By Lori Midson
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By Lori Midson
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What will be the big culinary trends in 2013? As we prepare for a new year in gastronomy, we posed that question to dozens of people in the local food business, everyone from chefs and pastry magicians to restaurant brokers and PR consultants, from brewers and grape gurus to brokers and pig farmers. And while their insights and opinions are all over the map, one thing is clear: Denver's culinary scene is definitely going to be a conversation piece next year, both at home and across the country. Trend lists are like Twitter accounts: Just about everyone has one. But no one has a list as comprehensive as this (and you can read still more on Cafe Society).
On simplicity: I'm putting my vote in for simplification across the board: downscaling of complicated food presentations; more plays on dishes from your childhood, re-imagined in a way so much better than the way Mom might have made; and a steering away from the twenty-minute Very Serious Cocktail. I'm all for the quicker, simpler — and more fun — cocktails that still use the best ingredients, but perhaps with a little more mirth.
On balance: I'm hoping for some balance between craft and hospitality, neighborhood and upscale. This will require some loosening up on our parts, perhaps, plus a little more will on the public's part to get off the vodka cranberry and Moscow Mule trains. And hope upon hope, though I speak of balance and fun and simplification, the trend I'm asking Santa for is to not have to try to constantly be everything to everyone all the time.
On just about everything: Artisan sodas, carbonated fresh fruit juices and infusions; Asian-flavored American comfort foods; local, "zip code" honeys; hearty greens like kale, beet greens, chard, turnip greens and mustard greens; more snacking and minis — mini-shakes, mini-cupcakes, chicken bites, pinwheel sandwiches and more finger foods on bar menus; over-regulation of local and artisan products; flavored popcorn; pickling fresh vegetables; and breakfast all day long.
On farming: We'll see more year-round local greens, thanks to farmers like Peter Volz of Oxford Gardens, who's partnering with Elliott Gardens in north Denver to grow his superb greens during the off-season. At Spuntino, we are now using his delicious greenhouse-grown mizuna, arugula, Lacinato kale and spinach. The drought needs to be factored into any discussion of local agriculture. If we have another low-precipitation year in 2013, like we did last year, all local agriculture is going to be threatened. Remember that 90 percent of Front Range water goes toward agriculture.
On nutrition, food allergies and locality: As consumers become more health-conscious, I think we'll see a move toward making dishes more nutritious and healthy with the same level of flavor that's expected of a restaurant-grade meal. Along those same lines, vegetables will take a more predominant space on menus as people become more aware of the sustainability of seafood and meat, as well as the expected rising cost of meats on a restaurant's profitability. In addition, as an industry, we'll have to be more sensitive to diners' food allergies and intolerances. I also think that local/sustainable will become even more pervasive as more chefs and restaurants are growing and/or producing their own produce, honeys, cheeses, syrups and the like.
On the gluten-free craze: Gluten-free will continue to be a focus, but the intensity will decrease as the shakeout separates those who truly can't consume wheat from those who are just on the bandwagon.
On Amendment 64: The biggest impact of the passage of the pot amendment on the industry will be how to have sober staff. People will inevitably start selling more pot-infused foods, but I don't see it going anywhere. Governor Hickenlooper was prescient in saying what he did — that the money will be in the fast-food world, since that's what pushes people with the munchies.
On sweets: I've noticed that more and more pastry chefs around the country are creating desserts that strongly emphasize classic pastry techniques and formulas with elements of wild creativity for flavoring, sauces and presentation. Rustic or humble desserts that have percolated up into the hands of skilled pastry chefs have been refined and turned into brilliant creations. I'm also thrilled that fine-dining desserts are moving away from overall sweetness, and I believe that one of the reasons is that the use of premium ingredients is now the rule rather than the exception, so it only makes sense to allow those ingredients to be at the forefront and not muddled with too much sweetness.
Robert Thompson, president of Seasoned Development
On beer culture: Beer cocktails are going to continue to grow in popularity, especially in beer-savvy markets like Denver and Portland, and on the business side, I'm hearing rumblings from the food- and beverage-investing communities about funding more microbreweries, which is very cool. We've been seeing — and will continue to see — the growth of our local brewing community. With the pent-up talent we have here in Denver, once investors help unlock these energies, Denver will continue to lead the country in beer innovation — both from a progressive-recipe front and a practical manufacturing perspective.
On the downswing of fine dining: Fine dining isn't dead, but it's certainly breathing through a straw from the bottom of a river. Coming out of the worst recession we'll ever see, even with economic conditions improving, people don't feel right overspending on dining experiences on a daily basis. That pervasive position makes "daily bread" for fine dining and their related price points a challenge. Moreover, I see the overarching trend being the continued elevation of comfort foods. We now have two gastro-diner efforts here in Denver [Punch Bowl — Social Food & Drink and Tom's Urban 24], with many more examples around the country, including Stephanie Izard's new gastro-diner concept in Chicago and Little Goat Diner, which opens soon. Rather than seeing acclaimed chefs take the next step up to fine-dining concepts, they're making an equally forward-moving step sideways to perfect dining traditions and concepts we've had for generations. Denver will continue to move with this tide, too.
