Menu trends for 2007

by Staff
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HOUSTON — Bob Zappatelli, vice-president of food and beverage for Benchmark Hospitality International, a resort management business with properties in the U.S. and Japan, recently outlined the five leading dining trends his staff of 18 food and beverage professionals see emerging this year.

"America’s chefs are mixing it up in the kitchen and drawing on memories of hearth and home," Mr. Zappatelli said.

The top dining trends the Benchmark group identified include:

• Latin: Mediterranean, Spanish and Portuguese cuisine are still in vogue, but America has fallen hard for Latin cuisine, according to Benchmark. Latin flavors and the incorporation of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish indigenous to the Caribbean, Central and South America with American sensibility is where cooking is headed.

One-pot meals set the stage for over-the-top flavor and presentation. And the infusion of Creole and Spanish techniques with local availability is no longer just a New Orleans’s prerogative. Vaca-Frita, Ropa-Vieja beef dishes from Cuba, and Chimichurri served with Argentinean grilled meats are two examples of fused cuisines.

• Natural and local: Consumers and restaurants are demanding food grown organically and is competitively priced. Growth hormones and antibiotics in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy are unappealing to an increasing number of consumers. The elimination of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and bio-engineering in produce necessitate seeking out local resources for produce, meat and more, according to the Benchmark staff.

• Memories: Chefs are creating dishes based on memories of home cooking. Childhood memories influence the styles and techniques many great chefs are using. Memories of family gardens from childhood are responded to with chefs’ kitchen gardens and seeking out local growers. Cooking techniques and flavor combinations learned in childhood are finding their way onto menus. Favorite family recipes are regularly being reinterpreted and updated by chefs.

• Food and beverage "mixology": Lemon Verbena Cosmopolitans, Purple Basil, Mint Mojitos, MarTeaNis, truffles and chocolate flavored cocktails, superfruits like Goji berries, pomegranates and mangosteens are all making their way onto the beverage list. Or how about a bloody mary salad served with pickled vegetables and shrimp? "Mixologists" have taken center stage by creating non traditional food and beverage combinations. The popularity of premium beverages merged with fresh ingredients that might otherwise flavor a meal’s starters and entrees — and the specialty drink menu ― have created new opportunities for chefs.

• Dessert downsizing: A tapas-style dessert menu is becoming more popular as consumers seek more variety.

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