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December 27, 2013

What’s up, Chef? Next year’s food trends are old stuff here

Is this town trendy or what? For foodies, I mean. I understand Louisville has the reputation as a place where the latest fashion trends arrive five years after they’re oh-so dead in New York.

But when it comes to food, if the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Culinary Forecast is any guide, we’re not only on top of most national eats trends but we also have already seen a few of them crest, surf over the top and fall back.

The Top 20 list, based on a poll this past autumn of nearly 1,300 members of the American Culinary Federation, mostly chefs, invited them to rate 258 items as likely “hot trends,” “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favorites” in the coming year. “Once again,” reports the ACF, “locally sourced meat, seafood and produce remain at the top of the trends ...”

Really. This is such old news in the Derby City that I feel a little embarrassed about writing it down. “Environmental sustainability” scored high with the chefs, too, no surprise to Louisville foodies, as did “children’s nutrition,” and there, perhaps, we’ve got some room to grow, although the estimable Food Literacy Project is effectively leading that charge here.

Let’s take a closer look at some of ACF’s top predicted menu trends for 2014. How do we fit in?

Locally sourced meats and seafood: They’re kidding us, right? This has been a trend in Louisville since Lilly’s opened in the mid ’80s, and just about all the recent arrivals are merrily joining the chase. At El Camino, we love the Birria de Borrego with its braised local lamb. Frankly, I sometimes wonder how the handful of local farms produce enough meat to provide all these eateries and still have anything left for the farmers markets!

Locally grown produce: See above. I think they are kidding us. I’m trying hard to think of a recent arrival in NuLu, for instance, that doesn’t celebrate the locavore. Who doesn’t put a farm name on their broccoli and rutabagas? Harvest even posts a map with its farmer suppliers’ faces and locations!

Hyper-local sourcing: I’m not sure what makes the difference between local and hyper-local, but I’m thinking the chefs at Porcini and Volare, among others, who grow their own veggies and herbs, probably qualify for “hyper.” Check out the lush herb garden behind Rye. Or fork into a slab of tofu made right in the dining room at Roots/Heart & Soy.

“The fact of the matter is, locally, we have been on the forefront of local sourcing and sustainability for quite some time,” Chef Dan Thomas, president of ACF’s Kentucky Chapter, wrote in a LouisvilleHotBytes.com forum post. “Maybe that’s why this seems like old news.”

Thomas points out, too, that Louisville didn’t score highly on all of the 200-plus trend-setting ingredients, preparations and methods listed on the survey. OK, OK, we’ll give them the local seafood. Nobody really wants Ohio River catfish. But ask the good folks at Shuckman’s Fish Co. and Smokery about the joys of Kentucky spoonfish caviar and other good stuff.

Moving right along, I’m not sure non-wheat noodles and pasta have caught on yet, outside of buckwheat soba noodles at some Japanese spots and the quirkier corners of Lotsa Pasta and Rainbow Blossom — but let’s give Seviche props for leading the charge to sustainable seafood.

Then, gaze deeply down into the obscure sub-categories on the trends list, and we see still more friendly Louisville food faces looking back at us.

House-made soft drinks? Hello, Cake Flour! Gimme some fresh raspberry cream soda, please!

Half-portions for half-price? That’s a long-standing deal at Café Lou Lou, Caffe Classico and others.

Vegetarian appetizers? A hearty “Yo!” to Earth Friends Café, Roots/Heart & Soy, Four Sisters and many more.

Non-traditional fish? Shed a tear for the fresh Mediterranean branzino at the late, lamented Primo, and, of course, Seviche, which also leads the way in the sustainable seafood category.

New cuts of meat ... tri-tip? Hello? Hasn’t Louisville’s Karem’s been doing its famous tri-tip triangle steak since some time around 1957?

Some things probably just won’t work here: For instance, slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri could begin “processing” horses soon, after a federal court recently removed a ban that had been in place since 2007. Sorry, but we just don’t see folks in the Derby City chowing down on Flicka or Mr. Ed any time soon. (One of the affected abattoirs, by the way, was in Roswell, N.M. You can cue the “Twilight Zone” theme now.)

If you just can’t get enough of this stuff, you can find all 209 trends, sub-categories and the breakdown of chef voting, in this 14-page document online: http://goo.gl/x1AVs1.