Here's what food trends Des Moines chefs are delivering to your table in 2019
When George Formaro brought a batch of his vegan Italian sausage into the kitchen at Centro five months ago, executive chef Jonathan Baker dropped what he was doing in excitement.
A tofu-based concoction with vegan binders and spices, Baker began playing around with the product — sliced or crumbled up — adding it to wood-fired pizzas and pasta dishes. He was already brainstorming ways to use it on Centro's menu.
“The vegetarian and vegan population is growing by the day, so this is a way to make everybody happy,” said Baker. “It really showcases what we can do. We can use it as a substitution for any kind of protein.”
Since 2002, Centro has established itself as one of the most popular places to go for an upscale Italian meal in the downtown foodscape.
As a way to stay on top of what Des Moines diners want — and stay in line with national food trends — Centro is set to introduce the vegan sausage in the months ahead.
Plant-based proteins are just one of the trends you will see from Des Moines chefs in 2019. Here’s a look at a few other trends we found from our discussions with chefs in the metro.
Executive chef Jesse Bryant, of Bubba, said he’s already using a vegan sausage product for a jambalaya dish and will use it for cheese boards in place of charcuterie cuts.
And that’s not all veggie-lovers can expect from Bubba.
There's a country-fried cauliflower steak. There’s an avocado chile relleno with tempura batter and succotash. There’s even a spicy quinoa burger with black beans and vegan cheese, along with lots more pickling of vegetables and using mushrooms as a protein stretcher.
Along the same lines, George Formaro has featured a vegan grinder as a special at Gateway Market. Lynn Pritchard, chef and co-owner of Table 128 said the veggie-centric trend has been in effect for at least six years and continues to rise in popularity.
“I’m also noticing more vegetables,” said executive chef, Aaron Holt of RoCA. “I am bringing more vegetables onto my menu. Instead of the meat being necessarily the center of the plate, sometimes the vegetables will be.” Holt said Brussels sprouts are his ingredient of the moment, followed by daikon radish.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more vegan and alternative products,” said Dan Warren, chef at Americana. Right now, the Impossible Burger, a plant-based patty that closely resembles real meat, is catching his eye and he's excited to use it as a substitute for meat in any of Americana's burger recipes.
Des Moines chefs are going beyond using cauliflower to transform everything from pizza crust to rice. Look for the innovative use of purées of rutabaga, parsnips and peas as alternatives to potatoes.
Baker, of Centro, said with the popularity of gluten-free options, many Des Moines menus have had to adjust their offerings.
“I see ancient grains like farro, Kamut and barley playing more of a primary role," Baker said.
New cuts of meat
Chefs are looking to break away from the usual cuts of meat like steaks and tenderloins – especially for beef and pork. But not only does this include new cuts of meat, but also meats from local farms within a 150-mile radius as well as cuts from obscure heritage breed livestock.
“I’ve been spending more time focusing between interesting cuts, like beef tri-tip,” said Pritchard, of Table 128. “I have never cooked with beef tri-tip in my entire life. I’m bringing several cases in this weekend.”
Pritchard said he recently worked with a highly-prized cut of pork called the "secreto," coming from the anterior part of the pork shoulder from Ibérico heritage breed pigs that are fed hazelnuts or acorns. Pritchard said the cut is relatively unheard of. He learned about it on a trip to Dallas last year and found a source on the west coast.
Bryant, of Bubba, is currently looking at working with Iowa trout from near the Wisconsin border and Holt, of RoCA, is currently working with Mangalitsa pork, a Hungarian heritage breed with red, steak-like flesh.
More Asian influences
Restaurant menus across Des Moines are resonating with influences from the metro's sizable Asian population. From the introduction of edamame and lettuce wraps to the fusion interpretations of Fong’s Pizza and the new Darling Dumpling in the East Village, the metro is seeing an explosion of creativity using the flavors and techniques of countries like China, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Philippines and Vietnam, among many others.
And that includes RoCA’s Asian lettuce wraps and seared tuna with unagi and wasabi.
“I’m currently revamping my menu and I am seeing a lot of Asian influences,” Holt said. “Anything that I put on my menu that has an Asian influence seems to sell really well, so I’m doing a couple more things like that.”
Food trends Des Moines won't see anytime soon
We asked local chefs about other potential food trends for 2019 from the National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant News. Here are their reactions:
Lab-grown and cell-cultured meat products
Who's ready for some boneless, skinless chicken breast grown in a petri dish?
With its origins in regenerative medicine, cultured meat products are inching ever closer to the public palate. Cells for meat are grown in-vitro for burger patties and other meat products which could work for customers on board with sustainability — and could even work for vegetarians who care about animal welfare.
But the product is not ready for the market at this time and chefs are torn on its use on their menus.
“There’s a line from the first ‘Jurassic Park’ movie: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should,’” said Pritchard, of Table 128. “There’s just something intrinsically wrong with the idea of a petri dish fostering a sirloin. That’s not how things are meant to be. I think it’s disgusting and I think it is denuding the last three millennia of discipline and of animal husbandry. I think it’s terribly wrong and hope that it never has a place in Iowa.”
But Zach Gaskell of Teddy Maroon's is already thinking of ways to use it in recipes.
“Personally, I like it,” Gaskell said. “I think the science behind it is cool. I think there are probably some concerns about, but down the road, for sustainability, I think it’s going to be a pretty cool thing to do when they get it right. It’s part of the future and I’m on board with that.”
Gaskell said he would use the lab-grown meat to make some house-made sausages for cheese boards and pickle plates.
Touted as the next phase in the farm-to-table movement, "seed-to-table" involves farmers working with chefs to create their own special heirloom fruits and vegetables specifically for their restaurant menus. It brings farmers and chefs together to develop new varieties of produce.
“I don’t see that coming to Iowa quite yet,” said Bryant, of Bubba. “I think it will probably be about ten years before that happens. Only now is hyper-local becoming a thing in Iowa with many people growing their own produce for their own restaurants.”
Currently Tursi’s Latin King, Railroad Bill’s Dining Car and RoCA are growing their own produce for their restaurant menus.
Warren, of Americana, said he wouldn't rule out working with farmers to develop hybrids. The local farmers he works with call him during winter and spring and ask him what he wants them to grow in the year ahead.
"I haven’t had anybody talk to me yet about specific hybrids for my location or my restaurant,” Warren said.
What to watch for in 2019
This year is projected to be pretty darn delicious. Here's a list of upcoming food trends put together by the National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant News.
Other trends happening nationally:
- Globally-inspired breakfast
- Georgian cuisine (the country, not the state) — especially khachapuri, a lemon-shaped loaf of bread filled with melted cheese and topped with an egg yolk.
- Artisanal doughnuts — with unexpected savory fillings and flavorings
- Chickpeas — more unique and creative ways to use the chickpea for side dishes, dessert hummus, beverages and new flavors.
- Reducing food waste and sustainable packaging
- Carbs (bread and pasta) are back — but using heritage grains and healthy, artisanal bread
- Flex-casual restaurant concepts — fast casual by day and sit-down full service by night
- Playing with food — magicians, fortune tellers, games, belly dancers
- Handmade dishes and glassware
- Music playlists — showcase cuisine influences through music