Trends without end, the final round: nanobreweries, restaurant economics and the demise of mixology
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 final batch of predictions from local tastemakers.
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 B52 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.
City, O' City
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.
Samir Mohammad, executive chef, Lala's Pizzeria + Wine Bar
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.
Jorel Pierce, executive chef, Euclid Hall
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.
Stefanie Jones, founder, Stefanie Jones | Public Relations, Inc.
On the surge of sandwiches: Masterpiece Deli has proven that Denver diners love a good sandwich and that the upscale sandwich concept can be successful. I think we're going to see a number of quality sandwich shops opening in 2013 serving high-end, house-cured and rotisserie meats, local cheeses, house-made jams, relishes and aiolis, and fresh baked breads. It's a concept that works well at any time of day.
On the whole beast: The nose-to-tail movement is going to be a much more significant trend in Denver in 2013 with restaurants like Kachina Southwestern Grill, Second Home Kitchen + Bar and soon, Beast & Bottle, all touting whole animal and in-house butchery programs. We'll see more unfamiliar cuts and preparations on Denver menus and an increase in farmer/shepherd dinners.
On going international: There's a lack of legit, non-trendy ethnic food in Denver, so I'm hoping that we see a resurgence of solid, authentic Indian, Thai and Korean restaurants that open and thrive in 2013.
Z Cuisine owner-chef Patrick DuPays, and his wife, Lynnde.
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.
Barbara Macfarlane, co-owner, Marczyk Fine Foods
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 techie, 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.
On the philosophies of Alain Ducasse: "I want to remind people of the taste of bread and butter," said Alain Ducasse. Looking out over his global empire of gourmet restaurants, star-studded tables reaching from Tokyo to the Eiffel Tower, the French chef decided this spring it was time for something new. "We've never been about bling-bling -- but now we are definitively going to get back to essentials," Ducasse said. "There are no accessories -- just like a very beautiful woman does not need accessories. Cuisine, noted Ducasse, "has become too complicated -- this is about subject, verb, adjective: duck, turnips, sauce." And dishes, he continued, of no more than three ingredients will aim to "define the essence of taste." The new trend, les cuisine simple? I am so on board with you, chef. As you said, "We want to make the cuisine simpler, more readable -- not cuisine for the sake of demonstration."
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