It’s been a while since I wrote up a trend list. In fact, the last trend report I did was in 2011. I’m back with 10 food and dining trends I spotted in 2015. It’s not everything I tracked, but 10 is a nice round number, yes? There is nothing scientific about how I came up with this list of 10. They are simply observations I made throughout the course of the year from a three prong approach: 1) studying food during my travels (I hit Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, New York City, Idaho, Utah, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas this year), 2) my near constant consumption of media, specifically but not limited to food media, and 3) a little bit of gut instinct from tracking trends for many years, not just in the food world.
I kept track of some trends in 2014, but I never sat down to write a post. So just for fun, I’ve included eight trends I was tracking in 2014. You’ll see them below the 2015 observances. I’d love it if you would to add to the list. Tell me what you spotted in 2015 that I didn’t include. Here we go…
2015 Food Trends
1. Avocado Toast
The defining trend for 2015 wasn’t necessarily a restaurant dish, although I did see it at several, and read about it at even more. Most often I saw it splashed on Instagram and Pinterest by home cooks. I even made several different versions at home. My favorite was topped with peak season heirloom cherry tomatoes from the farmers market last summer, and then splashed with a good glug of a highly acidic hot sauce, like Homeboy’s Jalapeño Hot Sauce.
2. Chef Collaborations
Chefs getting together to collaborate on a common menu for a one-off dinner is nothing new, but in Phoenix, collaborations among chefs reached fever-pitch. Whether it was just two chefs cooking a dinner together because they’re friends (with or without a charity angle), or the wild ‘n crazy collaborations we saw when Welcome Chicken + Donuts invited certain chefs to come create a special donut flavor and a fried chicken sauce, chef collaborations were a “thing” in 2015. The most impressive collaboration was a full-blown, multi-chef extravaganza featuring seven AZ chefs, which started out as low-key, fun dinners at each of their restaurants, and ended up with a trip to the James Beard House in NYC.
3. Fried Chicken Sandwich
Southerners might snicker to see their beloved staple named a trend — fried chicken sandwiches have long been part of the culinary fabric in the South, like this chicken biscuit at Mama’s Boy restaurant in Athens, Georgia — but 2015 was the breakout year for the golden clucker in the rest of the country. It doesn’t matter if the bread is a brioche roll, a hamburger bun, an English muffin or a proper Southern biscuit, the fried chicken sandwich was the belle of the ball in 2015. Some credit David Chang and his fried chicken sandwich counter serve joint Fuku, but it doesn’t take much effort — I’d say only one bite — to understand why it’s so popular.
4. Vegetable-Centric Menus
“Vegetable-driven” was a compound word bantered about frequently in 2015, as if it was finally cool to cook vegetables. I’m not talking about pure vegetarian restaurants. I’m talking about meat-centric restaurants upping their vegetable game. On the extreme end, take Korean taco king Roy Choi and his Los Angeles Commissary restaurant planted in a greenhouse complete with hanging plants. I’d be absurdly rich if I had a gold coin for every “vegetable-driven” menu description I heard from a server or read in a magazine. Of course, in Scottsdale, FnB restaurant continues (as they always have) to make vegetables the star of the show. I may be biased (the chef is my best friend) but I think Charleen Badman inspires other chefs with her creative take on plant life.
5. Cured Egg Yolks
Bottarga (salted, cured fish roe) had its moment in 2014, but in 2015, American chefs turned to American poultry — duck, geese, turkeys and even heirloom chickens — grating the luscious golden egg over everything from salads to pasta.
6. Miso Flavored Desserts
I first read about miso in desserts midway through 2014, but it wasn’t until this year that I spotted the fermented bean paste showing up on multiple restaurant menus, and not just Asian restaurants. Miso ice cream, miso strudel, miso panna cotta. Although not technically a dessert, one of my favorites was the rice flour waffle at The Gladly in Phoenix, gilded with brown sugar & red miso butter.
7. One or Two Dish Shacks
This one might not yet be a trend, but it is coming, trust me. There is a certain appeal about a singularly focused grub hub to entrepreneurial chefs. Food trucks are rolling one-dish shacks, but it’s rare to see a brick and mortar offer only one thing. Until now. In hindsight, Sara Jenkins and her 2008 Porchetta digs in NYC may have planted the one dish seed. Federal Donuts sprouted that seed in Philadelphia, offering a laser-focused menu of fried chicken and donuts (no doubt inspired by the chicken & waffle phenom), followed by hummus-only Dizengoff (literally across the street from a Federal Donuts), the falafel-only Madcapra in LA, and Phoenix’s Welcome Chicken + Donuts. This year, Midas-touch David Chang set up Fuku, a fried chicken sandwich shack in Midtown (see trend 3 above). And of course, don’t forget Ramen shops. They’ve been around forever in Japan, and have finally bubbled up to the trend surface here in the States. There probably isn’t a mid-size city in the country that doesn’t have a new noodle shop. Phoenix has Tampopo Ramen and another one on the way. Improvisational dining Posh gives up Tuesday evenings to turn into a Ramen pop-up. And I know of a couple chefs who are “noodling” the idea themselves right now.
8. Middle Eastern Flavors
Maybe this is a dream of mine, but have you noticed traditional Middle Eastern flavors and dishes creeping up all over the place? I’m talking labneh, that tangy yogurt cheese, and hummus — some traditional chickpea and some not so traditional (black bean?). And then I’m seeing seasonings like the herb and sesame seed za’atar sprinkled over everything, including french fries. I spotted short ribs seasoned with Lebanese spices (Town Square Tavern), and falafel burger (Ocotillo), a Syrian red pepper and walnut dip, muhammara (T. Cook’s), and labneh ice cream at Fnb.
9. Restaurant Cookbooks
Cookbooks by restaurant chefs come out every year, but 2015 was a banner year for independent, chef-driven restaurants. Some of the top cookbooks released in 2015 include: “Franklin Barbecue” (Austin); “The NoMad Cookbook” (NYC); “Gjelina” (Los Angeles); “Hartwood” (Yucatan); “Zahav” (Philadelphia), “This is Camino” (Oakland), “Benu” (San Francisco); “Atelier Crenn” (San Francisco), “Morito” (London); “Nopi” (London); and “Vedge” (Philadelphia)… just to name a few.
10. Put An Egg On it
You could argue this trend started in 2013, gained momentum in 2014, and basically dominated mainstream in 2015, but I’ll keep it on the trend list for now, because like bacon in the mid-aughts, it shows no sign of slowing.
Before we jump into 2014, I feel compelled to mention one particular fad. It’s so wrong, so off-base that I won’t ever call it a trend, although it seems mainstream American may disagree with me. Can you guess what I’m talking about?
Ugh. Bone broth is not new. It just got a catchy name in 2015. It’s stock, people. It’s always been stock and meat stocks have always been simmered with meat bones. But isn’t it cooler and hipper to call it “bone broth” instead of… stock? Please don’t fall for it, and please don’t pay a premium for it.
2014 Food Trends
3. Deviled eggs
4. Hipster 2-name restaurants (Hog & Hominy, Memphis; Pig & Pickle, Scottsdale)
5. Haute Mexican (Cosme, NYC)
6. Asian-Mexican fusion
7. Dinnertainment (Dinner Lab)
8. Skins (Fried of course: chicken, pork, salmon)
And if I’d done a list in 2013:
1. Death of fine dining
There you have it, my musings on what was hot in dining and food for 2015. Now it’s your turn. I know you have a couple ideas we can add to the list. What did I forget?