NRA survey charts top trends for '09

WASHINGTON Locally grown produce, mini desserts and organic produce topped the list of the hottest menu trends for 2009, according to new research from the National Restaurant Association.

The NRA surveyed more than 1,600 members of the American Culinary Federation in October about what they saw as next year's biggest trends in menu items, preparation methods and culinary themes. The results were released Tuesday.

Rounding out the top 10 menu trends for next year were healthful kids meals; new or fabricated cuts of meat, such as Denver steak and pork flat iron steak; vegetable or fruit side dishes for kids; "superfruits," such as as acai and mangosteen; small plates, such as tapas, mezze and dim sum; artisan liquor; and sustainable seafood.

Health and nutrition led the list of hot culinary themes for 2009, the NRA said. Other hot culinary themes were food allergy consciousness; food-alcohol pairings; umami, or the "fifth taste"; and the slow food movement.

"As the wider trend of health continues to grow, the trend of choosing certain foods to follow one’s personal philosophy has also gained momentum in the culinary world," Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the NRA, said in a statement. "As interest in food and the culinary arts grows in the United States, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the food they eat, and chefs are putting their enormous talents to work to fulfill the demand for dishes that follow these trends."

According to the surveyed chefs, the top trend in restaurant kitchens next year will be environmentally friendly equipment and practices. And they said the best way to save money in the kitchen is through sustainable practices. Adjusting portion sizes also was high on the list of ways to save.

In the culinary preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking, sous vide, searing/sautŽing, and grilling. The respondents also rated mixologists and signature cocktails as the hottest alcoholic beverage trends.

For complete survey results, visit the NRA's website. [2]