Locally sourced meat, seafood and produce again top the list of hot menu trends as predicted by chefs.
In a survey of nearly 1,800 chefs who belong to the American Culinary Federation, conducted from October–November 2011 by the National Restaurant Association, locally sourced meats and seafood was the top trend predicted for 2012, followed by locally sourced produce.
Hyper-local items, such as ingredients from restaurants’ own gardens, rank fourth on the list, and a third of chefs at full-service restaurants who were surveyed said they had gardens on-site.
The top 20 predicted hot menu trends are:
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Healthful kids’ meals
• McD increases commitment to a more healthful menu
5. Sustainability as a culinary theme
6. Children’s nutrition as a culinary theme
7. Gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items
• Menus friendlier to diners on restricted diets
8. Locally produced wine and beer
• Locavore movement heads to the bar
9. Sustainable seafood
10. Whole grain items in kids’ meals
11. Newly fabricated cuts of meat, such as the pork flat iron and the beef petit tender
12. Farm/estate-branded items
13. Food trucks/street food
14. Artisan spirits
15. House-made/artisan ice cream
16. Health/nutrition as a culinary theme
17. Non-traditional fish
18. Fruit/vegetable kids’ side items
19. Children’s mini-meals (i.e. smaller versions of adult menu items)
20. Culinary cocktails
Chefs across the country increasingly used local ingredients throughout 2011. Andrew Little of Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, Pa., cooked beef from a herd of Scotch Highland cattle raised by the property’s owners.
Among those experimenting with their own gardens was Bryan Voltaggio, chef-owner of Volt in Frederick, Md., who planted a garden next to his fine-dining restaurant. The former “Top Chef” contestant also announced plans for a full farm to be situated next to a diner on a property his business partners bought in Frederick earlier this year.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the 1,100-unit fast-casual chain that markets itself as serving “food with integrity,” increased its commitment to serving more local food this year. In June it said it would double the amount of locally grown food it served. It said it planned to use 10 million pounds of produce from farms that were within 350 miles of the restaurants where they were served.
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The prevalence of healthful kids’ menus was the next hottest prediction, something chain restaurants responded to strongly in 2011.
Burger King, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chili’s, El Pollo Loco, Denny’s and a dozen other chains signed onto the National Restaurant Association’s “Kids LiveWell” program.
Participants are required to offer a children’s meal containing an entrée, side dish and drink with 600 calories or less, as well as two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy. Those meals also have limited levels of sodium, fat and sugar.
Darden Restaurants, the parent of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other casual-dining chains in July removed milkshakes and French fries from kids’ menus in favor of fruit smoothies and grapes. It made additional commitments to menu healthfulness in September.
Although many of those trends also were predicted for 2011, children’s mini-meals are a new prediction, as are house-made artisan ice cream, street food and whole grains in kids’ meals.
Among the 2011 trends that didn’t make the 2012 list are “simplicity/back to basics,” organic produce and ethnic-inspired breakfast items.
The chefs also were asked several operational questions, and 61 percent of them said they would consider operating a food truck as an entrepreneurial venture.
See more from the National Restaurant Association on the survey