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NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn takes stock of which of his food predictions hit the mark — and which were way off — in 2016.
Is it me, Nancy, or did food and beverage trend predictions go into overdrive at the end of 2016?
Everyone from flavor companies, to supermarkets, to people who, for reasons of their own, wanted to be cited as mavens, set forth their prognostications for how and what Americans were going to eat and drink in 2017.
I did it too, of course, because it’s my job, but it’s also my job to try to get those predictions right. So in the spirit of accountability, full disclosure and other aspects of integrity that seem to be in short supply these days, I’d like to take a look back, as I do every year, at my predictions for the previous year and see how I did.
I predicted that India Pale Ale would continue to thrive, and indeed it remained the top beer style among craft beers in terms of amount poured, according to BeerBoard, which monitors more than 50,000 draft lines across the country. So I got that one right.
I said chefs would increasingly highlight and celebrate vegetables, especially local and seasonal ones, and we did, indeed, see that, not only with the opening of upscale vegetarian restaurants like Nix in New York City, but by the upgrading of vegetable dishes across the country, such as the “spiralized” zucchini in Houlihan’s Thai “Noodle” Salad, and True Food Kitchen’s seasonal Spring Vegetable Salad with grilled asparagus and broccoli, chickpeas, wax beans and roasted cauliflower with mint, raisins, pistachios and manchego cheese.
I predicted a proliferation of spicy condiments beyond Sriracha sauce, including gochujang and Calabrian peppers, and indeed this was the year of gochujang at independent and chain restaurants, and Calabrian peppers debuted on the menus at chains as diverse as Zoës Kitchen (in a baked feta dish), Snap Kitchen (in a robust salad with sprouted lentils and spicy marinated broccoli), Patxi’s Pizza (on flatbread with Spanish chorizo) and Olive Garden (on a spicy chicken sandwich with tomato sauce and gorgonzola).
I predicted more hybrid burgers — burgers mixed with mushrooms or vegetables, ideally to make them more healthful and sustainable. Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson are doing that at LocoL, and the idea, with support from both the James Beard Foundation and The Culinary Institute of America, is spreading to more colleges and universities.
The Cheesecake Factory’s turkey burger has been cut with mushrooms for several years now, and Jennie-O has a line of turkey burgers with mushrooms in them that allows them to export them to Canada (from what I understand, you can’t export 100-percent turkey to Canada for reasons having to do with complex trade negotiations), but I wouldn’t say the hybrid burger has exactly taken the country by storm.
I also predicted “shake shooters,” and, to be honest, that was more a hope than a prediction. It just seems logical to offer 3-ounce to 4-ounce milkshakes as an afternoon pick-me-up. I don’t think most adults want to indulge very often in a 16-ounce, high-calorie snack, but a smaller one seems like a logical, brief indulgence. It didn’t happen, though.
I predicted that more obscure wines would be a trend, and indeed, Millennials in search of new and exciting things have expanded their horizons in terms of obscure varietals and growing regions, but this was really kind of a gimme. I didn’t expect the expansion of things like canned wine and chilled red wines that have been going on.
Finally, I said chefs would be bringing more things in-house — doing everything from milling their own flour to churning their own butter.
Indeed, that has continued, but really it has been more of the same — more in-house fermenting and pickling, more housemade hot sauce, more charcuterie. I was hoping to see more creativity, such as house-cultivated mushrooms, or house-distilled cocktails.
Maybe I missed them, or maybe health codes and liquor laws have stymied such attempts, but I honestly wouldn’t say that prediction was a home run.
I also totally missed the crazy onslaught of poke in 2016. Some people trend watchers were predicting it in 2015, but I was skeptical. I was also wrong.
I’ve expressed similar skepticism about Filipino food being the “it” cuisine of 2017. We’ll see how that pans out.
How about you, Nancy? What trends struck you most in 2016?
Comfort classics balance exotic creations
Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse responds to NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn’s evaluation of food trend predictions.
