Tasty trends of 2012

Get ready for all new taste sensations.

click to enlarge Will gourmet doughnuts overtake cupcakes this year? - hemera/Thinkstock
Will gourmet doughnuts overtake cupcakes this year?

That gold, strapless cocktail dress adorned with feathers that Versace put on the runway last season will almost assuredly be reproduced by both high- and low-end designers this year, to be seen everywhere from small boutiques to Forever 21. Just like that celebrity chef's gourmet doughnut shop in Manhattan, which will spur a monomania for sweet, yeast-risen breakfast treats topped with everything from bacon to squid.

Food and dining trends, like those in fashion, are predicted — or determined — every year by the trade's influencers. Big-name and up-and-coming chefs, large food companies, restaurant consulting firms and even Food Network are the main culprits.

So what’s the buzz for the next 12 months?

Sandwiches will again reign supreme in 2012 — only now they'll be even bigger and more exotic. Last year, the Vietnamese banh mi was the top trend, while this year the conjecture is that Mexican tortas and cemitas on round, fluffy buns will be the most sought after. And they’re not just going to be filled with run-of-the-mill ingredients. Expect to find a mix of cuisines packed between slices of bread, like chorizo with curried vegetables and Asian cabbage topped with za’atar aioli. (Okay, I made that one up, but you get my point.)

Global fusion could be bigger than ever this year. Baum+Whiteman International Food and Restaurant Consultants predicts “edgier global fusion cooking.” Their recent press release, “16 Hottest Food and Dining Trends for 2012,” predicts “a multi-ethnic, multi-sensory dining experience where flavors clash on purpose. Look for excitement at the lower end of the market where devil-may-care entrepreneurs are piling flavors from all over the globe onto a single dish.” Remember what I said about that sandwich?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, focusing on a single exotic cuisine will also be quite hip in restaurant kitchens. This year’s plates will be influenced by North African, Jewish, Peruvian and Nordic dishes and ingredients. The reason? Many books on these foods are set to be published this year, and we’ll be seeing these regions’ native ingredients used by big-name chefs and up-and-coming restaurants around the country. Don’t be surprised to see creative takes on matzoh ball soup, tagines and cured fish on restaurant menus.

The cupcake may be on the way out, but taking its place in the hearts and stomachs of many this year could be the doughnut — and I’m not talking about pink frosting and sprinkles. Like sandwiches, these nouveau doughnuts will be mish-mashed with exotic influences and wacky ingredients. “We’ll start seeing other regions’ and countries’ versions of them, such as the Texan kolache, Turkish lokma or Portuguese malasada,” states the James Beard Foundation’s blog.

Sadly, food trucks might be on the way out. Baum+Whiteman portends that the mobile eateries will open brick-and-mortar shops, either giving up their wheels or juggling both trucks and storefronts. According to the all-knowing consultants, “There’s more money to be made in storefronts now that food trucks — pioneering in social media marketing — have proven that eccentric menus have great market potential, and the trucks create strongly branded identities that attract customers and satisfy wary landlords. If they open two or three storefronts, the trucks act as moving billboards.”

As for imbibing, indoor/outdoor beer gardens should be popping up in the unused backyards, patios and rooftops of restaurants, serving both craft and low-end brews. This will also mean that beer-friendly pub grub and gourmet finger foods — like pretzels, hot dogs, burgers, etc. — will continue to be in vogue. Just as local foods were big in ’11, locally made beers and locally sourced ingredients used in cocktails will see an even bigger rise in popularity in ’12.

These are just some of the many predictions for the new year, but, just like in Vegas, these bets don’t always pan out. So if you’re itching to open a Swedish-Moroccan doughnut sandwich food trailer, give it a few months and see how these culinary hunches pan out.

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