Top Chef Trends Are Good Ideas for Your Kitchen, Too
You don’t have to go to a restaurant to try the food trends that top chefs are predicting for 2010.
Find healthy local, organic food, and choose restaurants in your area that buy ingredients directly from area farmers.
Freshly picked tomatoes from local farms or backyard gardens are so delicious, they make store-bought versions shipped from faraway fields blush with shame. And many restaurants around the country are catching on to this tasty fact—local tastes better. Leading chefs recently surveyed on emerging trends in the food industry say incorporating local, farm-fresh, organic foods into their menus is a major food trend for 2010. The survey, along with data on other emerging trends expected to flourish this year, was published this month in the journal Food Technology. And the push toward sustainable food favored by top chefs is reflected in the general public, too, says Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest.org, a website that connects farmers with local residents looking for sustainable food choices. Barnett says a variety of factors have come together to create a great movement to enjoy food produced locally. A mix of community-supported agriculture, concerns over food safety in mainstream, skepticism about mass-produced food systems, media awareness, and a general interest in knowing where food comes from created perfect conditions for a local-food boom.
And while this recent survey focuses on new food trends in the restaurant industry, the good news is, you don’t have to eat out or spend a lot of money to incorporate these trends into your cooking routine. Better yet, these popular movements in the food world will benefit your health and the health of the environment.
Here’s how to make the new food trends work for you:
The trend: Locally grown produce
Produce grown close to home has many advantages—it’s fresher, and farmers can pick the varieties they grow based on robust flavor, not how well they travel. By choosing locally grown organic whole foods, you’re keeping hormone-disrupting chemicals (linked to diabetes, some cancers, developmental problems, and even weight gain) out of your local soil and water—and out of your body.
Make it work for you: To find local produce in your area, visit LocalHarvest.org. There, you can locate local farmer’s markets, farms that offer CSA programs, co-ops, and restaurants that use local ingredients. If you don’t like using plastic produce bags to tote your edibles, invest in reusable organic cotton or organic mesh bags from Reuseit.com. Or simply find an old sheet and sew it into a bag with a drawstring. And, since nothing is as local as your own backyard, consider growing some of your own vegetables this year. Organic Gardening magazine has plenty of advice for first-time gardeners. Now is a great time to order your seeds for spring.
Read on to learn more about incorporating chef trends into your kitchen for better health.
The trend: Locally sourced meat
Factory-farmed chicken is tainted with higher levels of bacterial contamination, and supermarket meat (which almost always comes from factory farms) is sometimes swarming with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, including MRSA. Because animals in large-scale animal-production operations are often fed unnatural diets and crammed into close quarters swarming with disease, they are routinely fed medicines that, in turn, create supergerms and make our medicine less effective. Not to mention, it’s just cruel to treat animals this way.
Make it work for you: Whether you’re eating out or cooking at home, if you plan to eat meat, it’s best to select poultry or meat that was not raised using hormones or antibiotics. The USDA-certified organic seal ensures this. But to go a step further, opt for organic grass-fed meat when you can. Erin Shea, owner of farm-to-table restaurant Bolete in Bethlehem, PA, says her customers notice a real difference when they indulge in grass-fed beef or dishes made from locally pastured chickens. The restaurant lists the farms that produced its ingredients at the back of the menu, so customers can directly buy from the farmers as well. You can find better meat options at EatWellGuide.org.
If you’re dining out, consider one of these restaurants from Maria Rodale’s Second Annual Top 10 Farm-to-Table Restaurants list. Or check LocalHarvest.org for dining options.
The trend: Less red meat
Most likely a consequence of the poor economy and people’s efforts to improve their health, chefs say they are seeing a movement toward customers eating less red meat. Many studies have linked regular red-meat consumption to health problems like vision loss, lung cancer, and even increases in your overall risk of dying. Part of this could involve the sorry state of red-meat production (using factory farms, hormones, antibiotics, and unnatural diets), but at any rate, science suggests you’re better off eating no red meat or cutting back.
Make it work for you: Just because you cut back on red meat doesn’t mean you’re going to go into protein-starvation mode. Whole, organic grains like quinoa and lentils are dirt-cheap and contain ample amounts of protein. Our grain guide provides recipes and ideas for preparing these fast, healthy, cheap meals.
And remember, it’s not all or nothing. Designating a few nights a week as meatless meal nights will help ease your family into healthier eating habits—and you’ll save money so you can buy better quality meat when you want it.
The trend: Sustainable seafood
There are no longer plenty of fish in the sea. We’ve fished certain seafood species in our oceans, such as bluefin tuna, to the brink of extinction. And harvesting some favorites, like shrimp, decimates other sea populations—catching one pound of shrimp results in the death of 10 pounds of other creatures that get caught up in the nets. Other fish operations, such as farming salmon, produce waste that poses risks to our oceans and our health. In fact, retailer Target just banned the sale of farmed salmon in its stores, because many salmon farms impact the environment in a number of ways, from pollution to the use of harmful chemicals, parasite infestations, and other issues.
Make it work for you: Download a Seafood Watch pocket guide or the mobile phone app from Monterrey Bay Aquarium to find out which fish to always avoid (due to mercury or other contamination, as well as concerns about the fish populations). A few to always keep off your plate include Chilean Seabass, also known as toothfish, orange roughy, farmed salmon, imported shrimp, bluefin tuna, and shark. Top sustainable choices include wild-caught Alaskan salmon and Pacific-caught halibut.