On restaurant designs: It's all about recycled materials, which is as it should be — and hopefully will be for years to come. We were able to repurpose an entire barn and 200 high-quality but recycled chairs and stools at Punch Bowl Social; nothing bad can come from that. We'll see places with optional moods, sometimes introverted (video games/closed seating), sometimes extroverted — karaoke and community tables, for example, sometimes solo, sometimes with a crowd. There's an always-changing story within these new concepts with adaptive reuse: It's not decor, but a fundamental element of concept. We'll see places that one can call "mine," which only comes from warmth, so no stark color themes or hard edges that exist for shock, not rock. Also, blue is the color for 2013.
On T.G.I. Friday's and roving bicycle bars: The emergence of keg wine as a viable way of storing and serving wine will increase in popularity; we'll see craft spirits and cocktails in dive bars and chain restaurant settings. In other words, T.G.I. Friday's will offer a decent Aviation; airport bars will become a place of quality service, cuisine and beverage; economical restaurant lists with good food and drink at reasonable prices will pop up on top restaurant lists like Westword; wine lists will offer better margins on wines by the bottle, encouraging patrons to move past the by-the-glass list; and we'll see the death of roving bicycle bars. I mean, who really wants to work out and drink at the same time?
On the nitty-gritty: I see the industry having an even larger focus on the actual breed or exact type of food we're eating — like Berkshire pork or Duroc pork. I'm talking about the actual type of pig and how it's raised, or the exact type of heirloom tomato we're using.
On cocktail culture: Barrel-aged cocktails will take off. We do two barrel-aged cocktails here that are aged in oak for 21 days: the Manhattan Project, a 21-day barrel-aged Manhattan made with Breaking & Entering bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth and Angostura bitters, served with housemade cherries; and another barrel-aged cocktail with St. George Terroir gin, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Carpano Antica vermouth and Angostura bitters, served with a lemon peel.
On food trucks: While the food-truck scene has cooled off a bit, I think that 2013 will be the year of survival of the fittest. The trucks that are providing consistent quality and exceptional service are the ones that are going to make it.
On special-occasion dining: I don't think fine dining will ever die — there will always be a market for that special-occasion place — but I do think that high-end ingredients will be seen on more mid-market menus, with closer attention paid to the guest experience, all at a more affordable cost compared to fine-dining establishments.
On menus: We'll see more prix fixe menus and restaurants that serve a changing menu every day. While traveling this past year, my favorite places all had prix fixe options with a focus on seasonal and local products.
On Scandinavian cuisine and Denver's best new restaurant: I love the Scandinavian restaurants and products, and I think my favorite meal of last year was at the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, a Scandinavian restaurant. Locally, the Populist has to be the best addition to the Denver scene in a long time.
On herbivores, farmed fish and filets: I think with the continuous rise of prices of animal proteins, chefs will focus more and more on creating stellar vegetarian dishes that will satisfy the meat eater. I also think that exotic spices like asafoetida will be used more often. Chefs want to be original, so the more the exotic we are, the more desire there is from the guest. Smartly farmed fish that are sustainable with natural feed and low impact on the environment will become more acceptable because our oceans are being over-fished, and we'll also continue to see the practice of nose-to-tail utilization. This way, nothing is wasted and fewer animals are raised to provide just the very popular cuts like — ahem — the filet.
On spices: In the world of spices, it isn't really about new spices as much as it is about how to alter, for the better, the expected flavor of some of our favorites. Smoking spices is something new that we're doing — and plan to do more of in 2013. This past year, we rolled out smoked Tellicherry peppercorns and a new seasoning called Cape Hatteras Smoked Seafood Seasoning, and next year, we'll be smoking Saigon cinnamon. What we like about smoking spices or seasonings is that by playing with the types of woods or combinations of woods, you can add smokiness while also adding subtle hints of balanced but somewhat unexpected flavors like cherry, apple, maple and more. It is also important to note that the smoke flavor imparted to spices via a natural smoking process doesn't impart an overwhelmingly smoky flavor, but rather a subtle smokiness that can be a nice layered flavor and used to build an incredible-tasting final dish.
On...tap: Denver's only just beginning to see bars with cocktails on tap — Gaetano's and Ace have just a couple, we have seven at Vesper Lounge — and I'm sure we'll see more bars embracing that approach. I predict the same thing will happen with wines on tap. Only a few venues around town are pouring juice from kegs, but if you talk to anyone in the sales end of the wine industry, they'll tell you that's the direction accessible wine is headed.
On the upswing of fine dining: Despite what you might hear, fine dining is nowhere near dead. For proof, look at the explosion of venues putting out top-caliber food — Squeaky Bean and Central Bistro, for example. I think what's happening is that atmospheres are more relaxed and accessible, and the restaurants are popping up in smaller neighborhoods. That's where I see fine dining going — into neighborhoods. Look for something pretty great to open in the old Venue space, and keep your eyes peeled for what Matt Selby is going to do at Corner House. Oh, and the Populist. Talk about a high-end venue setting up shop in a neighborhood. Fine dining is far from dead.
