Best culinary minds speak: What will we eat in 2020?

Menu with ‘personality’; sub-regional cuisine; ingredients taking centre-stage, and the rise of fast casual are some evolving concepts

Culinary experience, Experts speak, Food & Beverage, 2020, Dining experience, Cuisine, Personality

If industry prognosticators make their wishlist, it would read like this: artisanal condiments; interesting reconstitution of lesser-known ingredients with bespoke products; infinity dining, by which they don’t mean an endless round of great food, but a culinary canvas that allows (and accepts) inspiration from beyond their geographical location; and, of course, a rise in chef-inspired and bartender-curated dining spaces. This is a perfect picture of an idealistic F&B landscape, where creative brilliance blends with commerce, says brand specialist Zamir Khan, who has worked with some of the top hotel brands and standalone restaurants.

The reality, however, rues Khan, “is far from this rosy, even in the business of hospitality, which isn’t as volatile as the restaurants. It is a cauldron that brews an interesting concoction now and then; and yet, there is no way of predicting a trend accurately”. Agrees seasoned F&B consultant and trend-analyst chef Sabyasachi Gorai, “There's no set way of measuring a trend, no threshold of sales that can determine its long-time effectiveness. That is because food trends, like fashion, trickle down into mainstream ubiquity more than often.”

However, over the last few years, the F&B segment has evolved a good understanding of the method behind this delicious madness, which has enabled the implementation of interesting culinary disruptions that have the potential of significantly impacting how we dine. Like, the rise of regional food, which brought in an understanding of ancient grains and millets, or [the evolution and acceptance of techniques] such as cold pressed and sous vide that are an interpretation of slow-cooking techniques.

What has helped chaff the fads from the trends, is science. Trends, says chef Gorai, “has a resounding presence of three major elements: acceptability of the concept that stems for its presence in some form or other in the past, a reflection of our culinary legacy, and the longevity — which, in modern parlance, is three years of widespread innovation”. Science is the only tool, adds Khan, “which, in the last decade, has enabled the industry to determine with some effectiveness where our dining space is moving or should be moving, with reasonable success.”

So, what are we looking at five years from now? Some of India’s finest minds put a checklist together, based on that very science.

“From millets to indigenous rice and legumes”
Praveen Jayaram Shetty, executive chef, Conrad Bengaluru

“Call it the natural progression of the culinary world’s search for interesting ingredients or the evolution of the interest in ancient grains that began a few years ago and led to the rise of millets in southern India (eventually percolating down to the rest of the country).   A trend that is likely to continue — a decade from now even — is the search for interesting ingredients that were more natural to our culinary DNA, or the food our culinary culture was designed around. With the way I see things progressing within the inner circles of F&B, I can safely say that the future will belong to the local ingredients that were a part of our food practices, such as unpolished rice and other pigmented variants, home-made natural cultures for bread, and a visible return of cured, salted meat, especially in the south. Chettinad cuisine, which uses a generous number of sun-dried ingredients, is among the few to use salted meat as well in dishes such as Uppukandam Kuzhambu and Uppukandam Fry.”


“Complex flavours, simple plating”
Chef Abhishek Gupta, executive sous chef, The Leela Ambience Gurugram

“When it comes to trends, plating, since the beginning of hospitality, has played a significant role in deciphering how a generation not just dines, but also perceives food. If you look at the history of food, plates played as important a role in transforming the way we dined as the food itself — a reason for plating to be at the core of any establishment’s menu planning. Plating has undergone a sea change in the past few years: from artistic to Nordic, free-style to classic, landscaping, monochrome and even instagrammable plating, a current favourite. However, with chefs looking for more clean stories to portray in their dishes through clean lines of execution, the forthcoming trend will be of simple, relatable plating, where the theatrics will be through food works — by which I do not mean in terms of spherification or foam, but more of food art and a riveting manipulation of ingredients, using modern science.”


“The rise of the Fast Casual”
Vincent Marques, general manager, Jahan Numa Retreat

“One of the biggest quandaries for hotels across the world has been balancing the cost price. On one hand, they have to ensure that they get the best of products; on the other, there is the cost factor to look at. Given the rise of competition across different cities, it is getting tougher to marry both these factors for maximum advantage. This is one of the reasons that the hotel F&B space is working on introducing clever initiatives that marry the two. In Jahan Numa Retreat, for instance, we host an initiative called ‘Green Mile’, which focuses on what is available in the season and is designed to include the produce from the farm acres that surround the retreat. It has proven to be a treat to those who come in looking for a fresh meal at good pricing. A few years ago, Gordon House Mumbai, too, had introduced something similar at their restaurant All Stir Fry; fresh ingredients were cooked to a guest's personal preference. It was India’s first ‘Fast Casual’ and an instant hit with the corporates. Since then, it has helped spin several such initiatives, from cook theatres to fresh corners. In the coming years, we would see more structure-rise of these initiatives.”


