicate that turmeric can help people with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and is a powerful antioxidant. Look for fresh turmeric and try grating some on top of curry or even blend into your smoothie.
2017 will be here soon and I look forward to writing future articles that are food and travel related. Our holiday Chanukah almost always falls in the same month as Christmas, but this year, for the first time I can remember, Chanukah actually starts Dec. 24, coinciding with Christmas Eve and ends eight days later on New Year’s Day.
Springfield “foodie” Gloria Schwartz has kindly provided us a recipe from her collection. My thanks to Gloria, and Chef Higgins plus his sister Kim, for their kind assistance with this article. Carol and I wish everyone a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.
TRADITIONAL POTATO LATKE
Makes about 6-8 (more if they are smaller)
*1 ¼ lb. russet baking potatoes
*1 medium onion
*1 large egg
*1 ½ tsp. baking powder
*1 tsp. salt
*Pepper to taste
* 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
Oil for frying (neutral salad oil such as canola, corn)
Side dishes usually served with the latkes: applesauce and/or sour cream.
Peel the potatoes and place in a large bowl of cold water while you are working on the recipe.
Using a food processor fitted with a coarse grating disk, grate the potatoes and onion. Use large pieces for another use.
Transfer the mixture to a clean dish towel and squeeze out any excess liquid, then transfer to a large bowl. Liquid in the mixture will make the heated oil sputter.
Stir in the flour, egg, salt, pepper and the baking powder and mix well.
In a large skillet, heat about ¼” salad oil until hot but not smoking. Don’t rush this step or the cold oil will be absorbed by the potatoes.
Working in batches, drop 3 tablespoon scoops of the batter into the pan about 2 inches apart. Using a spatula, gently flatten the batter into disks. Cook, turning once, until browned and crisp on both sides, about 6-8 minutes. (lower the heat a bit if the latkes darken too quickly.) Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.
Or to make them ahead—store them between paper towels at room temperature. Just before eating, preheat oven to 450F. Place a cooling rack over a cookie sheet (if you don’t have a rack, just preheat the sheet for 5 minutes).
Arrange latkes about an inch part on the rack or hot cookie sheet. Pop them in the oven and bake 10 minutes or until heated through and crispy.
Recipe collected by Gloria Schwartz