This article is the expanded version of "Trend watch" (page 9) of the November/December 2009 issue of Chef Magazine.
Frank McClelland, chef/manager, L'Espalier and Sel de la Terre, Boston
Cuisine: New England-French, emphasizing artisanal and local ingredients (L'Espalier); Provençal and southern French country fare (Sel de la Terre)
Memorable moment from 2009: Turning our 300-year-old, 14-acre Apple Street Farm in Essex, Mass. into a functioning organic farm with produce, free-range poultry and pork and egg-laying hens. We supply our restaurants with the freshest produce, herbs and proteins to enhance our world-class dishes. I think Apple Street Farm is a shining example of environmental stewardship in how it contributes to the vitality of the local ecosystem while renewing an important Essex community asset that's important to the historic town's heritage. By returning unused foods to replenish the soil nutrients and feed the animals, the farm contributes back to the farmland.
Biggest challenge this year: Aside from surviving the recession, embracing the future and opening Apple Street Farm proved to be a hefty challenge.
Overcoming that challenge: Apple Street Farm was a hands-on project that we worked twice as hard on and worried [about] twice as much. I'm very proud of it, and it rekindles some treasured family memories when "eat local" was an unconscious daily act as simple as walking outdoors to find a delicious vegetable and then rinsing it with a hose. We can now do that and by afternoon serve it on our menus.
Business projections for 2010: I'm an optimist. I look forward to a very good rebound year, plus less rain and more sun for my crops in 2010!
Next year's food trends: Buying local from organic cottage farmers will continue. Also budget-conscious diners will expect small, more affordable bites that offer exceptional flavor. Less costly concepts that drive diners to fill seats include $1 oysters, half-price appetizers and Restaurant Week with prix fixe menus.
Jim Foss, executive chef, Georgia Browns, Washington, D.C.
Cuisine: sustainable Southern cuisine featuring the Low Country of South Carolina
Memorable moment from 2009: Being invited to the James Beard House in August; it allowed us to bring a bit of the South to New York.
Biggest challenge this year: Inauguration; it was extremely busy. We did over 1,000 covers in a dining room that only seats 130.
Overcoming that challenge: Teamwork, tenacity and excitement in being able to be a part of history; and making sure we had all our ingredients and orders in house or stored in sister restaurants, as deliveries were not allowed to our restaurant due to security concerns in the few days leading up to the inaugural ceremonies--we are located one block from the White House.
Business projections for 2010: I believe we will continue to see increased sales and revenues; however, it is key that we are able to react strategically to the volatile state of the economy and changing culinary trends. This can further establish us in the market and communicate to our guests that they are our top priority.
Next year's food trends: Local, sustainable, green.
Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing, chefs, MiLa Restaurant, New Orleans, La.
Cuisine: French with Southern influence
Memorable moment from 2009: A feature in Food Arts magazine.
Biggest challenge this year: Our farmer had a really hot summer that really hindered his produce.
Overcoming that challenge: We made several trips to the New Orleans farmer's market … called Crescent City Farmer's Market.
Business projections for 2010: We do believe that this is going to be a better year for tourism and conventions. We think businesses are beginning to open back up those expense accounts, which will definitely boost lunch business, and the general public is getting tired of the recession fear.
Next year's food trends: We don't really follow trends, but we do think more relaxed dining is on the rise. Dress codes will be more flexible. And molecular gastronomy will soon be dead!
Gretchen Menser, executive chef, Fresno, East Hampton, N.Y.
Cuisine: New American
Memorable moment from 2009: The most memorable moment from 2009 was participating in a local soup kitchen to help East End families. It was in the beginning of the summer, so I made a chilled cucumber mint soup with guacamole. It was great to be able to give back to the community and support families in financial needs.
Also a upcoming wine dinner featuring Channing Daughters Winery and food from local farms. To be able to feature local wineries and farms benefits all of us on the East End and the North Fork. I will have all of Channing Daughters Winery's signature wines and use local seafood with vegetables from Satur Farms and Balsam Farm to create a seasonal menu that will highlight all that is great about living here. Example dish: Balsam Farms butternut squash soup with Southampton honey and Milk Pail Orchard apple chips.
Biggest challenge this year: The biggest challenge I faced so far this year is obviously the economy. I felt a great need to make exciting food with great value to entice customers to want to come to the restaurant.
Overcoming that challenge: We used as many local farms and other local products to create a fun, value-driven menu that changed often to keep the customers wanting to know what would be next. I always like to support the local bounty sources and to create a strong relationship with the farmers. It is the number-one reason that I have lived on the East End for as long as I have--since 1992.
Business projections for 2010: To keep creating interesting wine dinners and promotions. In the off season, we do wine dinners about every six weeks to do something exciting for not only my staff but also for our customers. It gives all of us something to look forward to when we start to feel a chill in the air. They are always a fun sort of family-style dinner feel, where everyone socializes with each other and new friends are made. A favorite customer promotion, to keep customers' attention year-round, is on Wednesdays. We will continue to do a 30/30 which is $30 for any appetizer, entrée and dessert plus 30 percent off any wine on the wine list. We'll also continue to focus on maintaining a warm, friendly environment. It is important to make the customers feel at home and cared for when they are in our restaurant. We have a lot of customers that come to see us week to week. We know them by name and always make sure we provide them with what they need: food that provides a good bang for the buck while respecting our mutual community by cooking with local bounty whenever possible.
