Like most corners of America, the food world saw unexpected drama in 2019. Fried chicken sandwiches caused chaos, and the meatlessness of plant-based Whoppers became a lawsuit. Cult grocer Wegmans opened in New York to the delight of “Wegmaniacs” everywhere, while Taco Bell took over a resort in Palm Springs for a more immersive experience than a cheesy gordita crunch.
What’ll be big in 2020? In some ways, it’s hard to think of a decade beginning without considering the end of this one, a decade that radically changed how we looked at food – literally. Instagram made its debut in fall 2010; today, an estimated 95 million posts are uploaded every 24 hours, and food and drink are among users’ biggest interests.
Fast-casual chains also came to dominate. In 2010, Shake Shack had just one location outside New York City; by the end of the decade, it was a publicly traded company with 250 locations around the world and is valued at almost $4 billion. As bowls became the serving dish of choice, Sweetgreen grew to a valuation of $1.6 billion.
Two of the decade’s most powerful ingredients were green. Kale became the de facto base of salads – there were 335 million pounds of it on the market in 2017, compared with 145 million pounds in 2012. And avocados topped toasts across the country: In 2017, Square reported that Americans spent almost $900,000 per month on avocado toast, up from $17,400 in 2014.
If kale – which is now being supplanted by brussels sprouts as the go-to vegetable on menus – seems like ancient history, consider these foods and trends the ones that will begin to define the new decade.
Given the popularity of wagyu’s premium cuts such as ribeye and loin, it was a matter of time before less prime (and pricey) cuts from the same elite animals came into fashion. Think of it as the most luxurious version of nose-to-tail eating. At Cote in Miami’s Design District, opening in the second half of 2020, owner Simon Kim will offer wagyu knuckle braised in dashi soy sauce. He’ll serve other off-cuts, such as sirloin butt, as well. Jean-Georges Steakhouse at Aria Resort in Las Vegas already offers smoked wagyu brisket, carved tableside. For home cooks, Snake River Farms calls its American wagyu brisket the “secret weapon for competitive barbecue” – a 16-pound cut can go for $170. (By comparison, Snake River Farms’ wagyu gold grade New York filet runs $53 for only 6 oz.)
Revenge of the chickpeas
Some ingredients owe their popularity to one dish. (Exhibit A: kale salad.) Chickpeas, on the other hand, dominate on multiple platforms. Hummus, which has become the dip of choice at parties, is set to grow from a $742 million business in 2019 to an $877 million one by 2024. Chickpeas are also the key ingredient in hit snacks like the nutrient-rich, low-carb Biena Chickpea Puffs: The airy, crunchy bites come in flavors like ranch and aged white cheddar. Banza chickpea pasta has become the fastest-growing pasta brand in the country, and in November it got $20 million in growth funding from Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality. Even associated waste product has gotten attention: Aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas, is becoming increasingly popular as a vegan alternative in frothy cocktails and airy desserts.
MSG goes mainstream
Maggi seasoning – recognizable by its red logo and canary yellow label – has a worldwide fan base for its herb-packed flavor. Best known for its bouillon cube form, it’s also sold in bottles, and is often described as soy sauce meets Worcestershire. Chefs in America are now claiming it enough to namecheck it. At La Ventura in Manhattan, Maggi marinated olives arrive in a pool of intense sauce that has flavors of soy and the herb lovage. At Schilling in New York’s Financial District, chef Edi Frauneder uses it to spike beef reductions. Even the much-maligned MSG is coming out of time out. Chef Kevin Tien uses it for his fried chicken sandwich spot Hot Lola’s in Arlington, Virginia. “I like it because it tenderizes and acts as a salt,” he says. “It’s perfect for a brine.” Momofuku founder Dave Chang, another unapologetic MSG fan, has a new line of seasoned salts in such options as “tingly” and “spicy.” It adds the kind of flavor enhancement that you get from MSG, but with ingredients that are naturally high in glutamic acid, like tamari, kelp and mushroom powder.
Central European cuisine heats up
It was just a matter of time before central Europe became an inspiration for chefs – after all, it’s a cuisine that features fermented food and smoked meats. In New York, Stephen Starr’s new Veronika restaurant will highlight Hungarian and Viennese food, two areas that haven’t seen major play in the city for decades. But he’s on to something: In San Francisco, the just-opened Dear Inga pays tribute to the foods of former Eastern bloc countries with smoked sausages and stuffed cabbage alongside local beer. In Chicago, Maddon’s Post, from former Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, highlights Polish cuisine.
West African ingredients proliferate
Following the popularity of superfood moringa, several African ingredients are lining up to be next on the hot list. The high-fiber, rice-like grain fonio has been called the “next quinoa,” but also look for protein-rich egusi seeds, which are used to thicken soups. At his Harlem restaurant Teranga, Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam adds dawadawa, a fermented locust bean that enriches many soups and stews in West Africa, to stewed kale. In 2020, when his food company Yolélé Foods releases a line of pilafs, it will be key to the one he calls Afro-funk.
‘Fusion’ reborn as autobiography
What used to be dismissed as “fusion” cooking is now the strongest trend in the restaurant world because it allows chefs to tell their own stories, which might range from hanging out in food courts as a teenager to family fishing trips. It’s the hallmark of such chefs as Kwame Onwuachi at Kith/Kin in Washington, D.C., who uses the menu to highlight his heritage from Nigeria to New Orleans to New York. Helene An, the chef behind Los Angeles’ elite seafood spot Crustacean, offers a $225, 12-course menu at her new Da Lat Rose, which, dish by dish, tells her story of coming to the U.S. from Vietnam as a refugee in the 1970s.
Disco rules again
In the vein of reuse and recycle, the next generation of restaurateurs is celebrating a quintessential but unfairly maligned American soundtrack: disco. Sunset, the downstairs lounge at the just-opened Edition West Hollywood, is in full disco mode, with glittering balls hanging from the ceiling. The recently opened JJ’s Hideaway in Brooklyn specializes in disco music – light-up dance floor included. In Miami, Minnie’s Disco has become a popular pop-up at restaurant Alter. Across the border in Toronto, the no-waste Trash Tiki Collective co-founder Kelsey Ramage has opened Supernova Ballroom, which has disco as the soundtrack and coasters bearing record covers from the time period. Even eco-friendly glitter decorates its Twice on Sunday gin cocktail.
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