1. The year of the vegan
"We're all going vegan on January 1st," jokes Irish Times restaurant critic Catherine Cleary, picking up on the widely forecasted trend for an increasing interest in veganism and vegetarian diets.
Some of those predicting the surge of veganism are a case of “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” Plantbasednews, for example, reports vegan is one of the top 10 trends listed in a food forecast for by US market research firm Packaged Facts. But the figures also show more people are trying a vegan diet, often temporarily or part-time.
Cleary sees the move towards more easily prepared plant-based food or ready meals continuing in 2018, especially with younger people, and with “part-time” vegans. “The supermarkets are catering more for people who want to eat less meat but don’t want to soak their mung beans overnight, or parents buying food for their teenage vegans.” Chefs, too, see vegetable based cooking as more interesting and a challenge, she says, and encourage the trend.
But it is a trend partly fuelled by social media, and we are still culturally attached to meat she says; while you hear of whole families turning vegan, for many people, if there is no meat on the plate, it’s not dinner.
Chef Jess Murphy of Kai restaurant in Galway agrees vegetarian food is on the rise - she has seen a surge, even in the past six months, in the restaurant. Kai has meat-free Mondays, fewer meat options in lunch menus, and tends to use more sustainable meat such as mutton and hogget. "I'm a member of the Hogget Association," she says, "and they are gas crack on Twitter!"
The lack of food growing in Irish fields is striking, says Cleary; we see far more grass for grazing. While there is an increase in vegetarian and vegan eating, Cleary says Bord Bia figures show a slight decrease in vegetable sales, and meat consumption rising in line with the economic up-turn.
Cleary also points out a lot of vegan food sold in shops is highly processed; plus, “nut milk made from almonds farmed in California, or soya grown on plains of what used to be rainforest”.
For takeaways, vegan is set to be the food trend of 2018, online food ordering website Just Eat predicts. It says this is partly due to an increase in demand from the image and health conscious, social media savvy consumers. In 2017 it says there was an increase in demand for vegetarian options and a third of Just Eat’s restaurant partners have vegan and vegetarian options. Some, such as Bombay Pantry, has their own own vegan menu, proving there is more to Indian food than chicken tikka masala.
Restaurant consultant of Host & Company Tim Magee also predicts "We will see more seafood restaurants, more vegetarian and vegan restaurants".
And it’s not just savoury: JP McMahon, chef at Aniar and Irish Times columnist, predicts vegetable-based desserts may move from fine dining into the wider market. “Carrot cake has been around for years, but a lot of restaurants are now using cauliflower, for example, in desserts. Noma has championed desserts with less sugar years for a long time. We have a dessert with celeriac and apple in Aniar, and we have made parsnip petit fours. Starchy vegetables convert to sugar when cooked, and it’s very seasonal to use veg when there are no berries around.”
2. Waking the food women
Parabere ties in with another trend Cleary hopes will take root: “Better behaviour towards women in restaurants as a consequence of #metoo and kitchen bullies being called out”.
Jess Murphy of Kai agrees: “It will be the year of the woman in restaurants, especially in light of what’s been happening in the US - it has a knock on effect. It will be a good year for the female chef and for advocacy. We’re here. We may not be in the media or on TV or the front page. We may not be size 8, because we eat the food we cook every day. But we are here.” Take note.
Also, there are a lot of strong female chefs in Ireland, says Murphy, who is excited to watch their development. She mentions mentions Róisín Gillen from Heron and Grey as an up and coming woman to watch, Christine Walsh at Loam, Margaret Roche in Hugo's, Sarah Brideau in Ard Bia and her own colleague, Hannah O'Donnell in Kai.
Chef and PhD student Mary Farrell is studying the experience of women in Irish restaurants and her research will be very interesting.
3. Fermentation and pickling
JP McMahon hopes the trend for fermentation and pickling continues, and he is pleased to see the revitalisation of preserving techniques, and an upsurge in home brewing and country wines such as elderberry or nettle, and dandelion beer. He mentions America Village Apothecary in Galway, which makes wonderful tinctures and syrups from locally foraged plants, fruits and barks, and plans to open a physical apothecary retail space and tasting room in early 2018.
BBC Good Food comments that fermenting, pickling and preserving is reaching the mainstream, and its panel agrees gut health is set to be a big food trend for 2018. This includes probiotics like kimchi, miso and kefir and prebiotics such as onions, garlic and other alliums.
4. Waste less, bring your own cup
“Sustainability is becoming more relevant in restaurants,” points out Irish Times food writer Marie-Claire Digby. The increasing consumer interest in food provenance coincides with prosecutions following revelations about “fake farms” used in supermarket labelling. “There will be a continuing and more widespread recognition of emerging Irish cuisine and awareness of #ThisisIrishfood”, says Digby.
Murphy agrees there will be a growth in sustainably-focused restaurants this year. In 2017 Kai applied for the UK Sustainable Restaurant Association awards, and were awarded three stars (following the footsteps of Loam restaurant, also in Galway). As well as creating less food waste, the huge project involved everything from weighing their bins, to where they got their fish, fruit and veg, to smaller details. Kai has eliminated drinking straws “and no one has asked for them”, uses combustible takeaway boxes and paper bags - and all the staff got Keep Cups for Christmas.
