11 restaurant and food predictions for 2023

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Almost every major change in our eating habits begins as a fad, which is really just a shared moment between a subset of guests or chefs that gains momentum. Some fads are slowly fading, like wine coolers or molecular gastronomy. Others implode suddenly, like turmeric latte or the pink sauce that rocketed up on TikTok this year and then exploded.

There are fads that become trends and are then woven into the fabric of our time. Who knew a side interest in custom roasted coffee beans in 1960s Berkeley, California would lead to Starbucks?

It’s hard to tell the ephemeral from the permanent, but that doesn’t stop many people from trying. I waded through dozens of reports and press releases and interviewed the top nutrition forecasters in the game to get a glimpse into the 2023 food crystal ball.

At a time of inflation, climate change and global tensions, some forecasts appear bleak. “We’re tired,” said Jennifer Zegler, director of food and beverages at global market research group Mintel. “Simplicity, versatility, escapism and ingenuity are our trends this year.”

Not everything is bleak. Quality Jell-O shots, bright natural-colored food and ’70s-inspired packaging are all in. Food and beverages that make you feel healthier will continue to proliferate, too. “People want something fun, new and natural,” said Claire Lancaster, who forecasts food and drink trends for WGSN.

Here are 10 interpretations of the tea leaves.

Embrace the brine. Fresh, invigorating sea flavors have spawned a craze for coastal cocktails garnished with crab claws and oysters. Dan Levy, the actor and host of The Big Brunch, makes Clamato cool. Sea vegetables like kelp and sea creatures like Uni have secured spots on several trending lists.

Calling yourself a climate animal is so 2022. The new term is regenerivor. It is no longer about eating sustainably, which implies a state of preservation of the status quo. A new generation wants food from companies that are actively healing the planet through low-carbon agriculture, stricter animal welfare policies, and fair treatment of the people who grow and process food.

Look for big changes to reduce packaging waste. More chefs will use what Mintel calls “climate hero ingredients” like teff, fava and lupine beans, and more diners will choose foods and drinks that improve their health and that of the planet. Even the alcohol industry has started throwing around words like eco-orientation. “These companies don’t just want to be seen as doing the right thing on a daily basis,” says Joan Driggs, who researches retail trends and consumer products for data analytics firm IRI. “They really want to be seen, making a positive difference.”

Chicken skins have been trying to oust chicharrones for a while, but this could be their year. Riding the wave of an obsessive interest in all forms of fried chicken, crispy chicken skins are the foundation of nachos in pop-ups and with sauce and condiments as appetizers at restaurants. Rising chicken prices have chefs looking for ways to get more out of the bird. Asian cuisines, which regularly use chicken skins, provide culinary inspiration.

Perdue chef Chris Moyer put the skins high on his list of most promising chicken products and likes them in place of croutons in salads or as toupees for roasts. And then there’s the crunch factor, which more than 70 percent of consumers seek in a snack, said Denise Lefebvre, senior vice president of research and development at PepsiCo Foods. “People love the crunch,” she said. “Anything that enhances the senses is now big.”

Japanese food is the cuisine that all other cuisines love to hang out with. “Chefs around the world, many of them of Japanese descent, are fusing Japanese ingredients or culinary techniques with foods they love from around the world,” said AF&Co and Carbonate, two San Francisco-based companies collaborating on an annual hospitality trends report.

In New York, Kimika restaurant is a popular practitioner of itameshi, the combination of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Nikkei, the hybrid of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine, is on display at places like Causita in Los Angeles, where Peruvian potatoes take the place of sushi rice. At Ethel’s Fancy in Palo Alto, California, a fourth-generation Japanese-American chef is defining California-Japanese cuisine. Even Nordic chef René Redzepi is getting involved: his next big Noma pop-up will be in Kyoto.

Inflation, fears of climate change and growing concerns about waste and flashy consumption are fueling a renewed interest in frugality. “People don’t feel ashamed anymore and hide their coupons,” Ms. Lancaster said. Social media is awash with money-saving cooking tips and menu hacks to get cheaper items at Starbucks and other restaurants. Energy costs, both monetary and environmental, are expected to persuade home cooks to increase their use of small appliances like microwaves, air fryers and kettles, rather than turning on the oven. Private label supermarket brands and restaurants offering shorter menus and more value are gaining momentum. “Expect a greater focus on durability, flexibility and timelessness as consumers look to buy less and own products that last longer and serve multiple purposes,” writes Simon Moriarty, director of Mintel Trends, in his report on the upcoming Year.

