My column in the Columbia Daily Tribune’s food section today:
Predicting the future is always a tricky business. And with American taxpayers bailing out one venerated industry after another, predictions might not be worth the surplus Merrill Lynch letterhead they’re printed on. Still, we will all continue to eat -most of us at least three times a day. Here’s a guess as to what will be on our plates in the coming year.
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first. In 2009, we’ll be eating more meals at home. Home-cooked meals can save money in our 401(k) statements. Comfort food will make a comeback. I predict record levels of meatloaf consumption and a resurgent interest in Southern food such as grits, hush puppies and greens. Braising – that time-honored method of turning tough, inexpensive cuts of meat into extraordinary meals – will be the cooking technique of the year. Beer will be the new wine, both as an ingredient and for pairing with food. Fueled by the nascent recognition that cheap, processed carbs are the main culprit in America’s obesity epidemic, fat will step off the ledge and back into its rightful place in kitchens everywhere.
Farmers markets and home vegetable gardens will remain popular as consumers seek greater control over their food supply. Expect a banner year for Missouri wines as a huge grape harvest will allow vintners to be more selective with their grapes.
Paradoxically, lobster could be big for a few months as solid catches and sagging demand have eased prices by 30 percent. Brussels sprouts are on virtually every menu in New York City; here’s hoping these underrated veggies make their way onto more Central Missouri menus in 2009. Edamame, simply cooked and salted soybean pods, are everywhere, and not just at Asian restaurants anymore.
There’s at least one other given: The restaurant world is in for some lean times. But it is possible local restaurants will be able to weather the recession at least as well as the chains.
The key, industry analysts say, is the mom and pops’ ability to quickly adapt to changing customer demands. As Bob Goldin of Technomic, an industry consulting group, asked in the New York Times recently, “Can you imagine what it takes for a chain like Applebee’s to introduce a new item?” Taking advantage of their inherent flexibility will help the little guys ride out the storm.
Cheaper, less familiar meats will be big in 2009. Two local establishments with their ears to the ground, Sycamore and The Wine Cellar & Bistro, caught on to the enthusiasm for pork belly early and report plenty of customers willing to eat lower on the hog.
Chef Craig Cyr of The Wine Cellar told me oxtail is selling very well. “Especially the people who have had it before,” he said, “they know how rich it can be. It’s a great winter dish.”
Less exotic but still affordable flank steak will show up on more menus as interest in expensive filet mignon and ribeye recedes.
Columbia is already seeing house-made pickled vegetables and charcuterie show up on menus around town, notably at Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar. There you can find a $2 plate of cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers and onions they pickle on-site and salmon carpaccio they cure themselves. That Columbia saw two tapas-focused restaurants – Bleu and Room 38 – open this year says something about the increasing popularity of small plates.
Korean restaurants will continue to rise in popularity as diners put value front and center when deciding where to eat. Locally, Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro and the excellent KoJaBa are introducing skeptical Midwesterners to Asian comfort food.
Because of overfished oceans, suspect farming conditions in Asia and consumer frugality, freshwater fish could stage a revolt against their higher-priced sea-dwelling cousins this year. The proliferation of catfish on menus around town – Mississippi Fish Shack, Catfish Corner and Tin Can Tavern all carry Missouri’s state fish – is well-documented. But trout is popping up as well at restaurants such as Glenn’s Café and Les Bourgeois as well as Sycamore and The Wine Cellar. Each offers trout from local producer Troutdale Farm.
Only time will tell which of these educated guesses – if any – ring true a year from now. The one given is that economics will have as much to do with our food choices as anything. But if we use this opportunity – okay, forced frugality – to expand our palates and do a little advance planning, there’s no reason we can’t eat well in 2009.