Culinary Innovation at SXSW: Panel preview

Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the Innovation Group, will be participating in Culinary Innovation Tracking Food Trends at South by Southwest Interactive this weekend. The panel is part of the food-focused South Bites. Lucie Greene will join Damiano Apriletti, producer of Vice Media’s food platform Munchies, Kara Chiles, editorial director at Whole Foods Market, and Will Levitt, festival director of Taste Talks.

This week, SXSW Interactive begins in Austin, Texas. I am excited to take part in a panel discussion with an experienced group of food trends experts. We’ll also examine how the food industry is changing and how retailers choose which trends to invest in.

What trends do we see? There are many in our Food and Drink: Trends & Futures Report, but since then more have emerged:

Just Desserts

Epicurious recently ran a headline titled “Why Tahini Is the New Kale,” which highlighted the nutritional benefits of this Middle Eastern sesame paste. The article said that consumers are familiar with it because it is used in falafel shops. “But prepare to see it everywhere–even your smoothies,” it added.

Seed + Mill has opened its new artisanal sesame, tahini, and halva bar in New York City’s Chelsea Market. Seed + Mill’s goal is to “breathe new life into an ancient seed” by offering tahini, halva, and new ideas for cooking with sesame.

Seed + Mill makes tahini in premium jars, but it also blends the tahini with goat milk to create ice cream. The main attraction is halva, a Middle Eastern dessert that’s dense, crumbly, and a little crunchy. The tall and beautifully decorated halva desserts look like gateaux or cheesecakes displayed in a patisserie. These moist creations come in cardamom flavors, figs, nougat, and chocolate-orange.

Seed + Mill is the latest example of food innovators reinventing indulgences using healthy or alternative products. Hemsley + Hemsley in the UK creates brownies with beans and gluten-free avocado cheesecakes. Chickpea “cookie dough” is also becoming more popular. It is not a concern of the message to avoid calories or fat.

Move over Nordics, here comes Hawaii 2.0

Nordic cuisine is gaining momentum as a trend. The Nordics have become ubiquitous. An Icelandic restaurant is opening in Grand Central Terminal, and Noma chef Rene Redzepi has moved to Australia to start his next pop-up venture.

Hawaii has emerged as a major influence in the food industry to fill this gap. Honolulu has been hailed as a new food destination, thanks to the efforts of a group of native chefs who have reinvented Hawaiian classics like Poke (a dish made from raw fish) and shaved-ice desserts. Local hotspots are The Koko Head Cafe, Kaimuki Superette, and the local farm where chef Ed Kennedy purchases whole pigs to make charcuterie.

The list doesn’t stop there. Honolulu Beer Works creates “farmhouse ales,” aged in wine barrels, and sour beer made with local pineapple and citrus fruit calamansi.

Brooklyn will soon have it all. Sons of Thunder is a “West Coast,” Hawaiian-influenced restaurant that has already opened in New York. Pret a Manager is reportedly adding Poke to its UK Menu.

Hawaii’s popularity is indicative of an even wider trend. Influencers of global Food and beauty can come from anywhere. Consumers are more interested in the latest, next-generation, and local trends. Globalization, travel, and the internet are all factors that fuel consumers’ appetites for uncharted, new cuisines. The average consumer is also more adventurous. How long will Hawaii continue? How fast can you reach Pret?

New Food Containment

In our Food + Drink Report, we found out that 81% of US millennials view eating out as a cultural event, compared with only 53% of US boomers. Many millennials attend food festivals more often than concerts.

Food entertainment is also taking on a more youthful and creative direction. It focuses on grassroots food creators from around the globe, as well as real-life chefs, and connects food exploration with travel and culture.

Chef’s Table, a series on Netflix that charts the careers of top chefs, continues to add new long-form content. Recently, Netflix added “Cooked,” a documentary by Alex Gibney and Michael Pollan that explores the history of cooking. There are many YouTube food channels, including Jamie Oliver’s, Waitrose, and Sorted Food. Each has a large audience. Vice Media’s new Viceland TV channel is bringing food coverage Gen Z style with a new cooking program featuring rapper Action Bronson. Noma, yes, again, got its feature-length film shown in theaters last year.

This is an interesting change that mirrors the role chefs play in our culture. Today, many chefs are looking beyond recipes and Food to a bigger picture, a generous vision of the role food plays in society. Now, chefs are regularly moving from the kitchen to think leadership events and even big-budget films.

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