Bret, I know it’s cliché to talk about how quickly the year has flown by. However, I’d like to forego the clichéd clucking and focus instead on a remarkable year in menu R&D.
Amid continuing concerns about an industry beset by falling traffic and rising competition, chefs stepped up to the plate with a remarkable display of culinary creativity.
For some, it was a walk on the wild side. Arby’s garnered tons of publicity with its venison sandwich, made with premium-cut, deer-meat steaks and topped with a Cabernet sauce infused with juniper berries. It was available in limited markets for a limited time. This came not long after the chain’s surprising, systemwide rollout of pork belly as a protein option.
Famous Dave’s upped its barbecue game with game, specifically the Boar Sausage Manhandler Sliders served with spicy hellfire pickles, and Ledo Pizza also went whole hog with the Luau Pizza topped with sliced wild boar sausage.
Independents, of course, are free to push the envelope further, which is exactly what happened at Animale in Chicago, a limited-service, chef-driven operation that dishes up bacon-wrapped sweetbreads and sliced beef-heart pastrami on its small plates menu and puts spicy tripe on a burger. Also on offer is an unconventional Shepherd’s Pie with oxtail and lamb’s tongue.
Other developments proved that you actually can teach an old chain new tricks.
McDonald’s, which received a sales shot-in-the-arm from its introduction of all-day breakfast in 2015, followed up with its foray into breakfast entrées like the Egg White and Turkey Sausage Bowl, which also boasted kale and spinach. Yes, we’re talking McDonald’s here, Bret.
And the corporation stepped up its commitment to menu transparency.
It blanketed the Summer Olympics with advertising support for its antibiotic-free Chicken McNuggets, the result of which, according to CEO Steve Easterbrook, was a 10-percent boost in orders. Closer to year’s end, McDonald’s pledged to buy all its coffee from sustainable sources by 2020.
Chains continue to look to the East for inspiration. As you predicted, gochujang, the sweetly spicy Korean condiment, is breaking out all over.
At Noodles & Company, the gochujang that topped a meatball special was touted as “this year’s must-try flavor.” Red Lobster’s popular Endless Shrimp promotion debuted in September with Korean BBQ Grilled Shrimp with gochujang paste, while gochujang sauce is in the aptly named Seoul Bowl at Veggie Grill.
Other Asian influences figured prominently in Red Robin’s spiffy Red Ramen Burger, which sandwiched the burger between two crispy ramen patties, thereby nodding to the sizzling hot ramen trend in a memorable fashion. McAlister’s Deli introduced the latest iteration of the bánh mì trend with its tasty West Coast Bánh Mì, in which the classic Vietnamese sandwich included pulled pork as a means to remove the patron fear factor and promote trial.
As is typically the case, all this ethnic innovation sparked a comforting counterbalance of familiar foods creatively reimagined.
Everywhere you looked, you saw bologna, often housemade and sometimes fried, on appetizer plates and in sandwiches, like Penn Station’s Fried Bologna Sub. Biscuits were full of baloney, too, as well as other proteins, like the Pork Chop ‘N’ Gravy Biscuit at Hardee’s.
Schnitzel, a Germanic comfort classic, had a moment last spring, and porridge came back into vogue, if it had ever actually been there in the first place. It turned up on trendy independent menus as a side dish, as with the Sunflower-Seed Porridge at Staplehouse in Atlanta, and it appeared more conventionally at breakfast, albeit in unconventional treatments like Ancient Grain Porridge made with coconut milk, pistachios and hemp seed at Indianapolis’s trendy Milktooth.
So that was the culinary year from my perspective, Bret. It was chockablock with surprises and with innovations.
I’m happy to have shared it with you, and I’m looking forward to an equally exciting and unpredictable 2017.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News. E-mail her at email@example.com.
All Soundcloud photos are sourced from Thinkstock.
Wilbur Scoville was a pharmacist who devised a means of measuring the heat of various chile peppers.
While the Scoville scale that he created in 1912 is not without its critics, it continues to provide a convenient means to benchmark pepper pungency.
