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Is your restaurant keeping up with the current food trends?

Faux meat, fancy water, low-FODMAP – these are just a few of the food trends defining the Australian hospitality scene of today and that list is only growing. Food trends have an integral role in the evolution of consumer behaviour; some come and go in the blink of an eye and others dig their heels in and demand permanency on restaurant menus.

Here are six food trends to keep an eye on in 2019:

The internet

Consumer’s taste for food and their experimentation with it is heavily sculptured by popular media; food journalism, styling and presentation online and on television are just a couple of the channels trend-setting chefs are using to communicate with the community at large. Steffen Achtmann, owner and head chef at Luxe Catering and Events says food trends are largely due in part to the ease of which information is shared. “Customers are more educated now. Cooking shows are dominant and social media is more popular now than ever,” he explains. Chef Achtmann says food styling and presentation online has an enormous effect on how a restaurant might fare in the real world, with consumers now visiting restaurants wanting to order the beautifully plated meals they have seen on Instagram and Facebook.

Local Produce
Image is of fresh, local produce

More than ever, Australian restaurant-goers are wanting to know what’s going into their food and where it all came from; whether it was grown, caught, farmed or processed on or off-shore. “People are looking for Queensland Riverine Beef or Sydney Rock Oysters, they’ve got a great reputation and customers are more comfortable knowing that what they’re eating is sustainably sourced,” Chef Achtmann explains. 

In comparison to Europe and the US, Australia’s versatile climate grows fruit and vegetables that are sweeter, plumper and tastier. If kept local, they’re afforded enough time to fully ripen on the vine, getting the most flavour out of the fruit or vegetable as possible. Natural produce that’s sourced from overseas is generally picked earlier, to allow enough time for it to ripen in transit, resulting to them not having as much flavour as local products.

Native bush herbs, fruit and vegetables
Image shows a recipe that uses native bush herbs

Local demand for native Australian produce is increasing at a rapid pace. While the export market for variants like finger limes, Wattleseed and indigenous raspberries far exceeds the current supply, there is a growing interest for new bush flavours at a local consumer level. “Australian produce is really well received,” says Chef Achtmann. “They’re much more flavourful, versatile and generally sweeter than European fruit and vegetables.” Chef Achtmann regularly uses bush herbs in his catering business for garnishing meals as they add a flavour profile, colour and texture different to that of basic herbs like frilly parsley. 

Some of the biggest proponents of bush tucker come from very prestigious restaurant environments. Attica, Billy Kwong, Saltbush Kitchen and Restaurant Orana have been incorporating blood limes, gubinge and eucalyptus in their meals since their inception. Bush produce offers a uniquely Australian dining experience by taking ordinary dishes like crème Brulee and beef wellington and redefining it with local flavours to give it uniqueness.

Dietary requirements
Different grains are pictured which meet various dietary requirements

Any chef who’s been in the business long enough will tell you that if they were asked to swap spaghetti for rice noodles 15 years ago, they’d bark back and refuse. Today, the list of dietary requirements never ends. Gluten-free, sugar-free, ketogenic, low-FODMAP, paleo, flexitarian, vegetarian, pescatarian, veganism and low carb diets are all but a few options for consumers to choose from.

With technology allowing consumers better access to dietary information and society becoming more health conscious as a whole, diners are getting to know what foods do and don’t agree with their digestion. “As chefs, our skills are evolving to cater for these needs,” says Chef Achtmann; “and there’s a reason why it’s going this way. In my experience, about 50-70 per cent of gluten-free customers choose not to eat gluten because it gives them a leaky gut or it creates discomfort.” Having to cater to unique dietary requirements has become a norm in commercial kitchens. Chefs have had to learn how to adapt and cater to these needs and they’ve had to learn fast. “Nowadays, they’re better educated, so you can’t just give them a boring salad. Customers will no longer accept an afterthought, so you need to prepare for whatever is thrown at you,” Chef Achtmann insists.

Sustainability
Image showcasing sustainable cooking

Ethical eating has made a name for itself in recent years. Consumer education through popular media has instilled a social interest in other less commonly eaten parts of an animal. The movement towards unconventional cuts of meat is said to be a direct response to the sense that meat has become commercialised; supplied all too often in perfectly trimmed steaks and identically cut chicken thighs. With the growing need for chefs to think outside the box and be unique, food lovers are becoming increasingly adventurous. Bone marrow is a highly prized delicacy and sweetbreads are common additions to gastropub snack options. The movement towards meat scraps is synergised by the idea consumers have travelled too far from the source. The root-to-shoot or nose-to-tail mentality can be difficult to conduct in larger establishments but is highly rewarding for chefs.

Fat
Image shows different types of cooking fats available

Healthy fats have made a comeback in recent years with the help of paleo advocates like Pete Evans and Nora Gedgaudas. Lard can improve consistency, add umami and increase the moisture content of a dish, making it an excellent alternative to artificial flavour enhancers like Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). While the late 1990s saw a movement away from animal fats and towards unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil, recent studies suggest increasing healthy vegetable and animal fats and decreasing grains and gluten in your diet may help lose weight and increase cognitive brain function. With more consumers turning to specific diets to aid poor digestion and help with sensitivities and allergies, the hospitality industry is having to accommodate for it with meals rich in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates.

Conclusion

Although some traditionalist chefs are territorial about the ingredients that wriggle their way into their kitchens, many others see the value in trying out new flavours and ingredients, particularly if the seed is already planted in the minds of consumers. History has proven, however, that regardless of how long they stick around, the modern chef simply cannot afford to ignore the inclinations of the market.

Is your restaurant keeping up with the current food trends?

Faux meat, fancy water, low-FODMAP – these are just a few of the food trends defining the Australian hospitality scene of today and that list is only growing. Food trends have an integral role in the evolution of consumer behaviour; some come and go in the blink of an eye and others dig their heels in and demand permanency on restaurant menus.
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