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Chefs Keep Food Trends on the Menu

Low-carb, no-carb, organic, comfort, locally grown.... The past decade has seen many changes in people's eating habits. And while many of the latest trends have been positive, it can be a lot of work for chefs and restaurant owners to keep up with changing consumer demands.

"Keeping up with the trends can be challenging at times," admits Bradford Boisvert. He's a chef and restaurant owner. "I do it by reading magazines, newspapers and talking with colleagues in the business. The Internet can be a great tool as well. However, you must learn what sites to look at as there is a lot of misinformation out there."

Some say that a chef's secret to success is two-fold. They need to keep up with current trends, but they also need solid menus that people can rely on.

"Smart chefs and restaurateurs are simply sticking to their concepts and standing by their menus while providing choices and variety for their customers," says Linda Kavanagh. She's a food writer based in Connecticut. "The food purveyors do a great job with keeping up with the latest and greatest trends as their inventory needs to reflect what's current."

So where do eating trends begin? Well, some on the inside say they originate where a lot of trends start -- with the media.

"I really think that the media drives people to what they want," says Crista Fooks. She's the editor of a California food magazine. "For me, personally, I just spend a lot of time reading. I subscribe to every single food magazine that is out there.

"There are so many trends out there," she adds. "I personally think the trend towards a more sustainable, organic eating behavior and patterns is the trend I support the most. The foams and rich sauces of yesteryear are going away, and now you're getting something more simplistic, which I think is actually harder to pull off than the more conventional French-style cooking that we were doing."

Not all chefs want to constantly follow trends, though. Some say it's more exciting to see what menu items chefs come up with using tried-and-true formulas.

"Anything that starts conversation is positive," says Connor Butler. He's a chef and restaurant owner. "Chefs actually opening up cookbooks or talking as a community about new methods and design is a good thing. And if trends help that, then, right on. However, as a whole, movements don't impress me. Individuals creating on a proven canvas -- that sounds exciting."

In the past few years, the industry has seen a big rise in the number of people who want to eat locally grown and produced food.

"Buying local and 'farm-to-chef' is no longer a selling point," says Kavanagh. "It's just the way it is nowadays, at least for the finer dining establishments."

Comfort food (simple, home-style food) has also become popular at restaurants, says Kavanagh. "Bring on the pasta!" She says with a laugh. "Maybe just a half portion -- but, it's all good."

On the other hand, Kavanagh believes organic foods are better suited for the home. "Many restaurants try to offer it, but prices most often prevent it," she says. "If folks are that dedicated to eating organic, they are best to eat at home. Going out is for enjoying a meal with friends and family and hopefully indulging in foods one may not typically prepare at home."

Fooks sees the organic movement becoming a lasting trend. "I think people do their own spins on it, but having things that are organic and local -- that's probably going to be around for decades," she says. "Something else will come out of that, but that's going to stick with us for a while."

Organic foods are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers or other artificial chemicals. They're touted as being better for people's health and the environment. Meanwhile, "buying local" supports growers and producers in one's own community. It also means that products don't have to be transported across North America, or from overseas, which is easier on the environment.

However, there are also trends to be wary of, such as fast or "convenience" foods. Chefs aren't usually fans of the trend to eat more convenience food.

"Everything in moderation is my motto," says Boisvert. "But with that being said, I'm also not a supporter of convenience/fast foods. As the age-old saying goes -- 'You are what you eat.' I would be careful of convenience foods and what is in them."

In the past, food trends weren't so positive, says Kavanagh. "Ten years ago, the overload of information had everybody running scared," she says. "Luckily we realized that it was all about moderation, and we needed to learn new habits. The industry -- chefs, restaurants, food stores -- has actually ended up going back to the basic ways foods were prepared and offered."

"Cooking trends are like any fads in any industry," adds Butler. "There are those chefs that follow current ideas and food fashion, but I prefer to focus on classic marriages and flavors, and so I bury any hyper-modern technique I may use to achieve a desired effect behind entendre and taste."

If you do feel an urge to try the latest new thing, don't be afraid to ask the chef. It's the chef's job to accommodate diners, and make sure they enjoy their dining experience.

"At Amuse Bistro we encourage people that have allergies or intolerance to come and let us create for them -- it's our job," says Boisvert. "People deserve to have a good dining experience when they come out to dinner. At times it can be harder; however, I enjoy cooking for people and meeting their needs."

For those considering a cooking career, Boisvert warns that the job is not all glitz and glamor as seen on TV. "We work long hours, weekends, nights, holidays.... And when everyone else is having fun, we are working. Some people say, 'You have to be half-crazy to be in this business.' I say, 'You must have passion for what you do.'"


Amuse Bistro
Learn more about Bradford Boisvert's restaurant

Food & Home
Peruse this magazine for the latest food trends

Prepared Foods
Read special reports and news about the food service industry

Careers in Food
Find careers in the food service industry

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