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NRA Survey IDs Key 2009 Trends

A National Restaurant Association survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs members of the American Culinary Federation reveals that local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthful kids' meals and new cuts of meat top the “What’s Hot” list for 2009. Rounding out the top 10 trends are kids' vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits (including acai and mangosteen), small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum, artisan liquor and sustainable seafood.

In October, the NRA had surveyed 1,609 ACF member chefs, asking them to rate 208 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2009.

"In 2009, we will see healthier menu options with an emphasis on produce and fruit, smaller dishes and fish, and an increase in the use of local and sustainable ingredients,” says ACF National President John Kinsella. “Going green will no longer be an alternative, as it will affect everything we do in our industry, from the use of induction cooking to finding new and exciting local food sources. And the word 'chef' will represent and mean a chef who cooks healthy, flavorful foods."

Several among the top 20 trendy items are related to philosophy-driven food choices such as local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood and free-range pork/poultry.

Locally grown produce—rated the number-one trend on restaurant menus in 2009—has grown tremendously in popularity for a variety of reasons. The idea of farm-fresh fruit and vegetables and minimal transportation are appealing to many, and sourcing locally is also tied to supporting local communities and businesses.

Food and beverage items produced by small, artisan businesses also hold appeal, as do animal welfare and environmental concerns. New/fabricated cuts of meat (such as Denver steak and pork flat iron steak) come in at number five on the list of trendy items. Several factors drive this trend, including culinary creativity, cost-consciousness, and interest in lean protein. These new cuts are developed to gain maximum flavor from the meat, incorporating under-used parts of the animal into innovative dishes, and customizing cuts to trim fat content.

Among non-alcohol beverages, specialty iced tea, organic coffee and flavored/enhanced water will be the top trends. The hottest trends in culinary themes include nutrition/health, gluten-free/allergy-conscious, food-alcohol pairings, umami (known as "the fifth taste"), and the slow food movement. In the preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide.

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