If this were the 2015 depicted in the movie “Back to the Future Part II,” freeze-dried (and rehydrated) pizza and drop-down fruit dispensers might be part of our day-to-day. What that film’s writers didn’t anticipate, however, was Americans’ growing affection for local and artisanal foods, as well as continuously evolving dietary preferences that are radically reshaping how we eat.
Some recent culinary phenomenon — such as food trucks and smaller, shareable plates — will stick around through 2015, as will staples such as tacos, artisanal burgers, and kale. But they’ll be joined by an ever-more-adventurous stable of fun and portable foods such as canned cocktails, smoked desserts, and even cauliflower steak. Here are some of the trends to look for — and riff on — over the next year.
1. GLUTEN-FREE FOR GOOD
What initially seemed like a trend has become a given. The market for gluten-free foods is projected to grow by 10 percent each year through 2019, and bakers and chefs are becoming more creative and adept at weaving grain- and soy-free options into attendee meals. (See sidebar at right.) It will be virtually mandatory for planners to provide gluten-free offerings at meetings in 2015 and beyond.
2. VIVA VEGGIES
Growing legions of meatless eaters are having a profound effect on the food world, with chefs working hard to create delicious plant-based dishes that aren’t salad, and meat substitutes becoming ever more sophisticated. Look for an uptick in offbeat grain dishes in 2015 — barley risotto, millet croquettes, freekeh chili, and fried forbidden rice — as well as barbecued-meat substitutes such as pulled jackfruit sandwiches.
3. LOCAL FOODS, GLOBAL FLAVORS
Korean-style grilled meats and Vietnamese sandwiches such as bánh mì have popped up in practically every U.S. city in the last few years. With both Asian flavors and farmers markets deeply entrenched in our foodscape — and an infusion of Spanish, Peruvian, and Brazilian eateries in virtually every city — expect chefs to craft more Spanish-style tapas with local meats, ceviche with local fish, and phô and bowls of ramen with local herbs, vegetables, and eggs.
4. ‘POPPABLE’ PERSONALIZATION
Chalk up this trend to the Generation Yers, who are epic snackers. While planners know that this is a “poppable” generation, Millennials also reach for adventurous, crunchy, and/or spicy tidbits that are cousins of street food. Think mini savory pies, lamb “lollipops,” elote (grilled Mexican corn), and spicy, roasted garbanzo beans — plus the ability to customize tacos and burgers with a robust selection of hot sauces or relishes.
5. SUSTAINABLE, ‘OFFBEAT’ FISH
Our growing focus on sustainability in every aspect of our lives — again, a Millennial-influenced trend — combined with more tolerance for sour and briny flavors has meant that chefs are more often reaching for fish such as anchovies (served as boquerones), sardines (on salads and in sauces), octopus (grilled or stewed), and trout (trout roe and trout cakes).
6. SOUR, BITTER, SMOKED
Our palates are more primed for funkier flavors than ever before, due in part to the long, slow infusion of Asian flavors into contemporary American cuisine, and also to the food-preservation trend. Kimchi and pickled vegetables are must-have condiments; bitter cocktails such as Negronis and tart concoctions such as shrub (a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar) rule the bar; escarole and endives have joined (or replaced) lettuce in salads; and smoked cheeses are being melted onto artisanal grilled sandwiches. And desserts are not immune: Think sour-cherry clafoutis and smoky maple-bourbon ice cream.
7. COFFEE OR TEA?
Although some convention centers have exclusive contracts with Starbucks, even that mainstream chain has been evolving to meet growing consumer demand for single-origin coffees, pour-overs and cold-brewed coffee, and specialties such as affogato (espresso poured over ice cream). That increasing sophistication also extends to tea. Five years ago, who could explain what rooibos or
matcha was? Expect the increasing thirst for herbal and green teas to play out in unusual, barely sweetened iced-tea concoctions in 2015 that will join flavored waters on meeting sideboards.
8. WINE ON TAP
Alcoholic beverages are not immune to the grab-and-go phenomenon, and more wines are available in boxes, jars, kegs, and even cans — as are premixed cocktails such as Negronis and Champagne alternatives such as cava or cremant. Cheers!