As the new year gets underway, experts are, as usual, prognosticating about food trends. This year, many – but not all – of those predictions are linked to the pandemic. Their crystal ball visions cover everything from individual ingredients to food preparations and how restaurants will operate.

Food & Wine magazine says that Americans will undertake a deeper exploration of African-American foodways. Canned cocktails (Real Simple) will be a thing, as will take-and-bake kits (delish.com) and Basque Burnt Cheesecake (New York Times). (You read it here first, check Dine Out restaurant critic Andrew Ross’s 2020 Best of list, including Best Cake on a Frigid Winter Night.) Charcuterie boards will be about a lot more than meat and cheese, says Better Homes & Gardens: Look for breakfast boards filled with bagels or pancakes, candy boards, and even taco bar-like boards. According to Whole Foods, “chickpeas are the new cauliflower.” Martha Stewart agrees. She also thinks pesto will be the new banana bread.

Add to these, changes in restaurants: Menus will be smaller, some predictions say. Safety precautions will remain, as will the availability of takeout and delivery. Ghost kitchens will proliferate, while buffets will become a phantom of the past. Some say indoor dining will be simpler, with lots of comfort food, while others say it will be reserved for memorable experiences such as celebrations and multi-course tasting menus.

We asked a few Maine chefs and others in the local food scene to offer their own predictions. Here’s what they had to say:

Restaurant-quality food delivered to your door, like this lobster pot pie, may be trendy in 2021. Photo courtesy of Shanna O’Hea

 

Chefs Shanna and Brian O’Hea, owners of the Kennebunk Inn. Photo courtesy of Shanna O’Hea

SHANNA AND BRIAN O’HEA
Chefs/owners, The Kennebunk Inn

In December, online orders from Academe, the restaurant inside the Kennebunk Inn, were up a whopping 240 percent over 2019. It’s not hard to guess what inn owners Shanna and Brian O’Hea think will be popular in 2021.

“The major trend we see is restaurant-quality food getting shipped to your doorstep,” Shanna O’Hea said.

Ever since the couple’s lobster pot pie topped with puff pastry caught Oprah’s eye, the couple has been shipping their lobster specialties through Goldbelly, an online marketplace for regional and artisanal foods. Now, in addition to the lobster pot pie, they ship lobster white truffle pizza, lobster rolls, and lobster lo mein all over the country.

“We cannot believe how many more restaurants and chefs are on this (Goldbelly) site,” said O’Hea, who noted that she and her husband recently used the site to order falafel and lamb kebab kits from Miznon, a restaurant they once happily visited in Paris at the recommendation of chef friends. There is now a Miznon in New York, and it is on Goldbelly. The website “just continues to grow with iconic restaurants,” she said.

(As Goldbelly watchers ourselves, we concur. Restaurants that have recently joined include David Chang’s Momofuku in New York, Zahav in Philadelphia, the Slanted Door in San Francisco, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and Cochon Butcher in New Orleans. And more than 150 Maine products are now sold on the site.)

This trend extends to our own backyard. Portland’s many quality restaurants have been embracing takeout and delivery more than ever, and Mainers – lucky us – can even get fresh seafood delivered to our doors. But it’s a bittersweet trend, since it signals how much restaurants are struggling to survive in a world with little or no indoor dining.

“Because everyone in our industry has had to change,” O’Hea said, “it is really interesting to see the creativity.”

Butcher Jarrod Spangler, owner of Maine Meat in Kittery, says his customers are embracing unfamiliar cuts of meat. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

JARROD SPANGLER
Butcher/owner, Maine Meat in Kittery

Jarrod Spangler is used to customers clamoring for his dry-aged ribeyes, brisket and other popular cuts of meat. But he says that behavior is changing, and his forecast for 2021 is that more people will step outside their carnivore comfort zones and try something new.

Say, for example, beef shanks, which are inexpensive and were never a big seller in Spangler’s shop before 2020.

“We would eat them because no one would buy them,” he said. “Stuff like that, I’ve been selling consistently out of the shop for the past four or five months. It’s interesting to see people’s mindsets shift. Once they try them, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is a delicious cut of meat, and I just have to prepare it properly.’”