Next year's food trends: I think we will be seeing a return of the classics, which for me is bistro food—cassoulet, frisée aux lardon with poached egg, grilled hanger steak with sauce verts. Key is providing customers comfort food with a creative twist. A little new with the classics is always good. I do braised boneless short ribs with creamy polenta and a Milk Pail Orchard apple gremolata. I also have a "keep it as local as possible" rule that I will continue to follow.
Sebastien Archambault, executive chef, RH restaurant & bar at the Andaz West Hollywood, West Hollywood, Calif.
Cuisine: Southwestern French with California's ingredients
Memorable moment from 2009: Opening RH Restaurant in the first Andaz Hotel in North America. The healthy influx of customers as a result of the Los Angeles Times' three-star review of RH.
Biggest challenge this year: Successfully opening RH Restaurant in the economic environment of early 2009.
Overcoming that challenge: By continuously analyzing cost-effectiveness and sourcing the freshest local ingredients, we've been able to provide value to our customers. Our pricing is very reasonable for L.A.
Business projections for 2010: Because the Los Angeles Times recently helped to put us on the culinary map for having the best contemporary French food in L.A. and the fact that Southwestern French cuisine, which is our focus at RH, is underrepresented in the city, we expect our customer base to continue to grow as we cook through the seasons in 2010. We only introduced our Southwestern French menus in late summer 2009, so there will be new guest experiences at RH throughout the year.
Next year's food trends: I surely hope that Southwestern French will be the new hot ethnic cuisine! It's rustic, simple and honest food--great French comfort food, which will be appealing especially in these budget-conscious times.
Charcuterie will still be popular, but hopefully we'll see it develop with more variety--terrines, smoked duck, ham, preserves.
To pay more and more attention to the integrity of ingredients, conserving their natural flavors as well as visual and textural expressions.
People will not stop dining out, but will still look for the best value.
Mark Lata, chef/partner, Fig, Charleston, S.C.
Cuisine: drawing on inspiration from the seasons, Charleston growers, traditions and travel to emphasize local, wholesome, seasonal and delicious ingredients
Memorable moment from 2009: Winning the 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast was and continues to be the best thing that has ever happened to my career. It's a milestone that has been achieved by almost everyone I admire. The award has also helped our team refocus on moving forward and becoming the best that we can be.
Biggest challenge this year: After 6 1/2 years, the challenges seem to be few and far in between compared to our first few years. Now we have strong systems, a damn good team, a cuisine that I'm proud of and a financially stable business. The one challenge that has been with us from day one, and only gets more difficult, is managing expectations. Our egos matter less and less, and the customer matters more and more. I know that sounds obvious, but that takes years to realize.
Overcoming that challenge: To address that challenge, we listen to feedback and take stock of our practices. We make adjustments from time to time that seem to be minor, but over the course of a year, we can reflect on the sum of changes and see that we are still evolving and becoming a better version of Fig.
Business projections for 2010: There is no question the Beard Award has helped business through a tough economy. We have been lucky to see positive growth every year we have been in business and hope to see that continue.
Next year's food trends: To me, a trend implies a negative, "en vogue," which we rarely admire in hindsight. What seems to becoming more and more important to chefs is where their ingredients come from, who raises their livestock and how to provide their customers with an authentic expression of their locale--grassroots cooking.
Scott Neuman, executive chef, ¡Oba! Restaurante, Portland, Ore.
Cuisine: Nuevo Latino--exploring vibrant flavors from Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean and across the Americas--through seasonal, often locally sourced ingredients
Memorable moment from 2009: This year's Sagebrush Classic in Bend, Ore., a benefit for the Deschutes Children's Foundation to help children and families in need; it was my seventh year to be invited. The event is put on by Deschutes Brewing, and it brings together 18 top chefs from around the world to set up outdoor booths and prepare small-plate dishes for more than 1,000 guests. Over the years, I've made many good friends through this event; this year's class featured, among others: José Andrés, Mark Kiffin, Roberto Donna, Jennifer Jasinski, Michael Smith, and Terry Sawyer and John Finger from the Hog Island Oyster Co. Each chef's gourmet specialty is paired with an award-winning craft beer from Deschutes. Northwest wines are also available. Later, the stage band draws guests onto the dance floor. Traditionally, the dancing continues long past the stunning sunset, even on the surrounding hills and on the tables!
Biggest challenge this year: My most difficult challenge has been to achieve labor cost in a down economy; our goals are as aggressive as they have ever been, but without the typical sales that accompany a healthy economy, the result is harder to achieve. The current environment requires everyone on the team to be more creative when it comes to problem-solving and making adjustments.
Overcoming that challenge: We took more risks by staffing lower, but maintained productivity and quality by keeping our core team intact--and giving them full hours. My sous chef and I also helped out by becoming more involved in daily prep activities.
Business projections for 2010: I think that the first two quarters will be soft, though slightly better than the first two quarters of 2009; by June, we believe that the economy should start seeing a decent turnaround, and sales should hopefully begin to exceed 2009.
Next year's food trends: Gourmet food trucks, happy hours, gluten-free dining, artisanal charcuterie.
What do you think will be the big trends of 2010? Share your thoughts in the comments section.