On life without meat: I see vegetables as definitely moving forward. At some point, our culture is going to have to eat less meat; otherwise, I don't know how we can go on producing such inefficient food. Some people think you can't eat a meal without meat, but we need to find a better balance between vegetables and meat. The cultural challenge is how do we make it so that meat isn't the most important food on the plate?
On California rising: This will be the year that California re-emerges as an authentic wine region, which is championed by the many up-and-coming passionate young winemakers who understand that wine's place on the table is not as a starring role but as a complement to the food. They are driven not by scores, but by a quest to understand and develop an appreciation for what California wine is. I also predict that the twenty-page, leather-bound, encyclopedic wine list will give way to smaller, more focused lists.
On beer education: Something I'd like to see in the next few years is better education for beer servers. Restaurants and bars will need to take the basic steps to educate their staff on beer styles, history and service. Pouring beer in clean, appropriate glassware, as well as being able to describe a given beer style, are going to be essential in this burgeoning beer paradise. I think, too, that we're going to continue to see a trend of specialization, both in Colorado's beer scene and nationally. Breweries that focus on barrel-aged beers or beer styles from a specific region or tradition will keep popping up and garnering attention.Todd Thibault, marketing director, Breckenridge Brewery
On craft beer: The culture of craft beer will become more relevant around Denver in 2013. Just about every bar, tavern and eatery in this city will have multiple Colorado craft beers available, squeezing out the out-of-state breweries and "crafty" breweries a bit more. Don't get me wrong: The city and state will still be rife with craft beers from across the country, but Colorado will become even more dominant. Three to five significant, exclusive craft beer bars or tap houses will open in 2013, two to three of which will only serve Colorado craft beers, and possibly one or two others will be craft beer-only concepts — no wine or liquor. And the trend of opening nanobreweries or very small, one- to- seven-barrel neighborhood breweries will heat up even more in 2013, and I look forward to the movement of bringing back the concept of a brewery for every neighborhood. These small breweries will not distribute their beers in 2013 — just pour across their own bar, for the neighborhood. In addition, the sour-beer category will mature and become a bigger player in the craft beer scene in 2013. I'm not talking crazy, overly sour beers, but mildly sour, well-controlled beers — and watch out for barrel-aged sour beers. Sour beers could be quite the rage for the new — or infrequent — craft beer drinker.
Kate Lacroix, president, Dish Publicity
On the whole smorgasbord: I think we'll see inventive bar snacks with fruit and chocolate and unusual spices and meat in them (maybe not all at once); the increase of small plates and sides with more of a focus on lesser-known vegetables and cuts of meat; chef-driven cocktails and a return to the humble barman and a backlash against the over-tattooed mixologist; a return to elegance, including formal coat check, maître d', tableside service, jazz bands and the occasional chanteuse; Twitter fatigue from restaurants due to lack of interest on the part of everyone involved; smaller, louder and more packed restaurants, because the recession ain't over, so we all need to cram in and keep up the party; and food-cart fatigue on the part of patrons.
Michael Long, chef and co-host, KEZW's The Main Course
On expense-account dining: I think as the economy continues to improve, we'll see a resurgence of fine dining and expense-account dining, but without the sideshow trappings of luxury — just fine dining with regard to the food and beverage aspects.
On farm-to-table fatigue: I think we'll also see the inevitable exhaustion of "farm to table" as a raison d'être for a restaurant theme, but the principles will remain in practice, as they should.
On pot joints: As the roads to marijuana legalization continue to widen, I predict that the hospitality world will find a way to expand with it, and we may start to see pot cafes popping up, just like tap rooms and breweries.
Max MacKissock, executive chef, Squeaky Bean
On stomach restrictions: It's insane how crazy the diet thing has gotten. Ten years ago, I'd never heard of anyone being a celiac, but now at the Bean, we have 30 percent of our customers claiming to be one, so while we don't necessarily change the menu, we do try very hard to educate our employees on what ingredients are in each dish, and how we can change them to accommodate the needs of our customers. And that, it seems, will have to continue.
On kitchen sharing: I think we'll see a lot of chef collaborations in 2013. We're starting to see more chefs leave their home restaurants to create unique dining experiences in Denver. Frasca Food and Wine, in Boulder, has hosted a handful of great chefs from major food cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago, which provides an extraordinary learning experience for the young chefs in the kitchen.
On breed: Heritage-breed animals of all sorts will be a big trend in 2013, as more consumers opt out of consuming conventional factory-farmed animals and choose to support small family farmers who protect the biodiversity of the species, including chickens, turkeys, lambs, goats and pigs. We'll also see more whole-animal dinners, along with local artisans — urban beekeepers, cheesemakers, picklers and fermenters.
Etai Baron, co-CEO/founder, Udi's Foods Local
On food sex: Healthier eating is becoming sexier as vegetables move to the center of the plate, and I couldn't be happier about this trend. Everybody is cooking more vegetables and doing a better job with them, but True Food Kitchen has elevated healthy to an entirely new level. The rumor that P.F. Chang's has bought an option in True Food Kitchen is further evidence that healthy is going big-league.
