Trends without end, round six: liquid assets, flesh and fine-dining elitism
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 sixth batch of predictions from local tastemakers.
A cocktail from Colt & Gray
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.
Kevin Burke, bar manager, Colt & Gray
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 table instead of relying on it as the crutch to keep the cash flow super-cushy.
The Corner Office + Martini Bar
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.
Dave Coder, business resource manager, Sysco Foods
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 its place as second on the list. But if we can have both, that's great.
Mark DeNittis, founder, Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat
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.
Jonathan Greschler, wine director, Old Major (spring of 2013)
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.
See our final installment of "Trends Without End" here tomorrow.
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