Eating out is never the same experience from year to year. Cuisines keep reinventing themselves to ensure that loyal customers return to the same establishment again and again. Old menus are trashed, seasonal menus are crafted, and the décor is re-glamorized to keep the clientele visually entertained. A whole lot of hard work, thought and effort go into keeping the food scene fresh, lively and constantly in the news.
Of course, there are hits and misses. While some new concepts endure, others fall by the wayside for want of takers. Here’s a list of 6 trend forecasts that will probably shape your meal experiences in 2017.
1. THE 3-COURSE MEAL PLAN WILL NOT BE THE RULE
While we’re quite used to ordering a restaurant meal in 3 courses – starter, main and pudding – the advent of Tasting Menus has gradually started eroding this conventional line-up. And even while chefs are presenting Tasting Menus with a sampling of their greatest hits spread over 8-12 courses, another voguish concept has come along to upset the classic meal plan: Small Plates and Big Plates. Given these popular breaks with tradition, it is entirely possible that the 3-course etiquette will be dead by the end of the decade.
2. SHARING PLATTERS WILL OVERTAKE INDIVIDUAL PORTIONS
It’s something we’re quite used to doing in Chinese, Thai or Indian restaurants where food is typically served family style, but more and more upscale restaurants are embracing this companionate concept to serve American and European fare.
What we will get eventually, I think, is the sort of menu that offers Big Plates, Small Plates, Sharing Platters etc. There will be less of the individually plated portions and no specified order of courses.
3. SEASONAL MENUS WILL BE BIGGER THAN EVER
In many parts of the world, it is still a matter of pride for an upscale restaurant to `import’ its exotic ingredients. This is primarily because their chefs have not yet learnt to distinguish between quality produce and rubbish. For instance, an Asian cep/porcini imported fresh from Bangkok may well be a member of the Boletus family and can be cultivated in those months when there are no ceps in Europe. But Asian ceps are horrible, and taste nothing like the real thing. In the western world, however, seasonality has become priority for any chef worth his/her shark-skin grater, and this devotion to nature’s natural food plan is fast becoming de rigueur.
4. MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY WILL LOSE ITS STEAM
Yes, molecular gastronomy is pretty much dead or dying. If you ask Eric Ripert, Heston Blumenthal or a tribe of other star-decorated celebrity chefs, they will probably tell you that it should never have been born in the first place.
Even if you take the `science experiment’ connotation out of the name, and call it `multi-sensory cuisine’ or `cuisine moderne’, the fact still remains that once the initial novelty has worn off eating espresso pasta and egg with charcoal and ashes, people are less enthusiastic about getting their order of steak-and-chips served in the form of nitrogen-treated foam. And unless the principles of molecular gastronomy can be successfully incorporated into classic cooking, it’s unlikely to be back in vogue unless a saucer-full of hungry Martians land on earth.
5. FORAGING WILL NOT BE SUCH A WILD SUCCESS
We knew of chefs who go to the local market every morning to handpick fresh ingredients and plan the day’s menu around them. Foraging puts an environmental twist to this tasteful custom of using local produce by sourcing food like hunter-gatherers from the wilderness. While there are plenty of Noma fans who live to eat a 20-course meal of foraged ingredients at this world-famous Scandinavian restaurant, American chefs on the whole are not too wild about serving unproven ingredients that may well be a health hazard. Forest mushrooms and some leaves are about as far as most of them are prepared to go.
6. STANDALONE RESTAURANTS WILL NO LONGER STAND ALONE
It is now an article of faith that any outstanding restaurant, no matter how off-beat or individualistic, will be cloned. Zuma, for example, started as a single-restaurant operation in London; it now has branches all over the world. Zuma followed the lead of Nobu, which was just one New York restaurant owned by Robert DeNiro, Drew Nieporent and the eponymous Nobu before it became a global empire. For years and years, Le Petit Maison was a French Riviera restaurant in Nice, popular only with people who could afford to pay high prices for simple food. Now the London and Dubai versions are so successful that few of the patrons even realize that there is a Nice original.
When outliers take a city by storm as David Chang did many years ago with Momofuku in New York, nobody realizes that the Momofuku empire will eventually straddle many countries or that the chef will become a TV star. So enjoy the one-of-a-kind dining experience of having John Howie cook exclusively for you in Seattle, because who knows, your foodie friends in London or Tokyo could soon be having equal access to his unexampled menus…