SF chefs make big predictions for 2023’s food trends

For better or for worse, 2022 is over — and that means it’s time to reflect. While Bay Area restaurants began to bounce back this year from the challenges of the pandemic, they still struggled with sky-high inflation, ingredient shortages and a scarcity of restaurant workers. Many closed, but many still pulled through to survive another year — and some even managed to thrive. New trends popped up in restaurants, some fleeting (espresso martinis, anyone?) and others with staying power (QR code menus don’t seem to be going anywhere).

After interviewing numerous local chefs and restaurant owners, we’ve got the scoop: These are the restaurant trends that defined the Bay Area in 2022, as well as the ones destined to take over in 2023. These quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The trends chefs and restaurant owners loved this year

“Something I saw a lot of was really great low-ABV or nonalcoholic drinks on menus. And not just on cocktail bar menus but even restaurant menus, like at Nari.” — C-Y Chia, chef and co-owner of Lion Dance Cafe, Oakland

“People are starting to come out of their COVID shells. They made reservations, and they showed up, and they got away from doing to-go.” — Emmy Kaplan, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, San Francisco

Emmy Kaplan, owner of Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack in San Francisco.

Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

“One thing I loved this year was seeing how our guests at Besharam were interested and enthusiastic about learning foods and dishes that were less familiar to them. Our menu is meant to invite a conversation, and it was exciting to see that there was an increased openness to new dishes and ingredients we introduced this year, such as some of the alternative proteins in our Mumbai section, even from those who aren’t vegetarian.” — Heena Patel, chef/co-owner of Besharam, San Francisco

“We loved seeing our fellow fine dining chefs also opening casual concepts — Corey Lee with San Ho Won and David Barzelay with Automat. These restaurants allow a whole new demographic to experience their cuisine in a more approachable setting.” — Chris Bleidorn, executive chef/owner of Birdsong and Birdbox, San Francisco

“I’ve noticed a trend of prix fixe on almost all mid- to high-end restaurants where traditionally you would only see a la carte. I love the ability to graze and try a lot of items (although sometimes it’s almost too much food). I also see from my restaurateur’s perspective that this is a way to keep the check average higher.” — Hanson Li, owner of restaurant group Salt Partners (Horsefeather, Last Rites, B-Side, Lazy Susan, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream and Sunday Bakeshop)

Hanson Li, owner of restaurant group Salt Partners.

Hanson Li, owner of restaurant group Salt Partners.

Image courtesy of Hanson Li

“We have loved seeing restaurants thrift for dishware. The idea of giving already produced items a second life and reducing the amount of new goods produced is really encouraging.” — Rachel Sillcocks, co-founder of Hilda and Jesse, San Francisco

“Bar dining is back! This is a perennial favorite for those of us in the hospitality industry because it’s where we can chum it up with our restaurant world colleagues.” — Greg Kuzia-Carmel, chef/owner of Camper and Canteen Coffee Shop, Menlo Park

The 2022 trends they want to leave behind

“QR code menus. I believe going out to eat should be a phone-free experience among friends or family. We spend enough time in front of screens all day. … However, I do love the trend of QR code ordering when and where it is appropriate.” — Jake Lucas, corporate executive chef at Palm House, the Dorian, Bergerac, Audio and the Flamingo

“Espresso martinis. … Also, I think I have a love-hate relationship with the highbrow-lowbrow thing (like potato chips and caviar). I think it’s slightly hypocritical when it’s an expensive, high-end place that’s like, oh, let’s throw in a little gas station condiment just to show that we’re fun.” — Chia

“I don’t like eating out of a box. It doesn’t align with how I was raised or how I learned my craft.” — Dominica Rice-Cisneros, chef-owner of Bombera, Oakland

Bombera chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros tastes their latest batch of pozole, on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. 

Bombera chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros tastes their latest batch of pozole, on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. 

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“Hot chicken/fried chicken sandwiches.” — Li

“What I didn’t like is UberEats and other apps trying to be predators on small businesses. It is already so hard for us to survive, and I feel they’re like leeches. … I also do not like ghost kitchens.” — Ranjan Dey, chef-owner of New Delhi Restaurant, San Francisco

“Break-ins in San Francisco and Oakland. My restaurant got broken into twice. … You’re in survival mode, and you kind of feel like you can’t get a break.” — Nigel Jones, chef-owner of Kingston 11 and Calabash, Oakland

Nigel Jones, chef-owner of Kingston 11 and Calabash, in Oakland.

Nigel Jones, chef-owner of Kingston 11 and Calabash, in Oakland.

Photo by Bethanie Hines; courtesy of Nigel Jones

“The trend we’d all like to see go by the wayside here in the New Year is what my team has coined ‘Prom Night Drunk.’ Nearly three years of limited public captivity have worn on folks’ alcohol tolerance and concurrently have been the excuse for many to have ‘just one more.’ The net result has been some of the most abusive and downright hostile treatment of hospitality workers in recent memory, and I think across the industry we’d like to see a little more civility in these instances.” — Kuzia-Carmel

Trend predictions for 2023

“I am predicting that in 2023 we will see an appetite for adventurous dining inspiring people to gravitate toward spicy food and more spice-forward preparations.” — Patel

“I’m excited to see the continued reclamation and uplift of Asian cuisines. … I also think we’ll see a bunch of lab-grown meat companies hitting restaurants akin to Impossible Foods seven to 10 years ago.” — Li

The tasting menu at Lion Dance Cafe, at 380 17th St. in Oakland.

The tasting menu at Lion Dance Cafe, at 380 17th St. in Oakland.

Ariana Zhang/Courtesy of Lion Dance Cafe

“I think we’re going to continue to see more and more chefs and restaurateurs get hyperfocused on very specific and niche regions and regional cuisines, especially areas that may not have received the love and attention of years past. Think very specific areas of Italy or the cuisine of the country of Georgia. Oh, and for sure the continued rise and popularity of Greek wines — the ultimate combination of quality and value.” — Charles Bililies, founder and CEO of Souvla, San Francisco

“The bug for dry-aging fish has caught on strongly in California and the West Coast. … For restaurants that are conscious of the cost of their product (keep in mind that fish is very expensive and fragile) and for chefs that are constantly looking for different ways to cook and present food, this is not just a trend; it’s a verifiable revolution in the way fish is stored and cooked.” — Peter Hemsley, chef-owner of Palette, San Francisco

“I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of nostalgic luxury items come back, like baked Alaska. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of regionally specific ingredients trending like ube. I think we’re going to see a lot more pandan. And I think we’re going to see more small snacks to accompany drinks in bars, which is something that’s already been huge in Singapore.” — Chia

“Restaurants being a little bit more environmentally conscious. This trend has been going on for a long time, but I think we’ll see more and more, from where we source our food products to how we use our packaging.” — Doug Marschke, owner of Underdogs Too, Underdogs Tres and Tacko, San Francisco

“After staying at home in our sweatpants for the past two-plus years, people are ready to see and be seen! I’ve seen a resurgence in guests getting dressed up to go out, and group dining also seems to be on the rise. I think as we continue to normalize what life looks like post-pandemic, we will see some spectacular outfits in our dining rooms. This could also extend to elaborate presentations on the table and in the glass and creative events in the restaurants.” — Adriano Paganini, founder of Back of the House, San Francisco

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