5. Whole roast chicken
Food consultant Magee hopes to see more places serving proper whole roast chicken. "The oldest bistros in Paris still have queues for the best roast chicken but first, we need to find ourselves a good chicken. We have nothing readily available comparable to France's poulet de Bresse. Something that just needs heat, seasoning and love to be one of the best things you have ever tasted. Our lamb and beef is bloody good but the average chicken we eat is appalling and tasteless. Customers should demand better."
6. Keep on posting
"Instagram will continue to rule, and there will be an increase in rainbow unicorn making," predicts Cleary, suggesting there will be many more YouTube bakers creating cakes "with seven colours of sponge, which look amazing, use plenty of sugar, icing and food dye, and appeal mainly to 11 years olds." YouTube, too, will continue to replace cookbooks for younger cooks, who enjoy the interactive experience of cooking alongside a video.
With the launch of the BBC’s Big Family Cooking Showdown and daily re-runs of Come Dine With Me and back-to-back series of MasterChef, BBC GoodFood predicts 2018 will see more social media buffs entering the fray of competitive dining. Expect inspiring Instagram feeds full of inventive (and sometimes, bonkers) dishes from budding chefs at home.
7. A new Noma set to open
René Redzepi, the chef behind the restaurant voted number one in the world four times is set to open a reinvented Noma (dubbed Noma 2.0) in Copenhagen on February 1st, a year after the original restaurant closed. "With Noma 2.0, we dare again to fail," he has said, and it's a move that will be closely watched by food lovers.
“There will be lots of social media about what he has on the plates and how it is served,” says Cleary. “If it’s a radical reinvention it is likely to influence restaurant trends for a few years.” The menu is planned around three time periods - like semesters - with plant-based food in summer, game in winter, and seafood in the non-growing season when it opens in February. “ Irish chefs will be watching,” says Cleary, “and we’re well placed for inspiration, with access to great seafood.”
The Scandinavian focus will continue with Parabere, the international forum for women’s views and voices on food, this year taking place in Malmo in March.
8. Chef activists
This will be a big year for chef activists, says Murphy, involved outside their restaurants, and improving their communities. Murphy is working on a project to support refugees in direct provision, to get them involved locally, creating a pathway to education and work. Murphy, from New Zealand, with Heron & Grey's Damien Grey from Australia, from Japan Takashi Miyazaki of Miyazaki and award-winning pastry chef Louise Bannon and three Syrian chefs Mhd Ahyam Orabi and Ahmad Orabi and baker Amer Marai created a Far Fetched Dinner in Loam Restaurant in Galway. The hope to work with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, on educational centres , creating a pathway for refugees to education and work.
9. Eat your grains
McMahon would like to see more variety in the range of grains rather than a reliance on wheat and other generic grains. Spelt, emmer and other grains are more suited to gluten intolerant people and have become more fashionable. In Denmark, he says, old grains are used to make everything from risotto to bread.
Eat This Not That also points to a trend towards use of ancient grains such as Kamut, spelt, amaranth, and lupin, which have been around for thousands of years, and predicting a comeback in 2018. The site also sees more interest in protein-rich grains and seeds. “If you’re looking to lose some weight, you’ll be relieved to know protein-rich grains-which melt away belly fat-will still be popular. To get a head start, stock up on hemp, chia, quinoa, and flax.”
10. Better ethnic food (a hope more than a prediction)
Apart from a handful of outstanding exceptions, we still have a dearth of regional ethnic dining says Magee. "Too many Indian, too many Italian and too many Mexican restaurants are serving food unrecognisable or not regarded by the countries whose flag they fly. I'd love to see more places focusing specifically on the food of Emilia Romagna, Sicily, Oaxaca, Kerala or Goa. We still don't have a single authentically excellent dim sum place, we have maybe one decent ramen house, the capital doesn't have a great Japanese - the best are in Cork and Limerick - and I don't know where to go for authentic taco el pastor."
But Cleary is excited by Takashi Miyazaki opening an exciting new restaurant in Cork city, in the same spot as the former Fenn’s Quay restaurant. The high end dining will be step up from Miyazaki’s small takeaway and promises to gel Japanese technology and Irish ingredients such as seaweed and seafood, appealing both in taste and appearance.
11. Say it with seaweed
Seaweed is another trend to look out for in 2018, and Cleary says Bord Bia should be talking to seaweed farmers and harvesters about feasibility. She points out that it is more benign than intensive fish farming, which can be associated with pollution, and that seaweed farming and fish farming can coexist sustainably side by side, with the seaweed filtering waste from the fish farm.
And what we might see less of:
Murphy thinks the "small plate" - and the more recent micro plate - phenomenon may be waning a bit.
JP McMahon hopes the trend for avocado on everything will diminish. “It’s hard to go for brunch without seeing five things with avocado on the menu.” Besides, he points out, it’s not sustainable - a lot of avocado comes from Mexico and some people say avocado is the blood diamonds of Mexico as they are controlled by cartels.
Even though dining on this island has never been better, our national menu still needs so much work, says Magee. We have some outstanding restaurants and chefs that could hold their own anywhere but 90 per cent of what is on the menu is the same from town to town, and 90 per cent of that could be found on an airport hotel menu anywhere in the western hemisphere. It’s down to the Irish diner to ask for change, to push back on the restaurateur and hotelier.