WHERE IT’S AT AND WHERE IT’S HEADED: FOOD AND BEVERAGE TRENDS IN 2017 (PART ONE)

This time last year we were still yet to be dealt the blow of Bowie — now our uncertain age is on shakier ground than any right-minded soul could have foreseen prior to (or shortly after) the Thin White Duke’s parting; perhaps he knew, Ziggy always had one eye on the future. And now a new year is upon us. No matter how bleak Trump’s looming reign might feel, the beginning of 12 more months is a time to look forward; a time to apply stain removal to the final splashes of port and Baileys, a time for Lemsip and resolutions. Tinsel down, fresh to-do list scribed — it is time to think ahead. It is time to talk trends.

A dirty but vital term, trends have found new legs post-digital revolution. They come and go like scoring chances in a basketball game; Instagram the key culprit. Yet to different industries, trends play different roles. I recently interviewed Ford’s leading interior designer, who works to a six-year design process — for him trends are seen in soft focus, dramatic changes could lead to billion dollar disasters. At the other end of the scale is haute couture and the high street; a game of cat and mouse that the internet has sped up into a Benny Hill chase scene. Catwalk innovation to Topshop in the time it takes to change a Formula One tyre.

And so to an industry that shares much affinity with the fashion world: gastronomy. Seasonal shifts and the pivotal pull of Paris are just two dominating factors shared from kitchen to catwalk, collaboration and an intense need to innovate the glue that binds them. ‘Nothing is confidential today,’ says the great Alain Ducasse, when asked of the potential parallels between fashion’s copying culture and cuisine. ‘Nothing is secret. If there’s a new talent, he’s immediately going to be identified. He’s going to be supported. That’s really important for our industry.’

Like some of the fashion world’s finest have with H&M, Ducasse embraces his industry’s newfound intensity, its hyper-speed triggered by social media. Sure, it might be a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, but the French great talks enthusiastically of collaboration in the kitchen; closed fortresses of Michelin-starred egos for so many years, this collaborative delirium is bubbling over in more than just Alain Ducasse’s many international kitchens.

Rosio Sanchez
Rosio Sanchez

Stop, collaborate and listen.

Leaving the world’s best restaurant is a bold move, for a street food stall some may say bonkers. Former Noma chef Rosio Sanchez is anything but, though, and her fledgling Copenhagen taco empire, Hija de Sanchez, is testament to that; not least because big-name chefs (including a certain René Redzepi) regularly join her for a slice of the action at her weekly Amigos de Sanchez summer sessions. A similar programme has been active at James Lowe and John Ogier’s lauded Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s for over a year now; top names from some of the world’s leading restaurants stopping by to put together a one-off meal.

Opened in August 2014 by chef Ollie Templeton, brother Ed, and cousins Anna and Will Templeton, Carousel is a London restaurant that takes this revolving door concept to the nth degree; rising stars from the kitchens of revered restaurants like El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz, and Oaxen Krog & Slip putting a fascinating spin on the pop-up. ‘There’s no fixed rule for how we choose the chefs. It’s a real mix … places we’ve eaten; places we want to eat; places we’ve been recommended by friends,’ explains Ollie Templeton, ‘The key is to bring a different kind of experience to the table every time, something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find in London.’

Carousel, London
Carousel, London

The new nomads.

Indeed, the demand from the public — increasingly savvy in the social media age — for new experiences is as much a driver of this trend as the desire of creative chefs to collaborate. It is also why not just chefs, but restaurants too, have ants in their pants. Blumenthal’s theatrical Fat Duck has been to Melbourne; Redzepi’s Noma to Sydney, Tokyo (where they literally did have ants in their pants), and soon Tulum (where the Copenhagen kitchen will pitch up in an open-air restaurant throughout April and May this year); and highly-regarded Chicago hotspot Alinea has hotfooted it to Faena Hotel Miami Beach.

It is not just chefs and their kitchens who have itchy feet or cravings for collaboration, though. Expect the shareconomy revolution to play a major part in food and beverage trends for 2017 and beyond; the scene’s forefather having debuted their Trips concept recently. Dubbed the ‘Airbnb of dinner parties’, EatWith have been connecting experience-hungry travellers and budding local cooks for a few years, and they’re not alone. With the ‘Airbnb of Airbnb’ now determined to swallow up anyone operating in the local experiences sector, competition will surely lead to innovation and experimentation.

