It used to be that the accomplished cook held a portable mixer or kitchen utensil in the palm of his or her hand. In the year 2001, marketers tell us the hand-held tool is just as likely to be a wireless personal digital assistant such as a Palm VII. With a few clicks, information on recipes, mealtime solutions, and party planning will be accessible, any place, any time.
Welcome to the new millennium.
We are in a decade when home cooking is interpreted by many to be convenience cooking and consumers are willing to spend the price of a week's groceries for a gourmet meal for two in a restaurant.
In the midst of technology, we want artisan foods, heirloom fruits and vegetables, and organic foods. As America readies to feed the world with genetically engineered crops, Europeans and many people in this country are suspicious of soybeans and corn that have been genetically altered.
As the economy booms, U.S. consumers may spend $1,000 on top-of-the-line cookware and 99 cents on the can opener. According to the 2001 International Housewares Show that takes place this week in Chicago, we're spending $25,000 for kitchen remodeling with professional-caliber cooking equipment, but using the expensive equipment for take-out food and “speed scratch” cooking, such as instant rice in a bag, pre-packaged bread dough, and couscous.
Just what are the trends in the coming year? Three specific areas include new twists on healthy foods; the globalization of the American home which introduces foods such as edamame and highlights new cuisines such as Cuban, and technology that connects the kitchen with the marketplace.
1. Emphasis on varied, healthy diet. Last October, new dietary guidelines from the American Heart Association were published. Low-fat dietary guidelines were moderated with a balanced diet from all the basic food groups. The recommendations of a dietary pattern emphasizing fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, and lean meats is still the basis. But the restrictive past advice about calculating daily fat percentages is replaced with a more positive overall message to eat a varied and healthy diet.
2. Interest in low-fat foods for travelers. In September, Hyatt Hotels Corporation updated its Cuisine Naturelle menu items (originally launched in 1992) to include items such as Vegetarian Pouch with Couscous and Salmon Spiral with Tabbouleh Salad. For road-weary business travelers in search of a nutrition-rich meal with an abundance of flavors, this may come as welcome news.
Now, from the kitchens of Globe@YVR in the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, comes word of Food for Flight, specially prepared and packaged meals for travelers. Guests simply place their order by phoning room service; those passing through the airport call the restaurant and order a meal in advance. Having its lobby in the concourse of an airport makes this hotel ideally situated for a short walk for take-out. Food for Flight includes seven selections from a sushi box to continental breakfast box, to a selection of domestic and imported cheeses complete with crackers, grapes, and sparkling water.
3. Fruits and vegetables reign. Meals built around fruits and vegetables push less nutritious foods to the side. Experts such as Melanie Polk of the American Institute for Cancer Research say that focus on vegetables and fruits is growing, but the bottom line is, will these healthy side dishes show up on the average restaurant menu? Menus need more than a vegetable medley or fried veggies.
4. Heirloom veggies. Then there's the hierarchy of fruits and vegetables: Heirloom varieties have more flavor, deeper color, and more aroma, but not always the beauty that newer varieties boast. The ultimate tomato, the sweetest ear of corn, or the juiciest peaches are sought both by consumers and those in the food industry.
That's why national chefs are flocking to the Chef's Garden, formerly Farmer Jones, in Huron, Ohio, to provide trendy, full-flavored veggies for their diners. “Heirloom varieties don't yield well,” said Lee Jones, adding that they tend to be more fragile, making yields uncertain. His farm grows 65 heirloom varieties of tomatoes that restaurateurs covet.
You probably won't find these heirloom varieties in major supermarkets. Instead, scour farmers markets or turn to your own garden. In the weeks and months ahead, those heirloom seeds will be in demand.
5. Organic foods. Meanwhile, the demand for organic produce has catapulted the amount of room mainline supermarket chains are allotting to these products. This year, in new stores, Kroger is adding eight feet in the produce section for organic products, said Marcia Siemans, spokeswoman for the chain.
National chefs have been promoting organic produce as well as free-range chickens and hormone-free meat. Meanwhile, mainline producers are getting into the branding concept for meat and poultry with names like Certified Angus Beef and Tyson's to assure the public of high standards.
6. Artisanal foods. Newer to the food scene is the idea of small-batch production of the best foods you've tasted. Look for artisanal foods such as hard-crusted yeast breads made from old-world recipes; seasonal cheeses from various regions worldwide that are handcrafted for a more natural appearance, and olive oils, pestos, and vinegars. Artisan cheese often comes from one herd of cows or sheep at a certain time of the year to give a distinctive flavor. Artisanal foods are made in small batches with recipes that many say can't be reproduced in larger quantities with the same degree of excellence.
7. Globalization of the home. With the United States as a melting pot welcoming new immigrants, watch for a cross-culturization of lifestyles and products for the home, advise experts from the 2001 International Housewares Show. From fajita dishes to rice steamers, from imported fruits and vegetables that enable Northern Hemisphere shoppers to have grapes in the depths of winter, to supermarkets regularly stocking ethnic foods and ingredients, the American dinner table is changing.
8. Latin American cuisine is hot, hot, hot. The trendiest cuisine is Cuban. This wonderful blend of Spanish and African culinary influences relies on staples such as chicken, pork, and seafood with traditional black beans and long-grain white rice served with virtually everything. In recent years, “nuevo Cubano” cuisine has emerged, courtesy of Cubans living in this country; it emphasizes presentation and the infusion of traditional dishes with spices and herbs of other Caribbean nations.
9. Edamame. Just when you thought you knew everything about soy, the buzz now is edamame (eh-dah-MAM-meh), the variety of soybean raised to be eaten fresh. Edamame is featured on the menus of popular Asian-style restaurants. Commonly eaten by heating them slightly, opening the pods, and popping the peas in your mouth, edamame is a good source of Vitamin A, calcium, and iron. Watch for these ready-to-eat soybeans (shelled) available in supermarkets. Use them in soups, salads, and stir-frys.
10. Technology invades the kitchen, but will it cook? Not only are cooks accessing the Internet for recipes and information on food and nutrition, companies such as Kraft are encouraging customers to access their Web sites via wireless applications. The company's goal is to provide ideas wherever and whenever the consumer needs them. So if you leave your shopping list at home, download a grocery list or recipe via your hand-held computer.
Trends or no trends, Americans think they want to cook; but they want to cook quickly.
Wait a minute. Let's jump-start the slow-food movement. That's where everyone in the household or family sits around the dinner table together. Amidst amicable conversation, the flavors of that slow-cooked meal - or even a take-out dinner - get even better.