Trending tastes

What makes certain foods trendy is somewhat of a mystery, but local chefs and food experts share their predictions on what will take over menus and dining experiences in 2019

illustration by maria ratinova

Between food trends such as avocado toast or the rise of kale as a super green sautéed on pizzas or blended in smoothies, what makes certain foods popular from year to year is somewhat a mystery. Chefs and local experts say the surge of social media usage among diners, who often snap photos of dishes for Instagram or Twitter before taking the first bite, cue them in on what’s what.

SN&R asked Craig Takehara, executive chef and co-owner of Binchoyaki in downtown Sacramento; Chris Wong, executive chef and owner of Mighty Good Food catering in Davis; and food scientist Maddison Gurrola about the tastes and habits they predict will take over menus and dining experiences in 2019.

Fusing cultures

Menus feature cultural fusions so much these days diners probably don’t even notice. That is, if they’re done well.

Takehara of Binchoyaki, an izakaya (Japanese pub) that specializes in Japanese-style barbecue, spent time in Japan learning the art of binchoyaki: “bincho” meaning charcoal and “yaki” meaning grill. Although he enjoys cooking traditional dishes such as Soboro Don (a salty ground chicken dish with slightly sweetened scrambled eggs), piping hot bowls of ramen and fresh hamachi carpaccio, he says he also enjoys mixing it up in the kitchen with “fun food.”

“I make a traditional Japanese dish called Pork Kakuni. We take pork and we braise it in sesame, apple and sake. It’s a soft-braised dish, and I’m turning that into tacos,” Takehara says. “It’s almost like a Japanese pulled pork. We put it on tacos shells, top it with cabbage and we make pickled onions to go on top of it. I have cilantro microgreens and I make an avocado cream with yuzu and lemon juice.”

Another creative dish from Takehara combines one of his bestsellers, curry, with his take on chili cheese fries.

“I was eating chili cheese fries one day and thought, ‘What if I do this with curry?'” Takehara recalls. “Now I’m doing curry on top of fries, crème fraiche, cheese and green onions. I think people are always looking for things to be interested in and not always needing to feel tied down.”

Unique meat

While New York strip and filet mignon are America’s go-to cuts, they’ve got competition. Customers are getting more adventurous with unusual cuts such as livers, hearts, gizzards, gizzard skins, beef tongue and pork cheeks, all of which are now widely available in restaurants. Takehara says pork jowls “sell like crazy” at Binchoyaki. When he opened three years ago, he sold more fish. Today, it’s more meat skewered, seasoned and grilled using maple charcoal he orders from Japan.

“People who have been coming here repeatedly, they tend to be a little bit more curious and are willing to try more things now,” Takehara says. “I’ve been trying to seek out different, odd cuts and see what people’s reactions are to them. Everyone seems to be curious and they’re trying more and more.”

Plant-based alternatives

As odd cuts trend for some restaurants, plant-based “meats” continue to kick open doors. The Impossible and Beyond Burger brands are two examples that are readily available at fast-food burger chains and locally owned Mediterranean spots such as Kasbah.

And cauliflower is having a moment, whether it’s a substitute for mashed potatoes or pizza crust, cut thick and grilled as a substitute for steak, or roasted whole and served with a tangy aioli. It’s pretty much upstaged portobellos.

Maddison Gurrola, a food scientist and UC Davis alum, sees the science behind plant-based alternatives continuing to advance.

“I’m seeing a lot of really innovative and cool products coming out that are exciting,” Gurrola says. “The interest on the consumer end is driving more innovation. It’s not just the vegetarian or vegan who is happy eating these products, but really meat-eaters who are looking to cut back on their meat consumption.”

Ethnic spice

Wong, a former restaurateur in San Francisco, now brings his dining expertise to the Davis and Napa areas with his catering company Mighty Good Food. He predicts ethnic spices from Filipino, Burmese and Sri Lankan cultures will start to pop up on menus in the warmer months to come. He’s also noticed that peppers and spice blends such as za’atar, sumac and even the aleppo pepper piquing chefs’ curiosities.

“I’ve seen a lot of things come and go in waves of popularity, but I think we’re going to see a lot more micro-flavors,” Wong says. “Aleppo pepper is getting famous because it doesn’t have quite the strong heat that chili peppers tend to have. It has a slow, sweet heat that people like.”

Turmeric, although not new to most, is an aromatic spice known for its bright yellow color and Gurrola says it’s on a lot of people’s grocery lists.

“Turmeric milk, turmeric coffee, turmeric teas for curcumin, one of the bio-active compounds in turmeric that’s supposed to have a lot of positive health benefits to it,” Gurrola says. “People are actively looking for teas and coffees containing turmeric to get those benefits.”

Dining in

Food delivery companies such as Blue Apron are inspiring more people to get creative in the kitchen and dine in. Wong says people are also using services such as Mighty Good Food to host more dinner parties. He also says people want to find alternative dining experiences by seeking the latest pop-up restaurant.

“I’m not trying to take away from going to restaurants, but this is what I’m seeing,” Wong says. “There’s also a push to legalize home-based businesses and support home cooks … that will be another level of where we will find interesting food.”