On bread: With the renaissance of Northern European cuisine, led by Noma, we're seeing bakers turn their attention to the fine breads of Northern Europe — and it's a blessing for us all, because the bread culture of Northern Europe is even more rich and developed than that of France and Italy, the breads of which currently dominate the tables and grocery stores of this country. Chad Robertson of Tartine, Dan Leader of Bread Alone and Craig Ponsford, who owns Ponsford's Place in San Rafael, California, are helping lead this revolution in bread. Another bright spot is that Northern European breads tend to use more whole grains and alternative grains to wheat — and that translates to better flavor, more variety and more healthfulness.
We'll also see the continued ascension of overall bread quality. A big part of this story is that we're finally digging the grave for Wonder Bread; the other part of this trend is that Starbucks bought Pascal Rigo's La Boulange and the Bay Bread Company. Starbucks has been trying to figure out how to corner the market on quality pastries forever; they did plenty of experimentation all across the country with different delivery methods and suppliers. They finally decided to buy the bakery itself — and Rigo's Bay Bread is one of the country's best bakeries. You can bet that Starbucks has a grand scheme for figuring out how to use Rigo's magic in their stores — and let's not forget that the La Boulange restaurant brand will soon expand outside of San Francisco.
On delis: I think we'll start seeing some Montreal-style delis. Jewish food from Montreal is different from what's considered Jewish food in this country, but it's similar and delicious. Mile End, Rye Deli and Wise Son are some of the leaders out there, and here in Denver, we have Justin Brunson, who will probably prove to be one of the leaders of this cuisine's renaissance.
On meals on wheels: Street food continues its comeuppance with better tacos, better burgers, better salads, better pizzas and especially better sandwiches, and it's a trend that dovetails with "fast-casual" restaurants serving food that's every bit as delicious as it is in fine-dining restaurants. I believe that this segment of the dining market is going to continue to outpace and outperform all other segments because of the ability to cook delicious food, offer exceptional value and be incredibly convenient and easy.
On international cuisines: Ethnic food is starting to get some pretty great treatment from geeked-out chefs who can apply superior cooking methods and better ingredients to ethnic cuisines — just look at Phat Thai and Ace. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the brightest and most exciting trends that we can look forward to, because there are so many great flavors and ingredients that can cross cultural boundaries and help the continued evolution of our cuisines.
On frigidity: We're going to see ice. Seriously, check out this YouTube video about the ice program at the Aviary: http://youtu.be/MZp3SkO0gjQ.
On liquids: Twelve is looking to pick up a small barrel to pre-mix Manhattans, which is probably our most popular cocktail. We're going to blend the bourbon and sweet vermouth, and then finish it to order with bitters, ice and cherries.
On enough with those overused descriptions: I'm hoping to see fewer trendy words and phrases to describe food — no more "organic," "sustainable" or "farm-to-table" (everyone is farm-to-table, if you think about it). Let's just focus on the best products available, and note that I'd rather get a great tomato from California instead of a mediocre one from Colorado. There are some things that are best produced elsewhere.
On conscious eating: I think the biggest trend for 2013 is going to be responsible dining. More than ever, customers care about what they're eating, where their food comes from, sustainability, and does it support local farmers?
On cooking for kids: I think we're going to see more great restaurants trying to appeal to young, urban couples and families by embracing kids in the dining room and developing more compelling menus for younger diners.
On distilling: I think I might be seeing some of my chef colleagues and bar friends find themselves becoming small-batch distillers, experimenting with various techniques and fermentations to make their own spirits.
On sugar finales: Desserts are going to come into play in the coming year; most restaurants are realizing that crème brûlée, cheesecake and doughnuts just aren't cutting it anymore. The use of unique berries like huckleberries, gooseberries and boysenberries will be popular, while strawberries, blueberries and blackberries move off the list. There are so many new honeys and craft syrups, too, that we can utilize, and I think that a lot of chefs, including me, often overlook desserts as an opportunity to showcase our creativity and generate additional revenue for our restaurants.
On craft projects: I see restaurants moving more toward highlighting handmade, artisanal products, in the way of both food and beverage programs. Plates served in restaurants will feature less frills and more substance as consumers become smarter and more aware of what quality really means. Handmade cheeses and charcuterie will continue to be prevalent on menus, and restaurants will continue to focus on lower price points as people realize that superb quality doesn't mean that a huge price tag has to come with it. The stiff restaurant competition will force all of us to continue to push our quality of standards up, while simultaneously pushing the price point down and finding other, more effective ways to turn a profit for ourselves.
