The team at Melissa Libby & Associates asked some of the South’s leading chefs and mixologists what industry trends are in store for restaurants in 2016.
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails chef Tom Gray in Jacksonville, Florida, says to expect a few new proteins and grains to land on plates as well. “Alternative forms of protein such as chicken livers, pig ears and flank steak, along with alternative grains with an emphasis on whole and ancient varieties, will be popping up on menus,” he predicts.
Atlanta’s Ray’s Restaurants consultant Chad Crete thinks kale will be overlooked in 2016 as restaurants continue healthier eating habits. “Vegetables will become highlights on all menus,” says Crete. “It won’t be just sides and that one lonely vegetarian option; they’re going to be everywhere. Customers will continue to put a big emphasis on knowing where their food comes from as well, seeking local produce, sustainable fish and free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free meats.”
Moxie’s Gray also sees a focus on sourcing in the new year. “More guests are excited to learn where ingredients come from, how they are handled and what the backstory is on dishes,” Gray explains. “More urban farming businesses like GYO Greens will flourish; small companies that are producing great intown products with a very small carbon footprint.”
Doug Turbush of Seed Kitchen & Bar, Stem Wine Bar and Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar sees a bright future for oyster connoisseurs. “Oysters will explode,” Turbush says. “The renaissance and rituals of oyster eating will thrive with increasing interest in oyster terroir, growing methods and the nuances that produce oyster varieties.”
Turbush predicts the traditional cocktail sauce and horseradish will be forgotten in 2016. “My hope is naked oysters goes along with this trend so the distinct flavors from each region can be appreciated,” he says.
One trend Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy chef Lance Gummere hopes to see disappear from menus is expensive plates with small portions. “Hopefully we’ll see more customer outrage regarding the absurdity of $35 plates consisting of two small bites of food and a few dots of pureed vegetable garnished with a micro green,” Gummere says. “If you’re like me, you like to share your food when you go out to dinner. But in order to share it, you’re got to be able to identify it on your plate! We need to start feeding folks again.”
Along those same lines, Ridgway sees Southern cooking continuing to deepen in the new year. “Everyone needed homier items to wrap their arms around over the past few years,” he says. “But now I believe we’ll see a move to dishes that rely on Southern pathways and local farmers to achieve more refined dishes using specific heirloom varieties of produce, beans and grains.”
Bellina Alimentari creative director Alice Fabi sees sustainability as a priority in 2016. “We’re learning more and more about how to use and preserve what our land has to offer in creative ways that follow an ethical, natural and sustainable philosophy,” says Fabi. “There will be a widespread need to go to the essence of food and find prime ingredients.”
Chef, restaurant owner, and cookbook author Kevin Gillespie of Red Beard Restaurants sees an increase in demand for faster, healthier options in 2016. “It’s going to be a re-do of fast food with a healthy focus,” he explains. “I’m not talking about salad bars but healthful, lighter cuisine at fast food speed.”
That coincides with what Crete of Ray’s Restaurants is seeing. “Fast casual will continue to be a growing segment in our industry,” Crete explains. “Millennials 18-35 will soon become the biggest demographic in our country. They want chef-driven and local ingredients delivered quickly and at a price point that will allow for increased visits.”
In 2016 bartenders are expected to borrow more ingredients from the kitchen, according to Johnny’s Hideaway bartender Shawn McCoy in Atlanta. “More and more, bartenders will be utilizing what’s available in their kitchens – freshly squeezed juices, herbs, spices and ingredients like chipotle and balsamic vinegar – to bring out the flavors of the cocktail.”
McCoy also wants better ice options for mixologists. “Right now there are the standard ice machines and hand-carved ice programs. There needs to be something in the middle for high-volume bars so they can provide quality ice for drinks.”
According to Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and The Big Ketch Roswell chef Derek Dollar, food sensitivities are now part of the future, and we need to plan accordingly. “The gluten-free craze will continue to increase,” he says.
Gillespie would like to see one specific bar trend come back in 2016. “I’d love to see a renaissance of the Tiki craze,” says Gillespie. “We need more bars like Trader Vic’s!”
Chef Matthew Ridgway of Southern Gentleman and the Gypsy Kitchen says, “I’m going to be using more Middle Eastern spices – black garlic, black lime, black cardamom, white cardamom, Aleppo pepper and wolf berries – for spice-forward cooking.”