Ube, a slightly nutty-tasting, vanilla-scented purple yam from the Philippines, is popping up on many trending lists and in all kinds of food and drink, from cakes and waffles to lattes and ube coladas. It easily made it onto the list of colors and flavors that capture the mood of 2023, compiled by food giant ADM. Yam’s popularity stems from an interest in foods with bright, natural colors, such as dragon fruit, lychee, and purple Peruvian corn. Also rising: floral aromas such as vetiver and ylang-ylang.

Just as the Apollo era popularized tang and freeze-dried ice cream, a renewed interest in space travel will affect how we eat and drink in 2023. Anything space related will be big as people look for optimism and inspiration that seems to have limited availability on Earth. Already there are climate-friendly Moonshot crackers (the wheat was grown regeneratively) and Starlight, a limited Coca-Cola drink that calls itself “Space Flavored”. (Exactly how space tastes has sparked heated debate online.) Top Chef contestants cooked for astronauts this year. Experiments on growing food in space will spark interest in vertical gardening and vegetables that can grow in stressed environments on Earth.

“The undiscovered novelty of space will have an especially untouched charm for Generation Z, who are disillusioned with the world as it is,” said Ms Zegler of Mintel. “But brands should also consider the inspiring role space will play in the lives of Gen Alpha.”

After almost three years of limited social interaction and ordering, people are looking for restaurants that offer interaction, excitement and a bit of show. Look for more serving trolleys, elaborate ice sculptures, flaming desserts like baked Alaska, and cocktails finished with a puff of smoke or a color change at the table. Food and music will mix in new ways, like updated versions of the old-school piano bar. “There’s a drive for interaction,” said Andrew Freeman, a veteran of hospitality public relations in San Francisco. “People are willing to spend money, but they will be looking for the value proposition of the experience. Commitment is the buzzword.”

Nigerian food, with its rich and varied layers, is becoming a breakthrough in the United States as chefs and diners unfamiliar with West African cuisine begin to understand it from a regional perspective, as well as eventually a general interest in Italian cuisine led to an appreciation for Tuscan or Sicilian cuisine.

In Brooklyn, Nigerian chef Ayo Balogun’s Dept of Culture offers an experience that’s as much a dinner party as it is a restaurant. Kwame Onwuachi is playing around with a version of Egusi stew at Tatiana, which just opened at Lincoln Center. Fonio, a drought-resistant African grain that suggests a link between couscous and quinoa, is being championed by chefs like Pierre Thiam and Alon Shaya. Even Mexican food gets a Nigerian twist. At Naija Boy Tacos in Sacramento, Nigerian-American chef Rasheed Amedu serves curried goat on plantain and cassava tortillas and seasons chicken with a street kebab condiment called suya.

Eating together has understandably fallen out of favor during the pandemic, with many people unwilling to return to buffets or reach into the same bag of chips. But forecasters see a change coming. “If you look at how our lives were for a couple of years, we didn’t share because sharing was considered dangerous,” he said. Woman. Lefebvre from PepsiCo Foods. “Now the sense of community was stronger than ever.”

That’s partly why her company introduced Minis in November, tiny versions of snacks like Cheetos and Sun Chips in canisters that make it easier to hand some to a friend. It’s also behind the growing popularity of appetizer and dessert towers and large-scale cocktails like the $100 Disco Mule, served in a large disco ball at Tipsy Alchemist in Austin, Texas. And there is perhaps no better indication of the rising popularity of crowd eating than the continued growth of food served at a communal table that began with the charcuterie craze.

The mood goes beyond products. Restaurants emerging from the pandemic and entering a new era of respect for employees and love for the community are sharing more information about the people behind the food, whether it’s listing the names of the entire crew on the menu, like some restaurants call it farms, or in the case of Hi Felicia, a new breed of high-end local restaurant in Oakland, California that encourages guests to know all of the staff by name.

Name these trendlets: In the beverage category, Yaupon tea made from American holly is on many lists for 2023, along with coffee beverages made with fruit puree and milk or roasted in a style called white coffee. Avocados will leave toast and arrive in cocktails and desserts, and avocado oil will be a popular cooking medium. For alcoholic trends, look out for the Mexican spirit called Sotol and a retro interest in Galliano liqueur. Casual restaurants are experimenting with monthly subscriptions and chic seasoned fish. Fermentation continues its march to the top of many lists, with ingredients without ingredients like honey without bees and chocolate without cocoa.

Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.

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