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Big Beans
Let’s get this out of the way: With the economic downturn likely to continue through much of 2009, home cooking, of course, will be hot, so we’ll continue to see a rise in demand for easy, comforting recipes (if ever there was a time for the return of the casserole, this is it) and beginner cooking classes; big beans will be big (wherever you once saw baby limas, you’ll start seeing jumbo butter beans instead); and demand will increase for “necessary luxuries”—chocolate, wine, spirits, etc.—as a way for people to compensate for fewer meals out.
Ice Cream
On the sweets front, ice cream will supplant cupcakes as the cult dessert of the moment—expect to see more varieties made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, as well as more savory flavors. And with new artisanal brands popping up at breakneck speed, we’re about ready to declare chocolate saturation.
Goat Milk
The “neutraceutical market” is going to get huge. Look for more supplements to be added to alcohol; and probiotics will be stuffed into plenty of oddball foods, not just yogurt. Speaking of yogurt: Greek yogurt has already kicked things off, but goat’s-milk yogurt, sheep’s-milk yogurt, artisanal yogurt, and small-scale yogurt production are in prime position for their moment in the sun, and you can expect to see a new brand nearly every time you go into your local specialty food market.
Drinks at Home
Back to the booze for a minute: We may start to see “bitter blockers” in cocktails, and more small distillers will hit the market, hawking expensive vodka, gin, and absinthe (liquors that don’t have the added hassle of aging). Continued Mad Men buzz, mixology backlash, and the fact that alcohol doesn’t suffer from an economic downturn in the way other food categories do add up to the likely return of simple drinks at home.
Melamine contamination in Chinese food products made headlines in 2008, and the coming year will likely bring even more contamination cases: Although China has pledged to crack down on its dairy industry and the FDA has opened an inspection office in Beijing, the problem of contaminated fertilizer and animal feed extends far beyond China’s borders and will take years to solve. On the upside: While there’s no USDA rule for mandatory country-of-origin labeling on manufactured foods (yet), we’re definitely going to start seeing more food manufacturers using voluntary labels such as “Product of the U.S.A.”
School Lunches
School districts across the country will continue to limit fat, trans fats, sodium, and sugars in food sold or served to students; and we’ll see a boom in after-school and weekend programs designed to teach kids how to cook healthful foods. And, of course, more and more restaurants will begin listing calorie counts on their menus.
Amuse bouche
Get ready for the pre-amuse amuse-bouche. As the morsel that comes “compliments of the chef” becomes more and more banal (yet expected by customers), chefs will try this new twist to keep you enticed. At Cyrus, in Healdsburg, California, for example, chef Doug Keane is already giving diners five tastes before the amuse comes out. And in a continuation of a very annoying trend that emerged in 2008, more restaurants will stop honoring reservations unless you call them back a day ahead to “reconfirm.”
Korean Food
There will be an upswing in so-called “ethnic” restaurants, particularly Korean and Indian—two fantastically delicious cuisines that do not require lots of expensive ingredients. And we’ll see a continued parsing of Latino fare (not just Mexican but Salvadoran, Dominican, etc.) as the ingredients continue to become more readily available.
Prix fixe
You’ll be drowning in offers you can’t refuse. With the global economy entering full-blown recession, expect restaurants the world over—even top-notch ones—to continue finding ways to draw cash-strapped customers. In Madrid, for example, Michelin-starred La Broche is offering special prix-fixe menus at lunch, and at El Chaflan they simply lop 30 percent off your total bill. Restaurants at the lower end of the scale are taking even more dramatic steps: Barcelona and Gijon now both have places that offer a three-course menu del dia, including wine, for one euro.
Orient Express
Ecologically responsible tourism will continue to thrive, with governments stepping into the fray. The United Kingdom’s mandatory carbon-offset policy for air travelers (which levies a surcharge on each ticket purchased) is likely to expand significantly and serve as a model for other countries. Travelers will begin seeking environmentally friendly alternatives to air travel: Think “slow travel,” such as romantic train packages on the Orient Express, and Transiberian.
Two words: Iceland and Cuba. While international travel will decline in ’09, newly affordable Iceland will only heat up. The same is true for the rest of Scandinavia, which was once prohibitively expensive for American travelers. And under President Obama, it is likely that U.S. relations with Cuba will improve and travel restrictions may be eased, if not lifted completely. (The Caribbean island has long represented a kind of “forbidden fruit” to U.S. citizens, who will want to experience the country before globalization takes hold.) For those traveling within the United States, the hot urban destination is likely to be Chicago, thanks to the new first family.
Joe Beef
Hong Kong will go crazy for gourmet burger joints; Europe’s hottest new dining spots will be housed in boutique hotels (Expect to see more like the Nimb, in Copenhagen, and the Mama Shelter, in Paris); Mozambique is next up as the hottest destination in Africa; France will continue to flip for Japan; the salumi craze hits Australia; and Montreal will see more high-low flavor pairings (like foie gras and Cheese Whiz at Joe Beef).
Ruth Reichl
And a few long shots (really long)*: Eric Ripert will give up his chef’s whites for a career in movies (Julian Schnabel has already cast him in an as-yet-unnamed film loosely based on a hazy afternoon Schnabel spent having Camparis by the Bay of Biscay); Mattel will issue a Tony Bourdain action figure; and the local, seasonal, “taste the terroir” craze will reach a new level as chefs begin to sprinkle plates with tiny amounts of the dirt in which the vegetables they’re serving were grown.

*This last set of predictions is somewhat less than serious though we place none of them outside the realm of possibilities.
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