From potato milk to retro desserts, staff shortages to environmentally-conscious dining, Jordan Mooney looks at what we can expect in food and hospitality this year.
A bigger focus on breakfast and brunch
Working from home throughout the pandemic made me truly value breakfast, and a quick look on social media showed I was not alone. People took breakfast from a meal to something experimental and experiential, with pesto eggs, breakfast wraps and more all having a moment online last year.
Now that dining late is a non-runner expect to see better, more exciting options on brunch menus. We’re done with eggs benny and the full Irish – brunch offerings are about to get shaken up. According to Milie Thomas, co-owner of 3 Leaves, the hugely popular Indian restaurant in Blackrock in south Co Dublin, customers have been enquiring more frequently about the possibility of the restaurant offering breakfast, showing a real thirst for something new.
“People have been enquiring a lot about idli, a savoury rice cake that’s popular for breakfast in Southern Asia,” Thomas says. “I reckon it will be popular with students and workers looking to grab something before their daily commute. We’re not doing brunch, but there definitely has been interest in us expanding our menu.”
Throwback dishes and retro desserts
Choux buns really had a moment in 2021, popping up on menus in bakeries, restaurants and cafés up and down the country. In Dublin, No Messin’ Bakery offered a range of flavours including strawberries and cream in time for Wimbledon and autumnal spiced apple crumble, while Cakeface in Kilkenny served up its ‘chouxtastic’ version comprised of salted caramel, chocolate and blackberry.
Alas, this pastry’s time is up - it looks as though desserts like soufflé, floating islands and mille-feuille are set to take centre stage very soon. Mark Moriarty, the chef and broadcaster, believes that this return to classic dishes is another symptom of these uncertain times.
“The classics are the classics for a reason. It has been so uncertain lately for restaurants in terms of trying to get customers in and trying to make money that I would say chefs are subconsciously returning to the tried and tested classics that they know people enjoy,” Moriarty says.
“Maybe it’s a bit of fear too - they want to make sure the customer is happy. I’ve always worked in restaurants that are based in the classics - I’ve never worked in the fermentation or foraging places - and it seems that you’ll never go far wrong when you stick with the classics.”
Expect chefs to get back to basics this year, respecting the roots of the food they like to enjoy, and enticing customers through the door with old reliables done better. As for us home cooks, this might be a good time to ask your granny for her recipe book and seek out some forgotten gems.
Yes, you read that right - potato milk is set to challenge oat milk as the top non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk. Over the past few years, we’ve seen consumers cycle through a variety of non-dairy options including soy, almond, coconut and oat. But while a float - or an oat milk flat white, as it’s better known – might be all the rage right now, don’t be surprised if your favourite barista tries to sway you towards potato milk very soon.
DUG, a Swedish plant-based drinks brand, has three versions of potato milk available to purchase via its website: DUG Original, DUG Barista and DUG Unsweetened.
“We’re looking into it right now,” Donal Flynn, food and wine buyer at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin, says. “I think oat milk has won the war of the non-dairy milks in terms of taste and sustainability, but we’re watching the potato milk debate now to try to get a clearer picture.”
Potatoes, as noted by DUG, are extremely sustainable: they require half as much land as oats to grow and need 56 times less water than almonds. In fact, potato milk reportedly has a 75 per cent lower climate footprint than its dairy-based counterparts.
Daniel Lambert, an Irish TikTok chef with around 320,000 followers, believes the public will be very receptive to the potato milk revolution, and points out that we’ve begun to see another potato product - potato starch - used in place of flour in some recipes.
“Potato starch is a lot crispier than flour. If you use it as a coating, your food will crisp up much better than it would with flour,” Lambert says.
If you combine our historic grá for the spud with its sustainability and versatility, potato milk seems like a no-brainer. I wonder which café will be the first to list it as a non-dairy option?
Spicy, umami flavours
While spicy food is always popular and umami already exploded a few years ago, it seems like Irish people are finally learning to cook with these flavours at home, instead of resorting to enjoying them in moderation in restaurants.
Sales of gochujang, sriracha, Aleppo chilli, kimchi, fish sauce, miso and mushrooms all grew during the pandemic and look set to grow even further in 2022. Alice Jary, head chef and co-owner at Rúibín in Galway, believes that this trend is set to fully take over this year.
“I can see almost every restaurant serving fermented food, or experimenting with things like koji, a Japanese fermentation starter, to highlight those flavours,” Jary says. “It’s starting to grow through to desserts now too, so I think we’ll see a lot more of that. Wa Café across the road from us has started selling miso ice cream and it’s phenomenal. We’re really seeing a lot of influence from Korea and Japan.”
Annie Dunne, a food consultant and new product development specialist, believes people are leaning into these flavours partially because of Covid-related reasons.
“I think a lot of new trends will be developed with Covid in mind. People are looking for healthy food, not so much trendy health foods, but things that are shown to help brain function and improve memory, that sort of thing,” Dunne says.
“Everybody is thinking about their health and immunity right now, with Covid obviously the most prominent issue, but I think there will be a pool of consumers willing to look out for new foods that will impact their health.”
Environmentally-friendly food and dining
Expect to see serious moves towards carbon neutrality in restaurants this year. In London the Wahaca group and Jikoni have been certified as carbon neutral already, but while there are several really great spots in Ireland making serious environmental efforts, carbon neutrality will be the next big challenge for Irish restaurants.
According to Donal Flynn of Fallon & Byrne, sustainability will seriously impact the decisions consumers make this year, from where they shop to what they eat and everything in between.
