Top 10 Restaurant Trends for 2012

I just wrote about 2012 restaurant trends, but I’m back again.  My previous post was based on the predictions from Technomic. This time the predictions are from Baum+Whiteman, international food and restaurant consultants in New York. They say the coming year will be all about “into the wild” as chefs go foraging for new ingredients and customers abandon comfort food for intense mix-and-match global flavors.  Korean and Peruvian cuisines will be big, and we’ll see a lot more meatballs, innards and odd parts (like tongue and beef heart), goat meat, house-made pickles, seaweed, craft beers and micro-distilleries. I pulled from their larger list of predictions to identify these 10 food and dining trends for restaurants and hotels in 2012:

1. Whole world on a plate. Look for a multi-ethnic, multi-sensory dining experience where flavors clash on purpose. Now it’s all about multi culti. A zucchini pizza dabbed with hummus and topped with crunchy wasabi peas is from nowhere geographically because it’s from everywhere. Cooking is at a crossroads where everything collides.


Fusion pizza:  Germany, Lebanon and Italy unite, by dhorst1 on flickr.

2. Korean food hits the charts. Thanks largely to food trucks, Korean food has entered the American lexicon.  Bulgogi, kimchee, kalbi, bibimbap are all the rage in Wednesday food sections, which means that shelter magazines will start featuring dumbed-down recipes in 2012.  Look for upscale places to serve items poached or braised in kimchee broth augmented with Asian and non-Asian flavors.  Showing up soon in your supermarket’s ethnic food sections will be kochujang ( red pepper paste).


Korean BBQ burger with braised short rib, kimchee ketchup and pickled vegetables by Nicknamemiket on flickr.

3. Peru gains momentum. Peru’s food is cross-pollinated by Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Andean flavors and cooking techniques. It’s the source of the world’s most exciting ceviches and tiraditos (another raw fish dish) and it is where pisco sours come from.  Look for causas, lomo saltado, aji amarillo, antichuchos, cuy (whole roast guinea pig, legs, head and all) and tiraditos, along with vibrant, acidic fruits and juices that go into their unique raw fish preparations.


Ceviche by extramsg on flickr.

4. Innards and odd parts. Tongue, gizzards and pigs ears are moving up from ethnic neighborhoods and onto menus of upscale restaurants.  In the year ahead, look for more “wobbly cuts,” such as tripe, chicken livers that are crunch-fried and beef heart (but not brains, yet), because customers are increasingly adventurous.


Grilled beef heart and french fries by Nicknamemiket on flickr.

5. In a pickle. House-made vegetables and fruit pickles will appear on more menus as chefs concoct ever more complex ways of making these preserves.   But they’re not your grandmother’s pickles:  chefs are going global with additions of Asian fish sauce, Mexican peppers, ginger, yuzu, smoked paprika and star anise.  Kimchee is at the sweet spot of the Korean and pickling trend.  In fact, Baum + Whiteman predicts kimchee may be the ingredient of the year.


House-made pickles by Law & Food Blog on flickr.

6. Instead of bread. Look for sandwiches piled on things other than bread:  arepas, flattened tostones, bao, waffles, rice cakes.


Bao by Dust Mason on flickr.

7. Forget skyscraper architecture. Chefs are shifting from stacking food as high as possible to stringing out ingredients in caterpillar-like lines along oblong or rectangular plates.  The technique is primarily used with ceviches, tartares, sushi and sashimi, with salads as the next frontier.

15800456_4e3bb31794_bTartares of Niman Ranch Beef and Watson Farm Lamb, and Monkfish Liver with Scallions and Sea Salt by Charles Haynes on flickr.

8. Comfort food hits the wall. When the recession hit three years ago, Americans gravitated to crisis food: homey roast chicken, soothing meat loaf, voluptous mac ‘n cheese and the holy cheeseburger.  Now we’re bored by gastro-nostalgia.  Instead, we’re demanding new taste thrills and culinary invention.  Plain old roast chicken is giving way to goosed-up fried renditions, such as highly spicy, crisp Korean fried chicken. Mac ‘n cheese is being reworked with pork rillettes or with chicharrones for crunch and braised pork necks for depth. Meatloaf has taken a dive as customers opt for all manner of meatballs at twice the price.  Hamburgers are going to new heights:  bone marrow, head cheese, pastrami-and-eggs, Cajun crawfish.

6112182251_1df2132774_bGround beef and bone marrow and lamb and pickle cucumber sliders by justine.foong on

9. Round things that go pop in the mouth. Hot sharable bar food includes kimchee- and parmesan-filled arancini, fried goat cheese balls, spherical falafel, meat balls of all kinds, bacalao croquettes, crispy oxtail risotto balls — all of them dropped briefly in the fryer and served with multi-ethnic sauces and dips. Other contemporary, drink-friendly finger food includes mini sandwiches with banh mi flavors, Korean meatball sliders, all sorts of global chicken lollypops, ceviches, flatbreads from everywhere and fried green tomatoes.


Tuna tartare and smoked gouda croquette by stu_spivack on flickr.

10. The foragers are coming. Upscale chefs are rushing to harvest dinner from the underbrush and under rocks — or assembling dishes that looked like they might be untamed gardens.  The horticultural landscapes are sent to tables on slabs of slate, miniature rock slides, primordial wood shapes and thrown glass instead of plates.  Watch for white acorns; tips of fir needles;”dirt” made of dried and crumbled mushrooms, black olives, bulgur or sprouting grains; eucalyptus leaves; chickweed; wild ginger; wood sorrel; yarrow and sumac slip onto upscale menus.


Atelier Crenn (“poetic culinaria”) by carendt242

Buzzwords for 2012

Fresh sardines. Uni. Yuzu. Tamarind. Kalbi. Bao. Bibambap. Bulgogi. Huacatay. Bone Marrow. Ox tail. Duck. Flowers. Hibiscus. Arepas. Coconut oil. Goat meat. Shiso. Green papaya. Seaweed.  Ultra-long dry aging of meat.  Lamb ribs and belly. Hand-made ricotta and burrata. Micro-distilleries. Exotic bitters on the bar.


Braised lamb belly, cilantro sauce and quinoa puree at Mo-Chica, a Peruvian restaurant in Los Angeles, by MyLastBite on flickr.

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