Consultant Karen Malody shares insights on each of the top trending food prep methods of 2014.
The National Restaurant Association released its annual What's Hot Chef Survey for 2014. We caught up with Karen Malody, owner of Culinary Options and a trained chef and caterer, who shared her insights on each of the top food preparation methods listed in the report.
Pickling: Two distinct sub-trends is driving this: (1) avoiding waste by cooking seasonally and preserving food at its peak, similar to canning, and (2) adding a classic, global technique of pairing a sweet, sour, pungent and/or crunchy condiment to each meal for flavor and digestion.
Fermenting: Kombucha and other fermented beverages as well as fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are being even more heavily touted for their probiotic and digestive health benefits, though many cultures have cherished these foods for centuries. In fact, many naturopathic physicians and healers recommend consuming these foods daily. Then, of course, there is the beautiful textural and flavor elements that fermenting brings to foods and beverages.
Smoking: This does not seem to be a trend; rather, smoking has become an integral part of many menus. I think what many have realized is there is no end to what operators can smoke, from proteins and fish to vegetables and even some desserts. I also think operators need to handle the smoking process with care so as not to overwhelm the original, delicious properties of the food itself; a little bit of smoking goes a long way. Operators also should be attentive to issues around unhealthy elements to smoking. In other words, less is more. I also correlate the smoking and slow-cooking trend with the increased use of lesser cuts of meats, especially beef, as of late. Smoked flavors have also entered the realm of desserts, beverages and vegetables. Again, smoking these foods and drinks has to be done with extreme sensibility.
Sous Vide: This cooking technique seems to be the darling of chefs these days, and it offers many operational advantages. Sous vide equipment saves kitchen space, has ventless capabilities and requires few staff to operate. Like smoking, sous vide cooking also makes tougher cuts of protein more delicious and juicy through its slow cooking capabilities. Sous vide cooking requires its own HACCP plans, however, as they are essentially mini cook-chill operations.
Liquid Nitrogen Chilling/Freezing: Though listed as a trend, I find only a small group of restaurants using this technique, and mostly in dessert applications. I see more use of the anti-griddle, a flash-freezing piece of equipment that turns sauces, purees, creams and other liquids into semi-frozen creations.
Oil-Poaching: The Italians have oil-poached fish and vegetables for centuries, but suddenly we are seeing these age-old methodologies re-surfacing. I can see why: cooking fish in this way produces a silky, velvety texture and allows for optimal flavor retention. This cooking technique also has healthier implications than, say, frying or charring, especially when heart-healthy olive oil and other "good fats" are used.
Braising: Again, so-called off-cuts of meat come into play here because braising helps break down those tougher muscle fibers. In addition to resulting in tender-to-the-bone meat, braising feeds into people's cravings these days for familiarity and comfort.
Raw: I believe this trend is still associated mostly with healthier restaurants. It is intriguing to see the raw food culture — popular among at-home cooks — making its way into more commercial settings.
Dust: This trend seems to have come about by some clever folks who simply took the age-old "rub" idea and added their unique twists to it. I have seen bee pollen dust, porcini dust and fennel dust on menus, which may not appear that necessary on the surface. But, if it adds a legitimate and appropriate element of flavor to ingredient, then it's a more worthwhile trend. Otherwise, simply incorporating these garnishes on menus so they sound good in a menu description in my opinion won't have long-lasting appeal.