Christmas Dinner 2014: What’s Hot and What’s Not for Holiday Feasting

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The holidays may be about tradition, but it never hurts to shake things up with some new additions to the Christmas feast.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual, “What’s Hot for 2014” report, much of the food on the holiday table will likely be locally sourced and locally grown. The report forecasts upcoming menu trends by quzzing about 1,300 professional chefs about their culinary plans for the coming year. “The chefs we survey are really at the front line of testing and developing for the American consumer and their food experience,” says B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

So based on what chefs are buzzing about now, here’s what you can look forward to at the holiday buffet:

Appetizer: House-cured meats/charcuterie: Charcuterie (that includes things like smoked or cured hams, sausages and terrines) has yet to hit mainstream chains, but they are becoming more common as a starter spread at smaller restaurants. And to distinguish themselves, chefs are developing unique, signature items, and will work with specific meat suppliers to make their options local and special.

Side dish: Non-wheat noodles/pasta: Quinoa, anyone? You may have to explain that one to great-grandpa, but, says, Riehle, “Ancient grains are among the top trends. Many ethnic cuisines are being presented with new twists. The research is clear that Americans use restaurants to test out different types of foods and flavors and spices. That behavior carries over to the home kitchen.”

Main dish: Locally sourced meats and seafood: The entree may be one that originated close to home. More consumers are choosing to purchase produce, meats, seafood, and even ingredients for alcoholic beverages from local sources. “This stems from a basic development that the typical American palate has become much more sophisticated and knowledgeable than at any point previously, whether that revolves around restaurant cuisine or at-home preparation,” says Riehle. “Americans are much more interested in food in general. That means from how it is grown to how it is prepared and the story behind the food that they are eating.”

Ethnic flavor: Peruvian cuisine: As always, the top three ethnic cuisines remain Italian, Asian and Mexican, so you are likely to taste flavors from one of those at some point during your holiday dining. But there’s a new tier of up-and-coming cuisines. “When you survey consumers about ethnic cuisines, Italian, Asian and Mexican are so engrained that they are no longer considered ethnic. The real action is in the second and third tiers,” says Riehle.

Peruvian-style chicken, for example, is becoming increasingly popular, as is yuca, which is similar to a potato and can be made into fries. “When you look at a menu 10 years from now, embedded will be many more items that have been derived or are related to traditionally classic Peruvian cooking,” says Riehle.

Preparation methods: pickling: Don’t be surprised to see a side of pickled cucumbers this holiday. It’s all part of another big trend for 2014 — what is old is new again. “Even in the alcoholic beverage category there is an “aged” aspect,” says Riehle. “There’s a lot of interest in not only legacy preparation techniques, but also heirloom produce, like apples and tomatoes.”

Dessert: Hybrid desserts (e.g. cronut, ice cream cupcake): The cronut started a dessert frenzy, and while it may be so 2013, it spurred the dessert mash-up trend. It’s a fun way to make-over the usual holiday treats, but it also gives restaurants an opportunity to differentiate themselves. “Baby boomers are the most experienced generation when it comes to restaurants. Their children have been exposed to so many varieties of flavors and seasonings so the bar is raised in terms of baseline expectations for dining,” says Riehle.

So enjoy your holiday feast, and be willing to try that out-of-place dish that might be making its debut on your table — it could become a staple in years to come.

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