Alternative Proteins For a long time, restaurants in the US have, in general, only offered a very small selection of proteins; beef, pork and chicken being the most common. This practice has done major damage to our food system. With such a high demand for so few proteins, we’ve seen farms struggle to produce enough livestock. To keep up with demand, the animals have been subjected to terrible living conditions, they’ve been fed growth hormones in order to produce more meat, and we’ve seen an increase in food safety issues. This is why I’m so excited to see more alternative proteins offered in restaurants. This trend can help save our food system.
Goat is the most consumed meat around the world, yet we rarely see it offered at American restaurants. In my travels, though, I see it on menus more and more. And that is just one example of an alternative protein starting to replace the typical offering. Duck eggs are often taking the place of chicken eggs. Horse meat is now going to be available in some places in the US. Broadening our idea of protein can really release some of the pressure on our farms, so this is a trend that I hope continues.
There is a really cool trend starting to pop up in the US, of bringing back lost foods. Chef Sean Brock of Husk
in Charleston, SC, is using heirloom produce and heritage grains in his dishes. His idea came from trying to acquire the flavors he tasted in his grandmother’s cooking. Chefs weren’t using these ingredients simply because they weren’t available anymore. Farmers had stopped growing them and many people didn’t know they even existed. Once people started growing these ingredients again and tasting the difference, they quickly became more popular and utilized. Heirloom tomatoes are now available at nearly every grocery store. I think we’ll start seeing more of these forgotten vegetables and grains.
Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants
We’re also going to see a shift in proportions. Chefs are starting to lean toward dishes with a vegetable at the center of the plate instead of a protein. So much, in fact, that I’m seeing more and more strictly vegan and vegetarian restaurants pop up around the world. The beginning of this trend seems to stem back to 2001 with Alain Passard’s L’Arpege
. While the Michelin 3-starred restaurant still serves meat, Passard began to focus on vegetables in his dishes, and much to the surprise of some, L’Arpege held on to all 3 of its Michelin stars. This proved that a dish doesn’t need meat to still be exceptional. Curtis Duffy’s new restaurant, Grace
in Chicago, is another major player taking on this trend. Grace offers 2 tasting menus, one of which highlights vegetables. Grace has been nominated as the James Beard best new restaurant in 2012, proving once again you don’t need to be a vegetarian to appreciate a good vegetable dish.
When I say restaurants are scratch cooking, I really mean they are making their dishes from scratch
. By owning farms and being their own suppliers, restaurants are able to control their supply chain 100%. Don Link of New Orleans restaurants like Cochon
owns the farms that supply his restaurants. That means the bacon in his seared chicken rillette with bacon broth and shaved crimini started as a pig, raised on his farm. By doing this he can control every aspect of the dish. For example, he can control the taste of the bacon by controlling what the pig eats.
Foraging is picking up in the food world as well. It is incredible what chefs are able to do with ingredients found just outside your door. The ingredients are incredibly fresh and flavors are new. I recently went to Hot and Hot Fish Club
in Birmingham where chef Chris Hastings and his team have been foraging ingredients. From the ingredients collected that morning, he put together a dish called Walk in the Woods made of greens with grilled mushrooms, pine meringue, mushroom taffy and Meyer lemon. It was brilliant and delicious.