What’s hot: WNC chefs predict local food trends for 2018

BOLD MOVES: Chef Jesse Roque says that along with green jackfruit, outside-the-box tacos and elevated comfort food, the menu at her Hendersonville eatery, Never Blue, will amp up its Filipino offerings in 2018. “We’ve been incorporating Filipino flavors into our menus for years, so we’re going to get a little bolder with them now,” she says.
BOLD MOVES: Chef Jesse Roque says that along with green jackfruit, outside-the-box tacos and elevated comfort food, the menu at her Hendersonville eatery, Never Blue, will amp up its Filipino offerings in 2018. “We’ve been incorporating Filipino flavors into our menus for years, so we’re going to get a little bolder with them now,” she says. Photo courtesy of Never Blue

From fried candy bars and cronuts to cereal-coated chicken fingers and basically anything with bacon, it’s fun to try the latest food trends. It’s also nice to see some go — Jell-O salad, for instance. (Sorry, Jell-O lovers, nothing personal.)

As 2017 draws to a close, media outlets and even supermarket chains like Whole Foods have been rolling out their predictions for what will be hot in the culinary world in 2018. Depending on what list you’re looking at, experts prognosticate on the popularity of everything from floral flavors to Middle Eastern cuisine to vegetarian proteins as well as practices like no-waste cooking and healing through food.

So, what’s likely to turn up on Asheville plates in the coming year? For many local chefs, the trends that matter often have more to do with the philosophy of food than the ingredients and focus on issues like food waste and transparency.

Philosophies and flavors

Scott Ostrander, executive chef at Red Stag Grill, says a trend that’s emerged over the past few years will continue to grow in 2018 — disclosure of food content and origin. “Guests are increasingly interested in the specific ingredient structure of a dish and where those ingredients are coming from,” he says. “We’ve always used as many local, farm-specific products as possible and will continue to expand our repertoire in this area.”

The Red Stag is also experimenting with more global fare. While Ostrander says he’s certainly not going to turn the Biltmore Village eatery into a sushi restaurant, he does plan to work with some rather unusual ingredients in the coming year, including European fallow deer, Himalayan yak and African Watusi beef sourced from DK Meats in Leicester. “Working with DK Meats — where we currently source our American bison — allows us to stay true to our local sourcing while showcasing some exotic international ingredients,” he explains.

Ostrander also will incorporate some flower power in the menu. Although he notes that floral flavors are already used in the bar’s signature bar cocktails, he is now looking to highlight florals such as jasmine, lavender and fennel pollen in the restaurant’s savory and sweet preparations, too.

Curate and Nightbell executive chef and owner Katie Button says she will continue to shape her menus around creative ways to reduce food waste. “Cooking with scraps really gets the creative juices flowing,” says Button. “It reduces our food cost and gets my staff excited about doing something that also has an effect on the environment.” She notes that one approach she plans to implement in 2018 is to brainstorm with the farmers she partners with to buy products from them that aren’t typically used and might go to waste.

Another priority, she says, is to study Western North Carolina heritage and food history. “We’ll continue to learn more about the wild foods that grow in our region and how foraged goods can have a place on our menus,” she says.

Paying it forward

Chef Steven Goff has been helping Mike and Darlene Moore of the Blind Pig Supper Club execute their dinners since he worked as executive chef of the now-defunct Charlotte Street eatery King James Public House. He also currently operates a sustainable meat food truck called Brinehaus Meat + Provisions out of Raleigh with his sights set on moving back to the Asheville area.

Like Button, Goff says using all parts of a plant or animal so as not to waste anything will continue to be his primary focus. “Root-to-flower cooking is something we’ve experimented with a lot, and this will continue to pick up steam in 2018,” he says. “When I make collards — which is a lot — I typically stay a batch ahead by making kimchi with all the stems which then make it into the next batch of collards, kind of like a continual fermented paying forward.”

Nate Allen, owner and chef at Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine, is another adherent to the waste-not-want-not food philosophy. “I’m kind of like the anti-trend. In fact, our methods may be going so far back that we’re actually ahead of the curve,” he jokes. “I’m more focused on hyperlocality than ever. I want to use more wild foraged foods that are found throughout the year.”

Allen is also experimenting with preservation techniques. “For example, drying out fresh herbs in salt — it’s an old Japanese method of curing herbs, and it produces different characteristics in the flavor profile,” he explains. “I want to use fewer tools and have a more soulful connection to the food we eat. I’m smitten with roasting whole animals over an open fire — that kind of thing — using the byproduct of one item to preserve another.”

A little of this, a little of that

Jesse Roque, chef at Never Blue in Hendersonville, plans to bone up on vegetarian and vegan fare in 2018. “You’ll definitely see green jackfruit on the menu — it’s the new ‘Southern pork,’ ” she says.

She also believes Filipino cuisine, which was touted widely as a trend in 2017, will gain traction in WNC as more locals gradually decide to embrace it. “We’ve been incorporating Filipino flavors into our menus for years, so we’re going to get a little bolder with them now,” she says.

She adds that tacos are still big and here to stay, but the flavor profiles that make people love them are wide open to interpretation. So she’s exploring some out-of-the-box ideas in that arena to throw diners a few curve balls.

Elevated comfort food is also something that Roque will continue to bring her customers. “It’s something that’s never going away. If it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and brings a smile to your face, you’ll eat it no matter what your doctor tells you,” she says.

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