WASHINGTON — Every year, chefs from all over the world travel to New York for the coveted opportunity to cook at the James Beard Foundation’s Beard House. And among the lucky members and guests invited to dine in the home of the former culinary genius are employees of the JBF, who get to sample the dishes.
“We’re kind of able to take the pulse of our national culinary scene, just through our own programming,” says Elena North-Kelly, senior editor for the James Beard Foundation, which hosted more than 250 events in 2015.
North-Kelly says from all those dinners and national events, she saw several trends develop throughout the year, such as the use of savory chocolate.
“It seems that chefs don’t really want their diners to have to wait for dessert to get their chocolate fix.”
Dishes such as smoked beef short ribs with a cocoa demi-glace, lacquered duck with chocolate, and chicken liver cannoli with cocoa nibs and pickled cherries appeared on JBF menus.
The use of alternative bacon was also favored by chefs who cooked at the house this year.
“The popularity of bacon will never really go away, but the idea of curing and smoking and utilizing other proteins to approximate the richness of bacon, that seems to be on the rise,” she says, recalling plates that featured bacon made from octopus, duck and wild boar.
Deli fare was another reoccurring theme in 2015. Alon Shaya’s avocado pumpernickel toast with smoked whitefish and pink peppercorns was a hit among diners, as were dishes featuring elk pastrami and Wagyu brisket.
Trends to lookout for in 2016
North-Kelly predicts 2016 will be a big year for health and environmental sustainability — “both in the restaurant community and for home cooks as well,” she says.
One of the ways in which she sees this trend manifesting is through zero-waste cooking.
“There’s been this rising trend so far of nose-to-tail and root-to-stalk cooking that uses the whole animal or vegetable — something like a beet green pesto or a carrot top pesto — and using parts of the animal that are typically discarded. And we think that’s really going to continue picking up speed.”
On a similar note, North-Kelly predicts diners will see more vegetable and plant-based cooking.
“Not vegetarian, necessarily, but allowing vegetables to take center stage, rather than just being relegated to a side dish.”
The best of 2015
In addition to rounding up the top food trends of the past year, the editors at JBF reflected on their favorite dishes of 2015 and published a list of the top 15.
“It’s not that scientific: they end up being dishes that were really and truly delicious for us, that we really loved and that stuck with us throughout the year,” North-Kelly says.
Some were “exciting in their simplicity,” such as the Texas-style oven brisket from Louie Mueller Barbecue. Others landed on the list for unexpected ingredients, like Jeremy Fox’s raw beef with uni, sunchokes, shoyu and ramps.
“It’s always something that really resonates with us and sticks in our minds for months to come.”
Erin Clarke, from D.C.’s Casa Luca, prepared a dish that stayed with the experts for most of the year. Her sweet corn agnolotti with heirloom green tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts, black truffles and ham hock consommé made the top 15 list.
“One thing that really struck me was how it captured the essence of a comforting, stick-to-your-ribs cozy dish, while utilizing peak summer produce and keeping it really light and clean,” North-Kelly says.
“It had that essence of a rich, wintry dish with the stuffed pasta and the broth and the truffles, but it had really seasonal and summery ingredients that kept it bright.”