As I write this piece on predicting the future of the Omaha food scene, I am biting chucks of bread off a warm baguette from the new French bakery, Le Petit Paris, the fantastic surprise addition to Le Voltaire. With my crusty yet full attention, I am finding it difficult making predictions about what is next for this progressive Omaha food scene. I still feel like I am in the year 2010, so looking into the crystal ball towards 2014, I see a smokey haze of what will be. Therefore, I think looking back at what we cherish most from our Omaha culinary community might be the best way to move forward.
First, as a woman who has spent her youth eating up Chicago, literally and figuratively, relocating to Omaha was a new food awakening. Being introduced to The Bagel Bin, La Casa, Big Fred’s, Jams, Lo Sole Mio and the bevy of great steakhouses was like meeting really good friends. Good friends that you never want to lose. These great restaurants are always there to fill your stomachs and create memories. To those Omaha standards that continue to thrive, you are the keepers of tradition and loyalty in our food scene. You have forged the road for what the current food scene is becoming. As things become clearer, I predict that many will remain as steadfast today and will live long and prosper well into our future.
Secondly, Omaha’s younger restaurants, the ones creating a food buzz in Omaha and in other cities as well, are all masterfully chef-driven. In the spirit of the celebrity chef, which is a new concept to the world at large, Omaha certainly has their own variety of celebrity chefs and many waiting in the wings to emerge (Ben Maides, Ben Jordan?). Take for example, chef Paul Kulik, driving
force behind Boiler Room and Le Boullion, who was cooking at La Buvette prior to his rise at the Boiler Room, when his culinary talent started to emerge. His unique take on how food is prepared and executed is creative and worldly and Omaha is glad to have his talents, allowing all of us to eat and feel a bit worldlier ourselves. Then we have the inventive and craftsman-style chef in Clayton Chapman of the Grey Plume who has graced the pages of Saveur and with his “green” sensibilities has made us more aware of our surroundings. Awarded the 2013 Cooking Light’s Trailblazing Award, Best Neighborhood Chef, super nice guy chef Joel Mahr of Lot 2 has created a farm to table menu that is creatively preserving our midwestern heritage. These chefs and many others not mentioned are revitalizing Omaha’s urban eateries. So as you sit in the lovely restaurant space of Lot 2 eating a yummy kale salad remind yourself that yes, I am in Nebraska.
Lastly, speaking of kale or rather where it came from, for when you read about trends for 2014, I am not sure the word “local” can be read loud enough. In my limited expertise, I would actually say that going local is more than a trend but a shift in the way we are thinking about food. Going local is how many folks are choosing to eat in at home as well as in restaurants. It’s the right thing to do for our communities and our health. If there is any way a restaurant can cook with locally sourced products, label their menus with local sources or support our local purveyors, I predict they will do it, if they aren’t already.
For this is the hottest and most mindful restaurant and food trend for 2014. This is what the National Restaurant Association says about local food: “Today’s consumers are more interested than ever in what they eat and where their food comes from, and that is reflected in our menu trends research,” Hudson Riehle, senior
vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, said in a statement. “True trends — as opposed to temporary fads — show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time, and focus on the provenance of various food and beverage items, unique aspects of how they are prepared and presented, as well as the dietary profiles of those meals.” I am sure in 2014 you will not have to look far for a restaurant supporting local and sustainable foods. Hopefully, all restaurants new and not so new will join the local food movement.
Oh the crystal ball is clearer to me as we look towards the Omaha food scene year 2014. We will continue to be loyal customers, supporting our favorite restaurants. We will admire and praise our innovative chefs that are driving our food scene into mainstream America while opening our eyes and mouths to new things. And our communities will continue to support the food we have growing around us, emphasizing its importance. But foggy still is the answer to what new restaurant, event, market, or ingredient will emerge in 2014? How about a Contemporary Mediterranean Bistro or a Vegetarian Mexican Restaurant? Will we see a resurgence of the Ramen noodle? Only time will tell.
Contributing Editor for Dish Omaha