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What's the Future of Food? Industry Talent Responds

Diversity, transparency, and maybe the end of fine dining.

Liholiho Yacht Club in SF.
Liholiho Yacht Club in SF.
Patricia Chang

As part of Eater's Future Week, editors around the country asked chefs and other industry talent to think about the future of dining and what's to come. Read responses from coast to coast below, then send your own predictions to — we're rounding them up to run at the end of the week.

Mike Thelin, Feast co-founder and Bolted Services principal: Honestly, I think Portland is the model for the future of food. We're not a town of fancy restaurants or Michelin-starred validation BS. We're a place where food trucks and taverns are sourcing from some of the same farms as our best restaurants in town, and where there is a real culture of sourcing, cooking, and gathering together over great food. We're also a city that has reinvented and rebuilt itself and its neighborhoods based almost entirely around food.
A decade ago, Portland still had a bit of that culinary Wild West thing going on. >>

Chris Young, co-founder of ChefSteps: The next generation of chefs is going to say, "Why do I have to take millions of dollars from an investor to build a not-very-good business?" Instead they'll say, "I'm going to serve food in my home, or on a truck, or I'm going to let this place be a retail store that sells clothing during the day, but then is a restaurant two nights a week. From one-off events on a massive scale—Ferran Adrià, live at the Acropolis!—all the way down to somebody you've never heard of taking over a boutique clothing store, things are about to get way more diverse.
Sustainability will become more of a priority in all aspects of the food world. More from Seattle. >>

Sarah Hanson, owner of Five Horses Tavern and Worden Hall: Diners, specifically those located within an urban setting, are much more informed in regards to food and beverage and the establishments that supply them. Due to many contributing factors — social media, the immediacy and increased scope of information gained through internet and phone applications, a saturated market, Yelp, and other blogging devices — diners now have the power to review and challenge establishments to raise the bar in a way that they have never had before. Ten years ago, a diner might visit a bar or restaurant and be blown away by the amount of choices.

Now, we see diners coming in who make it a point to know about the ingredients in the food, the types of hops in a certain beer, or the benefits of a certain wine vintage. It challenges the methods of staff education and raises the bar as far as what the staff is required to know, which, in a certain way, redefines the service industry and changes it from being just a fill-in job or a fast way to make money, to an actual profession or life-long career.
The future of food is essentially going to be food of the past re-envisioned. More from Boston. >>

Cure in New Orleans. [Photo: Josh Brasted]

Noah Bodenheimer, owner of Cure: It's really tough to predict the future of dining currently, because the restaurant and bar boom of the past 10 years has brought the hospitality industry to a crossroads. As the supply and demand of quality bars and restaurants has grown, the labor force hasn't kept up. So while I definitely see the emphasis on quality food, drink, and atmosphere continuing, I also believe that you will see bar and restaurant operators change the way they do business, because developing and retaining talent will be so key to a bar or restaurant's survival.

What I hope is that you will see better trained and happier restaurant workers who choose the hospitality industry over other industries because our working conditions will have improved drastically. I believe that happier workers who are invested in the bar and restaurant industry for the long term will allow us to achieve even greater levels of service and hospitality.
Those who are from here or have made New Orleans their home are keeping it local. >>

Ravi Kapur, chef/owner of Liholiho Yacht Club: We have such a dynamic group of chefs whose cooking is inspired by their heritage, and we also still have chefs that are committed to authentic expressions of regional ethnic cuisines through the "California" lens. However, there is a severe lack of cooks. No matter how great your ideas are or how cool your restaurant is, if there's no one to work the stoves, none of it matters.

Kim Alter, chef/owner of the upcoming Nightbird: We are going to have to be innovative in how we cook and address rising operating costs and staffing shortage. Whether it's with an all-inclusive tipping structure or tasting menus accounting for less food waste, we are going to have to evolve.
The future of dining in San Francisco will be determined by its ability to avoid becoming a victim of its own success. >>

Bayou Bakery. [Photo: Official]

Bayou Bakery. [Photo: Official]

Kyle Schutte, chef/owner of The Flats: What is the future of food in my city? This question is one most chefs constantly have in the back of their mind. How do I stay ahead of the curve? How can I set a trend? Where is the next big thing? Lately though when it comes to Los Angeles this question is less about staying relevant and more about survival.

Since the city recently passed the $15 an hour minimum wage I fear we will likely see a near extinction of high end dining. Sure, the extreme fine dining restaurants that cater to the 1% will be able to justify the added expense as they cater to those who can afford it while the large group of upscale casual eateries that litter LA will no doubt have a tough time finding the right balance of staffing levels and menu pricing.
Los Angeles has one of the worst talent pools for true cooks I have come across. >>

David Guas, TV host and chef/owner of Bayou Bakery: Dining is moving towards being more interactive and transparent. With the growing number of intelligent diners, we as an industry have to be more honest. We have that obligation to the diner to present the truth in what they say they are purchasing and serving.
The rise of authentic, fun, unpretentious fast-casual concepts will continue to dominate. More DC. >>

Bryan Cates, executive chef at Básico: Good, healthy, sustainable food is returning to where it started. 'Chefs' are leaving the big-city food meccas and heading to more rural and less known towns and cities to share good food with people of all classes and walks of life. As we go back to small, family-owned and operated institutions, the future of food looks more sustainable and healthier than ever. I can see a future where each establishment does something completely different from the next but still collaborates in sourcing and supporting local farmers and producers.
Here in Charleston. growth is a serious concern for all of us >>

Vilma Mazaite, advanced sommelier and director of wine of LaV: I think future dining will continue to focus on environment and ingredients; at least that is what I hope for. As chefs and restaurateurs, we carry responsibility to source ingredients that are real and not manipulated or treated. This isn't something entirely new — we have been seeing this change for some time and we're seeing it slowly change how we eat. Restaurant trends are about ingredient-driven menus, clean flavors, and the food we used to eat at home. Farm to table is something that we won't need to say it anymore because it will just be a given.
I am cautiously optimistic about the future of dining in Austin. >>

Richard Hales, Owner of Sakaya Kitchen, Blackbrick Chinese and Centro Taco: The future of the middle-tier mom and pop chef-driven restaurant may be unsustainable. These restaurants operate on low margins and are being squeezed by the bottom and the top restaurant tiers.

Couple the rising labor cost with the high cost of responsibly sourced products and the menu prices will move from moderate to expensive. Will the consumer support the neighborhood place with fine dining prices? Doubtful — the consumer is screaming for fair wages and responsible products but doesn't want to pay for it. So like the rest of America, the middle will slowly fade away. Just fast food and fine dining with no middle and that will be a shame.
In Miami, a new tipping policy would make little difference to the diner but would change how restaurants operate. >>

Danny Trace, Brennan's of Houston executive chef: The demand will continue for organic vegetables and sustainable proteins. It will become a standard option among menus, whether drive-thru or fine dining. Seasonal vegetables will continue to be a major focus of chefs.
It's never been a more exciting time to drink and dine in Houston. >>