Top Food Trend Predictions for 2012 Slideshow

#16. President Mario Batali and Bobby "Brando" Flay

Jane Bruce

Not content to be confined by Food Network's "small-time" studios, chefs are going Hollywood. Batali is on The Chew (the first daytime "soup") and in movies; Colicchio, Chang, Dufresne, and Ripert were on Treme (partially written by Anthony Bourdain); Bobby Flay was on Entourage. (We won't mention Emeril's abortive sitcom years ago.) We know chefs are the new rock stars, and hey, some play guitar, but look for more more chefs in Hollywood, and more celebrities mingling with them. With their higher profiles, you've seen social activism exhibited by more successful chefs. Why not the late entry of a chef in politics? We saw the rise and fall of a former restaurant executive in politics. Why not a chef? Geoffrey Zakarian looks presidential lately...

#15. Arancini

Meatball madness was big in 2011. Top Chef contestant Dave Martin's The Meatball Factory, great D.C.-based French chef Michel Richard's "Balls," and other specialty shops abound, while meatballs in some form or another have become de rigueur on American menus everywhere. The trend hasn't reached bacon proportions yet — wait for turducken meatballs with curry peanut sauce to signify that. Wait, The Meatball Factory did that? Well, expect more anyway.

But we're also likely to see other round fingerfoods… above all arancini: little fried balls of risotto, either plain or filled with cheese or prosciutto or… we shudder to think. They're getting more visibility and have gone mobile in St. Louis. If I had had some seed money, I'd have opened my own shop already.

#14. Exotic Fish

We're not talking about raiding your tropical fish tank, but as concerns about overfishing of traditionally appreciated varieties continue, and industry players learn more about which fish are most successfully farmed, you may start seeing lesser-known fish — wild and otherwise — in your local fish market and on menus. Paiche, fugu, and toadfish for everyone!

#13. Jewish Food


Zahav started giving Israeli-inspired food a good name in Philadelphia a few years ago, but now with Kutsher's and Parm (Italian, but with Jewish flare) opening in New York City, expect Jewish (and Jewish-inspired) cooking of different kinds to be given a closer look. Wouldn't surprise us if goyim across the country serve brisket and matzoh balls for dinner on Christmas Eve 2012, with gefilte fish incorporated into the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

#12. More Neapolitan and Funky Pizzas

In 2010, The Daily Meal said 2011 would feature the return of the regular pie. Would that it were so.

In New York City at least, the dollar slice made inroads, if nothing else, and not for a quality effect (1-percenters aside, New Yorkers would be better served by D.C.'s jumbo slice taking root), and the pizza-as-Superbowl-dip-on-cardboard went national in the frozen food aisle. In fact, 2011 saw the demise of a New York regular-pie original, Famous Ray's of Greenwich Village. Sure, Grimaldi's came to Manhattan, so too did Zero Otto Nove, but Forcella brought fried pies to Williamsburg and the Bowery, and the Neapolitan craze continued to take over America.

So what's next from pizza? Look for more Neapolitan, crazier toppings, and funkier presentations. As evidenced by the mobile Neapolitan pizza operations by Roberta's and Pizza Moto, and in 2009 by IT consultant turned celebrated pizza-lebrity Paulie Gee, the tools and knowledge for how to make good pies are becoming more increasingly known. Of course, the return, nationwide, of the simply great slice joint, à la Joe's or South Brooklyn Pizza, would be nice.

#11. Moroccan Food


Paula Wolfert introduced Moroccan food to Americans 40 years ago with her classic Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. This year, she published what was supposed to be an update of it, but turned into a new book, deeper and even more delicious: The Food of Morocco. Also new was Iron Chef America winner and Michelin-star-holder (for his Aziza in San Francisco) Mourad Lahlou's stunning Mourad: New Moroccan. Coming soon is Mediterranean food expert Jeff Koehler's Morocco: A Culinary Journey. The food in these books is full of spices (though not spicy), healthy (grains and greens), and engaging. With this attention, it has a shot at becoming a (if not the) next big thing.

#10. Wild Greens

Celebrity vegetable farmers may not be popping up everywhere (though they are winning Beard awards) but foraging (and with it, an increased use of wild greens) isn't going anywhere. Neither are rooftop gardens. Expect someone in Portland, Ore., to convert his rooftop into a winter greenhouse where he grows fiddlehead ferns, collards, mustard greens, and purslane along with his garlic scapes, tomatoes, squash blossoms, and ramps all winter long.

#9. The Great Burger Migration

Arthur Bovino

Yes, the movement has been happening for years; burgers from different regions spreading out, infiltrating new markets, banging buns against new competitors, and testing hype against hamburger. But as the world gets smaller, America's regional burger favorites become even less location-specific. Five Guys' overhyped expansion continues, West-based Smashburger arrived in Brooklyn in 2011, beloved California original In-N-Out planted a flag in Dallas, and L.A. darling Umami Burger just inked a deal to go national and open 25 locations by 2013. 2012 will see more West Coast burgers making eastern inroads, and at some point, the beginning of the end for West Coast hype: Danny Meyer's superior, rapidly expanding Shake Shack chain will finally open in a city with an In-N-Out. Dogs and cats living together; mass hysteria may ensue.

