You there, the self-avowed foodie with the slightly upturned nose. Put the chin down for a moment. If you're still feeling smug that you're up on all the "latest" food and dining trends from 2008, be prepared: A whole new set is coming your way as we plow deeper into the new year.
This year the beleaguered economy, a continuing "green" ethic and that age-old hunger for new and different flavors all feed into the predictions plucked from various trend-watchers' crystal balls. And what tops the list?
For several authorities, it's a deliberate, unapologetic return to home cooking. In its January issue, Food & Wine magazine names home cooking as the biggest food trend of the year, with an emphasis on retooled comfort food classics, entertaining on a budget and "exotic" recipes made easy. Here are other food trends to watch for.
INGREDIENTS AND FOODS
Buckwheat is the new grain, says Food & Wine, which also lists these trendy foods: sugar alternatives (such as agave syrup), non-chicken eggs (ostrich or quail omelet, anyone?) and -- here's a novel concept -- soy sauce crystals.
Bon Appetit's "ingredient of the year" is ricotta cheese. Among sweets, peanut butter desserts will be big, the magazine says; for savory foods, it's "anything with an egg on top." ("The world's most perfect food" remains a cheap way to add protein.)
As for dessert, say goodbye to cupcakes, says Gourmet magazine; ice cream will be the new cult dessert.
Look south -- to Peru -- for the next big ethnic cuisine, predicts Bon Appetit. Among other things, this "gastronomic capital of the Americas" boasts 4,000 varieties of potatoes and 2,000 species of fish. Here in the United States, a new Southern cuisine -- "classic country cooking turned on its head" -- will emerge, according to Gourmet.
There is general agreement that alcohol consumption will not go down as the economy continues to nosedive. (Is anyone surprised?) The balance may just shift a bit from restaurant sales to retail sales, and affordable, "high-value" wines and spirits (including boxed wines) will be in demand, the trend watchers predict.
EATING WITH A CAUSE
The National Restaurant Association calls it philosophy-driven choices, this continuing trend toward "green" eating in its many permutations. And the chefs expect to see much more of it.
In fact, local produce ranked No. 1 in the What's Hot survey. Nine in 10 chefs said demand for locally grown menu items would increase, along with demand for sustainable seafood, organic produce and free-range meats. Health and nutrition also will drive more diners' choices, the chefs predict. However, the recession will cause consumers to prioritize their healthier food choices, according to the Fresh Ideas Group -- a trend-focused communications agency -- with parents buying organic primarily for their kids or consumers targeting organic items that offer the greatest health benefit.
OTHER RESTAURANT FARE
Healthier menu items for kids are a trend in the making, according to the chefs. Balanced children's dishes and fruit or vegetable side-dish items for kids ranked high in the restaurant association's survey. In a separate survey of quick-service restaurant operators, healthy kids' meal options ranked first.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Here's a final list of odds and ends among predicted food trends: bite-size desserts, new cuts of meat (such as Denver steak and pork flat-iron steak), certified fish, more gluten-free foods, a return to home canning, breakfast as a restaurant trend and the "pre-amuse amuse-bouche" -- yes, even smaller morsels "compliments of the chef" before the regular free tastes come out.
And now begins the process of seeing who's right and who's wrong. Who knows if Peruvian cuisine will catch on or if we all will be donning aprons to stir the stew pot and bake cakes from scratch at home. Regardless, it should be an interesting year for food lovers everywhere.