His scale has gotten quite a workout recently, as emerging chile varietals like the super-spicy ghost pepper push its upper limits. Registering roughly 1 million Scoville Heat Units, the ghost pepper, which has appeared on numerous restaurant chain menus over the last couple of years, provides a fiery step up from the ubiquitous jalapeño, which scores a much more modest 5,000 SHUs.
While some restaurateurs continue to turn up the heat by experimenting with more incendiary varieties, many others have turned their attention to the lower end of the spice spectrum.
Shishito peppers, one of the hottest ingredients on the menu, are actually among the mildest chiles. Native to Japan, they typically rate around 100 SHUs, although an occasional outlier can be substantially hotter. Popular as snacks and bar food, shishitos were among the 10 fastest-growing produce items on appetizer menus, jumping a whopping 199 percent over the past four years, according to menu analysts at Datassential. At three-unit Citizen Burger Bar, based in Charlottesville, Va., they are cooked in sweet soy sauce and offered with housemade ranch dressing for dipping.
The signature SkinnyLicious menu at The Cheesecake Factory featured charred shishito peppers served simply with salt for a lower-calorie nosh, and at the Ra Sushi chain, a subsidiary of Benihana Corporation International, they’re sautéed in Asian garlic butter sauce.
Shishitos are appearing in a range of other treatments, too. They’ve turned up in Atlanta at trendy independents like Leon’s Full Service, where they accompany the housemade summer sausage; at Noble Fin, where they accent the popular pan-roasted branzino; and at Spring, where the chilled summer squash soup includes grilled shishitos and whipped goat cheese.
At Michelin-starred Green River in Chicago, saffron spaghetti is topped with uni, clams and shishito peppers, while at Charlie Palmer Steak in New York City, shishito peppers and sugar snap peas in miso ponzu sauce were a seasonal special side dish. They also brighten up brunch at Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Mass., where corn pancakes are finished with maple and shishitos.
Hatch chiles, native to New Mexico, are poised to cross over from cult status to the mainstream. Clocking in at about 2,000 SHUs, they are prized by aficionados for their sweet smokiness and by operators for their versatility. The Habit Burger Grill, based in Irvine, Calif., hosted a Hatch Chile Festival last fall that included a burger, chicken sandwich and chicken salad, all topped with the fruit. In the fast-casual pizza segment, Rave Restaurant Group’s Pie Five has run successful seasonal Hatch chile pie promotions.
The small-plates menu at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., includes Hatch chile and bacon mac-and-cheese topped with green onion crumble. The promotional Hatch green chile sauce at Focus Brands subsidiary Moe’s Southwestern Grill was prepped fresh daily in house. And in November, Taco Bell hooked into the growing interest in Southwestern peppers with the new green chile queso made with roasted chiles from the Hatch Valley of New Mexico,
Calabrian chiles are also having a menu moment, and it’s surprising that it took so long, given the popularity of Italian food. Grown in the toe of the Italian boot, they average about 6,000 SHUs, although they can be substantially hotter when aged on the vine. They add color, spice and acidity to dishes, which has allowed them to make headway with chefs. The Olive Garden’s Spicy Calabrian Chicken appetizer is served with Gorgonzola sauce, and Mediterranean Baked Feta at Zoës Kitchen, based in Plano, Texas, is topped with cherry tomatoes and Calabrian peppers. Zoës also menus a rosemary ham and mozzarella piadina with Calabrian pepper aïoli.
Independents pick these peppers, too. The sausage pizza at Garage Bar in Louisville, Ky., puts them alongside milled tomatoes and confit shallots, while Ferocious Puppies, or thick-cut fries served at Animale in Chicago, are served with pancetta, onions, Calabrian chiles and a sunny-side-up egg. Easily adaptable, they are in the vinaigrette that finishes the Charred Romano Beans at Sardella in St. Louis, and in the sauce that covers the rigatoni with clams at Atlanta’s Noble Fin.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of LinkedIn’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the LinkedIn website.
