The year 2020 has been one of isolation, countless Zoom meetings and way too much homemade banana bread.

So, hello 2021! With a brand-new year come glimpses of hope for better days — and in the food world, that means new trends to put on your radar.

Here’s what some industry experts are telling us.

Restaurant trends

Shane Lyons, a chef with a 20-year career in the restaurant industry who now operates a hospitality consultation business, believes these uncertain times are “an opportunity for chefs and restaurant owners to reinvent their business model.” He also expects more restaurants to close.

“But it will level out,” he said. “People still want to spend. They aren’t traveling. They are more educated about food — where it comes from, how it’s grown. And they want quality above all else.”

Lyons believes ghost kitchens — restaurants that prepare delivery-only meals for one or more eatery concepts out of their kitchen — are here to stay.

“Real estate is expensive,” he said. “It’s more cost effective to run five or six concepts from a kitchen with a smaller kitchen staff. And owners are figuring out how to do deliveries with their own employees to avoid the high cost of third-party delivery systems, which can take 30 percent of their profits.”

Forget chefs’ tasting menus, pricey meals made up of samples of a chef’s signature dishes.

“They were on the decline already,” he said. “Customers … want a bang for their buck. They are not interested in a chef’s experiment with food and overcharging.”

Takeout, Lyons believes, is here to stay.

“People are finding takeout is satisfying,” he said. “What’s really exciting is that people are cooking more. They are getting used to takeout but not necessarily every night. They are cooking for themselves and families. Some of the fondest memories are cooking with family.”

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Food trends

DoorDash’s 2020 State of Flavor Report details the top food trends of the year and what to expect in 2021. The third-party delivery company gathered data from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 of last year.

The food of the year was chicken fingers and french fries. With more time at home, breakfast was a popular delivery option too — with sausage, egg and cheese on a biscuit having a 2,072% increase over the previous year. Coffee drinks made the list too.

Comfort food used to be the name of the game. From customer surveys, though, the tide is changing, with 72 percent of Americans planning to eat healthier in the new year. According to the report, 47% responded that they plan to eat more plant-based foods. The report showed a 456% increase in black bean tacos and a 225% increase in plant-based burgers in order frequency.

Dusty Hernandez, who opened Santana’s Vegan Grill in 2018, started offering the plant-based Beyond Burger at his repurposed parking lot coffee kiosk. By 2019, he had outgrown the kiosk and opened a larger sit-down eatery with a drive-up window, and his business has continued to cook along, even during the pandemic.

Having a “fast drive-through” model has helped, he said, and “eating plant food continues to grow.”

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More trend reports

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants manages more than 75 restaurants, bars and lounges across major metropolitan cities, resort destinations and up-and-coming markets in the United States and around the world. It publishes a food and beverage report annually.

It found that in 2020, there was a surge in restaurant orders of dishes that guests couldn’t prepare as easily at home, such as prime rib, roast duck, freshly shucked oysters and paella. Also popular were ready-to-cook takeout meal kits.

Similar to DoorDash’s report, Kimpton’s predicts that comfort food will fade in 2021 and be replaced by health food. It notes a growing interest in fresher ingredients and more vegan and vegetarian options.

JL Fields, local vegan cookbook author, cooking school owner and culinary coach, has had a front-row seat to these new interests.

“I can tell you that my online classes were jammed with nonvegans for 26 weeks in 2020,” she said. “And the trend I’m noticing is that ‘houses divided’ are trying to come together. One member wants to eat plant-based and as a family, they are trying to find a way to create meals that are a vegan base that the nonvegans can tweak.”

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Ingredients tried and true

McCormick & Co has tracked ingredient flavor trends for two decades in their Flavor Forecast report. This past year their researchers reflected on the evolution of the most influential flavors, culinary trends and recipes for a celebratory 20th edition report. Here’s a look at McCormick Flavor Forecast — Looking Back to Look Forward themes:

• Sweet & Seasonal Satisfaction — In 2010, pumpkin pie spice was identified in the Flavor Forecast “Always in Season” trend and since then has seen a 207% increase in food and drink retail product names. Their research indicated that people were drawn more to the spice element than they were the flavor profile of pumpkins, and the versatility of the pumpkin pie spice perfectly lends itself to sweet and savory dishes.

• Spicy (R)evolution — In 2014, chamoy was featured in the “Mexican World Tour” trend when people were craving new aspects of the bright, casual cuisine of Mexico. This condiment is made from pickled fruit, lime, spice and chilies and is most used as an ingredient in appetizers, entrees and drinks, such as spicy margaritas and micheladas. McCormick report states chamoy has seen a 1,115% increase in U.S. menu mentions between 2014 to 2020.

• Global Finds — In 2013, North African dukkah was forecasted for its satisfying flavor and distinct texture. This simple mix of toasted nuts and seeds can be customized to be salty, sweet or spicy. Typically sprinkled on olive oil-dipped pita bread, it’s delicious with vegetables, pasta and rice, or rubbed onto seafood and meats before cooking. Simply put, dukkah can’t be stopped; there has been a 267% increase in menu mentions of the spice since 2013.

• Empowered Eating & Drinking — Turmeric emerged in the 2003 Flavor Forecast and then again in 2016, within the “Blends with Benefits” trend. Since appearing in the report, use of this colorful spice continues to grow, with a 253% increase in food and drink retail product names over the past six years. Blended with cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg, turmeric goes great in smoothies, drinks and baked goods.

Whether you choose to indulge in yesterday’s guilty comfort-food pleasure or are planning a feel-good meal of veggies, we wish you happy eating in 2021.

Contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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