Google Drone Delivery
Google Drone Delivery

The march of the shareconomy has not only led to home cooks finding a new audience, but is increasingly responsible for a seismic shift in food delivery. UberEATS and Deliveroo have changed perceptions of what we can have brought to our doorstep — cold kebab house pizza usurped by grub from some of your city’s most interesting eateries — and now delivery-only restaurants (Momofuku’s Ando for example) are becoming a thing. Big names like Chipotle and 7-Eleven are teaming up with the likes of Google and Amazon to deliver your heart attacks via drone, and all of a sudden 2016 looks perfectly sane.

Let’s get intimate.

Shifting our perceptions from the norm, though, is a movement in itself; and it defines much of the sub-trends I’m talking about. Whether it’s much-awarded celebrity chefs taking the mountain to Muhammad, or aspiring names of the future using social media as a platform to find their feet; there is a shared desire to connect on a new level with diners, an authenticity that is gladly at odds with pizza drones.

Mr Donahue's, New York
Mr Donahue’s, New York

Chefs, at the end of the day, are creatives. And creatives are sensitive souls who oft-favour a pat on the back over a pay cheque. They travel and collaborate because they want to inspire with their art, and that is why tiny, intimate spaces are on the rise.  José Carles’s Panama City restaurant Donde José has just 16 seats, but that hasn’t stopped it being hailed as one of the planet’s most exciting new culinary destinations — the same can be said for Spis, a hip Helsinki eatery that seats just two more. In fact, you don’t need to look hard to find intimate spaces with big-hitting reputations. Every seat at New York’s Wildair is at the bar, yet it has been named by several outlets as one of America’s top openings of 2016; Washington, D.C.’s Bad Saint, too, 24-seats, no-reservation, universally-acclaimed; Mr. Donahue’s in Manhattan? Nine. NINE seats from which to enjoy Michelin-starred husband-wife duo Matt Danzer and Ann Redding’s take on classic U.S. diner comfort food.

Comfort eating.

Talking of comfort food, the whole gourmet fast food thing is showing absolutely no signs of abating, with new restaurants popping up everywhere to confirm just that. L.A.’s food truck turned bricks and mortar Howlin’ Ray’s has had food critics in a Scoville scaled tizz with its Nashville hot chicken, and Asheville, North Carolina’s Buxton Hall Barbecue was named one of the United State’s top ten best new restaurants by Bon Appétit magazine. Cooking over fire in itself has been hailed by many as a trend to keep an eye on, and Neil Rankin’s new London opening Temper is basking in it; Jay Rayner claiming to have gone home stinking of ‘wood smoke, rendered animal and testosterone.’

Buxton Hall Barbecue
Buxton Hall Barbecue

Another smokey new opening in London is Tandoor Chop House, the first solo restaurant concept from the folk behind The Hoxton, which elevates the naan to new heights, and uses the same tandoor ovens to turn out fleshy morsels like amritsari crispy lamb chops and tandoor chicken. 

Tandoor Chop House
Tandoor Chop House

Charcoal is in plentiful supply at BabaBoom and Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, too, as the capital readdresses the humble kebab’s bad name; Morito Hackney Road and Luca (from the owners of 26th best restaurant in the world, The Clove Club) display the ability to add refinement to the comfort food craze.

When one thinks of comfort food, it is oft impossible to separate that nostalgic essence from the wanton abandon of smearing unctuous meat across your face (just me?), but as we’re here to talk trends, let me utter one thing: cauliflower. By all accounts a buzzy ingredient, but I’ll leave it there on its own. Vegetables, of course, are big news — high-end vegetarian restaurants quite possibly a trend of their own, and there is even a ‘vegetarian butcher’ movement — but the wider attitude towards being good is a motion that will surely have a bigger effect on the industry as a whole. After all, in a post-Brexit/Trump world, being good is one bandwagon absolutely everybody should be ready to jump aboard. Hold that thought.

The positivity continues in the second instalment of this assessment of food and drink’s present and prospective state, and it will be joined by beer, bowls, virtual reality and whisky hand wash. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.