In what has become our annual tradition, The Reader looks forward with a weary yet hopeful eye at what food trends and flashes in the pan await us in the new year. While food costs and supply-chain issues continue to be driving factors in the culinary climate, curious and creative chefs, tech solutions and technique promise that Omaha dining will always be an experience to savor.
This one may seem far flung at first blush, but as travel becomes a less easily attainable goal for many, expect tech to step in. After all, the Metaverse and remote-attendance are taking the place of in-person education, health care, and group fitness classes. While we are edging ever closer to the virtual reality of “Total Recall,” one simply cannot remote-digest a meal. Rather, expect to have your experience
downloaded while you dine. Look for theme meals that will transport you to the farthest reaches of the planet, and beyond. Dine in Italy, in Omaha. But why stop there? A meal on the moon? In the past? The future? When your destination is downloadable, there is no limit to how you can experience whatever happens to be before you.
While the very grownup version of a lunchable has enjoyed its Renaissance, there’s a new snack board in town. Chefs and artists are having a heyday with the presentation and are creating charcuterie celebrating everything from butters to biscuits. You will find yourself anything but bored with a flatbread, nut butter, or bonbon board to take
to your next gathering. Grazing boards may house fruits, nuts, jam flights, cheeses and breads, while savory spreads may feature sizzling meats, roasted garlic, and flavorful dipping oils and vinegars.
The butter board is of particular interest to me, as compound butters turn a slab into a veritable melting pot of flavors. Think fondue, sans flame. Swipe crusty breads, hot meat, or if buttered noodles are the dish du jour, serve your board with a variety of hot pastas.
Don’t Call it a Depression
As high-demand ingredient prices continue to skyrocket, expect to see many chefs and cooks reaching back into grandma’s bag of tricks to keep food flavorful. This will mean using a lot of slow-cooking techniques to develop flavors, overnight marinades to soften tough cuts of meat, and wasting absolutely nothing. Expect smaller cuts of meat on the menu, while all-day soup specials and creative rice incarnations take the entrée. While getting creative with a budget meant throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a Jell-O mold in historically hard times, culinary creativity has come far. Food science has unlocked countless cooking techniques to get the most out of everything from vegetable peelings to cheese rinds.
Out-of-control food waste has been a drag on landfills for years, but now that food costs are climbing (due, in part, to said waste) people are starting to think outside the box. Or, inside it rather. The to-go box, at least. While food rescues like Saving Grace have been doing their best to collect leftovers from farms, grocers, and restaurants before they’re thrown out, many restaurants can’t afford to lose that revenue at the
end of the day.
Tech is providing a solution to this problem as well, with apps like Too Good To Go, Karma, and FoodCloud putting food rescue right in your hands. Grab great discounts on the last of the day’s donuts, split a produce share your household won’t manage to get through, or pick up leftovers from local restaurants and score a great discount while taking a bite out of the climate crisis.
Comfort eating may be a habit you’re trying hard to break, but food like mom used to make can be the key to self-care when just about nothing else is working. Nostalgic dishes are more needed than ever, and “nothing fancy” may be just the luxury you’ve been looking for. TikTok trends are putting cream-of-everything back on the menu, and
casseroles are quickly becoming haute cuisine. While communicable diseases may have removed family style dining from the menu in most gathering places for the foreseeable future, casseroles bring all of the comfort of sharing a meal without the cringe of sharing germs.
Costs Continue to Rise
It turns out that humans believe they should be able to pay rent and buy food on the wages they make working all day. With that, restaurants are having a harder time keeping staff without imposing costs on their clients. The tipping system has always been flawed, and allowing diners to skimp on tips because of an over-cooked steak or a cold cup of coffee is not only archaic, but it’s more power than consumers should
hold in the first place. That said, expect an upcharge on your dining-out experience as owners scramble to cover rising costs and still pay a living wage to the person bringing you your third water refill while you peruse the menu.
The Biggest Change
That, I’m afraid, is going to have to be on us. Making the decision to support local every chance we get matters, every single time. Buying gift certificates to local small businesses, ordering the appetizer and always tipping on pre-discounted totals, and putting an end to food waste and shipping costs are all steps we can take every day to support the local culinary culture for which Omaha is proud to be known.