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Trends 2008 - Chefs

 
Baum-Whiteman, a national restaurant consulting agency, has released its dining predictions for the new year, and it looks like a new breed of business will be coming our way. Maybe not immediately, as it sometimes takes Chattanooga a little longer than major cities to see the trends, but some are already here.

"Because our restaurant consulting company works around the world, we have an uncommonly eclectic view of consumer trends, and we're constantly exposed to new things," company president Michael Whiteman said.

Here's a look at what's on the menu for 2008.

1. Speed
Forget drive-ins. People will order and pay for food with their mobile phones.

Locally: Ordering your food for takeout via your cell phone is nothing new. Paying for it by phone is an option not yet available in town. Cell phones will require a special chip to process payment, and, according to ABI Research, fewer than 5 percent of the world's cell phones are embedded with them. That number is expected to reach 20 percent by 2012. Only about 50,000 payment terminals worldwide currently accept this type of payment, and none are in Chattanooga.

2. Niche dining
Specific-focus food outlets such as ceviche bars, chocolate lounges and kebab counters.

Locally: None yet, but the new Greenlife Grocery on Manufacturers Road is a conglomerate of different dining niches, such as the only cheese bar in town. You can order a cheeseboard sampler, sit at the bar and taste away. You can try what you like, or sample new selections. If you want, grab a beer from the cooler or a bottle of wine from the shop next door to enjoy with your cheese experience. It's niche dining at its best, because after you're through, you can shop the extensive inventory of organic products available at the store.

3. Gastro bartenders
This is the "bar chef" phenomenon where bartenders are using more fresh ingredients and exotic ingredients such as herbs and super fruits.

Locally: The Mixed Berry Margarita at Blue Water Grill is filled with super fruits. Berries especially are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. This drink is made with blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. Manager Mike Ketchum says he doesn't see people ordering them for their health, though. The buzz is that it's all about taste.

4. Nutritional scoring
We already get nutritional labels on food. Menus may be next.

Locally: This is already happening at some restaurants in town, including Mount Vernon and Applebee's. Both have signed up to partner with the Junior League of Chattanooga and Hamilton County Health Department's "Eat Smart: Healthy Heart" program. "It's going well," Mount Vernon owner Jeff Messinger said. "We started doing this in October, and people are loving it more than I expected. We feel like people should be able to make these easy choices."

5. Head-to-tail dining
Yes, innards and odd parts are on the menu. According to Baum-Whiteman, this trend stems from extreme-eating reality TV shows.

Locally: Chef Daniel Lindley of St. John's Restaurant sees the need for using pieces of meats that have long been overlooked and wasting as little of the animal as possible. Beef cheeks, a menu staple, are braised and cooked with red wine until they're fork-tender. Veal breast is another interesting item that appears on the menu from time to time, as do pork cheeks. St. John's gets whole hog from Sequatchie Cove Farms and uses as much as possible, right down to the pork bellies made into fresh bacon.

6. Dessert restaurants
These are big already in some locations, according to the consultants. Pastry chefs are opening restaurants and delving into sweet/savory combinations, but this trend may go nowhere.

Locally: None, but that doesn't mean we don't have some good pastry chefs in Chattanooga. They just haven't ventured out to open dessert-only eateries. Denise Ware, pastry chef at Southern Star, said she doesn't think it will happen in the downtown area but maybe at one of the malls where there's a lot of foot traffic and people might enjoy sitting down to a cup of coffee and a dessert. "It will be an interesting trend to watch, though," she said.

7. Wacky ice creams
Chefs are experimenting with such flavors as cantaloupe sorbet and ice cream made with sweet corn. Not your average Baskin-Robbins varieties.

Locally: Like most chefs, Susan Moses at 212 Market loves to experiment. "The most interesting ice cream I've made is lapsang suchow, a black tea from China that gets its smoky flavor from being smoked over pine bows," she said. She served it as a dessert for an Australian wine dinner with the ice cream in a fried wonton on a stick, like an ice-cream cone, then garnished it with tropical fruits. "What's interesting is it's a little surprise to have," she added. "I don't think people realize that putting ingredients such as herbs like tarragon and rosemary or teas together in different ways changes their flavors. The smoky tea has an almost caramel-like flavor when made into ice cream."

8. Gastronomy for kids
Better foods for younger eaters. The disappearance of the unimaginative children's menu may be the next frontier.

Locally: With the increasing number of overweight kids in the United States 17.1 percent of children ages 2-19 are overweight according to www.HealthierGeneration.org restaurants are realizing the need for healthier options on kids' menus. Panera Bread realized this early on and began offering new sandwich choices and organic milk and yogurt. "People are seeming to like it," marketing coordinator Beth Hanske said.

9. Upscale Hamburgers
This one has been around for a while, but apparently it's trickling down to fast-food outlets and custom burger bars.

Locally: You can't turn on the TV without seeing an ad for a fast-food burger that has the "wow factor," such as Hardee's Philly Cheesesteak Thickburger. You can customize your burger at a couple of places in town. Choose from 36 possible toppings (a few cost extra) at Cheeburger Cheeburger on Market Street and 15 (all for free) at Five Guys Burgers & Fries.

10. Small is big.
The small-plate phenom continues, but some tapas restaurants have reverted to conventional menus as customers discover they're actually spending more and getting less. Look for more menus trying to have it both ways with small and large portions.

Locally: This bigger-is-better trend has not trickled into Chattanooga yet. Terra Nostra, Chattanooga's only tapas restaurant, has been serving its small-plate delicacies for more than five years and business continues to grow, according to chef/owner Efren Ormaza. The restaurant expanded into new space last year, but the plate size stayed the same. He said the only time he serves on regular-size plates is by special request or on occasions such as Valentine's Day when diners may want an order that serves two.

E-mail Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com


Gastronomic buzzwords for 2008
* "Gastro travel" Planning vacations as food experiences, such as tours of local markets and cooking classes.
* "Look-at-me" desserts and cocktails that are outrageously expensive. Starting price: $100.
* "Battle for breakfast" Extravagant breakfast buffets in big hotels. Reasoning: It's the meal that most guests eat at a hotel, so that the best time to impress them. Eat enough and call it lunch.

Source: Baum-Whiteman

Foods on the rise in 2008
* Shochu, a vodka-like beverage that's lower in alcohol. It currently outsells sake in Japan and is gaining a big following in the United States.
* Ros´┐Ż wines from around the world.
* Poached eggs. Look for them to appear on more dishes, from salads to steaks and burgers.
* Korean food. We're just starting to get comfortable with this cuisine with entrees such as bulgogi, galbi and jokbal, pig's feet served with a red salted shrimp sauce.
* Latino foods. With its bolder flavors and colors, this cuisine will begin to edge out Mediterranean cuisine. There also will be increasing emphasis on dishes from specific regions.

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