As we start the New Year, it is normally the time to reflect on the previous year but also more importantly to look at what is coming next and to try and spot the novelties that might become trends in the years to come.
We have read many articles about predictions for 2017 doing the rounds from Michelin’s take of the 10 trends for 2017 to a sceptical look at the articles predicting trends.
There is an obvious tendency to get it wrong and you end up with egg on your face.
So instead of looking at what we think will be the top trends we focus on one issue, time, and look at how this will have an impact on the food and wine world in the coming months and years.
To take a look at the future, many times you need to look to the past. The start of this article came over a lunch discussion with
with Fulvio Pierangelini, Gert de Mangeleer, Clare Smyth and Peter Nillsson a day before the Gelinaz! Headquarters event in Brussels where we ended up discussing the state of fine dining today.
The discussion on what constitutes fine dining to me is central to where we stand in society today because it not only gives us an indication of what is going on in the top end restaurants but it also filters to many other areas of the food and wine scene.
There is no question that one of today’s biggest luxuries is time. Most people I know struggle with lack of time. The things that we used to take for granted in the past can no longer be considered normal.
Ask most people today how they are and they will immediately tell you busy. It is as if being busy is something that we cherish even if each and everyone would love to have more free time.
That lack of time is also reflected in the products we find in supermarkets today. The aisles with ready made meals become bigger and bigger, we can buy anything chopped from pumpkins to garlic, onions to carrots and few would have imagined that this would be the case.
In a time-starved society, this is inevitable.
Food lovers may tell you that you can prepare a dish in less than 30 minutes that could feed your family but that requires planning, it requires the time to go and choose the ingredients, to know what you are going to cook.
No country seems to have been spared from this ready-made food culture.
Even a supermarket in France or Italy, which some would consider as the last bastion of hope there is for food, you will find ready made food at the aisles and in Italy also the ‘fresh’ pasta available, something that used to be prepared in each household from scratch.
We also had controversies in France of brasseries that are serving food that has not been prepared on the spot but rather at large companies that prepare ready made meals for all places from canteens to hospitals and even restaurants.
And as everyone struggles with time, this is what will become the key factor in the food we eat in restaurants and at home.
Today, as the world becomes global you can end up eating the same ‘luxury’ ingredients in restaurants wherever you go. In big cities, you will be able to find ingredients from anywhere in the world at your corner store. Lobster from Canada, white truffle from Alba, asparagus from Peru, king prawns in landlocked cities, wagyu beef, money will get you anything. And these products are not only available in high-end restaurants but also in supermarkets which means they can be easily cooked at home.
So today’s luxuries are completely different to the luxuries we were used to a few years ago. What we have lost as a society are the humble dishes which our grandparents and our parents grew up with. Preparations that take time and patience are no longer common in homes because we are all rushing from work to errands, and appointments. As we live a fast life, we do not have the time to prepare home-made pasta, to cook humble meats which require a long time to cook, to prepare a chicken or veal stock from scratch.
Rents and property prices today mean that many also no longer have the space or the kitchens with the space and utensils necessary to prepare certain foods which will mean that we will resort more often to outsourcing food either by eating out more often, have food delivered to our homes or else buy ready made meals which require no space or time to prepare.
That discussion to me was central to what we will see in top restaurants in the coming years. Fine dining in a world that is global and time-starved will be completely different to what we have been used to in the past.
The 30-hour slow-roasted tomatoes, the slow cooked cheap cuts, sustainable fish, an increased focus on local ingredients and exceptional produce from artisan producers are becoming tomorrow’s luxuries.
That slow cooked ragu that cooked overnight and then continued to cook in the morning is the ultimate luxury. That vegetable grown in the restaurant garden without pesticides, with the care and attention of a gardener whose main focus is to respect the seasons and nature is a luxury that many can enjoy but few have the time for.
Apart from time, there is also the question of scarcity. What is more luxurious, a farmed lobster or a bottle of olive oil that has only 300 exemplars and which is impossible to find because it is distributed just to a few friends?
We think that time and scarcity are what will define the future of food and wine. Over the past few years, we have seen certain wines become completely unaffordable for wine lovers. Ultimately, the connoisseurs will move to a more scarce and lesser known resource. It might not have the allure of a Bordeaux first growth but it will deliver the same pleasure to a wine lover.
We will see more and more restaurants take the time to recreate traditional dishes, maybe giving them new twists but respecting where they come from.
Over the coming years we will also see the rise of restaurants with no tables. More and more restaurants will be delivering food to your doorsteps through services like Ubereats and Deliveroo. This makes sense for restaurants who can reach economies of scale in the kitchens without incurring additional costs in the front of house, it makes sense for time-starved customers who do not have the time to cook at home.
As the discussion on work-life balance took centre stage in the food world last year, it is likely that restaurants will resort to increasing their turnovers through take-out services which would allow them to increase their staff and therefore give their existing staff more decent working hours.
If the number of cyclists going around is a sign of the take-up of these services, then we are in for a food revolution in the coming months and years. Will 2017 be the year that sees the launch of seatless restaurants that open mainly to serve people at home?
We will have to wait and see.