Recently Chef Jarrett Stieber, Atlanta's Pop Up Prince, hosted Eat Me Rock Me at The Sound Table, with food, music, and cocktails inspired by the 1960s. It got me thinking about food trends. We've seen an evolution in our food just as we have in our style, haircuts and technology. I started to wonder, who determines these trends? And when is a trend really a trend?
Luckily, we ran into Nancy Kruse at a Les Dames d' Escoffier event recently. Nancy is the restaurant industry's go-to for anticipating the newest food trends and possibly has the most interesting sounding job title we've ever heard: Food Futurist. We're just going to let Nancy explain it...
G&G: What exactly does a Food Futurist do?
NK: I work with the major restaurant and food companies to analyze changing consumer tastes, needs and preferences in order to forecast what will be on the menu in the future. I tell people that I have the best job in the world: I eat and then talk or write about it.
G&G Tell us about your journey to becoming a food futurist.
NK: I wish that I could say that it’s the result of savvy strategic planning on my part. Rather, it evolved from work that I was doing with a major foodservice consultancy in Chicago. Lots of attention was being paid to financial issues, to sales and marketing planning, to economic forecasting, but little was being paid to the importance of food itself. This was over a decade ago when we were on the cusp of the culinary revolution I could see that things were changing, consumers were becoming more engaged with food and chefs were becoming major arbiters of taste. I began researching, reading and reporting on food-related trends, and I took courses at the CIA. It’s been great fun for me, and I’ve never looked back
G&G: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
NK: I see creativity everywhere: on television, in print media, on line. I don’t think I could do my job without the internet. I read menus constantly and collect them by the score. I also try to keep on top of cutting edge resources and read the major city magazines and newspapers, blogs and lifestyle influencers like the Williams-Sonoma or Crate & Barrel catalogs.
G&G: What do you love about your job?
NK: Observing the extraordinary level of innovation breaking out in all segments of the foodservice industry and in all parts of the country. I am constantly surprised and delighted.
G&G: What is the most challenging part of your job?
NK: Trying to sort fad from trend, attempting to assess what’s an ephemeral flash-in-the-pan versus what will have real staying power and long-term impact on how and what we eat.
G&G: What do you like to cook at home?
NK: I don’t cook at home—I’m typically too busy to truly cook. I exist on salads when I eat in. That said, on the very rare occasions when I do cook, I like to do simple things: roasted meats, fresh vegetables.
G&G: So as a busy professional, what did you think about your Garnish & Gather experience.
NK: Since I’m typically time pressed, having the mise en place already taken care of was terrific. It’s the slicing, dicing and measuring that take so much time. Plus, the meal concept was right on the money: Lovely pieces of fish, smart flavors, easy to prepare. A perfect combination.
(G&G side note: Mis en place is a French phrase that refers to all ingredients being "in place" when you are ready to cook. Just like a G&G meal!)
G&G: In your opinion, what foods never go out of style?
NK: Simple foods, well prepared. Great roasted chicken. Perfect mashed potatoes. Tender steak. Even as our pantries expand to include the ethnic flavors and our dining-out habits become more diverse, there will always, always be a place for good, basic foods.
G&G: Can you give us a sneak peek into the next big culinary trend?
NK: The biggest trend of the moment is freshness, which impacts products, preparation and presentation. Coming on strong as a component of freshness is the craft-food movement, spilling over from the bar to the dining room. And barrel aging of everything from cocktails to fish sauce to sriracha.
G&G: If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why?
NK: What a great question. I guess I’d be a pinot noir grape, because like the fine Burgundy wines it creates, I hope that I’ll improve as I age.
(G&G side note: How great is this answer?)