Forecasting trends isn’t an exact science, but nonetheless, at the start of each year, the food and beverage industry makes a host of predictions about what will delight our palates during the upcoming year. Clearly, we’re about to join the pack.
To that end, we asked chefs, writers and other assorted culinary types what they think we’re going to be seeing in food and restaurants throughout the Americas. Some shared ingredient predictions, others shared trends both on the plate and off, still others waxed lyrical about the state of food today or what their particular region might have in store. Below, we offer what the 2018 food landscape forecast looks like throughout the Americas from a chorus of international chefs, mixologist, writers, and tastemakers.
I think that food is coming back to the basics, good comfort food but respecting the produce with updated techniques and philosophy. I would love to see more research on lost ingredients through out Latin America.
Ingredient: Turmeric. I used it a bit in the past and now it is a huge trend in beverage.
Spirit: Brandy, in general, and that will help elevate pisco and singani from South America.
I think one of the main food trends in Latin America will be traditional flavors. It could be traditional recipes of each culture or chefs cooking new dishes inspired by old knowledge — knowledge shared by people who live next to the fields, women who have been cooking since they are 8 years old (or less). Today, people are very interested in knowing what ingredients and dishes define each culture, and understand part of that culture by eating flavors that their ancestors used to eat. I don’t want to go Mexico and try French fries! I want to really know about the ingredients and flavors that define Mexicans. Now is our turn, as new generations of young chefs, to share these flavors with our clients, and work together in order to preserve their traditions.
Still more fermentation. A new era of eating healthy, and new languages for that. Seeking out more vegetables.
I think Venezuelan arepas will continue their way into conquering more spaces, and making their way into restaurants with more refined versions. We will see arepa bars and small restaurants popping up everywhere as a result of the Venezuelan diaspora running out of the country. I also would love to see more, lesser known restaurants from Latin America making it at a global level. A&G [Astrid y Gaston], Central, D.O.M., and Pujol have paved the way.
The talented young chefs in Chile will start to combine the wide variety of edible mushrooms with seafood, and not only red meat.
In Peru, regional cuisine is going to get more attention. While there have always been casual restaurants like Piura, Arequipa, and Cusco in Lima, they’ve never been taken to the next level. There hasn’t been a strong concept like Fiesta or La Picantería (based on the foods of Chiclayo). The young chefs coming from those places that value these cuisines are going to show how they can be done with new techniques. Elsewhere in South America, food in Argentina is going to get a lot of attention. Chefs like Tomas Kalika, Narda Lepes, German Martitegui, and Fer Rivarola are working hard in developing local ingredients and things are going really well.
Around Latin America things that are old school will continue to march ahead. However, in Bolivia things are still moving towards more tasting menus and no doubt longer tasting menus, especially more experimental. The whole fermentation craze have found its footing, but now wines need to follow. Latin America needs to start producing, and without a doubt drinking, more natural wines from small producers. The era of conventionality must and will break very soon.
I think in 2018 we are going to see a continued rise of new cultural cuisines. Talented chefs in small spaces making incredible food that represents who they are. I hope we see a move towards more mature, professional kitchens where men and women can co-exist and work together. I would also guess that more restaurants will move towards ticketing systems. I think it’s a change in how we operate, but it creates a clearly defined and mutually beneficial relationship between patrons and restaurants.
Latin America is booming right now, it’s having a big moment. We, as Latin Americans, are finally proud and embracing who we are. Chefs of my generation and those coming up, have gone to Spain and Europe to train, but are coming back to their home countries with the idea of making a difference, and celebrating the foods of their backgrounds. Many of these chefs are looking to open spots in their countries because an internal shift has happened where Latin Americans have decided to take food and culture to the next level.
Another trend I’m seeing is the rescuing ingredients that have been lost — ancient techniques and ancient flavors — it’s about going back and celebrating the food traditions of the cultural past. We’re moving away from molecular, overly detailed plates toward simplicity and flavors as seen through the basics.
In spirits and cocktails, pisco is the new tequila. It’s exciting to see people loving pisco and all the new cocktails that are coming out of this spirit. I also see food pairings with cocktails as the next big pairing trend.
Ingredient: Chicken and chicken skin.
Bar technique: Homemade ferments and kombucha.
Menu items: More family style service.
Restaurant trends: Table side service is coming back.
Cooking techniques: Wood/charcoal cooking and Vesuvio ovens in U.S. and Mexico
I would like to see more awareness in sustainability from all chefs and more use of proteins from plant based ingredients instead of beef.
