Top 25 Food Trends of 2012 Slideshow

#25 Artisanal Condiments

It's not as though it has never been done, but it's being done more. A growing number of chefs serve in-house, scratch-made condiments, and packaged artisanal versions like Sir Kensington's Ketchup have been popping up. And why not? It's not difficult, it shows an attention to detail, and such riffs on the elemental can be pretty memorable.

#24 Celebrity Chefs Do Cruises

The trend started a few years ago, and was somewhat crystalized with Food Network chefs setting out to sea in 2010, but this year it really began to take off. Nobu got a cruise. So did Richard Blais and Fabio Viviani. Others on board included Hubert Keller, Tim Love, Jennifer Carroll, Tiffany Derry, Chris Hanmer, Michael Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa, and Casey Thompson.

#23 Reinvented Food and Drink Vending Machines/ATMs

It may very well have started in 2006 with the pizza ATM, but this year saw ATMs that serve cupcakes and others that serve caviar. The automat may be gone forever, but lobster rolls, soufflés, and martinis to your preference could be coming soon to a vending machine near you.

#22 Brown Booze for Everyone

Dark spirits may not be the newest trend, but scotch, bourbon, cognac, and others continued to lure drinkers to the dark side. But really, 2012 was the year of whiskey: whiskey-flavored liqueurs, new ryes, and new single-barrel bourbons all made waves this year. And more craft whiskey distillers are cropping up from California to Vermont, all promising new blends and single malts to drool over. Whiskey and other dark spirits will continue to lure drinkers (not including Spanish chefs) wanting to stray from more boring tipples like gin and tonic (though that's been going artisanal, too).

#21 Celebrity Chefs Go Hollywood


It didn't take a brain surgeon or a fortune-teller last year to tell people to expect to see more chefs in Hollywood, and more celebrities mingling with them. But indeed, the trend marched on, most obviously with HBO's Treme, where among others, David Chang and Emeril Lagasse showed up. You know of course that the logical conclusion to all this will be Guy Fieri playing opposite Ryan Reynolds in a buddy film. 

#20 More Neapolitan and Funky Pizza

Neapolitan pizza has been taking over the country for years. And 2012 featured new places opening up with wood-burning ovens and D.O.C. pies. In New York City, double-certified pizza master Giulio Adriani (a master teacher of the American branch of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) has gone so far as to serve deep-fried montanara pizza and burgers served on buns made of pizza dough. The $1 pizza wars in New York continue (if that's not funky pizza, what is?), and with Michael White's Nicoletta, Wisconsin pizza (?) has even splashed onto the scene. The Neapolitan and funky pizza train stops for no one. 

#19 Big Beer Tries to Craftify

Craft beer became so trendy in 2012 that the "big beer" companies, like Anheuser-Busch, tried to get in on the game. Try the limited-edition sampler six-pack of "Project 12" beers from Budweiser, which come from different recipes from Budweiser brewmasters, or the higher-alcohol "Black Crown" brew, also from Bud.

#18 Restaurants Harvesting Their Own Food

It's nothing new, but restaurants continue to support the super-locavore trend, when they can, growing things in-house. Not everyone can follow the Blue Hill at Stone Barns or French Laundry models, where acres are used to grow vegetables and raise animals (or even Tom Colicchio's Riverpark, with its rooftop garden by the F.D.R.), but rooftop (and other) gardens proliferated and the ethos behind them is flourishing, too.

#17 Reservations with Many Reservations


Restaurants have been in a pickle with established online reservation systems for a while. Huge, established sites like OpenTable have large customer bases, and the alternative sites, while they might be great, still don't. It puts the restaurants who'd like an OpenTable alternative in the position of having to put their money where their mouths are. Eventually somebody will figure this all out, whether that means the restaurants themselves (who may increasingly either not take reservations, or opt to create their own systems), or new sites like the Food Network-powered CityEats, which can provide restaurants with the reservation technology they need with less maintenance hassle.

#16 Nordic Cuisine

The buzz surrounding Copenhagen's Noma (helmed by The Daily Meal's 2011 International Chef of the Year, René Redzepi), still on top of San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants in the World list, led to the inevitable invasion of America by Nordic cuisine. Last year's The Bachelor Farmer in the Twin Cities was followed this year in New York by Acme, Aska (né Frej), and Aamanns-Copenhagen. There will be more to come, but the most potentially exciting Nordic contribution to American cuisine is still to come: real Scandinavian pastry. There's a reason they call them danishes.

#15 More Food Websites

Preexisting food sites continued expanding to new cities (The Daily Meal included), and there were 2012 launches of new food sites like the Food Network-powered CityEats and The Braiser. Which begs the question: What food bubble?

#14 X Is the New Cupcake

Every year, we look for the next hot one-item dessert trend. And every year, we're reminded that these things don't follow the calendar year. Cupcakes have been king for what seems now like forever, and prognosticators have predicted that everything from ice cream sandwiches to cookies, pies, or donuts will take their place. But let's call 2012 the year of the macarons. They're nowhere close to cupcakes yet, but they're gaining...

#13 The Great Burger Migration

America's great iconic burger migration continued in 2012, with In-N-Out and Umami moving east, chains like Five Guys and Smashburger continuing to expand, and of course Danny Meyer's highly successful Shake Shacks proliferating like a bunch of burger-slinging Starbucks. We're waiting for the ultimate showdown: In-N-Out and Shake Shack in the same city. Shake Shack San Francisco?

