The next course
Local chefs whip up some predictions about what to expect in the new year, including molecular gastronomy, small pies, more Mexican, unusual fish, communal settings, and more
Tastes change. When we’re talking about restaurants, it’s literal. In recent years, we’ve focused on local and seasonal ingredients, becoming increasingly concerned with sustainability. We’ve hungered for comfort food and downsized to small plates. What will we see on menus and in restaurants in 2011? We spoke with several local chefs to find out what trends they’re spotting and what they’re excited about.
ANTONIO BETTENCOURT CHEF-OWNER OF 62 RESTAURANT & WINE BAR, SALEM
“The comfort food trend is starting to wane. Not every single restaurant that opens feels obligated to be doing macaroni and cheese. People are ready to start experiencing food again. They’ve started to spend money again, but they want it to be well spent. When I’m cooking, I think: This is someone’s money and I need to make it worth it for them.
“One dish on the menu that’s doing really well right now is snapper. It’s a fillet that’s pan-fried so its skin is nice and crispy. On the plate, we put down green olive tapenade, and we garnish the snapper with a salad of shaved fennel and spicy grapefruit. The grapefruit segments are pickled in vinegar, sugar, and Thai chilies. The dressing for the salad is the pickling liquid. It’s not a heavy dish, it’s not dumbed down. We also have a pork belly dish that’s really taken off. It’s braised in cider vinegar and brown sugar and served over spicy red cabbage salad. I’m in the suburbs north of Boston, and sometimes you get into that rut of thinking people just want basic stuff. Luckily, they’re telling me they don’t.’’
SARAH EWALD PASTRY CHEF AT BISTRO DU MIDI, BOSTON
“There’s a really big thing with small pies lately. It’s not something I’m particularly going to get into, but I have noticed whereas cupcakes were the big thing a few years ago, small pies are now.
“I really like to work with fresh fruit, and I’ve seen that quince has started to become more popular over the years. When I first started doing things with quince, people were like, What is this? Soon, bergamots are going to come into season. It’s a citrus fruit I don’t think many people know too much about. I’m hoping to get that in here and play around with it. Putting salt in desserts has become a trend. I like to put savory flavors into desserts as well. The use of herbs in desserts started to become more popular a few years ago. When I worked for Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] in New York, I really saw the boom of Asian flavors. Places are using things like shiso and more obscure flavors.’’
JAY SILVA CHEF AT BAMBARA, CAMBRIDGE “All the chemical stuff people are doing now — molecular gastronomy — we’re going to see that become a little more mainstream. People are more comfortable with it. Your average diner expects a little of that on the menu. I’m an older-style chef, and I like the classic preparations, but we’re playing around a little with doing sous-vide. We did a veal Oscar dish, a stuffed veal sous-vide style, and that came out really nice. We make our own herb powders — we had an herb garden this year. We’re doing fun stuff with desserts, with Pop Rocks and things like that as well.
“On a negative note, the fishing situation is becoming pretty bleak. It’s becoming more and more expensive because of regulation. Chefs are going to have to be a little more creative with what they serve and how they serve it. We try to be sustainable and adhere as much as possible to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. We had wild salmon on the menu for a long time, but the product was all over the road — some days it was great, some just OK. Now our sous chef goes down to the piers three times a week and we use the best fish available. It’s a little more work, but the end result is great. We use as much local stuff as we can. On menus in 2011, more and more people are really adhering to that. It’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for the bottom line.’’
JOSEPH MARGATE CHEF AT CLINK, BOSTON “The Internet changes everything. You know about what everyone else is doing, what’s out there. I feel a lot of Japanese ingredients are coming into the mainstream. It’s coming in and permeating things, like happened with Italian ingredients. Togarashi spice blend is being used differently, wasabi is being used differently. It’s not your usual wasabi-butter sauce kind of thing. It’s: How would you use fresh horseradish, then give it the wasabi treatment. I got a soba cutting knife for Christmas. My old chef John Sundstrom [at Lark in Seattle] got to know these people who are teaching soba noodle classes. There are people in Seattle or Los Angeles or New York who teach, so I’ll have to travel to do it.’’
DARREN CARBONE CHEF AT LA VERDAD, BOSTON “For Boston, this is the year of Mexican cooking and a modern approach to Latino cooking. The taqueria thing has been done, and it’s opened us up to elevating Mexican food. We don’t need to serve rice and beans with everything. At La Verdad, we haven’t taken carne asada or fish tacos off the menu, but we’re also trying to branch out into modern ideas. It’s not just about trying to do traditional chorizo con papas. We do a sweet potato puree with the chorizo, and a nopales salad. We do a seasonal guacamole that has pomegranate, roasted garlic, and basil. We do an enchilada that’s ground lamb picadillo in pasilla chilies with mole negro. It’s finished with a shaved tomatillo and jalapeno salad. We try to make the food a little cleaner and still present the origins of the dish.
“Many people are educated by the Chipotles of the world. It makes my job more interesting and challenging to try to get them to realize there’s more to Mexican food than burritos and tacos. We’re using ingredients such as jicama, chayote, baby cilantro, and Chihuahua cheese. Nopales are like Brussels sprouts were 20 years ago. If you make something good, no matter what it is, people are going to want to try it and expand their palates.’’
DEBORAH HANSEN CHEF-OWNER OF TABERNA DE HARO, BROOKLINE
“More and more, when I offer fish that are unusual in this country, we sell out before the night is over. Examples are razor clams, grilled fresh sardines from Spain, fresh anchovies, and salt cod. When I first opened the restaurant, there were a lot of ‘Ewws.’ Then it was, ‘OK, we’ll try that.’ Now I get calls: ‘Do you have anchovies today, or sardines today?’ It can be attributed to how depleted our fisheries are. We’re willing to eat razor clams again. Also, when I write on the specials list ‘razor clams from Duxbury,’ they’re more likely to sell out than if I just write ‘razor clams.’
“Now when I nudge people away from sweet, oaky, highly alcoholic wines into a slightly more restrained and even tart style, it is so well received. There’s one, Pena do Lobo, that’s from Ribeira Sacra. It’s an up-and-coming wine-producing region of Spain, definitely a region to watch. The wines are elegant and fresh, very expressive, with a lot of fruit but not sweet. People try it and say, ‘Wow, it’s so interesting. It’s not heavy, and there’s so much going on.’ They really get it in a way they didn’t used to. Everyone’s palate is tired of sweet.’’ MARK CINA CHEF AT THE INDEPENDENT, SOMERVILLE
“People are more aware of the sources their food is coming from — fish especially, more than anything else. On menus, it’s a draw when it says something is from this farm or that farm. People respond. I’m trying to work with farmers — it would be really cool to have whole animal dinners, whole pigs, whole lambs, and have someone come in and talk about the farm and what they do.
“As far as what people like to eat, the gastropub thing is obviously in full bloom. But what’s behind that is that people want to eat really good food in an environment that’s comfortable without paying $40 a plate. We’re trying to do a lot more small plates. People like to go to a bar and hang out. There’s a communal aspect. It’s not just about food and drinking but people getting together and enjoying each other’s company.’’
25 Edwin Land Blvd., Cambridge, 617-868-4444
Bistro du Midi
272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878
The Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St., Boston, 617-224-4000
1 Lansdowne St., Boston, 617-421-9595
62 Restaurant & Wine Bar
62 Wharf St., Salem, 978-744-0062
Taberna de Haro
999 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272
75 Union Square, Somerville, 617-440-6022
Interviews have been condensed and edited. Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.