Over the past two years, F&B trends have taken a backseat to more pressing matters, like navigating the ever-changing pandemic landscape or grappling with supply chain issues. But many chefs and restaurant operators are hoping that 2022 will open the door to more innovation on the menu side.
Through data on consumer demand, product availability, and other factors like cultural shifts, trendologists can extrapolate hot-ticket items. But people working in the kitchen every day—namely chefs and their teams—have a different, and arguably more astute, perspective of what’s coming down the pipeline. And when it comes to preparing for the year ahead, restaurants would do well to listen to the people who understand their menus the best.
Here are eight trends to expect in 2022 from the people who know the back of house best: chefs.
Hibiscus has long been used in teas and other beverages. In fact, chef Dina Butterfield of Japanese steakhouse Uchi remembers imbibing one such drink throughout her childhood in Mexico.
“I was raised drinking ‘agua de Jamaica,’” she says of hibiscus, which translates to Jamaica in Spanish. “It's served in every Mexican household during lunch which is our main meal. It's sold in the markets and in the ice cream shops.”
She predicts that hibiscus will move beyond simple infusions and onto the plate in complex dishes. Hibiscus even figures into Uchi’s New Year’s Eve omakase menu.
“Lately, I have had several people asking about [hibiscus] for desserts, cocktails, and crudos. Jamaican flowers can be cooked and utilized as a savory or sweet dish,” Butterfield says. “Hibiscus is a healthy flower and is considered a diuretic so it has the potential to be the next superfood.”
Plant-based alternatives have been trending in recent years, but now is the time for the plants themselves to shine.
“I really love to see the way vegetables are becoming a focus. At Orno, we have about half the menu being vegetables,” says Josh Elliott, the executive chef at Niven Patel’s Coral Gables, Florida, restaurant. “For us as cooks, it's good to challenge ourselves and step out of the meat and fish game, especially working under a chef like [Patel] who is primarily vegetarian.”
In terms of specific veggies, Elliott is particularly keen on okra and thinks it will be big in the new year.
Most often associated with Southern and Creole cooking, okra is one ingredient whose texture can vary dramatically depending on how it’s prepared. Naturally slimy on the inside, okra can be a turn-off for some guests, but Patel, a three-time James Beard Award nominee, has managed to change people’s minds with Orno’s grilled okra.
"My mission is to get people to like okra," Patel says. "I discovered grilled okra can convert anyone to an okra lover.
Although operators have expanded their repertoire when it comes to ingredients cooking methods, French culinary technique remains the gold standard in much of the restaurant world.
James Beard Award winner chef Hugh Acheson believes French-style cooking is poised for a comeback with more chefs embracing the technique. At his restaurant Ovide within the Hotel Effie Sandestin in Miramar Beach, Florida, Acheson sprinkles bits of French flavors into the Southern-rooted menu. Pan-seared scallops are adorned in vermouth beurre blanc, bacon, and pine nuts, while the Jumbo Globe Artichoke is dressed in garlic aioli, grilled lemon, and Maldon salt. The 10-ounce filet mignon is served alongside whipped potato, shiitake mushroom jus, and maître d'hotel butter.
These flourishes may be small, but as Acheson points out, employing fresh, locally sourced ingredients is at the heart of French cooking—and that’s a practice that never goes out of style.
The rise of food culture has brought a more egalitarian feel to the restaurant world. No longer are elevated dishes and international cuisines solely the domain of connoisseurs. Fine dining, which has traditionally catered to an elite crowd, has lost a bit of its luster since consumers can find exciting foods at lower prices and in more casual environments.
Nevertheless, chef and multi-concept restaurateur Peter Merriman thinks a confluence of factors could give the segment a boost in 2022.
“Due to supply chain issues, I anticipate the restaurant industry raising prices,” he says. “However, customers have missed dining out and will splurge on a fine-dining experience now and then.”
Indeed, as of last August, seven out of 10 restaurants had already raised their costs to offset inflation, according to Black Box Intelligence. Combine this with product shortages and COVID fatigue, and fine dining might experience a surge.
Consumers enjoy seeking out new dining experiences, but that doesn’t preclude them from craving throwback foods, too. At Mugen Waikiki in Honolulu, pastry chef Jamon Harper brings adult sensibility to favorites from more formative years. This philosophy shines in a new ice cream.
“My recent take on a Neopolitan incorporates an exotic twist on the childhood classic—strawberry pink peppercorn, spiced coconut, and Mililani chocolate topped with house-spun cotton candy—satisfies our elevated palate and inner child alike,” he says.
By elevating fun foods of yesteryear, restaurants stand to not only impress guests with a one-of-a-kind dish, but also create a memorable experience.
“Evoking emotion and memories through my dishes brings a unique flair to the menu,” Harper says. “I enjoy indulging in the whimsical elements of sophisticated renditions of a nostalgic favorite, creating a sensory experience that transcends sight and taste.”
Indulgences could be a little less sweet in 2022. After two years of comfort foods and treats, consumers are becoming more health-conscious once again. Chef Cara Thompson of Mr. Purple in New York City thinks sugar will be one of the first ingredients guests avoid or at least limit.
“I find it coming up more and more in conversations, [with] sugar being most people's concern,” she says.
A 2020 survey by the International Food Information Council found that 74 percent of respondents were cutting sugar compared to 80 percent in 2019. Now the question is whether the pre-COVID behavior will return.
At Mr. Purple, Thompson’s dishes utilize natural sugars through dishes like Banana Tempura with chocolate sauce and chantilly, as well as a mini cheesecake that is adorned only with fresh fruit.
While local sourcing has become a regular practice for many restaurants, chefs still spicing up the menu with a few choice ingredients from farther afield.
To that end, Victoria Wenning, executive sous chef at the Westin Cape Coral Resort in Florida, predicts ingredients from a certain region will be especially prevalent next year.
“As far as new flavors and flairs, Korean and Japanese influences will continue to grow in popularity,” she says. “We’ve already started integrating these tastes in our new menus, such as using yuzu—a citrus fruit of East Asian origin—in seafood dishes, like our Tuna Tataki.”
Wenning isn’t the only chef betting on yuzu. Executive chefs Chris Madsen and Melissa Sallman at Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa in Orlando, respectively, have also named the tart citrus as a hot item.
From kefir and kimchi to sauerkraut and tempeh, fermented foods have become more popular as consumers embrace the complex mix of briny and tangy flavors. And chef Danny Galvez of Estiatorio Ornos, a Michael Mina restaurant in Miami, thinks those ingredients will become even more prevalent on menus in 2022.
Galvez has noticed that many top chefs are incorporating shio koji, a marinade made from cooked rice that has been fermented with a culture, Aspergillus oryzae, which is used in Japanese ingredients like miso and soy sauce.
Although Galvez says the marinade is great for tenderizing meats and adding an “umami punch,” he thinks its veggie application might be what makes it a menu all-star. After all, many plant-based foods need an extra kick of umami that comes naturally with animal proteins.