#12 High-End Chefs Open Lowbrow Comfort Joints

Michael White opened a pizza place, April Bloomfield debuted a taco joint, Paul Kahan started turning out sandwiches at his Publican Quality Meats butcher shop, and Bobby Flay's Bobby's Burger Palace expansion continued (he's up to a dozen), and these are hardly the only high-profile chefs who have launched comfort food joints. Whether or not any of these endeavors are going to get franchised is a good question, but meanwhile new ones keep appearing all the time.

#11 West Coast Asian Phenom Migration

Trendy, cult-followed West Coast Asian restaurants Pok Pok and Mission Chinese completely skipped the flyover states and headed straight to New York City in 2012. We're waiting for Jitlada and Yank Sing — but meanwhile, if these Asian places can migrate east, why can't anyone do a La Taqueria-quality Mission burrito on the Right Coast?

#10 Gluten-Free World

Gluten-free foods went even more mainstream in 2012. You started to see it happening toward the end of 2010, but the movement has taken off to the point that now you're starting to see gluten-free sections on menus at pizzerias (!) and at restaurants good enough that they don't need to chase the trend. 

#9 Restaurant Critics: Fortune and Failure

Critics were imperiled (Brett Anderson was fired and then asked back to the Times-Picayune, Gael Greene was dropped by Crain's, and Lee Klein was let go from the Miami New Times), but also — see Jonathan Gold's movie deal — raised to new heights. What does the future hold for newspaper restaurant criticism? Who knows? But in a world where Marilyn Hagerty can become nationally famous for reviewing an Olive Garden is a small Midwestern city, we can't help wondering if it really matters.

#8 Craft Beerification of America

From Oregon to the South, the craft beer trend continues to, er, chug along. And is it any wonder? The craft beer industry hit a milestone this year, when 2,000-plus breweries were in business — the most breweries that have ever operated simultaneously in the U.S. Though it may not seem like they’re just about 6 percent of the beer industry (Jim Koch of Boston Beer Co. once told our Drink editor Marcy Franklin that the total sales of Samuel Adams beer was on par with something called Bud Light Ice — a brand we didn't even know existed), the industry continues to evolve. With local ingredients, new seasonal offerings, and a serious dedication to the craft of beer-making, they'll continue to thrive and we'll continue to clink our glasses to them. 

#7 Mexican Fascination

Everyone from the Adrià brothers to Applebee's is doing Mexican, or just tacos, or some kind of fusion involving this cuisine. Some places, like New York City's overhyped Empellón Cocina have become critics' darlings. The irony is that a lot of chefs are trying their well-schooled hand at the kind of food that their prep cooks make better every day for the staff family meals. Someday, when we get a reasonable immigration policy, maybe these behind-the-scenes cooks will be able to open their own places and we'll find out what this food is really all about.

#6 Food Trucks

Everyone keeps predicting the death of food trucks. Why? Because folks are tired of what was a cutting-edge trend a few years ago? Some food trucks may have gone brick-and-mortar, but the ones on wheels aren't going anywhere. They're a great way for entrepreneurs to start their own restaurants without the standard overhead, and they're now reaching parts of the country some long-established food sites have barely even heard of. 

#5 Asian Fascination

The fascination of non-Asians with Asian food is nothing new, but the phenomenon really seemed to gain ground in 2012 with Asians and non-Asians alike opening new more-or-less Asian restaurants and supermarket cases increasingly crowded not just with suspect sushi but with frozen dim sum, pad thai, and saag paneer alike. And then there's The New York Times restaurant critic, Pete Wells, whose focus on Asian food was very impressive (30 percent of his reviews were of Asian restaurants).

#4 The Death of the Stand and Stir

As TV food shows proliferated, we couldn't help noticing that the old stand-and-stir format was increasingly absent from our screens. That's not to say somebody isn't going to come back and revitalize it, but for now expect to see more competition and less collaboration — and fewer invitations into someone's kitchen.

#3 Vodka Flavors Jump the Shark

At this point, there are so many flavored vodkas out there that you could almost put together whole menus with them. And while no one may have wanted to admit that they actually purchased PB&J, "electricity," or Froot Loops vodka, somebody has to be buying them. Confectionery-sweet — and also savory — vodkas continued to rule the market; flavors like whipped cream and raspberry were among the best-selling vodkas in 2011, and were on track to repeat their success in 2012. 

#2 Fast-Food Reinventions

Wendy's and Burger King both got makeovers, but Taco Bell owned the trend for 2012. You have to give the chain credit — sure, those Lorena Garcia commercials became annoying, but trying to go both upscale (after Chipotle) and over-the-top (with the Doritos taco) at the same time? That takes, um, albondigas. 

#1 Continued Marriage of Science and Food

Credit Harold McGee, credit Ferran Adrià, credit Nathan Myhrvold, credit whomever you want, but attention to the science of food and the use of scientific know-how in the kitchen has been increasing for years. Sometimes this means a surfeit of foams or an over-enthusiastic use of liquid nitrogen or agar agar, but it's our opinion that this new emphasis on observing the laws of physics and chemistry in the kitchen has not only given us more innovative cooking but has improved the overall quality of food in America, avant-garde and traditional alike.