Trend: Multicultural pizza, such as Greek

 
  Gail Simmons during the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival 2010
 
  Trend: Artisanal cheeses, such as fresh burrata

The beginning of 2012 may signal the Great Year of Grains on the local fine-dining scene. Lots of trends are vying for traction, but one thing on which many of the area’s top chefs agree is the emergence of “new” old grains and seeds. They range from health food staples, such as quinoa, to more exotic-sounding fare. “People want more health benefits out of what they eat, and pastas, especially, will get a makeover,” says Dewey LoSasso of The Forge Restaurant and Wine Bar.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Alberto Marcato, executive corporate chef at Graspa Group, which includes Mai Tardi, Tiramesu, Spris, Segafredo, and Soyka, among others. He’s introduced pastas made from quinoa, kamut, and farro in recent years, and expects their popularity to grow.

Unsurprisingly, a love for the artisanal and locally produced will continue in Miami. “Artisanal cheeses are where it’s at now,” says Barton G. Weiss of Barton G. “There are terrific artisanal cheesemakers in New York State, Vermont, and even in Florida.” Marcato has found a favorite of these, he says, buying burrata and other small-batch cheeses from a producer in downtown Miami.

Sustainability, especially of seafood, also remains a top concern. This might mean the use of more locally caught fish, for Marcato, or for others, the use of lesser known species. Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka, executive chef of the Shelborne South Beach’s new Bar Tanaka, nods to farm-raised paiche from South America, which he uses in a spicy tempura roll. “It was a lost species for decades,” he says. “I think it will be a replacement for Chilean sea bass.”

But how do these local trends match up to those across the country? For some national perspective, we turned to someone who speaks and eats with more chefs than most: Gail Simmons. She’s best known for her turns as judge and host on Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Chef: Just Desserts, respectively, and will be hosting a seminar for the annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival this month. Simmons confirmed a few trends, and noted others to watch out for as 2012 unfurls.

LEE BRIAN SCHRAGER: Your position as special projects director at Food & Wine and role as a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef have no doubt given you the opportunity to try nearly every type of culinary trend out there. What’s “in” these days?
GAIL SIMMONS:
Food trucks—they’re progressing to the next stage. Some of them are getting so big and so successful that they’re setting up in permanent locations. One of my favorites is the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck—the owners just opened an actual store in [New York’s] East Village! I think that says a lot about where we are in the world, and it’s a good thing that people are responding to it.

What trends have you noticed in the way of seafood? Are people moving towards any certain type of fish, or away? What about particular preparations?
Similar to trends in all other food, there is more interest in local, responsibly caught seafood. Species like snakehead are beginning to appear on more East Coast menus, as there has been an increase in the fish’s population in the Chesapeake Bay. Increased support for Gulf Coast seafood and traditional New Orleans preparations following the oil spill of 2010 are also still very relevant, thanks to chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Tory McPhail, and John Besh. This is the case too for wild American shrimp, which is more abundant and has a cleaner, fresher taste.

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