Lois Margolet, co-founder of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, died Thursday of lung cancer at her home in Las Vegas, the company said Friday. She was 68.
“Lois was a bright, giving, extraordinary woman and a pioneer in the sandwich and franchise industry,” said Ashley Morris, CEO of Las Vegas-based Capriotti’s, in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News.
Margolet and her brother, Alan Margolet, launched Capriotti's in 1976, in Wilmington, Del., naming the restaurant after their grandfather, Philip Capriotti.Photo: Capriotti's
“The brand she created is not just a sandwich shop; it is an institution in Delaware,” said Morris, adding that the company’s subs “have touched countless people across the country.”
Lois Margolet is credited with creating the chain’s popular Bobbie menu item, which is known as “Thanksgiving on a sandwich,” with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayonnaise
Capriotti’s moved its headquarters from Wilmington to Las Vegas in 2008, when Morris and business partner Jason Smylie acquired the company. Capriotti’s now has 105 units, largely in Nevada and the Mid-Atlantic states.
"Capriotti's is an institution in Delaware and the cornerstone of so many communities here," Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, told The News Journal. "It's incredible what she was able to achieve, and I'm so sorry to hear of her passing."
In 2016, Capriotti’s drew a trio of new investors, including David Barr, a Yum! Brands Inc. franchisee and board member at Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc., along with JD and Shelly Sun, founders of the home health agency BrightStar Care.
Barr and JD Sun took positions on Capriotti’s board, and Morris said the three franchising experts would help further the chain’s nationwide expansion.
“We set out to become a national sandwich franchise company,” Morris said in an interview last September. “Not only did we need growth capital, we needed strategic advice. We now have two great, new board members and substantial capital. We can focus our energy into growing the brand across the country.”
In Nation’s Restaurant News’ Top 200 census, Capriotti’s reported 2015 U.S. systemwide sales of $63.7 million across 90 units, including 13 company locations and 77 franchised restaurants. System average unit volumes in fiscal 2015 were $707,410.
Alan Liddle, NRN’s data and event content director, contributed to this report.
Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless
Le Duff America Inc., the Dallas-based subsidiary of Groupe Le Duff, is renewing its focus on franchising, especially for its La Madeleine Country French Café and Bruegger’s Bagels concepts, new CEO Olivier Poirot says.
In July, Poirot was named CEO of the international bakery conglomerate Groupe Le Duff’s Dallas-based subsidiary. He is leading “a multi-brand initiative to accelerate growth through a renewed focus on franchising,” the company said in announcing his appointment Friday.
Le Duff America also owns the Brioche Dorée and Mimi’s Café brands.
Poirot most recently served as senior vice president and chief financial officer of Sodexo North America. Poirot succeeded Claude Bergeron, who had served as sole CEO at Le Duff America, after co-CEO Jim Vinz left in 2014, and is no longer with the company.
Poirot has a background in franchised hospitality companies. Before Sodexo, he served as CEO of hotelier Accor North America, overseeing operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
"We see huge opportunity, particularly for La Madeleine and Bruegger's Bagels in 2017, to expand exponentially through aggressive franchising efforts," Poirot said in a statement.
The company said it plans to pursue multi-unit franchisees for its La Madeleine brand and franchise development for Bruegger’s in in current corporate-owned markets.
Among its other U.S. brands, the company plans to open three to six corporate Brioche Dorée locations in 2018, with franchise development expected in subsequent years.
Mimi's Café, purchased by Le Duff in 2013, plans to renovate two of its California restaurants, and will roll out menu updates at its nearly 100 locations in 18 states.
Le Duff America Inc. is a subsidiary of Rennes, France-based Groupe Le Duff, which has nearly 1,700 bakery-cafés worldwide.
Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless
Sponsored by AdvancePierre® Foods
The debate over what type of cheese should top an authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich will likely rage on forever, but the bottom line is not in question: Sliced steak can add versatility and cachet to just about any restaurant menu.