Hours and hours of googling for new recipe ideas during quarantine didn’t hurt, Spangler surmises. And once an unfamiliar meat is demystified, all bets are off. Spangler said he can’t keep lamb neck in stock anymore, “and I never used to be able to sell lamb neck.”

“You’re watching things shift from being cooked in restaurants to now being cooked at home by amateur cooks,” he said.

Hot cocoa bombs, filled with cocoa and marshmallows, are a hot trend for winter. Photo courtesy of Andrew Chadwick

ANDREW CHADWICK
Executive chef, Sea Glass Restaurant, Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth

The bit of instant gratification known as the hot cocoa bomb first appeared on TikTok – the hot cocoa bomb of social media – in 2019. But it really, ahem, exploded in late 2020, as the holidays approached and people were searching for any morsel of get-my-mind-off-the-pandemic fun they could find. Cocoa bombs sold out regularly online and in stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s, and instructional videos erupted on YouTube.

A cocoa bomb is, basically, a hollow chocolate ball filled with hot cocoa powder and miniature marshmallows. Place one in a mug and pour in hot milk, and it bursts open in a way that is ridiculously satisfying.

Even though cocoa bombs were already uber-trendy at Christmas, Chadwick predicts they will have staying power through the 2021 Maine winter. He’s even thinking about making them at his restaurant for inn guests to sip by the fire.

“They’re fun,” he said. “They’re cool for kids and cool for adults. If you’re a hot cocoa drinker, it’s something that adds a little richness. It’s a nice little treat.”

Chadwick was introduced to cocoa bombs by his wife, who he says is a “hot cocoa connoisseur.” The chef watched a YouTube video, then ordered some half-sphere silicon molds online and went to work, with the help of his kids. They decorated their bombs with sprinkles and edible gold and silver sprays he bought at the grocery store.

“It’s a great winter project, especially with kids being home so much,” he said.

Chef Chris Toy of Bath thinks more Mainers will be making homemade ramen in 2021. Photo courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School

CHRIS TOY
Teacher of Asian and wilderness cooking, Bath resident

Chris Toy, a retired school principal, has been teaching Asian cooking techniques for 30 years. He says without hesitation that one of the big food trends in 2021 will be homemade ramen.

“Before the pandemic, there were more and more restaurants serving ramen-style soups,” he said, “and ramen is international, at least in Asia. Every Asian cuisine has a type of ramen soup. With the closing or the limitations of the restaurants, I think people have started to make their own.”

Toy teaches Asian cooking at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School in York and has a YouTube cooking channel dedicated to the topic. One of his videos, for easy instant ramen egg drop soup, has had more than 1.2 million views. He’s working on a ramen cookbook that’s scheduled for publication in March.

The popularity of homemade ramen goes beyond its pervasive presence on restaurant menus. During the pandemic, it has joined the ranks of foods that offer comfort in trying times.

“It’s basically Asian chicken noodle soup,” Toy said. “Who doesn’t like noodles and soup? With ramen, there’s all these toppings you can put on. You can go as simple as instant ramen, but you can also get really complicated. You can make your own noodles with special ingredients. You can make the different flavorings in the soup.”

That sound you’ll hear in 2021? Slurping. Lots of slurping.

French escargot is one of the products younger customers are discovering online at Browne Trading Co. in Portland. Photo by Rachel Lapp, Browne Trading Co.

Staci Best, marketing director at Browne Trading Co., has analyzed customers’ 2020 buying habits to predict what will be popular in 2021. Photo courtesy of Staci Best

STACI BEST
Marketing director at Browne Trading Co. in Portland

Best says she has seen a “seismic shift” in both the seafood and caviar industries this year that has led to her prediction for 2021: Younger generations discovering the wonders of old-school classics like escargot and caviar and splurging on them – and other specialty seafood products – for special nights at home.

Browne Trading Co. is best known outside of Portland for providing seafood to some of the country’s best restaurants, as well as to seafood connoisseurs, many of whom, in Browne’s past experience, fall into the 55-and-above age group. This year, the demographics of its buyers has done an about-face. Nationwide, nearly half of Browne Trading’s online shoppers are now between the ages of 25 and 40.

