Food trends: The local outlook predicts ... more local

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What food and drink trends do Pittsburghers expect for 2012? Some heavyweights weigh in:

Chef David Racicot, who's moving notion from Oakmont to East Liberty and turning the Oakmont location into 314 Pasta & Prime:

"There is a gravitation toward nature. Not just local and farm to table, but the next evolution of that. Buying from small farms and things grown in proximity to your restaurant help you craft an entire story from your food.

"I think there will be an increasing use of modern techniques without showing off. Meaning the use of these tools to create better food, not a circus act."

Kevin Sousa, chef/owner of Garfield's Salt of the Earth, and Union Pig and Chicken and Station Street Hot Dogs in East Liberty:

"I think that people (pros and home cooks) are going to start focusing more in the techniques that they use and why they use them. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean that it has been done well. If I had to predict one trend, I would say ROT! Seriously, fermentation and its many uses in cooking, preserving and flavor development. In Copenhagen, the concept of microbial terroir was raised and I found it wildly exciting. We are experimenting with many different forms of fermentation and how/why the same ingredients in two different regions can produce profoundly different results because of what is in the air."

Kevin Joyce, proprieter, The Carlton, Downtown:

"Local produce, farm to table and reliance on local purveyors continues to grow among the better, independent restaurants, and even some of the local chains such as Atria's and Eat n' Park.

"Also, more and more guests are ordering their entree from the left side of the menu -- choosing one or two appetizers instead of ordering a complete dinner. The trend toward splitting an entree also is on the rise. There are probably a couple of factors in play, more than just the economy, which continues to have an effect on the consumer. It's also a function perhaps of chefs offering more interesting appetizer and salad selections as well as the desire of diners to control portions. Most good restaurants are just happy to have the guests in their restaurants and no longer grimace at the smaller orders and checks!"

Deb Mortillaro, co-owner, Dreadnought Wines, Strip District:

"Champagne with everything. The trend in wine is to use Champagne as a regular beverage, not just for special occasions."

Aaron Stout, prepared foods team leader, Whole Foods, East Liberty:

"I'm predicting a year of home cooking growth and creativity. In the last couple of years, we've seen a rise in people cooking at home to try to keep costs down and to eat healthier. People are getting more familiar with ingredients, their quality and variations, and beginning to understand that making healthier eating decisions isn't as much about exclusion as it is about picking a better recipe or dish. This will lead to the home cook creating much healthier options of some of the standard 'go out for' and 'take out' foods."

Alice Julier, Program Director and Associate Professor, Food Studies, Chatham University:

"I think the question of meat-eating is going to be in the news again -- a combination of trying to eat sustainable meat (continuations of local or nose to tail), but also eating less of it. I heard a few chefs talking about how we will all need to come to terms with what a 4- to 5-ounce portion of meat will look like. I'm not sure we're there yet, but it's on the horizon.

"Also, farm-to-fork stories are becoming a bigger part of cuisine, as are food trucks and ethnic food (I will love Pittsburgh when there are Vietnamese food trucks) and local grains.

"Most importantly, though, I think you will see lots of people hawking comfort food, but the real story is that prices are going up and they will stay up, like gasoline, and access to good, healthy and culturally appropriate food will continue to be a growing problem."

Bill Fuller, corporate chef, Big Burrito Restaurant Group:

"I think that the trendies will pursue the fusion of 'nose to tail' with 'molecular gastronomy' with a huge influence from 'charcuterie' and 'micro localism.'

"There will be more down-market places to eat, very Brooklyn-y and hip in the perception of the 99.9 percent of Americans who do not reside there, confusing us by re-presenting the local tavern as an uber-hip and pricy dining destination.

"Cocktails will continue to get weirder and more complicated and bar guests will fight back by wanting crazy drinks like 'Manhattans' and 'martinis.' They will desire these without house-made sours, egg whites or lemongrass syrup. The cocktail will not be barrel-aged . . .

"Finally, 'Absolute Backlash Dining' featuring only unseasonal vegetables, rare imported fruits, endangered fish, and the most expensive parts of land animals will be served in well-decorated dining rooms by middle-aged men in tuxedos. The menus will stay the same forever, and you will be required to wear a tie and jacket."

Matt Hillebrand, manager, Don's Appliances in Canonsburg:

"We're seeing quite a few outdoor kitchens, along with growing popularity of specialty items such as steam ovens, which are really good for multiple purposes. Induction cooking also is becoming huge, especially now that the cost has come way down and it's made its way into the spotlight of consumers' minds.

"BBQ also continues to be popular. Since the economy's gone south, a lot of homeowners are remodeling instead of building: an addition, followed by a bigger kitchen, then an outdoor living space. It's like 1, 2, 3."

Derek Stevens, executive chef of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District:

"I think we'll continue to see more of the hyper-local, indigenous foods (like what Sean Brock is doing in South Carolina at Husk) along with naturally fermented foods -- sauerkrauts, homemade kimchis, naturally fermented pickles. A lot of things that become trends are sort of chef-y kinds of things. People who are chefs love food and love cooking, but it's not all about fancy food all the time. I want to be comforted by food in a way, and I want to enjoy it and feel happy about it. So I hope to see increases in the more casual side of dining. There's something sterile about really high-end fine dining that isn't always appealing."

Jack Brice, wine consultant, blogger and co-director with his wife, Kate Freed, of two Pittsburgh-based wine-tasting groups:

"Better restaurants will begin to think about wine and food in a holistic way. By considering them together, menus can and will be built in a coordinated way. If there's a chef in the kitchen, there must be a wine expert on his or her team, and they will plan together. Pittsburgh restaurants that care about food and wine pairing will focus on smaller lists with better values and frequent rotation. Dinette Restaurant and Wine Bar is a good example . . .

"We should also see an expansion of grape varietals. Back in the day, lists were flooded with big, oaky chardonnays and such. The white wines to experience now are white bordeaux blends such as sauvignon blanc and semillon blanc, both fresh and friendly. Cabernet will stay, but look for Rhone blends -- grenache, syrah and mourvedre -- to be popular on red wine lists."


Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419. China Millman and Marlene Parrish also contributed.


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