#8. Reservations with Many Reservations

Many hot new restaurants either don't accept reservations (love means never having to say you're sorry, and high demand means never having to promise anybody a table) or accept them only on their own terms (hey, whatever's most convenient for you, guys) — you know, like, "Reservations are accepted only by Skype, exactly 49 days and 6 hours ahead of time, unless the moon is full, in which case…" More and more, too, you'll see successful restaurants refusing to accept reservations for parties less than four and also bowing out of Open Table or whatever Google-powered Open Table killers there are on the horizon.

#7. Food Halls

Big open complexes combining eating with retail food shopping, food halls have long been a European staple (take, for example, famous ones at Harrod's in London and KaDeWe in Berlin). Dino De Laurentiis, Giada's grandfather, tried to bring the idea to America in the '80s with DDL Foodshow, but the project flopped. Macy's and other department stores have flirted with the concept for years, but never committed wholly. Then, in 2010, New York City suddenly had Todd English in The Plaza (expanding), and, months later, Eataly. More Eatalys are coming — Mario Batali plans to open five more in the next 10 years, and other entrepreneurs have taken notice of the success. Expect more of these operations in other big cities and the trend's inevitable culmination: Ron Burgundy-style turf battles between teams of celebrity chefs who have joined forces to open food halls across the street from each other.

#6. Alternative Iconic Sandwiches

Arthur Bovino

The sandwich doesn't always have the iconic power and allure of one of its subgenres, the burger (which is a sandwich, for crying out loud), but it has hardly been forgotten. Chefs have been feeling the need to open up their own burger and sandwich joints for years, but some of the classics have been a little taken for granted in favor of trendier staples like the Cubano.

Consider that it was only with Torrisi's turkey sandwich a few years ago that people started talking about turkey sandwiches again. Among other alternative iconic renditions, expect the French Dip (already at Minetta Tavern), chicken parm, and club sandwiches to make comebacks, and for the trend to jump the shark, with mothers packing pickled herring smørrebrød, chorizo bocadillos, and towering multi-ingredient Dagwoods for their bougie kids.

#5. Miami Is the New Las Vegas

In years past, while every major chef (even some big-deal French ones) seemed to be opening up a spot in Vegas, you started to see a trickle of outposts of big chefs and restaurants also making their way to Miami — Daniel, Mr. Chow, Hakkasan. Well, that was just the beginning. Danny Meyer opened a Shake Shack there last June, and has another one planned for Coral Gables; Andrew Carmellini has just opened a branch of The Dutch there, and José Andrés's first post-L.A. Bazaar is underway. Can Eataly be far behind?

#4. Gluten-Free… and the Backlash

You started to see it happening towards the end of last year, the "Rise of the Gluten-Free." And while it's likely that the gluten-free trend — and we're talking the trend here (the "I'm tired of being lactose-intolerant, because then I can't have a Frappuccino with whipped cream, so maybe I'll try gluten-free because they even make brownies that way now" thing), not the medical condition that some are afflicted with — is going to continue to go mainstream, 2012 may begin to see a bit more backlash against it. Can your system really not tolerate something you've been eating without ill effect for 35 or 40 years, or is this just another way of making yourself feel special? (Hey, just asking.)

#3. X Is the New Cupcake

In the past few years, people have tried to identify all kinds of desserts as the cupcake's successor: pies, doughnuts, ice cream, Twizzlers, you name it (macarons came closest in 2011, but, well, they're French).  And all the while, the humble little cupcake itself continued its evil quest for world domination. New cupcake places opened in cities already rife with them, and they expanded into new municipalities that hadn't previously succumbed to their crumby frosting; they even took over some culinary competitions on TV.

The truth is, God willing, nothing will ever be the next cupcake. Pie is seasonal (so too are ice cream and frozen yogurt), doughnuts have always been around so are hardly news, cake is for birthdays, and cream puffs had their shot (though some of us still mourn Beard Papa's closing). Nonetheless, you can be sure that some confection or other will try to stake its claim this year. (Our bet for the next contender? Cookies — especially sandwich cookies. But they're not cupcakes.)

#2. Fast-Food Reinventions

Jane Bruce

In 2010, the over-the-top fast-food trend really got some attention (consider the KFC Double Down). In 2011, all kinds of other eyepopping, gutbusting examples followed suit. But we're also starting to see fast-food joints trying to reinvent themselves (and in some cases succeeding, at least in their advertising). Papa John's and Domino's went artisanal, and Wendy's and Taco Bell went back to the basics. In 2012 you can expect more over-the-top ridiculousness, but also more introspection about the basics. 

#1 Nordic Cuisine

Wikimedia Commons/Antissimo

René Redzepi's Noma took over the mantle of "world's best restaurant" from elBulli in 2010, and you've already seen the Noma effect take hold, not just all over Scandinavia (shrimp with rhubarb jelly and buttermilk–horseradish granita in Reykjavik!), but even in America — and you can expect the trend to continue and strengthen. Be on the lookout for cured fish, lingonberries, foraged beach plants, exotic proteins like snow grouse and reindeer, and aquavit cocktails.