From street food to haute cuisine, the food and beverage landscape is responding to the changing tastes of Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are better informed and more adventurous.
A growing number of eco-friendly and health-conscious customers want to know the story behind what they eat and drink, seeking choices that are good for the environment and for themselves. However, sustainability and wellbeing are not the only trends shaping the industry: the pursuit of pleasure is alive and well, as consumers seek innovative culinary experiences (and shareworthy moments) that tease and delight the senses.
Locally sourced and in season
Evidenced by the growing popularity of farmer’s markets and foodie tours, the locavore movement has continued to build a loyal following among consumers keen to trace the origins of their food and enjoy fresh, healthy and eco-friendly cuisine. Likewise, restaurants and chefs of the highest calibre are taking inspiration from nature to provide customers with a culinary experience steeped in local flavours.
In Paris, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée introduces guests to the concept of “naturalness” cuisine. Healthier and more respectful of the planet, the concept features locally sourced and seasonally relevant vegetables, fish and grains, and aims to showcase the original flavour of these ingredients. High above Montreux, Swiss chef Stéphane Décotterd focuses on seasonal ingredients and makes a point of collaborating with local producers at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Pont de Brent, where specialities include freshly caught féra fish from Lake Geneva.
Rather than adhering to strict or extreme diets, many consumers are exploring “flexitarianism” and the wide range of culinary possibilities offered by vegetables, grains and meat-free proteins. Health and environmental concerns are partly driving this trend, but the desire to experience new flavours, textures and sensations is also a key factor. In 2019, we can expect to see more examples of culinary innovation putting plant products at the centre of the meal.
French chef Alain Passard is a long-time innovator in this field. At his three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, L’Arpège, vegetables are the centrepiece of the menu, while fish and meat feature less prominently. L’Arpège serves fresh fruits and vegetables harvested daily from the restaurant’s own organic gardens in the countryside. In Passard’s words, “I grow my own vegetables to be able to tell a story from the seed to the plate.”
In fact, growing interest in vegetable-centric cuisine is leading to new synergies between gastronomy and agriculture. In the USA, chef Dan Barber, vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb have launched Row 7, a seed company dedicated to creating more nutritious and delicious organic plant varieties. Pushing for a new concept of seed-to-table dining, the idea behind Row 7 is that diners don’t need to choose between flavour and nutrition – the two go hand-in-hand. The company is working to develop foods like creamy potatoes that eliminate the need for butter, and flavourful squash that can be served on its own without sweeteners like maple syrup.
The democratisation of dining
With their growing influence, Millennials are eroding the boundaries between formal and casual, and championing the idea that good food need not be expensive. Open-kitchen restaurants, street food and a return to cooking over fire are resulting in a more relaxed atmosphere, in which customers also feel closer to the chefs, ingredients and preparation methods that form their culinary experience.
American chef Grant Achatz may be better known for his three-Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea, but he is also the owner of Roister, a lively, casual restaurant in Chicago where “the kitchen is the restaurant” and “the restaurant is the kitchen.” Foie gras toast, smoked oysters and A5 Japanese Wagyu are just some of the dishes on offer at Roister, where customers watch chefs prepare their food, and chefs form an integral part of the service.
A return to primal cooking methods is also gaining popularity among diners and chefs seeking new flavours without pretension. Proper, a Buenos Aires restaurant launched by chefs Augusto Mayer and Leo Lanussol, is known for its creative open-fire cooking and has been named among Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018. Meanwhile, innovations such as the Big Green Egg, a ceramic cooker inspired by the Japanese kamado tradition, offer chefs and amateurs the versatility to smoke, grill, bake and more.
Finally, the rise of food trucks and street food in cities across the world is introducing urban consumers to a wide range of flavours in a fun atmosphere at an affordable price. In London, Street Feast markets bring region-specific international cuisine, vegan and vegetarian fare, craft beers and bespoke cocktails to derelict and disused spaces across the city. The initiative is supported by chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi and Thomasina Miers. Meanwhile, in keeping with Millennial values, many street food markets are working on becoming more sustainable by reducing waste and eliminating single-use plastics.
Sweet treats and rainbows of flavour
An overview of food and beverage trends would not be complete without a nod to the influence of social media, which is how many consumers now discover new gastronomical experiences. Foodie photography and social media sharing has put the spotlight on culinary aesthetics as well as flavour. Many culinary innovations merging the visually delightful with the delicious can be found in the creative world of pastry and confectionary.
L’Eclair de Génie, launched by renowned French pâtissier Christophe Adam, is dedicated above all to creating éclairs with seemingly infinite variations. With ingredients like Tainori dark chocolate, Madagascar vanilla, coconut, pistachio, raspberry and yuzu citrus cream, the artful pastries offer a rainbow of flavours that is as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.
Cédric Grolet, another celebrated French pastry chef, has more than one million followers on Instagram, where the pâtissier posts photos of elaborate creations such as his sculptured fruits or Rubik’s Cube Cake. But the innovations are not only visual — reducing sugar to heighten other flavours is also a key trend within the pastry world. As Grolet has said in an interview with the Michelin Guide, “We don’t rely on lots of sugar to make something delicious anymore. Flavour comes from technique, choice of ingredients and proportion. That’s what evolution means.”
Here in Switzerland, at the applied learning restaurants on the campuses of Glion and Les Roches, I encourage our students to explore the intersection between pleasure, sustainability and wellness. Judging from their enthusiasm, this may very well be where the future of food and beverage lies.
Benoît Carcenat is culinary arts advisor and senior lecturer at hospitality education group Sommet Education