A curious group of members and guests enjoyed the hospitality of Joie de Vivre’s Hotel Vitale and Americano Restaurant & Bar while getting an insider’s peek into how various culinary professionals think about, track and translate food and beverage trends. On June 6 I had the great pleasure of assembling a smart and articulate panel of savvy culinary professionals representing both the foodservice arm and magazine and cookbook publishing world in our profession. They generously shared their best practices with our audience with verve and humor.
I kicked off our trend exploration by explaining the Center for Culinary Development’s five-stage Trend Map, which offers a framework for understanding where food and beverage trends are operating on a spectrum of emergence and acceptance. We saw how many trends start in the restaurant world, move through food media and specialty retail, to chain restaurants, into women’s magazines and finally into the mainstream. The key to thinking about trend acceptance is to look for the drivers, the forces that propel trends into the mainstream by meeting a wide variety of consumer needs, like convenience, wellness or even flavor adventure.
From there, our panel discussed the ways trends work in their businesses. Morgan Plant, vice president of F&B for Joie de Vivre, talked about how she follows Twitter and chef blogs, and eats out a lot, to get ideas for menus and restaurant concepts. Her company also works with communities and consumers to find the best restaurant fit for new hotel properties. Sometimes the first idea doesn’t work, she explained, and needs to be tweaked to fit the locale and moment. For restaurant menus, she can react more quickly, such as seizing on the booming food truck-meets-pie scene and adding cute “pie holes” to a dessert menu.
Ida Shen is responsible for preparing thousands of meals each week at UC Berkeley as the assistant director-executive chef of Cal Dining. She follows about 20 blogs and soaks up the many food photos she accesses through social media and the web to get an idea of what her very vocal students may want to eat. Although Cal vegans weren’t delighted with one day’s pork festival, she routinely thrills young palates with international cuisine and trend-forward dishes, including ones that “smash” two cuisines together, like Korean tacos, though she notes that comforting dishes like mac and cheese are always crowd pleasers.
Amy Machnak, recipe editor, was clear about what Sunset magazine looks for: fresh, newsworthy stories that fit with the mission of the esteemed magazine focusing on the West, the second oldest in the U.S.! It’s got to be new, it’s got to be hot, yet it still must meet the needs of longtime readers. She and her fellow editors look for topics that appeal to them, that are cool and noteworthy and haven’t been covered before at Sunset. Amy pointed out how timing can be everything, illustrating with an example of covering the Portland food truck scene long before the current food truck mania hit — thus precluding additional coverage during the peak of the trend. At the same time, recipes must meet the needs of folks looking to cook a great dinner and still have some time left over to enjoy life.
Jennifer Newens gave us an inside look into Weldon Owen Publishing, a company that has an incredible catalog of cookbooks, many for Williams-Sonoma. Jen’s relationship with buyers at the gourmet retailer provide her with insight on what people are buying and cooking, whether it be the quirky aebelskiver pan, the classic slow cooker or even the newly intriguing pressure cooker. It turned out that publishing an aebelskiver cookbook gave the company one of its biggest sellers, despite the esoteric nature of the tasty Danish pancake ball. Look out for Jen’s upcoming cookbook with the Voltaggio brothers using modernist cuisine techniques.
Our lively evening concluded with an even livelier reception featuring a delicious selection of trend-forward appetizers and desserts, including a marvelously decadent mini salted caramel chocolate tartlet, provided by the Americano, and three fine wines from SImi Winery, generously donated by our Gold Sponsor Constellation Wines. I also relished our happy hour cocktail the Americano bar prepared with donated Svedka vodka. It featured lemon, fresh basil and elderflower liqueur, a tasty trend in itself.
By Kara Nielsen