What’s Coming to Your Restaurant Kitchen in 2017?

April 21 2017

A seasoned speaker at the top of her marketing game, Dana McCauley is a frequent presenter who brings ideas from the table to foodservice and beyond.

With an honors degree from Queens University and training through Stratford Chefs School under her belt, McCauley currently serves as an Innovation Ambassador for SIAL Canada, Executive Director with Food Starter and CEO of Food Trends TV.

Dana has also taken on additional roles including judge of Food Network Canada’s Recipe to Riches and authoring four best-selling cookbooks, globally selling over 200,000 copies.

We spoke to Dana to get an inside perspective on future food trends and how chefs across the country can harness these flavours for further staying power.

What are your predictions for the next five years in terms of food and culinary trends? Are there specific flavour profiles you see declining?

I believe we’ll be moving away from heavily processed options with more emphasis on what’s prepared fresh with simple ingredients. There will also be a global transition toward transparency when it comes to calories and nutrient content. This disclosure of information will lead to service changes and high margin items such as French fries may decline in sales. Both will affect how restaurateurs write menus and set prices.

Access to more information will shift our behaviours due to an increase in people, especially urbanities, using restaurants as a more frequent meal time option, as opposed to meals being made at home.

However, I don’t see specific flavour profiles declining. I think food, being as eclectic as it is, already keeps flavours interesting and in-demand, especially in larger places like Toronto and Vancouver. That’s one of the amazing things about dining in Canada, there’s so much variety and I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere anytime soon.

In what ways do trend predictions influence restaurant menus and consumer habits?

It depends on the type of chef you are. Food trends generally come from experimental chefs who keep abreast of new foods and techniques or travel the world to bring back interesting ingredients they can experiment with.

When you get into the mainstream market, I’d say trends certainly have an overwhelming influence but the time between someone doing something innovative and the result becoming a mainstream trend can be fairly long. However, there’s no real pattern or set length between the two. It can be very individual and even localized. For example, Middle Eastern flavours and trends are developing more quickly in Canada than the United States due to our friendlier immigration policies that welcome refugees starting new restaurants and catering companies.

Also, when the taco trend came about during the Olympics in Vancouver, there were Korean taco trucks all over and it has only now become mainstream.

When people hear about certain foods, they may want to try them but it isn’t always easy. If a chef can’t find a consistent supply of an ingredient like harissa, they cannot put it on their menu so it becomes more difficult for these specific foods to start trending.

Club House puts out the Flavour Forecast annually with predictions for the coming year. This year, we are anticipating a global spin on breakfast, Mediterranean cuisine for the 21st century, the pairing of sweet with pepper and sizzling plancha grilling. What is your take on these predictions?

I think the Flavour Forecast predictions are great. Congee is something I’ve been watching for a while and it’s definitely growing out of the whole idea of savoury oatmeal bowls. Here you have chefs who are very familiar with oatmeal; they know how to cook it but are now realizing, “hey, it doesn’t just have to have brown sugar or maple syrup on it.” What has traditionally been called fusion is being made more accessible by adding an interesting twist to foods and concepts that have some familiarity with consumers. 

I feel that the forecasted plancha trend is probably more seasonal while, on the ethnic side, they may have under-emphasized trends like Korean flavours. The next predicted trend, Modern Mediterranean cuisine, is spot-on. This is something that is growing very quickly and will continue to do so.

Another trend worth mentioning is avocado toast. The ideas of these open-faced sandwiches came from origins of Australia and they are very popular, especially in coffee shops. This is much different from the peanut butter toast I had as a kid, which was the closest I ever got to the trend! 

What is your process for identifying food trends accurately year-over-year?

I make it a priority to attend tradeshows like the Fancy Food Show, Restaurants Canada Show, National Restaurant Association Show and the Natural Food Products Expo. These events showcase where consumers and larger businesses are seeing opportunities and how they’re banking on where to find growth. Also, a large number of suppliers are vendors at these shows as it provides them with the opportunity to feature their new products. This allows me to be on top of the ingredients they are importing into the country while identifying trends.

Ultimately, when identifying trends, you need to be exploring what’s around you, what’s being experimented with and where the markets are to create value for the trends you are considering trying to leverage in your business.

How do you recommend chefs and restaurant owners reconcile being on-trend and having timeless staying power in a hypercompetitive industry? What’s the secret to longevity?

Brand positioning is crucial. If you’re a restaurant known for coming up with new and innovative menu items, you have to be on top of your brand image and positioning. Whereas, if you are known for cooking within a certain food category, stick with it. Changing your well-recognized brand is a recipe for disaster. Know yourself, your brand, your identity and then figure out if following trends is a beneficial match or not.

If you are taking on new or trendy menu items, test them out as an appetizer as customers are more likely to try lower ticket menu items.

Consumer research should be a constant in your restaurant’s lifetime. A restaurant that thrives for decades will always have a changing demographic and must be continually aware of who their diners are and then be able to cook for them.

For some chefs, commercialization is seen as the ultimate pie-in-the-sky. What tips can you give up-and-coming chefs who want to bring their vision to the greatest number of people?

Quite frankly, this goal has never been easier to attain. When I was starting out as a chef, you were nameless and faceless when you worked in a restaurant; people only knew the executive chef. Now you have social media and the game has changed. Social media has given chefs the opportunity to develop their own personal culinary brand and take their career to new heights. Chefs just need to know what they want to be known for and promote their brand that way.