The chef, managers and servers are all relative in the restaurant game, but when it all boils down to it, the guest is the bread and butter. To compete with the abundance of restaurants in the nation, chefs must cater to the desire of the consumer to be successful. Here are some ways chefs can get on board with the top two trends of 2014.
"Today's consumers are more interested than ever in what they eat and where their food comes from, and that is reflected in our menu trends research," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association. "True trends – as opposed to temporary fads – show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time, and focus on the provenance of various food and beverage items, unique aspects of how they are prepared and presented, as well as the dietary profiles of those meals."
Riehle's statement is based on the survey the NRA conducted. Over 1,200 chefs were asked to rank a list of 258 items in terms of being "in" or "out" in 2013. The results listed local menu items as the top two contenders for 2014.
Meat is the crowd pleaser
Taking first place, locally sourced meats and seafood were number one this year. The popularity of charcuterie, entrees and sandwiches with proteins that have a local tie, can be seen essentially everywhere. Farm-to-chef programs kicked off within the last few years. They were an opportunity for small farms to gain some business and for chefs to say, "Hey, we're going to have some new things on the menu this week, come and try them." Some restaurants have even gone to the extreme and create in-house charcuterie items.
While this trend has taken off and continues to offer farmers and chefs a unique opportunity to work together, it isn't always easy to buy local, one executive chef confessed to NPR. His restaurant, Legume in Pittsburgh, was buying 100 percent of its meats from within the state of Pennsylvania but has had to stop recently. The tactic was failing him because buying an entire animal means more of a variety in cuts and sometimes fewer top-shelf ones. Explaining to guests that a restaurant has to wait until the next cow shipment comes in isn't always practical.
Where this may pose a problem for some, others have found a niche in this point. Some high-scale restaurants make it their brand to serve up cow tongue, pig's tail and brains. Bone marrow caters to some but not all – yet. Down the road, this trend could emerge as more chefs continue to buy local and are forced to get creative to keep up with food costs.
Fresh from the garden
A major responsibility of chefs is to ensure the restaurant has sufficient food without going over budget. Since the hype of locally sourced foods emerged, some culinary professionals had difficulties meeting these needs because, like the chef from Pittsburgh experienced, smaller farms can't always keep up with supply.
From this shortcoming emerged a new niche market, the "food hub," reported MassLive. This position connects farmers and wholesalers, which means chefs can buy the amount of produce needed and still keep it local. Some farms may run out of a particular type of tomato early in the season but another will have them, so the restaurant can continue to buy local without having to do the footwork of locating another farm.
This is proof that chefs can overcome the challenges and embrace the trends. At the end of the day, it's about giving the people what they want and, now, how they want it.
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