Since we’re looking back at all things 2011, we figured it's a good time to cast a look back at December 2010, when we made our predictions for what would hit big this year. Predicting food trends, of course, is not an exact science (to put it mildly) and declaring that we’ll all be gorging on, say, mini marshmallows and hay-smoked nasturtiums is a wee bit foolhardy. That said, inasmuch as they take a broad view of restaurants around the country to ponder what’s been and what may follow, predictions are useful—if nothing else, they allow food writers to make lists. And there are few things the Internet loves more than lists.
Trend predictions are a little like stomachs: Everybody has one. According to Epicurious, 2011 would bring (among other things) food halls, macarons, pop-up cafes, Meatless Mondays, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes and Meatless Mondays also figured on Good Housekeeping’s list, which included “haute couture hot dogs,” cherry juice, and pie. The website Restaurant Hospitality also included pie and “haute dogs” on its list alongside single-purpose restaurants and, again, Meatless Mondays. Given the crossover, you could conclude that everyone’s reading and eating the same stuff, or that these trends really are taking hold.
CHOW's list was pretty specific. Among other things, we called out parfaits and trifles, cannabis catering, and Chinese sausage (pictured). Chinese sausage, though featured on menus from San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food to New York’s recently opened RedFarm, was, in retrospect, perhaps a bit too specific—sausage may not be going anywhere, but chefs haven’t exactly been falling over each other to give their links an Asian persona.
Parfaits and trifles, on the other hand, have been gaining ground. At Delancey in Seattle, pastry chef Brandi Henderson dished out a mean maple walnut trifle, while New York got Puddin’, a “serious sweets spot” with six parfaits on its menu, and Dolce Vizio, a joint serving only tiramisu, which is basically Italian trifle. And during the Cochon555 tour in March, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar in Washington DC went savory with a liver parfait with crispy shallots. Also, barbecue and sushi parfaits have surfaced in San Diego. Once parfaits cross over into the realm of butchery, it’s safe to say they've entered the big time. (Even if the “big time” for layered dairy desserts is a relative concept.)
And cannabis catering? The Bay Area’s Cannabis Catering notwithstanding, the nation as a whole wasn’t quite ready, legally or otherwise, for elegant dinner parties featuring multicourse marijuana. That said, pot-laced edibles were popular. When a year gives you not one but two companies hawking weed-infused soda, you’ve got to figure something’s in the air, as it were.
Ultimately, food-trend predictions are like year-end predictions in general: prone to error and misjudgment, but benign. They’re a way to put overwhelming amounts of information into manageable boxes, and try to temper the unpredictability of the year ahead.