My two cents worth about food trends in 2014

January 11th, 2014 | Posted by Gregoire Michaud in Daily life...

For the past several years, I had a blast pretending to be a fortune teller for the Food and Beverage industry, predicting pseudo trends and dreaming of what would be our industry a year later.

It was never meant to be taken to the first degree nor I intended it to be; it was just for myself and it was very much based on my own opinion (and it still is), according to what our guests had requested, in which direction our menus were being written and planned and how we would disseminate our buffet selection to please the new cravings of the masses.

Of course now, being a freelance-baker (if I may say) makes things much different. Instead of being in constant contact with guests, i.e. normal people, I am now in touch, almost on a daily basis, with chefs from places ranging from the best five star hotels in town to the most hip and trendy restaurants on the corner of the street. And as the icing on the cake, no pun intended, there are loads of new and upcoming restaurants visiting us to work on their bakeries, due to open in the next 3 to 12 months. (And no, even if you try bribing me with my own weight in chocolate, I won’t talk… unless it is coffee flavored… but still…)

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As incredible as it sounds, that whole range of indirect information gives me a sense of where the market is at and where is it going. The broad range of chefs are all chasing what they believe their clientele will want in the next 18 to 24 months, give and take. Most breads Chef asks us to bake aren’t all to be served in the bread basket, but more so to create their new dishes and to use bread as part of a dish, if not as a dish on its own. In that broad range of connoisseurs, I came across people who were supposed to recognize sourdough as one of the founding father of real food, to later ask me why the baguettes had a thicker and harder crust. I also came across a few people who are asked to give a soul to their food, using the best ingredients, to later be asked by their clients why the price is so high, which brings me to my first “2014 food and beverage trends”:

1.       You get what you pay for

It opposes the trend of local and sustainable, but it’s pretty much how HK works. Yet, there is a fine line between paying insane prices for pretend-to-be authentic food that ends up being more than average; and going to a restaurant where a passionate chef, cooking the best ingredients will bring you food with a soul. Truthfully, you can’t expect to walk in a Spanish restaurant, hoping to have the exact same food you had in Barcelona for the same price you paid in Barcelona, let me guess why… maybe because we are more than ten thousand kilometers away and that ultimately, these red prawns aren’t swimming over here by themselves. That said, the notion of value for money is certainly something very personal and again, it will all depends on what you are looking for and what you are willing to pay for in a city where 90% of food supplies is imported.

2.       Local and organic veggies and more

In total contrast with the first point, local and organic are definitely in the trend to stay. With all the food scares from China, if there is neighboring farms producing great quality and organic produces, then our industry should support them. And more than fruits and vegetables, it should also be for sustainable local fishes, poultry, and eggs and so on. Of course, the local supplies will never be enough to supply a city like HK entirely, but the movement has to start somewhere for our future generation.  Also, we visit farmer’s market in town, which are a great platform to spread the word, but 10 out of 10 stalls are selling vegetables. How about some real markets feel with a fish or cheese monger and a butcher?

3.       Real bread, ancient grains, including gluten-free, alternative grains to wheat

Definitely a matter close to my heart, and I am not saying this because I am a baker, but I feel that people are tired of the bread from industrial plants. Ancient grains with flavors, nutrients and characters should be brought to the limelight as alternative to wheat and the same goes for the gluten-free bakeries, pasta and other baked goods. The gluten allergies are mainly provoked by the push of large industries to have a higher yield on crops of wheat. It should go back to slow fermentation, ancient grain, full of taste and nutrient, back to real bread.

4.       Independent restaurants vs groups and hotels, alternative locations

Rental in Hong Kong is the number one issue when opening a new eatery, especially if you are independent. A few weeks ago, a restaurant guide awarded most of its top award to eateries located outside hotels, which might be a sign. Large restaurant groups have the financial power to spread in prime commercial spaces and leave no option to smaller independent venture to settle in locations out of the hot spots. I don’t see rental dropping drastically in 2014 (although I am hoping for it) and I think we will see more and more concept opening in alternative location and buildings.

5.       Popups, single item concept, spot on concept, private club and kitchens, steak frites

HKers are quickly bored with new dining concept. The scene is changing constantly and we see more and more “single item or concept” places opening. Popups are also having a blast in town, especially with all the European companies testing the market to see if their chances are good to survive in the ultra-competitive food and beverage market of Hong Kong. Building a restaurant with open option to change the core concept in a split second is definitely on the rise.

6.       Home brew everything, beer, lemonade, cola, hard liquor etc…

Either imported or locally made, we see a rise in home-brew drinks, from the classic beer, to the less common cola, lemonade, ginger ale and even hard liquor. Smaller artisan, whether based in Hong Kong or abroad, processing smaller batches are very much sought after with their products showcasing character, natural ingredients and uniqueness.

7.       Healthy kids

It’s most likely the point I continue to add on my list to the point where it might be just a dream to see it in reality. For years we have tried many different option on the kids menu, but ultimately, it starts with the parents and the food education kids receive. If healthier option are available but the kids have been feeding on nothing else than junk fast food, the switch won’t happen by magic. This change will continue to rise, but will take several years to be fully embraced.

8.      Artisan Butchery & steak house

With the current rise of artisan bakeries and pastry shops, I think artisan butcher is the next thing to blossom on the market. By that, I mean a proper butchery and traiteur shop where you can source all sort of meat specialties, sauces, terrines, roast chicken and so on, very much like you find in every village in Europe.

 9.       Asian hidden flavors brought to light

Dishes and flavors that are thousand year old classics are brought to the forefront of trendy places menu. Very much in line with the next point on playful eating, the ethnic side of food, especially from Asia is popping in just about every other dish I come across. From the small island of Indonesia to the heart of China, beautiful flavors are delighting palates. The other day I met Peter Franklin from Chom Chom and he is doing just that very well actually!

 10.   Playful eating, portion size and ambiance

I came across several upcoming concepts where the ambiance and setting is meant to be convivial, communal and playful with smaller portion of superbly well executed dishes where the ingredients and the food are more important than the CV of the Chef. With the kind of not-so-great economy looming over Europe and the US, added to very long days of hard work, people of Hong Kong want to have a good time, or feel comfortable when they go out. If you are looking for gourmet food, it doesn’t have to be in an ambiance reminiscent of Louis 16th in his youth. Clever and playful eating with smaller portion sizes in a comfortable and welcoming ambiance is definitely upcoming!

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The above few points aren’t meant to focus on specific food items, for example, I won’t venture into predicting what the next super food will be nor am I going to tell you that cupcakes and macaron will fade out of trend in the next 12 months for the simple reason that there is no replacement that can pretend to take over their commercial stardom (did I hear someone shout cronut? Oh… is it still available in Hong Kong?). Forecasting trends is definitely something very personal, unless sponsored by a huge corporation trying to gain market shares, but for now, let me go back to my oven and work on what may become the next big bread of 2014! ;)

 

I also shared this on my regular column on Asia Tatler Dining, check it out here!

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