ST. HELENA, Calif. — Although the suffering economy is painting the short-term picture of American foodservice business, the longer-term trends are world flavors, health and wellness and sustainability and menu ethics.
"The future of American cooking is going to be fundamentally about world cuisines," said Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, during a seminar on menu research and development strategies for today's economy at the Flavor, Quality and American Menus leadership retreat Sept. 9-12 in St. Helena, Calif.
That doesn't mean the recession isn't going to leave its mark, though.
"The recession will end, though consumer spending won't likely snap right back," Drescher said. "Restaurants are down a bit, but at the end of the day, people want someone else to cook for them, and if they can figure out a way to do that, they will."
One world cuisine trend that is starting to really make a niche is the street food revelation, Drescher said.
"Street food is fun, casual, inexpensive ingredients, and it's low overhead for the operator," Drescher said. "Since it's not part of a regular meal, it fits the profile of a 'one-dish wonder.'"
Drescher said the trend toward world food is partly due to changing demographics in the U.S., but not completely.
"There used to be this huge divide between who cared about food and who didn't, but now that much more mottled," Drescher said.
With world flavors comes a much bigger focus on produce, Drescher said.
"There's inspiration from produce traditions, Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American cuisines, especially," Drescher said.
Drescher mentioned the July announcement of the Produce Marketing Association's partnership with the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association, which is gearing up to double produce use in foodservice by 2020.
"They went from a defensive position to an offensive position," Drescher said of the National Restaurant Association. "And I'm really glad they did."
When it comes to the health initiative, he said those in the foodservice business are being much more proactive, instead of reactive, as used to be the case. The upcoming review and rerelease of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in 2010 could mean big things for the industry, he said.
The responsibility of chefs, he said, is to make healthy food sexy and craveable, instead of just making it taste better.