These younger customers, Best says, buy less expensive items, but more of them, than older customers, who often buy a single item like a high-end, luxury caviar. But the younger crowd is now discovering the pleasures of caviar as well, she said, along with Maine oysters and escargot from France, flavored with garlic and parsley.

And with their restaurant spending down because of the pandemic, these younger customers are trying to re-create some of those dine-in experiences at home, sharpening their skills to prepare seafood dishes formerly out of their reach. Think hamachi collars.

TOM MADDEN, brewer and co-founder of Lone Pine Brewing

SEAN SULLIVAN, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild

Tom Madden expects some pandemic-induced changes in the craft beer industry to stick around, at least for a while. Courtesy of Lone Pine Brewing

Madden says 2020 brought shifts in craft beer style preference and buying behavior, driven by the pandemic, that he expects to continue into 2021. Last year, he said, was “a booming year” for 12-packs and variety packs that let beer lovers “stock up for long stretches at home.” Madden expects the popularity of this large-format packaging to hold steady for at least as long as the pandemic is around.

“We don’t think price is prohibitive at this point because people are not going to bars anymore,” he said. “They’re transferring their bar money into buying beer for home.”

While many now enjoy craft beer on their own couch, the hardiest fans will continue to imbibe at local tasting rooms, Madden predicts, “even those without indoor service.”

“Bubble tents, A-frames, and even ice fishing shelters have begun popping up at local breweries to accommodate the cold-hardy locals looking for a safe and comfortable place to enjoy a local brew,” Madden said.

Those customers are likely to be drinking a lager.

“Current trends are certainly pointing in that direction as more attention is aimed at easy-drinking low-ABV, no-ABV, and lo-cal ‘not exactly beer’ alternatives,” Madden said. “These categories aren’t positioned to overtake the IPA as the champion of craft beer styles, but their growth is notable and likely to continue into 2021.”

Sean Sullivan predicts low-alcohol beers will continue to be popular in 2021. Photo courtesy of Sean Sullivan

Sullivan, at the Maine Brewers’ Guild, pointed to a few reasons for the low-alcohol beer trend. For one, brewers always get the same question in their tasting rooms, Sullivan said: “What’s new?” People want to try a lot of beers, he said, and it’s easier to do so if some of them are low-alcohol brews.

Sullivan also attributes the trend to the expansion of craft beer’s customer base to include older beer drinkers and families, adding that the popularity of hard seltzers and the growth of craft breweries in rural areas also played a part.

“Our breweries are increasingly catering towards folks who are used to 5% ABV Bud Light or a Coors Light or one of those types of beers,” Sullivan said. “And people are spending more time at breweries. They’re spending time with their kids and their friends, meeting up at a brewery, and they don’t want to drink 9 percent beers.”

Vanessa Seder, a food stylist, recipe developer and cookbook author, predicts the pandemic will improve people’s shopping choices. At least it has for her own family, she says. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

VANESSA SEDER
Food stylist and recipe developer, Cape Elizabeth

Seder’s family has taken the money they’ve saved during the pandemic on traveling and dining out and invested it in the quality of the food they bring into their home.

This means shopping more at farmers markets, smaller specialty stores and high-end gourmet shops – places like Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, and Monte’s Fine Foods, Browne Trading Co., and Sun Oriental Market, all in Portland.

Seder says that at the beginning of the pandemic, she and her family were doing what a lot of other families were doing – baking sourdough bread, making their own pasta, and eating in. When she tired of a constantly messy kitchen, she started adding pasta to her curbside pick-up order at a smaller Portland grocer. Talk about sticker shock: She couldn’t believe she was paying $8 for a single package of dried pasta. But then she tasted it and “discovered there is a difference.” The pricier pasta, she observed, had that “eggy, chewy” quality of homemade.

“It was like, why are we making our own pasta?” Seder said. “It’s so delicious. Let’s just get this.”

Seder said they have also been buying good cheese and jarred preserves they’d always wondered about but hadn’t tried. And the concept applies across the board, to produce, dairy and other products. Seder views the upgrades as a “little gift” she and her family give themselves.

This shift in shopping habits is something that a lot of people have experienced during the pandemic, often as a way to avoid overcrowded grocery stores, but it’s one that Seder hopes will have legs. “I can see this continuing into 2021 and beyond,” she said, “even after things return to ‘normal.’”


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