On the crash of craft suds: Craft beer in Colorado is going to take a downturn. There are just too many breweries that opened up in too short of a time frame, and it's really going to make the cream rise to the top, and not everyone will be able to stand up to the competition and make the cut. On the upside, I believe that craft distillers are going to rise up and start taking their place. People are realizing the beauty and simplicity of distillers like Leopold's, and consumers aren't going to be looking for the "consistency" that Jim Beam provides, but a more interesting and higher-quality product with some nuance that people like Todd Leopold believe in. It may not be the exact same bottle every time, but to borrow his words, it keeps its soul. Bombers and cicerones will make an upswing, beer will be viewed as part of a restaurant experience and not something to be enjoyed on its own, and sours and barrel-aged beers are going to be the new IPA. Breweries are frequently judged based on their highest-quality IPA, but while everyone has had a hard-on for the hop bombs, that will shift to yeast strains and cool — and different — ways of aging.
On fine dining: Fine dining will make a comeback as soon as Duy Pham makes it cool again.
On farming practices: Farming practices are going to be more widely advertised — the better the farm, the more value is added to their product, so get ready to pay. The same thing goes for spices and herbs: name-brand fresh herbs are coming.
On ethnic cuisine: There will continue to be the incorporation of ethnic flavors sneaking into American food and onto American menus, both with regard to fusion — burgers with Asian toppings, for example — and whole dishes, like Korean-style fried chicken replacing fried chicken thighs or sweet-and-sour chicken.
On whimsy: I see chefs continuing to push the envelope with new ingredients and techniques, and I think presentations will become a lot more playful. For example, I'm doing an event next year where we're going to make snow flavors. Just put your head up, open your mouth and catch some crème brûlée snow.
On moving beyond buzzwords: "Local sourcing," "farm-to-table," "building green," "reclaimed materials" and every other buzzword of the past will hopefully move beyond a marketing ploy and just become the norm rather than a trend.
On downtown dining: LoDo will become an even better dining destination as the redevelopment of Union Station and the Central Platte Valley continues. After fifteen years of being in LoDo, it's great to see the dining reputation of our neighborhood at an all-time high.
On niche dining: Recreational eating and drinking, like at Ace, will continue to carve a niche as guests look for alternatives to the traditional dining choices.
Robin Baron, executive chef, Udi's
On airport eats: Denver International Airport will have a lot of local restaurants opening in 2013; there's a desire to put Denver on the map nationally, and this city is beginning to take its airport dining much more seriously.
On the basics: I see a definite trend that will bring us back to the basics, to more simple, straightforward food. This brings a smile to my mug, as I've always been a little on the fence regarding the recent trends of chemical cookery, food-truck saturation and convenience before quality.
On health: We view dietary restrictions as a blossoming challenge with some great possibilities, and we go out of our way to accommodate as many dietary issues as possible, just as many honorable restaurants do. The relevant question, however, is this: Where do restaurants draw the line between being accommodating and allowing the guest to create their own bespoken menu? When you consider the tradeoffs, who really benefits when this happens? The discussion we regularly have is about the relationship between allergens and personal dislikes. It's a very sensitive and personal issue as we become more and more intimate with each guest's individual health needs. This focus will offer very new challenges to commercial kitchens that have many moving parts. For our part, this will be the biggest challenge in the near future, balancing our patron's excitement and surprise with occasional "spinach stubbornness," all while creatively guiding the menu down an ever-narrowing path avoiding honest allergens.
Brad Arguello, co-owner and chef, Über Sausage
On pickling: We're going to see a lot more pickling. Not just pickles, but all sorts of different items. Shit I don't even know about, or know you could pickle — they're gonna pickle it.
On spices: Indian spices may be worked into more menus. Someone is going to open up a cool Indian restaurant here soon. It's a wide-open landscape for this cuisine in Denver.
On atmosphere: We'll see more industrial and sleek designs. Expect designs to be a little more refined, as opposed to the extreme rustic/farmhouse look you see in so many restaurants that opened a few years back. I think we can also expect to see more open kitchens creating theater and giving guests a seat at the counter. More and more people continue to become passionate about cooking and dining out as a hobby. They want a front-row seat so they can take in all the action.
On pop-ups: They're basically a fad, and not really sustainable. You put just as much work into opening a pop-up as you would a long-term restaurant, only to take it all down a short period of time later. It only works best for the buzz factor and artistic expression, but it's not economically viable, as almost every pop-up loses money. Food trucks will withstand the test of time better and can be successful at a much lower cost of entry.
On the obvious: Meatballs!
On stews: I think regional and international peasant/comfort stews are going to make a surge in 2013, and the pressure cooker and crockpots are going to be in. In fact, the pressure cooker should be the new, hot kitchen tool in restaurant kitchens.
On storylines: More food as narrative. There's a good start in that direction with Next, in Chicago, and to some extent, Eleven Madison Park, but I think you'll see more of it, and on a national scale, especially in fine dining. Fine dining is becoming increasingly "experiential," and the food served will have a more developed story behind it as restaurants seek to satisfy a growing demand for something unique. Beyond that, I think we'll start to see more of a resurgence in luxury ingredients, but in less traditional manners. Look for foie and caviar in unexpected places.
On cocktail fads: Novelty cocktail trends like barrel-aged cocktails, keg cocktails and bottled cocktails will fade away. These trends are taking us back to the "Age of Convenience" that almost led our craft to ruin. What's next? Housemade dehydrated "fresh" sour mix? It's been done. All of these ready-made beverages take away from the craft and interaction with our guests. Oh, and beer cocktails still suck.