Forward-thinking winegrowers, Europeans and locals alike, will further establish Latin America as a place for natural wines. Growers in countries such as Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, even Peru, will continue understanding that the only way forward is through sustainable – organic, biodynamic or natural – rather than mass agriculture. We will see more wines produced without sulphur or with little additions: we will see experiments with new vinification and ageing vessels, such as amphoras. On the back of the international media’s increased interest on food in Latin America, they will receive exposure which will resonate around the world. They will, however, remain an oddity for the wider regional public, as the top-end Latin American restaurants remain shy of their increased adoption. Paradoxically, they will begin to generate greater interest in Europe and Asia (Japan) before interest is seen in their own countries, due to the fact that the education of local professionals on natural wines remains limited and the customer mostly still demands – conventional Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The #MeToo movement that is disrupting a long-ignored culture of sexual harassment in restaurants will start to move south through Latin America. It won’t happen overnight. There will be many that shrug their shoulders and suggest that’s it normal in this part of the world, but women in the region won’t let it slide. They’ll fight, they’ll march if they have to, they’ll make their voices heard.
Indigenous recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques are going to start to be looked at in a whole new light. Not just how they are done or grown, but why they were shaped and refined in such of way over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. The secrets that are held within this ancestral wisdom are going to change the future of food.
Like Nick, I (gladly) see overdue changes coming as a result of the #MeToo movement. Female chefs such as Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich moving to the forefront of their brands in the reckoning of their male counterparts will become the model, rather than the exception, and set an example both here in the States, as well as the Americas. As a result, food media will mend its own disparity in coverage of these food-powerful women; awards and honors will also benefit from this trickle-down effect, and maybe, just maybe, some semblance of gender equality in the food industry will follow.
In terms of restaurants, I see a real movement toward casual dining. Diners, myself included, seem tired of tweezed plates and mimicked European aesthetics, preferring traditional flavors rife with history, cultural significance, and backstory. In my own travels, I’ve moved away from the night after night tasting menu whirlwind, in favor of cozy spots helmed by local chefs cooking with indigenous ingredient and native flavor profiles. The result? A more relaxed dining experience, accessible creativity, and…affordable checks. For me, this is a welcome departure from the 25-course food orgies that left me underwhelmed and, usually, annoyed. Real food for real people. Simple as that.
There are a lot of new projects coming up in different places that might bring new energy to the industry. New projects will be designed to open up possibilities, like in Santiago with Conectáz we are connecting kids to the best kitchens in Santiago. Eventually they’ll become stagiers in some of the world’s best restaurants (funded by us). Win addition giving them access the first encyclopedia of Chilean ingredients, which could open up a world of possibilities around the country.
From what I’ve seen so far is that we’re moving away from anything fine dining, with more casual, even fast good food these days. There’s still a lot of emphasis on endemic ingredients and local cuisine, but with a simpler approach. More environmental conscience, waste management, and more vegetarian food.
Rico: In food trends, I definitely see a larger ramp up of the availability of beautiful landrace corn. Currently, I am working with Masienda in sourcing really cool corn, as well as the beans and jamaica growing in tandem with each other. Local farm to table is a beautiful thing, but for a restaurant like Mixtli, we really need an avenue to source other strictly Mexican ingredients that will amplify our menus. To this end, chefs like Christine Rivera from Galaxy Taco are mixing masas and making super cool colorful tortillas.
Diego: I strongly believe 2018 will be the year of corn. With an explosion, not only nationally, but across the world in Latin American food (as far as Copenhagen with Hija de Sanchez and Sanchez) the audience that appreciates good corn exists and are curious about the processes to get good tortillas and the history of corn. In terms of drink, 2016-2017 was all about mezcal. Pulque peeked its head maybe once or twice, but sotol will reign supreme with aguardiente chasing at its heels. There is a brand named Clande slowly making its way to the US market that features sotoles from the different terroirs of Chihuahua. From the desert, to the apple orchards, highlands and valleys, that stuff is absolutely amazing. People like a good story, and sotol has an ancient story to tell.
Rico: Mexican craft beers and wines have had long standing respect in their own country, but catching them stateside has always been difficult due to politics and red tape. I would love to see more of that type product making its way here.
Diego: In terms of menu items: Moles. Moles. More Moles. From anyone and everyone. I’ve had the opportunity to visit restaurants that are not Latin American per se, but walk along the lines of the border. Emmer & Rye in Austin is a great example. Chef Kevin Fink has a pipian mole served with braised lamb, wild onions, and white whole wheat Sonoran tortillas on the side on his menu right now. Not only is it delicious, but it is carefully crafted and the intent behind it is pure. Technique is respected, the ingredients are pristine and locally sourced. Also, the magic of nixtamalization. I’ve seen a few restaurants nixtamalize anything from carrots, to almonds, to corn, to pecans.
