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Trends without end, round five: Pickling, pop-ups and moving beyond buzzwords

Lon Symensma, exec chef of ChoLon.
Lon Symensma, exec chef of ChoLon.
Lori Midson

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 realtors 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...

Keeping reading for our fifth batch of predictions from local tastemakers.

See also:

- Trends without end, round one: Simplicity, local greens and pot (maybe)

- Trends without end, round two: Beer, beer cocktails and the whole beast

- Trends without end, round three: Vegetables, spice and Scandinavia

- Trends without end, round four: Bread, breed and Twitter fatique

Lucky Pie serves pie and beers... but will craft brews take a downturn?
Lucky Pie serves pie and beers... but will craft brews take a downturn?

Joe Troupe, executive chef, Lucky Pie Pizza and Taphouse

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.

Eric Chiappetta, owner-executive chef, Chia's Breakfast & Lunch Counter

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.

Jenna Johansen, chef and food blogger, thelastthingweate.com

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.

Ian Kleinman, chef-founder, The Inventing Room

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.

Keep reading for more predictions.

Brandon Foster at Vesta Dipping Grill.
Brandon Foster at Vesta Dipping Grill.
Lori Midson

Brandon Foster, executive chef, Vesta Dipping Grill

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.

Pete List, executive chef, Beatrice & Woodsley

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.

Keep reading for more predictions.

Williams & Graham pours on the hospitality.
Williams & Graham pours on the hospitality.

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.

Lon Symensma, executive chef, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro

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.

Jensen Cummings, executive chef, Slotted Spoon Meatball Eatery

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.

Jonathan Power, co-owner/executive chef, The Populist, Crema Coffee House

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.

Sean Kenyon, barman, Squeaky Bean and Williams & Graham

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!)

Watch for another installment of "Trends Without End" tomorrow.


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