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The secret chef: 10 trends for 2020

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Foodservice Consultant’s anonymous, expert columnist The Secret Chef predicts what will shape next year in foodservice

The clock ticks louder when we mark the advent of a new decade: nostalgia and expectation the twin weights that vie for relevance on the scales of change. There is something transformative about a nine ticking over into a zero that makes Janus speak more loudly to us than usual and consequently I’ve been seeking out what the taste-makers and futurologists of 2009 thought the decade not yet known as the ‘Tens’ would be marked by.

Gluten-free food, macarons, bacon, fried chicken and coconut water all made the list and a retrospective would happily confirm that all of the above did, indeed, have some significance over the last 10 years. Looking back however, these lists look trite and facile to my jaded eyes but there is an innocent simplicity to them I yearn for in these dark and polarising times. 

My own predictions from this time last year, by contrast, have a solemnity, indicative of general societal frustration and malaise, a significant remove from the notion that deep-fried poultry and fancy French patisserie will dominate our collective consciousness (and social media streams) for the next few years. 

While this certainly was the case (along with bacon overload), our awareness of the fractured nature of our food system, the impact that intense food production is having on the planet, the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots and the obesity epidemic – to name but a few – has most definitely taken the shine of simple lists of 10 tasty things you’ll be eating over the next couple of years. 

In an attempt to restore balance I’ve tried not to be too heavy-handed with my 10 for ’20 this year. May it be the start of a decade when we begin to claw back a little sanity and calm from the gaping jaws of irrationality. 

1. The grass is greener

It is early days for the legalised weed industry and there are a few restaurants pushing the legal, and gastronomic, limits of what a weed-centred dining experience can be. Expect teething-problems, legal dogfights and a few years of uncertainty before this fledgling industry finds its feet. But find its feet it most certainly will.

2. Good natural wine

The natty wine movement is coming of age after a rough adolescence. Increased awareness of what constitutes genuinely characterful as opposed to just plain faulty will result in the cowboys of the industry falling by the wayside and the true pioneers succeeding as they should.

3. Modern temperance

Going booze free is hardly revolutionary, and the teetotal movement has been gaining traction over the last few years, but 2020 will see some traditionally alcohol-focussed brands putting major cash into zero-alcohol innovation, investment and buy-outs. Dry-cocktail bars, soft-drink pairings and zero-alcohol wines will become more widely available.

4. Ancient grains

Although it shows no sign of disappearing altogether, the gluten-free trend is waning in popularity as consumers become increasingly aware that modern bread-making practices, rather than gluten itself, are more likely to be responsible for their symptoms (be they real or imagined). Ancient grains such as spelt, kamut and einkorn are made for slow-fermented breads, as well as perfect for name-dropping.

5. Lids

Single-use plastics remain the industry’s dirty, unkickable habit. There is an alternative – and a reusable, washable and stackable one at that: buy some silicon lids to replace plastic wrap. 

6. Price increases 

Food price hikes, wage bills and local tax and rent increases all played their part in squeezed margins over recent years. The industry can no longer swallow it. The only solution is, finally, to pass this onto the end consumer. 

7. Polarisation (particularly at the top end) 

Breakout brands will continue to offer ultra-wealthy diners with little-to-no taste increasingly dull ways to part with their cash. Basic food at astronomical prices in (usually hotel) spaces untouched by hoi polloi. I’m not sure what’s more depressing: the fact that they exist or the fact that the super-rich are so clueless when it comes to what really constitutes good food. 

8. Vegetable-focussed fine dining

It is now rare for a quality restaurant to fail to offer a vegetarian version of their menu, but increasingly meat won’t feature at all. 

9. Zero waste

Notoriously wasteful and resource heavy, restaurants must continue to improve their policies with regards to the amount that gets thrown away. Increasingly experimental menus at the top end, making use of nose to tail and root to leaf ingredients, will run hand in hand with more casual restaurants offering smaller menus and less choice.

10. Single origin

Traceability, for both chefs and consumers, will begin to dominate the stories we tell as we look to add background to the food on our plates and drinks in our glasses. Single-vineyard wines, single-estate coffees, teas and chocolate, single-field wheats and other small producers can all help create a narrative structure to a dining experience. Not to mention plenty of opportunities for field trips.

The Secret Chef