There are always a raft of food and restaurant-related predictions early in the year - some of them obvious, some tenuous and some that will genuinely become a part of what we see happening as the year progresses. The subjects are as varied as the industry itself. Ingredients, crockery, equipment, cooking techniques, the business of hospitality, menu concepts; they are all open to discussion and pronouncement.
So what has actually become a trend in the industry as we approach the mid point of 2016 and what is no longer a hot topic? Social media, magazines and newspapers, blogs and the internet all provide some clues and there are the specialist research companies adding to the available information but I would say it is still difficult to pinpoint what is or isn't a trend. If it is only prevalent in London, is that a trend? Does a critical mass have to be reached to make something a trend? Is something that is trending on Twitter a trend? ‘A general direction in which something is developing or changing’ is the dictionary definition, perhaps as vague as trends themselves. So the following list contains a few things that may be classed as current trends….or perhaps not.
Fermenting and pickling
This was much talked about at the start of the year and I am certainly seeing lots of mentions across various media. Kimchi recipes abound and several television segments have been shown featuring ‘how to’ pieces on making the pickle.
In Northern Ireland, chef Chris McGowan has recently opened his own restaurant Wine and Brine. The menus feature many items that have pickled, brined or fermented. Vegetables à la grecque, pickled grape, fermented barley and fermented cabbage have all appeared recently.
Dulce, laver, kombu, carrageen and bladderwrack are just a few of the edible seaweeds that are helping to make the algae a current trend. Seaweed butter, seaweed salt, pickled seaweed, laver bread and crispy seaweed are examples of old and new ways chefs are utilising seaweed on their menus. Chains such as Pret are also featuring seaweed in soups and salads. In the UK, seaweed is harvested from the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall, with Ireland being a significant producer. John Craven recently reported for Countryfile on the company Islander Kelp who are producing rope-grown kelp from Rathlin Island. The rope-grown product is said to have a finer texture than hand-harvested kelp.
Or to be more precise, its reduction. This has to be one of the most visible food trends in 2016, something that is affecting many areas of the industry. The NHS recommends no more than 30g of sugar per day for those over 11 years of age and the March 2016 budget saw the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks. This is something that Jamie Oliver has been campaigning about for some time. Individual initiatives include ‘half measures’ from independent education caterer Holroyd Howe, who cut sugar in their desserts by half in one school. The programme was so successful it has since been rolled out to all the company’s school catering.
Middle Eastern flavours
An Amazon book search comes up with 1,366 results for Middle Eastern cooking and significant in the UK market are titles from Yotam Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghayour and Claudia Roden. Sabrina Ghayour had a hugely successful first book Persiana and the follow up, Sirocco, has just been released. The1000 Cookbooks website, launched last year, explores the most popular cookbooks voted for by over 400 industry professionals from chefs to cookery writers, food editors and critics. The top 25 includes 5 titles with a Middle Eastern theme.
Restaurants with a Middle Eastern influence are increasing too, as is the availability of more specialist ingredients. The trend isn't limited to specialist restaurants, however, and many of the flavours associated with Middle Eastern cookery have become firmly entrenched in the mainstream.