Rico: In restaurant design, I’m seeing a drop in the post industrial look. I’m glad to see Edison bulbs on the way out and design lending itself to more mood-centric lighting utilizing hidden light sources that may also have an eye towards that perfect Instagram picture. I would definitely like to see more green, both in technology and aesthetic. Think rooftop hydroponic gardens and living walls.
Diego: Smaller is better. Mixtli is a true testament to this. If a young chef gets the means to open up a restaurant he should aim low. The days of the 500 seat restaurant are over. Chef driven concepts should be small, carefully planned, and with constant change in mind. Young chefs shouldn’t walk into the game with $$$$$ in mind. Small restaurants can work, and the money comes, but most importantly they allow for failure to be minimized in the chance it presents itself.
Rico: As for food philosophies, I still maintain that a strong understanding of our past will create lasting roads into the future. At Mixtli, we continue to grow our partnership with the UTSA Libraries Special Collections department. They have over 3000 Mexican cookbooks dating back as far as 1789. Handwritten entries, seven day wedding menus with recipes, stories of food innovators lost to time, and entire collections from Josefina Velazquez de Leon. And they are all at our disposal to use and learn from.
The interest in native foods can’t be overstated. I believe the enthusiasm comes from an increasing awareness of the need for biodiversity, with culinarians looking to secure the sustainability of treasured ingredients around the globe. The fun part is watching how Latin American chefs are translating native flavors into fashion forward, molecular gastronomy presentations. Inspired Evolution!
In my opinion, I think this will be a big year for cool, casual spots. Fine dining is hard (as a business), especially in Latin America. So, the natural thing is that in order to sustain fine dining restaurants, more casual/cool spots will open. Also, customers are looking for that. Even the ones that enjoy and can afford fine dining. Saying that I think fine dining restaurant will step up their game so people don’t forget about ‘em. Drink programs will continue to take a stronger role, especially in Central and South America where it is still very new.
What I hope to see (at least in Panama) is more support from the government to make things easier for restaurants, producers and everything involve in the food business. It’s a joke right now. And not the kind of joke you will laugh about. The government doesn’t understand still the power of food.
Prepared Prepackaged Fresh Foods and Deliveries: Home refrigerators will slowly change in content from raw foods to prepared foods. It’s the evolution of the TV dinner only better, fresher, greater variety, never frozen, resealable for future consumption of left overs etc. If you look carefully at some of the moves made by Wendy’s, McD’s,White Castle to deliver and Amazon Buying WholeFoods, Blue Apron and the likes, are all telling tales of how a part of the market will develop.
In Central America, chefs are beginning to recognize the need to value their local traditions and create surprising and elaborated dishes with local produce and techniques. One of the first collaborations at a regional scale, where Chombolín (Carlos Alba) was involved back in November, brought back a whole different view on Central America. The second trend is the need for better beverage programs: people are realizing more and more that there is a culinary deficit when there isn’t a marriage with your beverage program. Everyone in Panama is lifting the bar to higher standards, especially in wine. One of my closest friends, Gobi Dhaliwal, has one of the most important cellars in Latin America and he has been able to influence the market and show people that there are other wines, flavors, organic, natural, and unheard of. Azafrán, Maito, Donde José, Patagonia, Casa Escondida, Intimo Restaurante, and Laboratorio Madrigal are some of the candidates turning heads with wine.
Panama, in my opinion, is the new capital of cocktails for the entire southern region. Also, beer was thought to have been a trend that was going to fade hard and quick. But truth be told it has evolved and local breweries like Tres Gatos, Casa Bruja, Central, and Legitima, have made sure that the market gets new flavors with variations of old style beers. Pubs like Republicano, Buenas Pintas, La Rana, and Brewstop are reinforcing their taps with local beers and importing amazing styles from different parts of the globe.
In terms of approach, being reflective in the styles of food chefs are cooking, more and more chefs are starting to realize that the food they grew up eating sells better than food overdressed with micros does. Wherever you are from, you have a memory bank of dishes from your youth that when you get a taste of similar smell, taste or texture transport you to the first moment. And as far as ingredient, I think avocado leaves are the new bay leaves.
Ingredient: I think corn will continue to explode. I really, really hope we can see more sustainable projects connected to fair trade and endemic protection as opposed to extensive productions filled with GMOS to satisfy a growing consuming market.
Spirit: I can also see mezcal continue to rise among spirits. Rum is getting super powerful too, but the strategy is different. Huge brands with huge marketing departments are making people drink more rum. Mezcal is a different vibe that feels more natural.
