At the risk of making a fool of myself, the start of a new decade is normally a time for establishing what will be the trends in the next decade. And in this case, here are a few thoughts on where I think the world of food and wine and gastronomy is heading in the next decade.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that things we take for granted today did not exist a few years ago. It would be hard to believe today that Instagram did not exist at the start of the previous decade. Today, the social media app has become the most important tool for chefs and restaurants. It is a force for what’s good and what’s bad in the world of food today.
Nordic cuisine was barely on the radar though the world was starting to learn about Rene Redzepi’s work at noma, Spain was just rising in the ranks of gastronomy thanks to the work of Ferran Adria which put the country in the spotlight. And then came the announcement that el Bulli would close in 2012.
We had the rise and rise of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list which by no stretch of imagination would one have thought that it would have the influence it has today.
Is the world of food and gastronomy better than it was in 2010 and more importantly what changes can we expect in the next 10 years.
Here are our predictions. Like most predictions, you can take them with a pinch of salt. But it will be interesting to look back at them in a few years time.
Sustainability will become more than a buzzword: Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to sustainability as a term that’s been used and over used. Many chefs and restaurants have focused on sustainability as a key selling point of what they do but are they coherent and have they really thought about what they do and say? How credible is it to advocate and speak about the importance of sustainability when the chefs and there teams are travelling around the globe or encouraging people from around the globe to visit them in the hope of getting awards? We think that sustainability will take a more central role in what chefs do. Expect more and more restaurant and restaurant groups to really be self-sustainable in what they do. We will see more restaurants collaborate when it comes to eliminating food waste. Despite the downturn and the struggles to operate restaurants, we will see more restaurant groups emerging thanks to the ‘celebrity’ status of chefs who will benefit from economies of scale and hence reduce if not eliminate food waste.
A more vegetable centric approach to dining: This decade will mark a change in what we eat. Expect many fine dining restaurants to lead the charge from protein to vegetables. We will be eating less meat or fish but expect it to be more sustainable and of better quality. Some restaurants will probably lead the way going for a pure vegetarian approach. There are already restaurants which propose vegetarian menus either as a seasonal option (noma) or as an option among other menus. We are of the view that some of the most exciting restaurants that will emerge over the coming years will be serving considerably less meat and less fish and will take a more vegetable centric approach to dining.
The rise and rise of humble ingredients: Some of the finest restaurants around the world serve the same ingredients from wagyu beef to hokkaido sea urchins to Norwegian lobster to Alba truffle. The reality is that there is nothing local about these ingredients and many times are even not coherent to the dining experience. We think that at some point, there is going to be a backlash and a return to local ingredients. There might be a definition of what we term as local but it is a discussion that will take place.
A backlash against World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Michelin: Chefs, like other top performers are competitive. So the decision of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list to exclude the previous winners from the list will create a backlash in the medium term. The decision to create a “Best of the Best” list which excludes previous winner has been compared as the Champions League without Barcelona or Real Madrid. While the concept of the ‘best’ restaurant is hard to phantom, we believe that this could be the beginning of the end for the World’s 50 Best. The list has been incredibly influential in creating buzz and turning chefs on the list into celebrities but it has also increased the pressure for them to travel around the world, lobby and spend considerably less time doing what they are best at. The change will create a tipping point and at some point in the coming few years, it may well become irrelevant when the “Champions League” becomes the “Second Tier League”. We also believe that Michelin will face a backlash at some point. A time will come when more and more chefs and restaurants will request to be removed from the guide for one reason or another. A few have started the trend but we think that this is likely to also reach a tipping point unless the red guide reinterprets its role in the world of gastronomy.
More chefs will stay at home: There are many reasons why chefs have started to travel much more than in the past. It is all part of a trend that has taken off with the advent of low-cost airlines turning weekend travel into something very accessible. That does not take into account the impact this has had on the environment. We believe that the world is going to become considerably more sensitive to climate change over the coming few years and this will have an impact on not just people travelling to restaurants but also on chefs travelling just for a day or two to showcase their cuisine worldwide and try to get recognition as well as votes for awards like the World’s 50 Best. We believe customers will be willing to pay a premium for a chef who is present in the kitchen. Think of it as ‘haute-cuisine’.
The rise and rise of culinary tourism: People are travelling more and more. We believe that culinary tourism will become an important selling point in the tourism offering. Today, there is a small niche who travel for food but this is likely to grow. Tourism boards are starting to realise that food is a selling point. That has helped guides like Michelin survive the downturn in print. Their new business model encourages countries to ‘pay’ to have a guide. Whether this is a driver for culinary tourism still has to be seen but what is sure is that food has never been so popular. This will lead to more new destinations emerging. Which regions or countries will be the new Nordics or Spain?
Natural wines will become mainstream: What are funky wines and why are some places more accustomed to experiment with ‘natural wines’ than others? We believe that this decade will see a mainstreaming of natural wines. While at the start of the previous decade, many of the natural wines had a bad reputation because they were unstable, today, winemakers have improved their work to the extent that there is no longer than ‘farmyard’ nose which put off most people from insisting with such wines. Expect more and more wineries to take the root towards organic, biodynamic and natural wines. These wines will become more accessible in restaurants, wine bars, wine shops and possibly even in supermarkets.
Battle on plastic use: Restaurants will find ways to combat the use of single use plastic. It will require a rethink in the kitchens from the use of piping bags to sous-vide cooking and ‘cling film’. It will not be easy but there will be more and more restaurants leading the way and putting pressure on others to follow suit.
The first Artificial Intelligence guide: Running a guide can be extremely costly as the experience with Michelin shows. The first guide that will be purely run on artificial intelligence and big data will emerge. Think of La List on steroids. This will take various data points from across the internet and social media and list the places that are being most talked of. It will not just look at reviews on sites like Trip Advisor but also search for hashtags, images, the most talked of restaurants and dishes around the world. If you’re not a fan of guides, imagine what it will be like when the guide or website recommends restaurants on the basis of an algorithm based on your searches and preferences. It will be like an Amazon for restaurants. “If you like this book (restaurant), we think you will like this one. Customers that bought this book (visited this restaurant) also purchased the following.
The fight against bottled water in restaurants: Now this is controversial particularly in view of the profitability of selling bottled water. But we believe that there will be a backlash against the use of bottled water which will get harsher as time passes. The biggest stumbling block is how restaurants charge for the water which is of course very profitable for them. What we think might happen is that the water will be included in the price of the menu. Think of a service charge for water or else a fixed price for both the food and beverage.
Pre-payment in restaurants: Online bookings have eliminated friction linked to having to pick a phone to book a restaurant. The next step will be prepayments. There are already certain restaurants which do it and we believe that this will become considerably more mainstream than people imagine. This will happen not only because of no-shows which have an impact on the profitability of restaurants but also because it will enable restaurants to manage their inventory and decrease if not eliminate food waste. Think of it also as a way to decrease time at table particularly after a long lunch or dinner.
Work-life balance: Could the 2020s be René Redzepi’s decade? Ferran Adria helped shape the 2010s without even cooking. The large majority of today’s top chefs have all been heavily influenced by the Spanish genius. We think that René Redzepi is ahead of the curve in more ways than one. Noma 2.0, MAD, his recent sabbatical, equality in the kitchen, work-life balance are all issues that Redzepi has brought to the fore. It’s not necessarily rocket science because these are all issues that have been discussed ad nauseam in other industries but he has taken the lead and set the example in more ways than one. He could be to the 2020s what Ferran Adria was to the 2010s.