Next week, in association with Tasting Australia, FoodSA (the industry body for South Australian food producers) is holding a conference called “We Are What We Eat“. It will focus on the future eating habits and food choices of Australians, with a particular emphasis on how the food industry can best position itself to cater for changing trends. I’m really excited to be attending and am looking forward to learning more about what’s happening in the dynamic world of gastronomy from those in the know.
I’m especially thrilled about this (it doesn’t take much these days) because it gives me the chance to kill two birds with one stone. One of the never ending, midnight oil burning and freezing dawn risings from bed necessitating demands of my Food Writing course is to write a “journalistic” style article on some aspect of food. Scratching around for inspiration yielded lots of false leads, i.e. subjects that would have required encyclopaedic length books to do them justice, until I happened on the above event. Problem solvered! I shall simply pop along with my trusty notebook, listen up, engage, participate, ask questions, learn lots and as well partake of the lunch featuring delights from Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island food producers. And if they have poultry on the menu, it will be three birds with one stone (but not these cute ones below).
As if all that wasn’t enough, one of the panel sessions, “What’s Cooking – Innovation in the Kitchen” promises to answer the question, “with our ever changing world, what do we want to eat?” I don’t know about you, but I often feel bombarded by food news, food trends, food innovations, what’s hot, where to go, what to buy and all the never ending inescapable deluge of commentary to which we’re exposed these days. Media interest in food, ever keen, seems to have reached fever pitch for some reason. It’s no longer considered just trendy to be interested in food, it’s almost obligatory. In the face of this, it’s tempting to say “it’s all too hard”, turn your back and go out for a Macca. But if there’s some way of cutting to the chase, of sifting through the hyperbole and revealing the essence of what the hell’s going on, it would be helpful, and this session looks just the thing.
Facilitated by Bernard Salt, renowned social and demographic commentator, National Partner KPMG and best-selling author, the panel will include a group of industry experts described as “food movers and shakers” (it’s a good thing they’re on before lunch not after). They are:
- Rodney Dunn – Director, Agrarian Kitchen
- Peter Morgan Jones – Executive Chef and Food Ambassador, Hammond Care
- Callum Elder – Executive General Manager, Quality & Innovation, Simplot Australia
- Michael Horrocks – Lifestyle Bakery
Identifying culinary trends based on the insights and knowledge of these guys will be interesting. I’m curious to find out whether, coming from fairly diverse backgrounds, they’ll broadly agree or wildly disagree. Fashions in food like those in clothes fluctuate based on factors as various as the economy and which celebrity chef or royal visitor passed through town recently. There’s an element of faddishness about the latest craze which can be pretty confidently dismissed in the knowledge that it will be superseded by something else tomorrow or the next day. There are however patterns that emerge over time. Changes in values and attitudes grow slowly and almost in the dark, but like yeast they gradually expand, enlarge and take on life so that one day we look back and wonder how many years it’s been since someone served up one of those toothpick studded oranges decked with gherkins and cubes of cheese at a cocktail party. (Showing my age here but someone somewhere would remember).
So what are the contenders for culinary trendsetters of today? One article I read succinctly summed it up as “weird foods”. While the radical always hogs the limelight, and things like smoked pig’s ear, elk tongue ragu, roasted chicken gizzards, stir-fried crickets and Singaporean-style scorpions are definitely appearing on menus, they’re probably only for those of jaded palates who eat to compete, just as they dress to impress.
A report called “Culinary Forecast” based on an American survey of 1300 professional chefs and food industry members carried out by the National Restaurant Association rated a total of 258 items (see below for a video summary). The respondents were asked to classify them as either “hot trends”, “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favourites”. While American flavoured, it’s likely the Australian version of this wouldn’t be too different and indeed most trends on the “top ten” list are mirrored here.
The top ten trends for 2014 as revealed by the survey are:
- Locally sourced meats and seafood
- Locally grown produce
- Environmental sustainability
- Healthy children’s meals
- Gluten-free cuisine
- Hyper-local sourcing (restaurants growing their own produce)
- Children’s nutrition
- Non-wheat noodles, pasta
- Sustainable seafood
- Farm/estate branded items
There’s lots more in the 14 page report, but for those who dine out regularly, the following list of what’s hot on restaurant menus may be especially interesting. I’m not what you’d call a trendy diner, in that I don’t go out to eat for any reason other than to relax, taste some yummy tucker and enjoy the company of whoever I’m dining with, but in the last couple of months I’ve been to restaurants which feature a lot of the following, especially house-cured meats, charcuterie, black rice, unusual cuts of meat, pickled and fermented vegetables, amuse bouche starters, bite sized desserts and generally a number of new and surprising (and in most cases delicious) innovations. So there you go.
- House-cured meats, charcuterie
- Vegetarian appetisers
- Ethnic/street food inspired appetisers
- Ethnic dips
- Amuse-bouche (bit sized hors d’oeuvres)
- Non-wheat noodles and pasta
- Black (forbidden) rice
- Red rice
- Pickled vegetables
- Locally sourced meats and seafood
- Sustainable seafood
- New cuts of meat
- Non-traditional fish
- Half portions and smaller portions
- Hybrid desserts
- Savoury desserts
- House made/artisan icecream
- Bite-sized mini desserts
- Deconstructed classic desserts
- Sous vide
- Liquid nitrogen chilling, freezing
Out of all the trends and new directions I’ve read about, it’s possible to broadly categorise them into the following major areas:
- Environmental sustainability (sourcing and eating food locally)
- Health consciousness, nutritional awareness (for both adults and children)
- Nose to tail, root to stalk eating – minimising wastage, cutting costs
It will be interesting to see whether discussion at the FoodSA summit bears this out or whether it will reveal uniquely Australian developments. Throughout all the commentary there’s a common message, that people are more interested now in what they eat and where it comes from than ever before. Given the soaring levels of obesity (especially childhood obesity) and nutritionally related diseases, it makes you wonder what proportion of the community is really concerned about food. Is it just the vocal minority jockeying for position at the head of the pack, while meanwhile the great unwashed carry on chowing down on high sugar, high fat processed food like they’ve always done? Hopefully that’s not the case.
National Restaurant Association (US): What’s Hot Culinary Forecast (Video)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this debate, where post-conference I’ll reveal more of what I learned about what we’re eating and what that says about us.
by Anne Green