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Culinary Trends

By Allison Knott, Spring 2015
Ten years ago, kale was simply a garnish on the occasional restaurant plate. It wasn’t considered a “superfood” and, in fact, was mostly overlooked. Today kale is everywhere. It’s in salads and entrees, added to smoothies and juices, it’s even baked into chips. Kale is trendy. Many don’t associate the word ‘trendy’ with food; however, as the kale story shows, the culinary world is not only susceptible to trends, it welcomes them. Moving beyond the “meat and three” plates that have been the institution for so long, Chattanooga restaurants are embracing national trends and redefining Southern cuisine.

Trend #1: Fermentation and Smoking
Fermentation and smoking, practices once seen as a necessity, are now considered lost arts. Due to advances in technology and food preferences of modern society the need for these preservation techniques has been negated. And yet, they are making their comeback in popularity. Take, for example, 212 Market’s bison spring roll, which features housemade kimchee, a fermented vegetable dish native to Korea, or the smoked shiitake mushrooms at Flying Squirrel.  Easy Bistro features a smoked local pork belly on its menu, and St. John’s recently debuted a smoked Pickett’s Trout mousse with house saltines and pickled onions as an appetizer. Because of their rise in popularity, both forms of preservation are being taught through community classes by local restaurants. (A full list of upcoming workshops is available at www.growchattanooga.org/foodguide/events.)

Trend #2: Ancient Grains
Ancient grains such as farro, kamut, quinoa, and sorghum are also making an appearance on local menus. Quinoa, found at Flying Squirrel, is one of the few plants containing all nine essential amino acids, making it a perfect protein. Others, such as farro, found at St. John’s and Easy Bistro, are an excellent source of fiber at 7g per serving. Beyond their nutritional benefits, these ancient grains bring a diversity of flavor and texture to the culinary world. “When we are aware of what types of ancient grains are out there” says Dan Rose of Flying Squirrel, “we can be more versatile.”

Trend #3: Bitter Flavors
Bitter greens are a staple in traditional Southern cuisine, such as dandelion greens, turnip greens, collards, and arugula. But what about coffee rubbed filets or black radish pickles? According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, bitters are “used in cultures the world over to strengthen digestion, cleanse the body and build vitality—in short, considered an ingredient essential to good health.” Rebecca Barron, Executive Chef at St. John’s cites bitter flavors as an important part of their menu. Their palate of bitter greens goes so far as to include cardoon and cedar, both locally-sourced from Crabtree Farms, in ice cream as a digestif for a bitter twist on a typically sweet dessert.

Trend #4: Matcha
This powdered Japanese green tea is popping up in unexpected places. From cookies to fried chicken skins, matcha is a versatile addition to the food scene. A quick search on Instagram returned over 500 thousand results for matcha, and Bon Appetit magazine recently labeled it the “next big thing” in tea. According to advocates, matcha gives a caffeine boost without the jitters. Others claim the powdered tea boosts metabolism and may also calm moods. Though the research on matcha is not conclusive, its rising popularity is. Be on the lookout for this up-and-coming ingredient in your local dishes.
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While Chattanooga chefs keep a finger on the pulse of what is trending nationally, at the end of the day what’s trending in this region has a distinctive twist that is decidedly our own. Using local ingredients from area farms, chefs embrace national trends by incorporating flavors found within our region. “Local is the biggest asset we have,” says Erik Niel, Easy Bistro’s Owner and Executive Chef, “The food scene is all dependent upon our local farm scene.” He credits the local food movement for playing a key role in influencing people’s choices and palates. “Every now and then trends become a part of the mainstay. And the irony is,” says Neil, “the more recent trends are taking us back in time.”  Which, in this case, means back to the flavors, ingredients, and techniques of our Southern heritage.

Food trends keep the culinary world fresh and consumers excited about ingredients. These developments in particular have the ability to benefit consumer health, the local economy, and the environment. By embracing these trends, our local chefs are helping put Chattanooga on the map as one of the best places to eat in the South.  

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Allison Knott is a registered dietitian and nutrition communications expert. She is passionate about nutrition, wellness, and most of all, food. When she isn’t writing about food, you can find her creating new recipes in her kitchen or enjoying new foods in local restaurants. She loves running, swimming, cycling, ac1nd all things outdoors. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @allisonknottrd.