On bar hospitality: I'd love to see bartending return to basic hospitality: greetings, eye contact, introductions and congeniality. For a true bartender, the art of conversation is just as important — if not more important — as the craft of mixology. There was a time when the bartender was a complete guide to the city, other bars and restaurants, current events, sports news, etc. Hardly any of the new generation of bartenders even cares about that aspect of our profession, because they've focused so much on the science that they've forgotten that we're serving people, not drinks.
On spirits: People's eyes will be opened to amazing lower-alcohol vermouths and fortified wines like Cocchi Americano, Lillet, Barolo Chinat and Bonal. Amaros and digestivi will continue to surge, and the Leopold Bros. Fernet will become a cult sensation. (Todd, please make more. Quickly!)
Kelly Greene, restaurant broker, David Hicks & Lampert
On this, that and the other: I predict we'll see more tacos, lots more cocktails, breakfast continuing its trendy rebound, glass garage doors, rooftop decks, "designer" pizzas, smaller portions, late-night dining options, the continuation of the craft beer movement, "comfort food" menu items like meatloaf and fried chicken, televisions everywhere, more pay-to-park or valet parking, and patios, patios, patios.
On liquid assets: I think on the cocktail side of the world, we're going to continue to see boutique craft cocktails in vogue. Green Russell and Williams & Graham are the clear leaders in this group, and I think they'll continue to be the standard-bearers. They're both incredibly innovative venues with very dynamic teams that have the skills and talent to stay ahead of the curves. Cocktail lists will become shorter, with drinks featuring fewer ingredients, but the flavors will be more precise and louder as a result.
In addition, someone is finally going to point out that a few great restaurants have a beer selection that's outpacing their offerings on the wine side. I'm still surprised that Colorado is the epicenter of crafty beer and yet many restaurant programs don't give it the respect that it deserves. I think that's going to turn around next year, and we're going to see restaurants that are focused on food, beer, wine — and possibly cocktails — on equal footing.
I really hope, too, that we're going to see smaller, more concise wine lists with a focus on truly small vigneron and smaller importers. Clients will start demanding that their wine comes from a farmer, just like their mushrooms did. Hopefully, restaurateurs will step aside from the old three-to-four-times markup as a pricing model and start focusing on putting bottles of wine on people's tables instead of relying on it as the crutch to keep the cash flow super-cushy.
Rich Byers, executive chef, The Corner Office Restaurant + Martini Bar
On casual dining: The upscale-casual concept restaurant is where it's at now. A restaurant has to be fast, good, provide lots of variety and be priced competitively. I think we'll see a lot of very good casual-dining options in the mid-range price category in 2013. I'd be surprised to see to see a lot of high-end fine-dining concepts open next year. I don't think fine dining is dead, but it's definitely different, and from the perspective of a chef, I think the evolution of people's diets and the current economy, among other factors, require us to be more versatile and smarter than before.
On rising food prices: Proteins continue to rise in price, and 2013 looks to be very inflationary based on the future of corn. Because of that, I think we'll see smaller portions of meats and the continued use of non-traditional cuts that will be powered by intense spice blends and marinades using unusual pairings of flavors.
On copycats: The quest to duplicate Chipotle continues. Everyone and their brother thinks they can be the next Steve Ells and come up with the concept that will make them millions. Whatever.
On locavorism: While I know that "local" has been the focus for a few years now, I see that branching out a little bit. I think that some of the chefs who embraced the whole locality movement at first are now seeing that local quality isn't always what it was from the previous sources. I think that possibly more of an expansion into regional areas will take hold; we've especially noticed that in beef. Colorado doesn't quite grow — or produce — enough to meet the demands of our chefs, so branching out has been accepted, especially when the quality of Nebraska/Kansas beef is very good. Really good artisans may be looked at first, with local products taking their place as second on the list. But if we can have both, that's great.
On flesh: I think we'll see more old-world butcher/meat-driven eatery/market concepts. A rise in the growth of this movement came over the past few years with Primal Cuts: Cooking With America's Best Butchers, by Marissa Guggiana. It's a great book that also helped form the Butcher's Guild, meat communities such as meatcuttersclub.com, and interest in professional butchery classes, including Denver's own Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat: Foundations in Meat Fabrication, which I founded. Interest, both locally and nationally, has the professional program running twice a year at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in LoDo. The number of non-accredited recreational butchery classes has grown considerably, too, as have chef-driven meat-product lines.
On lamb and pig: I think that lamb belly may become the new pork. I was part of the Meat Buyer's Guide lamb section revision team in 2008 and 2009, where we identified cuts considered to be value-focused, profitable and different, and the belly kept coming up because of its great versatility, be it bone-in short-rib applications or boneless options with a variety of cooking techniques. Chefs will also continue to flex their nose-to-tail prowess, including charcuterie- and salumi-driven menu offerings.