“I’m not totally convinced that people are fully on board with the meat alternatives available at the moment, so I think people will move towards full plant cookery during the week, then treat themselves to really high-quality meat at the weekend,” he says.
“People will indulge in premium or unusual cuts less often, instead of cheaper meat more often. But that aside, they will be looking for environmental changes across the board. We’re seeing lots of consideration around packaging. We’ve done a lot of research around this - we found that recyclable packaging was better for our customers than compostable - and packaging suppliers are under serious pressure to improve their offerings.”
TikTok and interactive food
While many restaurants have finally moved to focus on Instagram, TikTok is really where trends
are born and take off - remember that feta pasta? Daniel Lambert’s online career began when he
posted a video of Doritos-coated cheese bites. Now, he works with the likes of FM104, SuperValu
and other brands to create content, influencing Irish food trends as he goes.
“TikTok is already really big, but it’s definitely going to keep expanding. I think home cooking
food hacks, like the feta pasta, will continue to be popular. But these trends are all based around
classic dishes - that pasta is really a Greek dish that was popular in the ’80s,” Lambert says. “The
TikTok trends that are becoming popular aren’t really new, they’re just being reintroduced to a
Gen Z consumers, those born after 1997, are driving TikTok’s growth with their desire for
accessible, interesting content, and they are the reason that new trends are coming around so
quickly. For restaurants and brands to stay relevant to this younger generation, they will need to
find their footing in this new arena, so expect to see lots of Irish restaurants and food brands join
the app in 2022.
Growth of cottage industries
The pandemic gave people time to assess their lives, and some of them used that time to think
about producing their own food or drink product. Expect to see lots of new food producers
enter the market this year, many of them ex-hospitality staff who want to stay in the food
industry, but in a new way.
“A lot of people are taking their skills out of the restaurant industry and I think that’s no bad
thing, because it means food is getting better across the board,” says Mark Moriarty.
Annie Dunne agrees, noting that hundreds of new artisan producers that are about to enter
the market. “People have found a new love for food and for creating things, so I think we will
see even more food trucks, but also kitchen table products like pickles or fermentation-based
products in 2022,” she says.
“It always takes time for trends to seep in, so the transfer of small producers’ ranges to the
larger retailers will take a little more time, but I think there is a real appetite for new products
across the nation.”
The pandemic caused hospitality professionals to innovate quickly. Now that they have the time to breathe, how will the technological revolution play out in the Irish food industry? Outside Ireland, we’ve seen food ATMs pop up and robots start to flip burgers in American fast-food restaurants - will this spread to Ireland?
“Staff are the biggest cost to any food business, so I think that for those who are all about the business of food, like the fast food chains, you will start to see robots brought in,” says Mark Moriarty. “I don’t think you’ll see those changes at the top end of the business - although if you go to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a very upmarket place in New York, you get presented with an iPad that shows you a photo or video of the grain they’ve used to make your bread. I reckon we will see a lot more technology being brought in to elevate the customer’s experience.”
Many bars and restaurants have already brought in apps for customers to place their orders, so it stands to reason that upmarket locations would follow suit – perhaps tablets with menus and stories about dishes, eliminating the need for staff to present each course.
Any excuse to celebrate
After the challenges of the past two years people are looking for any excuse to enjoy themselves. Expect to see more half-birthday celebrations, divorce parties, dog birthday parties and more, all of which will translate into catering gigs, restaurant reservations and wine sales.
“Basically, people are desperate for anything new at this stage,” says Alice Jary. “We recently did a roast dinner pop-up that people went wild for, just because it was something different. I think customers are trying to grasp any kind of celebration at this point, after such a depressing time.”
For Milie Thomas, this new need to celebrate and to make the most of the little things will see customers come back to restaurants, but not in the way you might think.
“Until there is more certainty from the government and the pandemic situation, I think some people will continue to stay away from restaurants,” she says. “However, this means that people will start to contact restaurants looking for catering for lots of different special occasions – we recently catered for a dog’s first birthday party.”
While the need to celebrate is definitely warranted, Mark Moriarty believes it will cost us more.
“The higher-end restaurants will continue to get better, and that is where people will choose to spend their money on an occasion meal,” he says. “There will also be more lower-end, high volume food outlets which will be cheap, so people can justify going more often. I think this will cause the middle market, the neighbourhood-style restaurants, to struggle. It’s going to cost more to serve really good food and use top ingredients, with less people coming in the door, so it’s definitely going to get harder.”
Staffing issues will continue
Looking around the country right now, there isn’t a restaurant or café without a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window. The crisis will continue into 2022 and it looks like employers will have to really up their game if they want to keep their team in place. Benefits and perks like those offered at tech companies are likely to trickle down into hospitality as employers try to entice new hires and poach from other restaurants, resulting in higher costs for the customer.
It’s also likely that more and more restaurants will drastically reduce their opening hours in order to ensure their staff have guaranteed days off as they don’t have surplus staff to cover shifts any more.
“The way people are running their businesses has dramatically changed and will continue to do so because of staffing,” says Alice Jary. Millie Thomas agrees, and thinks that the beginning of 2022 will be difficult for a lot of restaurants, bars and cafés.
“It’s going to be so much harder to find new staff. You’re already seeing places reduce their hours or move into pre-packed retail options,” she says. “There will be a lot of click and collect or retail over the next six months while we try to get back to normality.”
This article was originally published in the January 2022 edition of Food&Wine Magazine. To see the full issue, subscribe to the Business Post here.