Menu Items: I think there will be less space for tasting menus, people (myself included) have less tolerance for them and, at the same time, there is a growth in love and appreciation for the basics: fair, simple, seasonal, balanced. This will make us (Lorea and everyone else doing fine dinning) work harder and twice as creative to satisfy needs people don’t even know they have.
Restaurant Trends: At least in Latin America I think we will see more casual restaurants with great techniques, work ethos, and produce focusing on food that is less complicated. Again, us left in the vanguard will need to work twice as hard to make coherent and desirable experiences.
Popular cooking techniques: Open fire roasts, amazing stews and other basic but very difficult to master techniques will rise in 2018. Restaurants like Etxebarri will continue to inspire us and drive us towards mastering the simple.
Ingredient: Maca – the powerful Peruvian parsnip type root. Why? Well, with a focus on powders, healthy eating, Andean ingredients, versatile natural ingredients, plant based ingredients, work out boosting ingredients, gut health focus, savory and sweet ingredients – here is THE one that encompasses all those. It’s an extraordinary and unique ingredient, native to the Andes and which will spread its wings outside of niche health food shops and into the more interesting restaurants, as well as possibly Coffee shops and bakeries.
Spirit: Cañazo from the Andes of Peru is coming back. Made from sugar case, and once thought of as a cheap spirit for losers, it’s now being distilled in a fine way for sophisticated tastebuds. It’s hot in Peru’s major cities like Lima, Arequipa, and Cusco and we are the first to serve it in London and our cocktails featuring this spirit are flying.
Menu items: No alcohol cocktails. We’ve seen a huge rise. Our bar menus this year will be 50% alcohol free. Fermentation continues showing us the way in terms of great flavor, exciting new explorations for us chefs, customer health through gut health with fermented items, and variety of colour, texture and bitter / sour / salty notes. What customers crave is balance. Alcohol one day a week, meat one day a week. Fried dirty things twice a week. But then the rest of the week there is detox, healthy and raw and well balanced food. Or just well balanced dishes all week long!
Popular cooking techniques: It’s punk out there. Anything goes. From burning to raw. From underground cooking (ancient method; pachamanca) to new molecular (new). What is cutting edge? The old? the new? No one knows; no one cares, as long as it tastes great, it’s good for you and it’s fun for a chef to do.
I’m currently a Tequila Educator for Maestro Dobel Tequila – one of the fastest growing super-premium tequila in both Mexico and the US. The global tequila market is booming as consumers become more savvy with their spirits choices and seek tequilas with better ingredients and taste qualities. Knowledgeable consumers have been avoiding Mixto tequilas for years now, seeking only 100% Agave products. In the coming years, I see a trend in Latin America where consumers demand even more from their tequila producers. I’m noticing how bars, and restaurants are asking questions about how the agaves are cooked and sugars extracted for fermentation. They’ve shown a clear preference for brands that slow cook their agaves in traditional brick ovens. Some establishments are going as far as no longer selling brands that utilize diffusers.
Another exciting trend is the rise of the Cristalino tequila. What is a Cristalino tequila? Cristalino tequilas are still not recognized by the Consejo Regulador de Tequila (CRT), the government body in Mexico that regulates and manages the denomination, but there is a motion before them to do so. Since the CRT still hasn’t defined the Cristalino category, there is a wide range of different styles being produced. As a general rule of thumb, Cristalino is an aged tequila that goes through a filtering process that removes the color that is imparted through the aging process.
The most important trend that I see is that chefs are finally developing their own unique styles and patrons celebrating it. No more Noma-like copycat dishes (although you will still find some), but an effort to differentiate their style not only focused on ingredients, as it used to be until very recently, but on a real combination of techniques, local ingredients, culture, and the path each unique person has taken as a chef — from where they worked in the past to their mentors to their flavors. All these factors develop not only great food but a unique experience. Restaurants like Mishiguene, Gran Dabbang, El Chato, A Casa do Porco, Villanos en Bermudas, to name just a few, are part of this development.
The biggest shift I see is not only for indigenous plating or ingredients, but is with equipment and nutrition. To seek out ancient understanding from Indigenous people, who, until recently did not have a voice. I foresee equipment that is not mass produced, but equipment made from specific regional material such as clay, wood, hollowed gourds, and even a shape can have a cultural significance impact on flavor, color, nutrition. Examples would be, shaping clay around ingredients before roasting, holding acorns in live hollowed trees to extend shelf live, revitalizing the use of dried gourds as a tool or as serving vessels. Indigenous cultures respected shapes of their cooking tools because the shape added flavor and productivity, which is considered a fading art. Another forecast is people/chefs wanting to eat vegetables at peak flavor, the same concept will be applied to a vegetable’s ‘peak nutrition’ at harvest.