On the grape vine: We'll hopefully see a strong push for staff education and wine programs with a clarity of vision and a sense of purpose. Hell, I may do an all-pinot/all-Riesling list for a while, just to show it can be done in Denver. Wine lists can be creative, eclectic and funky only if there's training for the staff behind it. Lists can be geeky and dorky, too, but too many restaurants don't — or can't — invest in proper training for their staff, and that leads to one person being the sole juice gateway, which is bad, bad, bad. The great thing that's happening for wine in Denver restaurants is the slow disintegration of the three-to-four-times markup, which used to be standard in our industry, being replaced by a 2.2-to-two times model. This means the best values on most lists aren't the $5 to $7 glasses (which cost $5 to $7 a bottle, by the way), but the $30 to $40 bottles that, just three years ago, were $45 to $75 a bottle.
On fine-dining elitism: I'm putting my foot down and stating my allegiance as an enemy of fine dining. Fine dining is elitist and classist and a holdover from when the help didn't speak. And from a straight-up sense of grace, there are very few places that do true fine dining well, if at all, in this country. Aside from that, it's unappreciated by most of the foodie populace and insanely difficult to teach — plus, if we had a real fine-dining restaurant in Denver, who would come? And, frankly, we'd have to import fine-dining servers. Is there a server in Denver that still has to do the marble exercise? (No, pervs, not that. Marbles are placed on multiple plates while you train to serve, and they can't make noise or spill. Try it; it's fun.) Fine dining implies so much: multiple courses, metal trays, cushioned tables, virtually silent service, and it all seems so...frigid. And it's something that needs to die, if for no other reason than it can re-emerge as something else.
On service: Service styles are based on knowledge and training, but also warmth and a sense of giving. Short of stripping, no other profession requires so much perversion of self as service. Egos in fine dining are to be subjugated to the needs of the guest? Fuck that. The goal should be the experience of the guest, not their desires. Our goal should be to make sure people leave, to quote Anthony Bourdain, "full, drunk, and hopefully, getting laid." I'd love to see a situation where fine-dining servers work with all their trade skills, but in an environment where it seems like they're hosting their own party — dress, music, table settings, glassware, cocktails, wine lists and menus all in harmony, seeming to come from one person who has the night off and invited you into their home. Form should follow function — nothing more — and training is key, training until service becomes a graceful, innate skill. When service is based on skill, and not just looks or personality, it becomes something that can be improved — something at which a server can excel. That's when dining will become really fine, because all of those cute, cool people we have working in the industry will become really good at what they do.
On being neighborhoody: We're seeing a deepening of the desire in diners to be somewhere "where everybody knows your name." Ten years ago, when we shut the cavernous B-52 Billiards, I believed a lot of it was due to the rise of the neighborhood bar in Denver. Now you can go to a world-class restaurant like the Kitchen or the Squeaky Bean and still feel like you're one of the guys...a regular on your first visit. I believe this warmth is what will separate the successes from the failures in our industry as we move forward.
On nanobreweries: I love the trend of the nanobrewery in the Colorado craft beer industry. These guys are the classic example of a slab of concrete plus a keg of good beer plus a friendly bartender adding up to success. Even cooler is watching the big guys like Left Hand or Oskar Blues show so much support and camaraderie to these newcomers; it's really fun to watch. I'd really love to see our winemakers follow their lead.
On looking out for one another: I think for the insiders in the Denver restaurant scene, that feeling of wanting to support each other, cheer for each other and cook together whenever possible is only going to get bigger and better. I want to believe that other towns follow this road map, but I just know in my heart and gut that what we have here is truly something special.
John Imbergamo, president, The Imbergamo Group
On restaurant economics: 2013 makes me nervous. It very well might be a troubled financial year for Denver's restaurant industry, predominantly from the cost side of the business. Increases in commodity prices will continue to rise in 2013, as we reap what we did not sow in 2012. While the full hit of the Affordable Health Care Act will not hit restaurants until January 2014, operators must analyze its impact in 2013 and make staffing and pricing decisions accordingly. The de-Brucing passed by Denver voters will significantly increase restaurants' real-estate property taxes in the City and County, and the solution won't be as simple as raising prices in this increasingly competitive environment. Restaurateurs will need to creatively massage their offerings, pricing, staffing and profit structure to stay in business.
On food for all: Making informed food choices based on source, ethics, allergies, blood type and politics ad nauseam is a luxury enjoyed by a minority of humans. I'm hopeful that a food trend will emerge in 2013 that we who are fortunate enough to eat three meals a day and have easy access to food acknowledge that is a great privilege, and we bow our heads in gratitude every time a plate of food is in front of us.
Brian Melton, PR consultant, Leigh Sullivan Enterprises
On the rise of technology: Restaurants have been using Facebook, Twitter and OpenTable for years, but there are companies out there right now that are making iPad POS systems better and better. Application-based companies are looking at creating software that measures user feedback so that owners and chefs can make decisions on menu items, app-based inventory-management systems and a whole lot more. We help design websites for different restaurants, and we're seeing owners taking a more active approach to how their site functions on the Internet — things like responsive design, scrolling development, online gift cards, OpenTable, Twitter and Facebook all working together on a restaurant's site to make buying and selling to potential guests that much easier while looking more professional.
