From organic food to ancient grains, tapas to molecular gastronomy, spiced flavoured beverages to edible flowers and unexplored regional cuisine, Food and Beverages (F&B) in 2014 was a mélange of the old and the new.
What goes out comes back in vogue. The old is the latest new and classics are timeless. If any year has proven each of the above adages to be true with a generous sprinkling of its own new flavours of course, it has been 2014. With the year all set to leave center-stage, we look at some of the interesting concepts that held the food world’s attention year long and that of diners too.
Circa 2009, a famous brand advertisement made fun of organic aloo. Clearly they didn’t know that exactly five years hence, it would be the buzz word on every dining table, with the F&B world turning back to the good old time, where food was produced organically and chemical free. The year 2014 saw not only hotels hosting Organic Farm Markets (with Karen Anand helming a four city drive), but also standalones bringing them into their menu. In fact, says Vikas Seth, Corporate Executive Chef, Dish Hospitality, “Organic food became the symbol of food being fresh, healthy and flavourful.”
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Of course the whole drive led to the year’s another trend- Single Source Produce. Says Zubin D’Souza, Executive Corporate Chef, Mars Enterprises, “2014 saw single-origin food as one of the big trends in the food & beverage industry. Procuring food from a single farm or a single region was given a lot of importance, more so as it translated into better quality, better tasting food.” In fact, adds Indrajit Saha, Executive Chef, Sofitel, “More F&B outlets began stocking products like wine and chocolate made from a single source as it not only established a certain credibility to the product but also consistency in the end product.”
DE-CONSTRUCTING A DISH STORY
Deconstructed. The most heard word on every Chef’s table in 2014 (and last leg of 2013) was more like a spillover from 2011, when the concept made its debut on the Indian dining table with the humble apple pie breakdown. Since then the thrill of presenting a dish – Indian and otherwise – with each of its elements showcased in a unique fashion has held the fancy of both the diners and the chefs. The indulgence of course reached its pinnacle in 2014. Says Anjan Chatterjee, Founder & MD Specialty Restaurant, “Deconstruction added a new dimension to the process of creating and dining. Suddenly, food turned into an indulgence that if on one hand egged the chefs to be more creative with plating it encouraged diners to discover flavours in a whole new way. In fact, today the whole element of surprise is what attracts diners to explore new places, and deconstructing helped in creating that experience.”
MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY MAKES WAVES
It was in 1999, when the modern-day Molecular Gastronomy made its appearance in India. Alas, a few experiment aside, the technique made little waves in the food world. That was till 2013, when suddenly Molecular Gastronomy took people’s attention by the nose – with Indian cuisine playing the proverbial Pharaoh’s boat.
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Thanks to Culinary benchmarkers like Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra and a few others, Indian cuisine finally dropped its ‘huge portion, oil laced’ appearance for a chic outing. Indian food suddenly took the world by surprise with its easy flavour marriage and unique presentation. And with it the 2000 export technique suddenly became a skill to master for many in the food business. And words like spherification, flavoured foams and smoke infusions a common feature in the dining space with Indian chaats, sweets and even beverages using the technique to make the experience memorable.
Says Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd (that owns Masala Library and Farzi Café), “Suddenly, people – diners and chefs – discovered how one could use concepts like molecular gastronomy and other sciences to ring in a new dimension to each Indian dish presented and up the dining experience. Chefs became experimental, kitchens became lab and the concept of Progressive Indian Cuisine was born. In fact, restaurants began focusing on offering high quality dining experiences, at par with international standards with a better understanding and implementation of this science.”
In the coming years, adds Zorawar, “showcasing lesser-known Indian cuisine using modern techniques while preserving the ancient culinary traditions will be biggest trend.”
Agrees Paul Kinny, Director Culinary, Pallazzio Hotels & Leisure Ltd, who feels that molecular gastronomy will reach a new level with Indian cuisine exploding the world scene in 2015 as it will become a useful tool in preserving the traditional flavours without making the classic dishes look mundane. “The arancini has already shown how science can be used to make food more interesting.”
LESSER KNOWN CUISINES GO BIG
After an influx of oriental and North Frontier cuisine restaurants, 2014 saw a slew of restaurants that celebrated lesser known cuisines like Soda Bottle Openerwala (Parsi/Mumbai – Irani cuisine); Potbelly (Bihari); Yeti (Himalayan cuisine), Amreli (the Indian bistro) and more. It also saw a lot of five star hosting festivals that had lesser known cuisine like Rampuri, Dakshini. In fact, the old southern favourite The Konkan Café opened with a new menu that extended upto Calicut getting the Mappila cuisine in its fold.
“Lesser known regional cuisine was the new trend in the F&B world – and it was not just limited to Indian cuisine, but spanned across the world as well.. Like the Burmese, Greek, Ethiopian, African and Mauritian too”, says Riyaaz Amlani, Founder & MD, Impresario Foods, who feels that “Pop Up Restaurants were a big way of celebrating these lesser explored culinary worlds.”
In fact, adds Riyaaz, “in the coming years, more and more restaurants in hotels and standalones will experiment with local flavours like Oriya, Assamese, Bihari and other community cuisine as more diners will be looking at newer flavours and styles to experience. And it will play in key role in keeping them interested.”
Agrees Chef Sabysachi Gorai, Founder, Fabrica By Saby. “2014 actually saw people exploring cuisines other than the Punjabi cuisine that has ruled the roost for quite a few years. The year largely focused on the coastal cuisine. Besides coastal, Parsi and North Eastern cuisine also gained popularity with common dishes Vada Pav becoming the new cool.”
