Diversity, home delivery, safety and maybe turkey are on menu Tasty Trends for '94

January 02, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

This is the time of year when perfectly sane people take to the trees. That is, they climb out on limbs to predict what the new year will bring.

Some limbs, of course, are sturdier than others. It's not hard to predict that American cuisine is going to continue to diversify, as new ethnic specialties enter the mainstream and as currently popular ethnic foods multiply by dividing into regions.

Nor is it hard to predict that health and safety are going to continue to affect food choices, as the government gears up to increase monitoring of the food supply and to persuade people to eat more healthful foods.

"Antioxidant" foods -- chiefly fruits and vegetables high in vitamins A, C and E, which neutralize harmful substances in the body and thus help fight cancer and heart disease -- are likely to get the same spotlight that's shone on oat bran and cholesterol in past years. (It may be a while, though, before the term for disease-fighting foods -- "nutraceuticals" -- enters the vocabulary ordinary people.)

But to compile a complete menu for the future, we took a deep look into the old crystal goblet, consulted some folks in the food industry and talked to a trend tracker. Besides more fruits and vegetables, what's going to show up on your plate in 1994?

* "Turkey," says Jerry Edwards, of Chef's Expressions caterers of Baltimore. "Turkey is going to take the forefront. We're doing a lot with turkey breasts that we've marinated and grilled."

Mr. Edwards predicts that chefs at more elaborate restaurants are going to be featuring "center-of-the-plate" turkey, perhaps as cutlets and medallions.

* "Exotic beans and robust vegetables," says Katherine Newell Smith, communications director for Sutton Place Gourmet shops Baltimore and Washington, "all kinds of beans, but especially exotic ones, like cranberry beans and white Aztec beans." And the continuing search for "more robust tastes" will lead to more interest in such vegetables as leeks, turnips and kale, she predicts.

* Biscotti, fancy rice mixtures and plain bottled water, says Nancy Cohen Kaplow, CEO of Eddie's supermarkets in Roland Park and Towson. "And gourmet coffee is still real hot," she says.

* Fools, syllabubs, brown bettys and other traditional fruit desserts, says Spike Gjerde, chef-proprietor of Spike & Charlie's Restaurant and Wine Bar in downtown Baltimore.

"We're going more toward organic produce, working with local suppliers that we know and like." As a result, he says, he's become interested in "heirloom fruits" -- "things that have sort of been passed by, like quince and persimmons." In terms of dessert, he notes, "a quince in November is going to be far better than any strawberry you can find."

In some cases, it may not be the food that's different, but the way it arrives on the table.

Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and editor and publisher of the The Trends Journal, predicts that home delivery is going to make big inroads in food service in coming years.

"We're all working longer and harder," Mr. Celente says. "People just don't have time." Instead of shopping or preparing food every night, busy consumers will have dinner delivered.

Mr. Celente sees the food offered for home delivery as more the cafeteria-steam-table type than high-style cuisine, but he says that fast-food giant McDonald's has announced it is looking into the concept. "We think that's going to be the hottest trend in the next decade," he says.

But virtually all the prognosticators cited a more immediate trend emerging among consumers these days.

"People seem to be moving away from health-conscious things," Ms. Kaplow says. They haven't stopped buying the low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol items they've become convinced are good for them, she says, "but they're also buying things they can indulge themselves in -- chocolates, Ben & Jerry's [ice cream] and snacks."

At the same time, she says, "They see 'natural' as being good." So "all-natural" chips and salsas are big sellers. "Consumers want to upgrade what they're snacking on."

"I think people are still going to be very, very conscious of health issues," Mr. Edwards says. But his catering customers are not asking for low-cholesterol menus, he says. "People are still eating beef and cream cheese" as party foods. "And you know why? Because they're not eating them at home."

Ms. Smith expects the recent trend toward "home-style" foods to continue. It's one way of combining healthier choices and self-indulgence, she says, and she sees more chefs adopting "bistro-trattoria" type dishes. Instead of serving some exotic combination of disparate ingredients, they're "scaling down to really good, wonderful, fresh food," she says. It's comfort food, she says -- "like you were a kid back on the farm."

Among the foods getting more attention along this line are fresh herbs, local lettuces and locally produced organic game, Ms. Smith says.

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