I still remember being quizzed at a restaurant and food awards event in end-2019, just like all other jurors present, on my food and restaurant trend predictions for 2020. I don't think any of us visualised what would eventually unfold in 2020. There's hardly a sphere of business activity that COVID-19 hasn't impacted this year; restaurants and bars probably took the worst hit. Jobs were lost around the world, businesses shut down and the high-touch F&B and hotel industries had to go back to the drawing board to minimise touchpoints, as well as rework business models to address pressing safety and hygiene concerns. But it wasn't all bleak, the year had its share of silver linings. We ate smarter, reconnected with our culinary roots even as F&B businesses changed the way we dined at home and also in restaurants and bars. We've seen more trends this year than many of us have seen in a decade.
Here Are 8 Food And Dining Trends That Shaped The Year 2020:
1. Dine In The Clouds
Cloud kitchens were not necessarily a 2020 trend. Food delivery platforms had already pushed many conventional restaurants to offer delivery options while the concept of a 'dark' kitchen or cloud kitchen without a dine-in option began to emerge even before 2020. Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director Embassy Leisure Bengaluru who runs successful restaurants like Sanchez and Sriracha in Bengaluru, was one of the many fine-dining restaurants that had to reinvent their cloud offering. According to him the big challenge was for premier restaurants to offer competitive price points even though their operations were under tremendous stress.
2. Immunity Boosters
Immunity became one of the most googled words in 2020 along with home haircuts. Pharmacies across India ran out of Vitamin C supplements in the initial part of the lockdown even as ingredients like turmeric and ginger were consciously added to our daily diets. We began digging up our grandmother's immunity-boosting home remedies even as we began to eat smarter. As Kumar Shobhan, General Manager, Hyatt Regency, puts it "Health, immunity, mindful eating, psychological well-being and our impact on the environment are top-of-mind concerns with diners in the light of events through 2020. There is also a growing realisation that our traditional Indian culinary culture is brimming with health and immunity-boosting, sound practices."
3. Gender Bender
One of the standout Indian TV commercials of 2020 was Virender Sehwag scrubbing dishes with a washing soap with the not-so-subtle voice over - "a lesson for youngsters watching." While gender-based violence, unfortunately, rose in 2020 across the world as couples and families coped with the pressures of WFH, we also saw a welcome change as gender stereotypes were busted. From mama's boys to cooking for mama, more men donned the apron and showed off their culinary achievements on Instagram.
4. The Micro Cuisine And Hyper-Local Wave
We always thought that micro-cuisines need champion chefs and outstanding restaurants to survive, 2020 proved that home chefs and heirloom recipes had a big role to play. Regi Mathew, who helms Kappa Chakka Kandhari in Bengaluru and Chennai (that celebrates home-grown recipes from Kerala), believes one of 2020's most discerning trends was rediscovering the roots, revival of heirloom recipes and techniques, and a better understanding of nutraceutical concepts. According to him, limited mobility prompted many culinary enthusiasts to understand local ingredients better and how to use them. Many of the home chefs began to tie up with delivery platforms and passionately champion India's many micro cuisines as we all discovered there is life beyond biryani and butter chicken.
5. The DIY Boom
First, it was survival food then came gourmet offerings, and then as home dining began to border on predictable came the DIY wave. From Novotel to ITC Hotels, hotels and restaurants across India aced their DIY game. Whether it was creating a risotto from scratch or assembling a Mexican fajita, these DIY boxes had all the ingredients you needed to create a gourmet meal or reminisce about your favourite travel memories during a year when we had no real use for our passports.
6. Not-So-High Spirits
Sustained lockdowns across India during the first half of the year saw home bars run out of supplies. We had to raise a toast with fruit juices during those weekend Zoom calls with family members or old school buddies. According to Manu Chandra, Chef-Partner Olive Group of Restaurants - "It's the absence of spirits for nearly a period of three months that gave rise to the largest trends in beverages- and those were mixers. From tonics, shrubs, to pre-mixed cocktail bases, we saw everything crop up. Even kombucha and desi concoctions found new fans, as the tipple was replaced by these docile doses of flavour."
7. Gourmet Bubbles
With states like Maharashtra and Karnataka imposing night curfews in an attempt to clamp down on large gatherings around New Year, many residents are likely to check into hotel rooms and suites with a close group of friends or relatives and bring in the new year. It's similar to a trend we've seen through the second half of the year as hotels like the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai or Andaz in Delhi used suites and smaller dining venues to create private dining experiences or gourmet bubbles that allowed diners to stay clear of crowded restaurants.
8. Armoured Buffets
Prashant Chadha, General Manager of ITC Kohenur believes that the buffet experience as we know it completely changed in 2020. ITC Kohenur in Hyderabad was one of the many hotels in India that delivered an entire Sunday brunch to your doorstep. This was something that the Feathers hotel in Chennai managed successfully. Buffets went from self-service buffets to armoured buffets where diners and chefs in live counters were separated by plastic partitions. All you had to do was to point at a dish and it would arrive at your table. That's one trend I would like to take with me to 2021 and beyond.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.