Trade mags for the food industry are always forecasting the coming year’s hot new trends, and these articles are often either predictable or esoteric. But fast-food-focused QSR Magazine really breaks the mold with its latest roundup of trendy ingredients—the piece quotes food-processing insiders predicting that we’ll soon see exotic new spices, complex cooking methods, and even molecular gastronomy at chain eateries. Some of my favorite forecasts:
From Jon Miller, director of research & development, El Pollo Loco:
Deconstructed food has a lot of promise for the quick-service. This technique offers numerous benefits: potential for new product forms that tend to be the best transaction drivers; opportunity to attract non-traditional customers; ability to deliver new flavor and texture experiences; potential to empower and give freedom to consumers so they can construct and consume food the way they choose instead of providing a pre-packaged item; and the potential to develop new product forms with limited new SKUs.
From Matt Burton, director of culinary innovation for ConAgra Foods:
Ancho peppers have become popular. Not only is the flavor mild enough to be accepted by the general public but also it is easy to say—which is a big deal when compared to chilies like guajillo. As figs gain mainstream popularity, they show a lot of promise for quick-serve. They have nutrition appeal and are versatile for both dessert and breakfast applications. … I see individual sous vide being used in quick-service before many of the other new ideas because it allows for pre-portioning and, with the right reheating equipment, it can be done without a lot of skilled labor to execute.
From Daniel Barash, senior director of operations and products, Moe’s Southwest Grill:
Braising and stewing have become extremely popular. There are two reasons behind this: The first is the growing popularity of comfort foods. The second is the use of non-primary cuts of meat. What used to be considered scraps or by-products are now being used as center-of-the-plate items. The challenge is making exotic cooking methods compatible with a quick-service model and doing that at a competitive price point that is reasonable for consumers and still allows you to make a profit.
I, for one, don’t plan to try the braised dishes at that guy’s restaurants anytime soon—particularly not while they’re figuring out how to apply those “exotic cooking methods” to “non-primary cuts of meat.” Eek.