Panel Discussion: The Future of Flavor Trends

Image Source: The Dawson

One of the real highlights of my year is participating in the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. This year’s show was certainly no exception, packed with relevant education, new products and the opportunity to connect or re-connect with old friends and industry leaders. What made the 2016 Show even more special for me was the opportunity to moderate a panel of former students who are current alumni of Johnson & Wales University and influencers in the food and beverage industry. Their diverse experiences and perspectives resulted in a fascinating look at where we are, and what trends they see on the not-too-distant horizon. Here’s some of what they had to say, broken down into 5 key areas.

The Panel

Harrison Ginsberg, ’13 – Barkeep at The Dawson, Chicago

Brooke Jamrozik, ’15 – Chef de Partie at Beauty and Essex, New York

Adam Kost, ’04 – Global Strategic Sourcing Manager at ZX Ventures, New York

Jacob Schiffman, ’05 – Purchasing and Events Manager at Food Network, New York

The Trends

1. Healthy

Americans are more concerned than ever about their health and more aware about what they put into their bodies…and we’re fatter, more diseased and dying sooner! The panel wasn’t going to answer this paradox in an hour, but they did have some thoughts about the consequences of these concerns and increased awareness in the industry. Even if they don’t seem to be making us healthier, ingredients that are organic and natural have an unmistakable appeal to the current food and beverage consumer. Jacob has seen a steady shift toward organic ingredients in the kitchens of Food Network, the markets where he forages, and restaurants and bars he frequents in the city. The panel as a whole noted that vegetables were featuring as the main ingredient in a number of dishes in the kitchen, as well as drinks at the bar. Harrison is judiciously using ingredients like beets and kale in some of his more adventurous cocktails, and his patrons have shown a willingness to go along.

Drinking and dining out remain a key indulgence for the American consumer; no one wants to feel guilty about it. There are opportunities for operators to include healthier ingredients in healthier preparations and promote them as such, tapping into the desire to eat and drink healthier.

2. Local and Sustainable

“I’ll grow whatever you want.” That’s a quote said to Jacob by a local farmer. The preference for local and sustainable ingredients is certainly not new. It is certainly a widening preference among a greater number of consumers. Most significantly, as the previous quote suggests, there is a whole army of small farmers willing and able to provide a whole bounty of products. Lack of variety can squelch creativity. Lack of reliable supply can make committing to new dishes and drinks perilous. The sheer growth in the number of local farms lessens these two problems to the point where local and sustainable goods should be all over your food and beverage menus.

Sourcing requires a good amount of effort and expertise, both of which might be in short supply unless it comes from the kitchen. Bar staff can certainly source for themselves, perhaps through farmers markets or local farm boxes if available. At the Dawson, Harrison is fortunate to be able to rely on his chefs to let him know what will be available; he only has to figure out what to do with it.

3. High/Low and Millennials

Millennials are a mystery. Fortunately, the panel included 4 of them. Again, an hour wasn’t enough time for them to unravel the whole riddle, but there certainly was consensus on one preference that has massive implications for operators. Adam characterized it as “High/Low,” Brooke as “Old is New,” and Jacob as “Retro” and “Fine Casual.”

While the terminology is a little different, the basic premise identified by each phrase is quite similar – that Millennials are drawn to basic ingredients prepared in a creative way. The trend neatly accounts for so many things Millennials do and don’t want. They like inexpensive, authentic, interesting, exotic and different. They don’t want expensive, formal, fussy or fake.

For Adam, that means that Millennials are looking for good, basic, inexpensive ingredients prepared in expert, interesting ways. Jacob notices that gourmet burger and taco shops are popping up around New York City. Each serves fast food in a casual environment, but with an interesting twist. Brooke observes that new items on her menu and the menus of restaurants like hers provide a new twist on an old classic. On the show floor on Tuesday she made a riff on fried green tomatoes, with ingredients from around the world.

4. Fizzy Lifting Drink?

Grampa Joe and Charlie stole fizzy lifting drink at the chocolate factory. Willy Wonka says the ceiling now has to be washed and sterilized. That’s what I thought when Adam responded to a question from the audience that he would take it because he’s in the “fizzy drink” business. His response said a lot about the segment in which he works. It’s about beer (a lot of different beer) and cider and soda and other stuff.

The question that prompted the fizzy drink response had to do with Adam’s comment that IPA wouldn’t be the beast of craft for much longer. The audience member asked if sour beers were the next IPA. Adam thinks most consumers think sours taste bad and that the next big thing in beer is likely to be a counterpoint to IPAs – drinkable and sessionable, with more subtle flavors and less alcohol.

Adam is bullish on hard cider, now and for the foreseeable future. It tastes good, it’s shown steady growth, and it’s gluten free and therefore perceived to be healthy.

Adam is also bullish on hard soda, now and…well, now. It also tastes good and it’s fun and frivolous. He made a point to remind everyone that there’s nothing wrong with organic and local beets and kale in a cocktail…and nothing wrong with fun and frivolous at a bar.

5. Culinary Influences

Millennials may be most adventurous when it comes to food and beverage, but the entire population is moving toward some level of acceptance of more exotic ingredients and interesting preparations. Brooke and Jacob discussed the increased frequency of ethnic cuisines on menus, and rare and exotic spices and condiments in a variety of dishes. Harissa, tahini and sriracha were considered exotic not so long ago and are now pretty common. Next in line to go from exotic to common are a whole host of Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients like gochujang paste, za’atar and amba.

Harrison took these culinary trends a step further. He sees a tremendous benefit to bartenders having a culinary background and the ability to introduce to the bar flavors, ingredients and techniques traditionally exclusive to the kitchen. He has used ingredients like snap peas, bee pollen, carrots, parsnips and the previously mentioned beets and kale to create unique and appealing cocktails. He’s also employed kitchen tools and technology like vacuum sealers, sous vide and iSi whippers to achieve flavors in his drinks.

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