NEW ORLEANS — Move over, meat protein. Make way for the emerging star of the center of the plate — vegetables.
“The next culinary macro-trend will be ‘veg-centric’ dining,” said Chef Gerry Ludwig, corporate consulting chef with Gordon Food Service, Grand Rapids, Mich. Mr. Ludwig made his prediction on March 25 during a general session at the Research Chefs Association’s Annual Meeting and Culinology Expo, taking place in New Orleans March 25-27.
Mr. Ludwig was very specific, noting that he was not talking about vegetarian cuisine. Through his company’s work he is seeing several fine dining operators on both coasts making vegetables the focal point of menus, but including meat protein and such meat protein ingredients as broth, in the end product.
“Omnivorous consumers feel good about eating vegetable-centric dishes if they taste good,” Mr. Ludwig said.
To get that taste chefs are using such preparation methods as searing, charring and smoking — methods commonly associated with the preparation of meat protein — to achieve a flavor that keeps coming back.
One example, Mr. Ludwig pointed to is the restaurant GJELINA in Venice, Calif.
“We were astounded when we saw the menu,” Mr. Ludwig said. “It has a vegetable-centric section with 16 items. GJELINA has been such a game changing restaurant we have taken other chefs and other groups there to give them an idea what is happening.”
Veg-centric items on the GJELINA menu include sugar snap peas with soffritto, mint and prosciutto; wood roasted asparagus with Romanesco and shaved Parmesan; and roasted Thumbelina carrots, cilantro, sesame and spiced yogurt.
Chalk Point Kitchen, New York, is another restaurant featuring a number of veg-centric menu items, said Mr. Ludwig. Such dishes on the restaurant’s menu include roasted heirloom garlic with feta, black truffle and lemon; a cauliflower steak with tahini, golden raisins and pickled Thai chili; and sautéed Russian kale with chorizo and guajillo chili.
“The vegetable sections on menus are growing,” Mr. Ludwig said. “We are seeing them moving to the center-of-the-plate and they are on the leading edge. They are being treated with the same regard as meats and seafood.”
How Mr. Ludwig and his team came to identify veg-centric cuisine as a key trend is through market research that includes the use of statistical tools, media reports and external research. As part of his group’s efforts, they spend time throughout the year compiling lists of the new restaurants that have opened in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“We do that because we know those restaurants will be doing something different in order to stand out,” he said. “Then, at the end of the year, we go to all of the restaurant’s web sites and review the menus. From there we narrow our focus to about 40 restaurants and what we have found is by going to these restaurants, eating through their menu and talking to the chefs is it gives us an idea of what is emerging.”
Near the end of his presentation Mr. Ludwig noted that Brussels sprouts have been a star vegetable, but two on the rise are cauliflower and carrots.“People are being very creative with them, especially cauliflower,” he said.