I agree with Chef Bergen when he mentions the various realms of Indigenous gastronomic knowledge being included in contemporary kitchens. This comes with the inclusion or exclusion of true indigenous knowledge as the legitimate source. Indigenous knowledge exists across the Americas and varies with landscapes. These Indigenous epistemologies and cultural philosophies sustain communities and are at the core of identity, so it is very offensive when Indigenous knowledge is appropriated and ignorantly abused out of sacred or cultural context (also known as “Columbusing”). My hope for the future is that Indigenous knowledge is protected and, before selling indigenous knowledge/food in kitchens or as a service, that food and health practitioners give credit to Indigenous people, cultures, and landscapes that gave birth to the complete gastronomical landscape of the Americas.
Latin America took over drink menus in 2017 and that will continue to grow as people become more familiar with Latin cuisine and liquors like mezcal. Alternative agave based distillates like sotol or racilla will start to come into the spotlight in and will continue to gain movement. While pisco and cachaça are also having their moment, I’m ready to see more Latin American rum being used. With so many styles there is lots of flavor profiles to choose from and they are great for mixing. Traditional herbalist remedies are starting to influence gastronomy too. Many of these are plants and herbs that come out of the jungle now have begun to be used as superfoods in smoothies and bowls internationally and I predict that chefs in Costa Rica will start to take cues from that and incorporate these into their dishes. Moringa, mangosteen, green coffee beans, and turmeric to name a few. They are healthy ingredients with interesting flavors that we can all take advantage of easily here in the tropics. Grain based milks have long been popular as a sweet drink in Central America, such as barley (resbaladera) or rice (horchata) and it’s interesting to see them starting to pop up more in North America as a health food item, I predict this note taking a turn for using these grain based milks for interesting cocktail syrups or dessert ingredients.
An ingredient that I think will be trending is vegetables, more vegetable than now. Even if they are already trending, I think they will be even more. More and more cocktails will be getting into the seasonal products and local ingredients.
No menus – that’s the way – that’s always the way and will always be. Service and dinning rooms will trend too and we will sooner or later have to give more and more attention to the dining room service. Soon they will be the real stars. I want to see maîtres and waiters on the covers of magazines, giving interviews (like this one), going on cool trips. They work as much as the chefs work and deal with people, and that’s hard, real hard. A lot harder than dealing with ingredients and cooks.
Whatever the big bosses decide, whatever they post and say that’s good a huge amount of people will follow and cook very similarly. I think people will realize that Brazil is not just one country, Brazil is almost half of Latin America, so when somebody say that they are cooking local food in Brazil, you should worry…Brazil is big.
Cooks in Latin America have been trying to understand themselves for the past few years. There has been a lot of research of our own products and it has been a time of self discovery. I would love for 2018 to bring a phase in which we show the world what we have learned and try to incorporate it into a global context. I feel many times we still undervalue our products and it’s time to change that. Perhaps by mixing Europe’s best ingredients with our own so that other countries understand our products. For people to see that foie and an elote asado make a great pairing or foie with chirimoya (as I saw in one of Nick’s posts). It would be great for us to work in a way so that our products influence global cuisine just like Europe has done for so many years to the rest of the world. I’d also like to see more cooks truly do what they love and not try to pursue what Chef’s Table or other awards say we should love. More sustainable restaurant models that allow cooks to have a life and enjoy it. I guess less bullshit and more content.
To my vision, there will be a revolution about sustainability and awareness towards how we cook in relation with nature. The evolution of the cook will be a great spectacle to appreciate, where we, cooks, walk towards evolution as we bend over until we finally reach the earth. Cooking is an extension of agriculture. The use of medicinal species and more sensorial experiences through ancestral plants will also be part of menus around the world.
There are a whole new wave of young chefs who are questioners, much more prepared to managing their goals and with a consciousness of gastronomy very different from that of previous generations. Cesar Costa, from Corrutela, who will open the doors in São Paulo at the beginning of the year, is one of them. He has gained experience in kitchens all over the world (Relae, Chez Panisse, Coi, etc), he has done internships as a forager to understand the entire food chain, and creates products that impact the environment, indicating a new role for the chef of the future.
Ethnic cuisine, hyperlocal, mainly the one that has a backing in local traditions. The beauty of the exclusive is no longer in the expensive ingredient, but in that which has a meaning in its context, whether it be a chilli from Oaxaca, or a native mushroom from Amazon. With globalization and the demand for experience, it is more valuable to eat bigos in a community in Poland than white truffles in a restaurant in New York.