WASHINGTON — The National Restaurant Association’s annual survey of more than 1,800 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation (A.C.F.) identified local sourcing of ingredients, sustainability and nutrition as the most significant trends on restaurant menus in 2010. Rounding out the top 10 trends are nutritious children’s meals, half-portions, farm-branded ingredients, gluten-free/food-allergy conscious meals and sustainable seafood.
For 2009, the N.R.A. predicted nutrition, philosophy-driven food choices, children’s vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits, smaller portions, artisan liquor and sustainable seafood would be among the leading menu trends.
"No one has a better view of restaurant menu trends than the chefs of the nation’s nearly one million restaurants, and that is why we survey these culinary professionals on what hot, new trends we’ll see in the coming year," said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the N.R.A. "The top trends this year — local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition — reflect wider societal trends and consumers’ growing interest in these issues. Many restaurants are sourcing some of their ingredients locally, and you often see chefs shopping at farmer’s markets to create a host of better-for-you options that today’s diners want."
Michael Ty, president of the A.C.F., said, "This is retro — it’s what we did in the past when chefs relied on local markets because we did not have the luxury of today’s transportation system. We are going back to our roots and the foundation of our craft that made it more pleasurable."
The leading culinary theme revealed by the survey is sustainability, which is ranked as the third most significant trend. Whether applied to produce, meat, seafood or alcoholic beverages, the N.R.A. said the concepts of environmentally friendly practices and local sourcing — farm-to-fork — are appealing to both restaurant operators and consumers for several reasons, including freshness, minimal transportation, and supporting local communities and businesses.
Nutrition is another culinary theme that ranked high on the list of trends at No. 15. Healthful options for children, produce, superfruits, bite-size and half portions, and food allergy conscious and gluten-free meals all rank in the top 20, illustrating that consumer interest in health and nutrition continues to grow and that restaurants are responding.
Other menu trends in the top 20 include farm-/estate-branded ingredients, regional ethnic cuisine, non-traditional fish (including barramundi and Arctic char), and newly fabricated cuts of meat (including Denver steak and pork flat iron).
Simplicity as a culinary theme and smaller portions for a smaller price are also menu trends for 2010, reflecting the shift in consumer preferences toward value and comfort during the economic downturn.
In the preparation methods category, liquid nitrogen freezing/chilling was ranked as the No. 1 trend, followed by braising, sous vide, smoking and oil-poaching/confit.