Increasingly, operators are learning that beef sliced or shaved Philly-cheesesteak style can be used as the main protein in a variety of hot sandwiches. At the same time, it also can appear as a secondary ingredient atop a burger or in a salad that offers the contrasting textures of cool, fresh vegetables and hot, tender beef.
“Top fast casual and casual dining chains are key growth channels for shreds, cubes, strips and shaved beef as premium components in traditional and ethnic offerings such as noodle bowls, sandwiches and salads,” says Dave Zino, executive chef of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff.
Such use of beef as an ingredient has been increasing of late, he says.
Steak is a proven traffic driver, he adds, citing research from NPD Crest showing that customers’ intent to return to a restaurant is 4 to 6 percent higher among those who order steak.
Ribeye, which Zino describes as the most flavorful of all the subprimal beef cuts — the intermediate cuts between the larger primal cuts and the smaller portion cuts — offers both cachet and versatility, he says.
“While traditionally thought of as steaks and prime rib, the ribeye can be cut into various ‘right-sized’ steak and roast portions that you can menu across all day parts, from on-trend sandwiches to profit building small plates with big global flavors,” says Zino.
Research from AdvancePierre® Foods, parent of the Steak-EZE® Philly steak line of products, shows that among quick service operators that use Philly steak meat, about a quarter — 26 percent — use ribeye, second only to sirloin at 36 percent.
The survey found that the factors operators consider most important when it comes to selecting Philly steak meat are how the product looks when it is cooked and the flavor. They also want a product that can be prepared quickly, offers good value and contains high quality beef.
While the AdvancePierre survey found that Philly steak is used primarily for making Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, operators also feature it in other styles of sandwiches, in salads and on pizza, among other uses.
Tampa, Florida-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants are among the quick service operators menuing Philly-style beef in creative ways. The chain recently reintroduced its A.1. Buttery Steak Burger, a beef patty topped with seasoned shaved Philly steak, Swiss cheese, grilled onions, ketchup and mayonnaise, served on a toasted brioche bun.
Sliced steak appears on the menus of high-end restaurants as well. At Boeufhaus, one of Chicago’s newest and most acclaimed restaurants, steak sandwiches from around the country figure prominently on the lunch menu. They include Boeuf on Weck, a take on the Buffalo, New York-area favorite that is served on a caraway seed bun with sea salt and au jus, and a Philly-style cheesesteak made with shaved ribeye, white American cheese and charred onions.
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s take on the Philly cheesesteak, as demonstrated on his “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” show on the Food Network, is made with thinly sliced strip loin, topped with a provolone cheese sauce, sautéed mushrooms and peppers and caramelized onions, served on a soft hoagie roll.
Here’s the recipe:
Philly-style beef can also be incorporated into a variety of ethnic and regional offerings, making it adaptable to suit a broad range of menus.
For example, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association suggests a Buena Vista Steak Club that’s a takeoff on a classic Cuban sandwich. It calls for sautéed steak strips on a Cuban roll with chimichurri sauce, black bean aioli, melted Gouda cheese and sliced pickles.
You can find the recipe here:
For an Asian twist that also appeals to the health-minded, the NCBA suggests a Stir-Fried Steak and Napa Cabbage Salad, made with chilled rice noodles, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, sweet peppers, cilantro and fresh mint tossed in a sweet and tangy Vietnamese dressing and topped with warm pan-seared steak.
Here’s the recipe:
“Sliced beef sandwiches provide both operators and consumers with two key benefits,” says Maeve Webster, president of consulting firm Menu Matters. “First, they are among the ultimate comfort foods, particularly in cold weather months. These are filling, warming and were often part of people's childhood, so there's a solid amount of nostalgia — particularly in a season that's driven largely by nostalgia.
“Second, sliced beef can act as a fairly basic base for many different toppings and flavors. Yes, beef has a strong flavor, but it can still be paired with many different domestic [think regionally specific flavors] or international flavors, carriers, toppings, cheeses, sauces, etc.”
The options with sliced steak are plentiful, says Webster, “offering both operators and consumers a lot of potential customizations and new experiences.”