Ten National Food Predictions

Trends come and go in a flash sometimes, especially in this era of social media. While no one will know for sure what will take off, we'll toss out our own thoughts on possible upcoming trends.

Doughnuts Go Global: We're used to the round, the loaded, and the plain glazed doughnuts, but they'll be going on a tour around the world this year. We predict (as did James Beard Blog) that we'll start seeing more regional fried delights like "Texan kolache, Turkish lokma, or Portuguese malasada (which Stephanie Izard will serve at the Beard House in February)."

Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.
Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.

Small or Shared Plates: It's not likely that all restaurants will be shrinking their portion sizes and prices to fit the needs of consumers' waistlines and wallets. They'd have to bring more bodies into the restaurants to account for the profit loss. We probably won't see every restaurant offering amuse-bouches or tapas (though many will). If that's not an option, consumers will get smart and share more main dishes to find ways to be frugal and still get a chance to dine out without chowing down on a plate containing enough food to serve a family of four.

Locally Sourced Proteins: With story after story of freaky diseases in the mass-produced meat supply, raising and slaughtering your own rabbit, goats, and elk is sounding like a better solution all the time. It helps that big-time chefs like Stephanie Izard are supporting these unique meats.

Collected Vintage Serviceware: You may have noticed that at some of your favorite haunts, your meal is served on unique plates, bowls, glassware, and flatware. See ya later, uniformly bright white plates. More restaurant owners are choosing to serve your salad on what looks like Grandma's china.

Sous Vide at Home: Some high-end chefs are releasing cookbooks full of recipes requiring the use of these pricey machines. At $400 a pop for a mid-priced model, it's not really an affordable option for most. However, we think there are many foodniks wanting to try their hand at the hip immersion technique and will be giving it a go this year.

Pickled Everything: It's not just for cukes anymore. Essentially a food preservation method (a pretty delicious one), pickled foods will be a trend you'll start seeing more and more on menus.

Scandinavian Flavors and/or Hyper-Local Niche Cooking: Copenhagen's Noma restaurant cookbook was a James Beard Foundation award winner, and many are predicting chefs will start incorporating ingredients like "sea buckthorn (a tart orange berry), wood sorrel (a plant with heart-shaped leaves), bark flour (made from real trees), and evergreens (such as Douglas fir)." Douglas fir was even spotted at Chicago's GT Fish & Oyster. Since these ingredients are difficult to source, we think that the trend will inspire more regional recipes using local ingredients, instead.

Smarter Kids' Menu Choices: Restaurants are wising up that serving chicken nuggets and plain buttered pasta isn't going to cut it with parents (or kids) anymore. More restaurants will be offering creative kid-sized portions of more healthful meals.

Hand-Pulled Noodles: They're cheap to make and thrilling to watch. Hand-pulled noodles already are featured at Chef Martin Yan's M.Y. China, which is scheduled to open this spring in San Francisco, and of course at our own Magic Noodle House in Chandler. We predict there will be a lot more chefs choosing this engaging offering.

Caneles Are the New Sweet Treat: Move over, cupcakes, macarons, and pies; caneles are on the prowl. These custard-filled beauties require molds at $25 each, so there might not be a proliferation of these from home cooks. But they're so alluring, we're thinking a shared set among friends would be a good idea. Jennifer Woods

Five Wishes for the Valley

In the past few years, thanks to an explosion of TV shows, celebrity chefs, blogs, and social media outlets, our knowledge of and accessibility to various kinds of cuisine, cooking methods, and ingredients has increased tremendously. And while the Phoenix dining culture has evolved as well, there's always room for improvement. In the coming year, I'm pulling hard on the proverbial wishbone in hopes that these five wishes for the Valley food scene come true.

More Ethnic Food: Yes, there are more options than before and, yes, the majority of them can be found in Tempe and in the West Valley, but we could do more — and better. I'd like to see our hunger for world cuisine play itself out in more cultural fare from Africa, Brazil, Korea, Russia, Cuba, etc., whether in brick-and-mortar buildings or in the form of pop-ups and food trucks. The last two options provide a go-anywhere and low-overhead concept that could bring a world of global cuisine to more Valley residents more often. No passport required.

Arizona Regional Cuisine: This may be the biggest stretch on my wish list, given what feels like a continuous (and frankly head-scratching) shunning of celebrating our state's diversity with south-of-the-border eats. Call it what you will — Az-Mex, Mex-Az, Zone-ico — the term would describe a type of cuisine we could truly call our own, one that blends ingredients found in the United States with the culinary creations of Mexican-Americans influenced by the dishes of Mexico. Southwest is too broad. Texas has its Tex-Mex. Let's make this our own.

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