On fewer ingredients: Maybe it's because I'm biased due to my fiancé's dietary restrictions, or maybe I've been spending a lot of time with Matt Selby and the chefs at Corner House, but limited ingredients, cooked simply and beautifully, is something we've seen on the rise. Oak at Fourteenth is doing this brilliantly, and there are a few other amazing spots in the city embracing this, but I think the days of seventeen different sauces, chile oils and such thrown on a plate for no reason are over. Perhaps it's the rising cost of ingredients, or guests with increasing dietary restrictions, but cooking a plate of food simply is something that I see more and more chefs embracing.
On mixology's demise: I think the final nail in the coffin was when Hotmixology Lounge opened, but it's been headed this way for some time. It's like using "local, seasonal ingredients" — most restaurant owners want a good bar program. But as a consultant, I'm teaching every bartender I can the proper way to make a Manhattan, or the reasons we all should use jiggers. I teach everyone why we shake a cocktail versus why we stir one. It's the fundamentals that matter — not "mixology." I don't care if you started tending bar last week or if you're a lifer, the foundation of a good cocktail is in the technique — and it has to be taught. You don't have to be Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer to know that without a good bar program, you don't stand a chance against your competition.
On artisans, cheese, pickling and mixology: I predict that chefs will go back to their artisan roots — making cheese, curing meats, making their own pastas and baking their own breads, butchering whole animals, focusing on artisan farmers and staying as local as possible. I think we'll also see more rooftop gardens, restaurants growing their own herbs, and a lot more pickling and preserving. I think cheese, in particular, is going to become a real focal point in a lot of restaurants; it's so very underrated and deserves more attention, especially with all of the amazing artisan cheesemakers in our own back yard. When it comes to herbs, I think we'll see a lot more uncommon varieties — things like lemon verbena, lemon balm, chervil, sorrel, chamomile, lovage, hyssop and angelica. I also see more chefs teaming up with mixologists to create amazing restaurants that really personify ultimate dining. For me, personally, I know I'll be focusing on keeping my food simple and looking back to the classics and putting a modern twist on them.
On gluten-free diets: I think the gluten-free fad is going to fade — yes, I know there are people with real celiac problems and I take it seriously, but it's still a fad, and not everyone who claims to have this disease is being honest.
On bigger cities and big-city chefs: I feel like we're going to see some repeat mistakes — some critical mistakes — namely, chefs from other cities moving to Denver and trying to initiate a new concept and then having to refocus their concepts over and over again to try to fit the necessity and find their niche. I feel like we have more and more of these big-shot chefs rolling into town in an attempt to prove themselves, while not really understanding what Denver wants — which is good, honest food. To the new chefs who are coming to Denver: Bring the money and the better-than-we-are reputation — the more the merrier — but understand that just because you're from a bigger city or have a big name doesn't mean that you understand what Denver wants or needs. Those of us who have been cooking here for a long time get it. We'll serve up the horse you rode in on — get some.
Leigh Sullivan, president, Leigh Sullivan Enterprises
On health: I see a lot of chefs and restaurants emphasizing much healthier foods than they have in the past, including fresher ingredients, smaller portions and cleaner flavors. That seems to be the direction we're headed.
On the culinary map: What I'm most excited about in 2013 is just how many amazing restaurants we have to look forward to. What I see is how Colorado is quickly developing from a secondary food market to an awesome market that's right up there with the best food cities in America — and that makes this chick very happy.
On vegetables and canning: Kale is going to be the new bacon. We'll see the leafy vegetable in every iteration, from chips to salads to snacks in a bag, just like potato chips. Canning is huge right now, too. When we did the first Marczyk Neighborhood Fair and had a canning contest, I thought we'd get about four entries; instead we got about twenty, and our judges, Chandler Romeo and Dana Coffield, who I thought were just going to have a casual time, were serious about their jobs, even to the point of disqualifying two contestants. I think as things get more tech-y, there's a natural desire to get off the grid, so to speak. Canning is it.
On home gardening: Home gardens are expanding — along with beekeeping and raising chickens — and people want to preserve summer's fruits, because there's a real nostalgia for it.
On gluten-free products: Our sales don't show this to be a growing "trend" — we sell three times the amount of bread now that we're making our own — but the e-mails in my inbox tell a different story. I think we'll see "deconstructed" sandwiches without the bread and more gluten-free labeling on menus. If we're lucky, we'll start getting some gluten-free foodstuffs that actually taste not just good, but great.
On keg wines and punch: I predict that keg wines will become increasingly popular in the market, especially since there are more outlets for the product, and there are more and more producers putting great juice into kegs. And call me crazy, but I think punch will continue to grow in popularity. I also predict that people will get tired of their Ocean Spray mixed bottle service, and the cost, and start opting for a "social bowl" to share instead — plus, it's more modern.
In Iowa--less emphasis on pork and booze; more emphasis on eating healthy. Pigging out and getting drunk are among the leading pastimes in Iowa.
I predicted last year that Scandinavian cuisine and more low spice/low intensity meals would come back but it didn't happen. Maybe this year.
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