“Menus will not be about dishes, but stories with personalities”
Chef Sharad Dewan, regional director, The Park Kolkata

“An enduring trend, and it is not a new trend, are chef-owned restaurants within hotels. These have, over time, displayed the market value of having a menu with either a story to tell or one that reflects a chefs’ personality and culinary style. Diners are more open to new ideas, One sees the reflection of this evolution on the menus of the all-day dining, which once followed the European standard practice of having a certain style of menu. Today, menus are more inclined to dedicate a significant portion to local cuisine and another half to a chef's creativity. This trend is likely to gain more traction in the years to come when the menus will transform into not just folios that showcase more legacy cuisine but also reflect the personality of either a culinary philosophy, culture or, more likely, the chef. Instead of menus that state Himalayan salt and Karnataka ginger as mere ingredients, now they will tell a story.”


“The rise of alternative flavours”
Neeraj Rawoot, executive chef, Sofitel BKC

“Even though many people called the rise of Moringa a few years ago as new on the superfood front, it wasn’t a trend really — a generous part of India has been eating it for a long time. Likewise with the millets, ginger, or even the recent favourite, fermentation. If you look back, repurposing an old technique, ingredient or flavour has been a mainstay of the ever-evolving food space in the hotels. And in the coming years, this trend is unlikely to change. However, the difference this time would be the search for interesting flavourants, which involves taking a familiar ingredient and then manipulating it to extract flavours that can add a new dimension to food. This is both sustainable and creates zero wastage. We would see a lot of traditional spices make a comeback along with the art of using flowers, bark and leaves to lend interesting taste profiles to a dish.” 


"The experimentations in the bar"
“Kitchen-to-glass will be the new style of bartending”
Harshal Bhavsar, director – F&B, Taj Palace, New Delhi
“From mastering the classics and speakeasies to artisanal cocktails, the beverage landscape in India has evolved and flourished. Bartenders, today, are nothing less than chefs in their curation: from making hand-crafted infusions, bitters or even gin, to exploring newer techniques and ingredients to ensure that their work is more lucrative. This sudden transformation and focused approach are likely to continue. However, the concentration will also be on making the bar economical by experimenting with zero wastage bartending. One way to do this is by sharing resources between the kitchen and the bar to create a single ingredient-based cocktail which is elevated with the use of newer technologies that support a better cocktail-making culture and shuns the artificial flavourant products. The other cocktail style is the clean-style drinks made using none of the sugary and artificial additives flavours."

“The rise of cocktail narratives”
Simon Rastrick, executive assistant manager - F&B,
The Oberoi, New Delhi
“The trend towards incorporating native ingredients, seasonal and fresh produce is not slowing down anytime soon. The F&B landscape is embracing organic and microgreens. Wellness is in vogue, without any compromise in quality, flavour, presentation and most importantly, innovation. Artisanal cocktails will explore multiple ways to offer bold, exotic and captivating cocktail products. Omya, at The Oberoi, New Delhi, helmed by the Michelin-starred mentor chef Alfred Prasad lives by the same code. The ‘South Side’, inspired from culinary tales of South India, uses the versatile coconut with lime and honey and presents itself artistically in interesting glassware. The Curry Colada, on the other hand, is a unique non-alcoholic cocktail that uses curry leaves and pineapple for a cocktail that is a healthy option to complement an Indian meal.”

“The upsurge in regional culinary restoration”
Akshraj Jodha, executive chef, ITC Windsor

“Regional cuisine will be the mainstay of Indian F&B industry trends even in the next decade. The change will be in two fractions, however. First, in the cuisine that will take precedence over the other popular cuisines. A start to this trend has already been made at the ITC Royal Bengal, which has a dedicated a segment for the cuisine from the northeast of India. The other transformation will be in our approach to different food cultures and their segments, which would not involve just showcasing a different cuisine, but recording it as well. The Indian F&B segment, especially inside hotels, will, in the coming decade, emerge as a repository of Indian cuisines, including the lesser-known ones. And the one reason why hotels will score standalone restaurant is our chef resource that hails from regions across India — and are often used to host legacy food pop-ups across the brand.”

“Dunking processed food for in-house creations”
Ajay Makan, corporate chef, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts

“We are seeing the rise of veganism in India as another fad in healthy eating. Thanks to the upsurge in lifestyle-based preferential dining, there has been a sea change in the way we cook, especially in our choice of ingredients, produce and even sauces. Today, chefs take pride in choosing natural sweeteners instead of white sugar, and are making their spice mixes, sauces and even cheese instead of using processed products. The major change has been in the art of modern foraging; chefs are constantly exploring indigenous ingredients that were once integral to our balanced meal. Plant protein such as soy, for instance, or greens such as the water spinach, Indian lotus, yams and even banana blossoms are popular today.”


INDIA, ABROAD

As part of the fast-paced F&B world in Singapore, a culinary mecca, Mandar Madhav, executive chef, Conrad Centennial Singapore, has been at the heart of all the transformation that eventually trickles down to the rest of the world.
“Currently, we are experiencing a mishmash of trends: menus are designed for the month instead of the season; zero wastage takes precedence; the focus is on small plates, and fine dining is giving way to community eating. Not to mention, the new obsession with purple food. While most of the above trends will still be streaming five years from now, I see a lot of borderless cooking to be in fashion. Chefs will be inspired by their travel and understanding of culinary techniques, as well as by superfoods, especially from India. The past saw us adapt to Moringa (drumstick leaves). Chefs are now experimenting with ragi, amaranth and chia seeds. This new-found fondness for Indian ingredients will pave way for more standalone, chef-driven concept restaurants to work with hotels, who themselves would invest more in their all-day dining instead of speciality restaurants.”