SMALL BECOMES THE NEW BIG
From sliders to personalised plating, bite sized dishes or finger food were big in 2014. The idea, says Chetan Sethi, Owner Zaffran, “of dining and not plain eating finally seems to be catching up in the market that till date has remained price-portion sensitive. People have begun enjoying menus that do not restraint them and can be had on the go as well.” Sethi’s Kebab Korner By Zaffran is an attempt at making North Frontier cuisine more befitting to the fast paced life of today.
Agrees Kalra, who began Farzi Café based on the concept of Tapas, which became the most instagramed menu in the past few months. “A tapas menu is high on flavours because of the sheer mix of ingredients and flavours in different temperature. That culinary foreplay has seen a rise in popularity in the recent time. And while the portion size may be an issue today, but it’s going to be the trend in 2015.”
Seconds Chef Gorai, who introduced the concept of tasting menus – which popularised small tasting portions – in the metropolitan diners a few years back. “Diners want to explore more cuisines today and having those in small portions are the best way to go about it as it allows more flavours to be put on plate and indulge in,” says the celebrated chef who feels the only downside to the trend is the immense customization and consistency that go into sustaining the trend.
THE RISE OF THE LOCAVORES
2013 end saw the rise of local ingredients, with more chefs using locally produced ingredients in international cuisines to bring forth better flavours. This changed the way food was presented as simple flavours saw more takers than complex dishes. Even Chef Sergi Arola decided to go hugely local with Arola by using Indian tomatoes and the naan for his menu in place of exporting ingredients from Spain. Ask him why and he would cite the ‘tartiness’ of Indian tomatoes that are better than those found in Spain.
By the mid of 2014, this trend turned on its head again with diners demanding dishes made with local ingredients, which in turn bought to fore ancient grains like the Quinoa, kholabri, spelt, foxtail millet and nuts like pistachio into the commercial kitchens. Says Vijay Malhotra, Executive Chef, ITC Maratha, “Forgotten foods and forgotten grains like rajgira and amaranth were big in 2014 with diners became more intrigued with the taste and the story behind these lesser known grains. For the chefs, of course, it gave them alternatives to play around with, which added to the dish. So a bed of potatoes could be replaced with polenta or cous cous.
Adds Kedar Bobde, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency, “The reason for their popularity wasn’t only the refreshing new experience that these grains and ingredients provided but also the health factor. Diners were quick to realise that these could be a guilt-free indulgence. In fact, the rediscovery of these ingredients began the trend of vegetable based sweets like a beetroot tart or Schezwan pepper flavored ice cream.”
This new discovery led to another trend – the rise of the Superfoods. “Lesser preferred ingredients like kale, beetroot and ugly-looking vegetables like elephant foot and yams became the talk of the town. Beetroot juices and spinach puree became the choice for plating instead of the food colours,“ says Manish Tewari, Corporate Chef, PVR Cinemas.
Yet another trend that Superfood spewed was the “Art on a plate” concept, says Chef Gorai, as chefs began using a lot of ingredients such as pureed beetroot, blue curaco syrup, spinach puree etc to present food more interestingly.” Adds Chef Kinny, “2015 will be the year to look out for unexplored root vegetables like celery root, parsnips and kohlrabi; as they jostle for attention with Nigella seeds, seaweed, matcha and oysters.”
Agrees Chatterjee, “Diners have taken a shift from visiting fine dining restaurants to exploring cuisines that are high on proteins and less on carbohydrates.
Suddenly food that use quicker cooking techniques have become the new fad. Dimsums and tandoor food has found acceptance than good old frying.” Result, says Chef Kunal Kapur, “There has been noticeable shift in people turning to vegetarian food as there are newer options to indulge in.”
COMFORT FOOD GOES CLASSIC
While Japanese and Burmese food became the centre of haute food in Mumbai and Regional cuisine in Delhi, 2014 certainly belonged to the good old nostalgic Indian dishes like the Natraj ke dahi bhalla, kebabs, jalebi , Nizamuddin ki biryani and recreations from childhood favourites like Parle G and Maggi.
A trend, which began with Mumbai’s first Gastrobar, Long & Short in InterContinental Marine Drive and the hangout Dudefood in 2013 that brought the Mumbai Biryani and the college- style burger back in vogue, finally raised its bar with Farzi Café that turned Maggi, posh.
“The thing about comfort food is that it’s nostalgic and can never go out of fashion. And even when diners prefer experiential and experimental dining these days, comfort, presented uniquely, garners brownie points for the memory it is associated with,” says Kalra, whose Farzi Café Posh Maggi and Parle G Cheesecake became the most pictures dishes of 2014. And this, says Chef Kapur, “will remain a classic trend that will remain a fixture year after year. What will change of course is the dish, which is likely to go regional with already a few culinary gems disappearing from the home dining table.”
As per the new report on Food Tourism issued by the UN World Tourism Organisation states that “over a third of tourist spending is devoted to food”, which clearly shows how important the cuisine of a destination is today. In fact, says Chatterjee, “Gone are the days when sights and nature would entice people. Today a major section of travelers travel for food – and not just gourmet food, that was the key a few years ago – but for local tastings.”
Concurs Kalra, whose own travel itinerary often constitutes traveling to traditional, old restaurants to “realise the real flavours of a place. And more often than not these small traditional places preserve those better than bigger brands,” says the restaurateur.
According to Amlani, “the reason that 2014 saw a good bunch of Pop Up Restaurant successes is because of the authentic flavours that the concept bought to the fore and egged people to explore places.” A proof of this rising phenomenon is also the social groups that encourage people to visit places to merely explore the food.
Coorg, North East and Kashmir, says Chef Gorai, have been the few places that have been explored now more for food than just their natural beauty.
In fact, these experts agree, with amateur cooks rising in numbers, the coming year will see people exploring both known and lesser known places to discover the joy of food and be a part of the culture consumption.