Variety adds spice

Variety adds spice

Here’s to the dawn of a transformational era marked by an overarching interest in food that has a purpose, a story, and a strong underpinning of health, writes Neeta Lal

Buddha bowl

The year of the pandemic ushered in a tectonic shift in the Indian food industry upending old eating habits, dining patterns, and kitchen rules. Some of the leading chefs predict that 2021 will see the dawn of a transformational era even as hotels/restaurants learn to work with new protocols and a neo-reality.

Back to roots

According to award-winning Masterchef Vinod Saini, who specialises in Indian cuisine, 2020 marked a paradigm shift towards local ingredients and ‘back to roots’ recipes. “People had become cautious about their well-being like never before and adopted healthier lifestyle changes. These trends will scale up in 2021,” elaborates the chef.

“There will be an augmented focus on locally sourced ingredients, clean flavours, and dishes packed with immunity-boosting powers. Awareness about the importance of seasonal vegetables is increasing and I foresee domination of seasonal dishes in hotel/restaurant menus in 2021,” predicts Saini.

Regional & traditional

Another upcoming trend, he adds, will be of cooking regional cuisine using traditional cooking ware such as iron woks and skillets which add nutritional value to the dishes. “Farm to fresh has taken the world by storm and it is here to stay. All these interests will surge in the new year along with veganism with people switching from dairy to almond and soy milk,” elaborates Saini.

Celebrity chef Neeraj Tyagi opines that touchless dining experiences with shorter and digitalised menus e.g., QR code-based menus will be a significant trend this year. “Buffets will take a backseat and innovative concepts like bringing the marketplace into the restaurant with a philosophy of ‘You choose, we cook’ will be popular. This will allow guests to choose from a repertoire of fresh and organic raw materials/ingredients for their dishes as well as the cooking and cuisine style ­—Indian, Asian or continental. Chefs can then cook sumptuous dishes as per the guests’ preference,” he elaborates.

The veteran adds that there will be an uptick in demand for food delivery with innovative recyclable packaging. “Monochromatic dishes are in trend, heritage cooking is back with an accent on homely food. We have started a Home Chef series which promotes home-style cooking and fermented food is also in demand now due to its healthfulness,” adds Tyagi.

All’s well

Newer types of cuisine — Nikkei cuisine, a blend of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines — will see a heightened interest. Given the still lurking threat of Covid-19 and its newer strains, hotels/restaurants will have an obsessive preoccupation with frequent hand washing, sanitisation of vegetables, social distancing, and usage of masks/gloves, forecasts Tyagi.

Executive Chef Sahil Arora emphasises that holistic wellness, one of the defining trends in the pandemic year, will rule making people more mindful of good nutrition and a strong immune system. “Holistic wellness cuisine offers vibrant, fresh, and delicious culinary options that target the five senses to facilitate healthy living. We’ve also witnessed a growing preference for dishes with nutrient-dense, organic, and sustainably-sourced ingredients. This trend will dominate 2021 as well.”

In addition, adds Arora, demand for ‘experiential culinary moments’ or meals that engage all the five senses through mindful eating will pique customer interest. “People are increasingly preferring to eat clean. Heavily processed, sugary cheat meals will be replaced with smoothie bowls, Buddha bowls, booster shots, salads, and dishes infused with beta carotene, Vitamins C and D, and zinc. Local businesses promoting gut-health have evolved healthy eating with fresh home-delivered probiotics like Kefir, Kimchi, and Kombucha. Plant-based meats are appearing on menus in renowned restaurants around the world and the trend will continue,” he adds.

Executive Chef Davinder Kumar asserts that given people’s altered lifestyle and culinary priorities due to the pandemic, health-driven ingredients, farm to fork cooking and food with fresh, seasonal, and locally grown ingredients will rule tables. Farmers' markets and chefs having their own gardens will become popular supporting local economies and zero-mile foods while whittling down atmospheric pollution.

Small is beautiful

“The year 2020 taught many of us that home cooking can be fun and enjoyable. We will thus see a preference for pre-made meal kits/health food boxes that save time but still allow one to cook/eat healthy at home. Home chefs' concepts will also be in trend, predicts the chef. “Culinary techniques will be simpler. People will optimise resources while incorporating local produce and gut-friendly and healthier spices, herbs, olive oil etc,” adds Kumar. Menus will be smaller and rotated as per seasonal tastes. ‘Petit Plates’ (Small portions) will be popular. However, food companies will need to be careful of their messaging to avoid making health claims not backed by science. They need to be unambiguous, transparent, and honest about their products, cautions Kumar.

Culinary experiences manager Aman Khanna opines that the year 2020 marked the dawn of new experiences. “People loved being involved in the dining process and were curious about what goes into their food and how it is cooked. This has led to the growth of show/open kitchens. “The pandemic has further boosted this trend because people want the reassurance that their food is being cooked hygienically,” avers Khanna. “Kitchens are often high-stress environments. Vibrant, bright, lively kitchens with more calming colours and safety have thus become the new requirement to make the space more friendly and workable.”

Restaurateur Ankur Arora Kebaburry predicts that with people’s abiding interest in eating good food, there will be a heightened interest in 2021 among foodies to source the best gourmet food at their doorsteps. “Food delivery will play a defining role in the coming year, whether it is DIY kits, ready-to-eat meals, or high-quality gourmet delights,” he adds.

Fresh, sustainable, preservative-free, and slow-cooked dishes will rule customer choices.