The annual Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show is always a real highlight for me. But what made the 2016 event even more special was the opportunity to moderate a panel of my former students, now alumni of Johnson & Wales University and influencers in the food and beverage industry.
Harrison Ginsberg ’13 – Barkeep at The Dawson, Chicago
Brooke Jamrozik ’15 – Chef de Partie at Beauty and Essex, New York
Adam Kost ’04 – Global Strategic Sourcing Manager at ZX Ventures, New York
Jacob Schiffman ’05 – Purchasing and Events Manager at Food Network, New York
Their diverse experiences and perspectives resulted in a fascinating look at where we are and what trends they see on the not-too-distant horizon. Here’s some of what they had to say, broken down into five key areas.
Americans aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are more health conscious. Jacob has seen a steady shift toward organic ingredients in the kitchens of Food Network, the markets where he forages, and restaurants and bars he frequents in NYC. The panel, as a whole, noted that vegetables were featuring as the main ingredient in a number of dishes in the kitchen, as well as drinks at the bar. Harrison is judiciously using ingredients like beets and kale in some of his more adventurous cocktails, and his patrons have shown a willingness to go along.
2. Local and Sustainable
“I’ll grow whatever you want.” That’s a quote a local farmer said to Jacob. The preference for local and sustainable ingredients is certainly not new. Yet it is certainly a widening preference among a greater number of consumers. Most significantly, as the previous quote suggests, there is a whole army of small farmers willing and able to provide a whole bounty of products.
Sourcing requires a good amount of effort and expertise, both of which might be in short supply unless it comes from the kitchen. Bar staff can certainly source for themselves, perhaps through farmers’ markets or local farm boxes, if available. At the Dawson, Harrison is fortunate to be able to rely on his chefs to let him know what will be available. He only has to figure out what to do with it.
3. High/Low and Millennials
Millennials are a mystery. Fortunately, the panel included four of them. An hour wasn’t enough time for them to unravel the whole riddle, but there certainly was consensus on one preference that has massive implications for operators. Adam characterized it as “High/Low,” Brooke as “Old is New,” and Jacob as “Retro” and “Fine Casual.”
While the terminology is a little different, the basic premise identified by each phrase is quite similar – that millennials are drawn to basic ingredients prepared in a creative way. The trend neatly accounts for so many things millennials want and don’t. They like inexpensive, authentic, interesting, exotic, and different. They don’t want expensive, formal, fussy, or fake.
For Adam, that means that millennials are looking for good, basic, inexpensive ingredients prepared in expert, interesting ways. Jacob noticed that gourmet burger and taco shops are popping up around New York City. Each serves fast food in a casual environment, but with an interesting twist. Brooke observed that new items on her menu and the menus of restaurants like hers provide a new twist on an old classic. On the show floor on Tuesday, she made a rift on fried green tomatoes with ingredients from around the world.
4. Fizzy Drinks?
At one point, Adam volunteered to reply to an audience question on sour beers overtaking IPAs in popularity, claiming he was qualified to answer it because he’s in the “fizzy drink” business. His response said a lot about the segment in which he works. It’s about beer (a lot of different beer) and cider and soda and other stuff. His thoughts on what could defeat the beast of craft beer …
Adam thinks most consumers think sours taste bad and that the next big thing in beer is likely to be a counterpoint to IPAs — drinkable and sessionable, with more subtle flavors and less alcohol.
Adam is bullish on hard cider, now and for the foreseeable future. It tastes good, it’s shown steady growth, and it’s gluten free (and therefore perceived to be healthy).
Adam is also bullish on hard soda, now and …well, now. It also tastes good and it’s fun and frivolous. He made a point to remind everyone that there’s nothing wrong with organic and local beets and kale in a cocktail …and nothing wrong with fun and frivolous at a bar.
5. Culinary Influences
Millennials may be most adventurous when it comes to food and beverage, but the entire population is moving toward some level of acceptance of more exotic ingredients and interesting preparations. Brooke and Jacob discussed the increased frequency of ethnic cuisines on menus and rare and exotic spices and condiments in a variety of dishes. Harissa, tahini, and Sriracha were considered exotic not so long ago and are now pretty common. Next in line to go from exotic to common are a whole host of Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern ingredients like gochujang paste, za’atar, and amba.
Harrison took these culinary trends a step further. He has used ingredients like snap peas, bee pollen, carrots, parsnips, and the previously mentioned beets and kale to create unique and appealing cocktails. He’s also employed kitchen tools and technology like vacuum sealers, sous vide, and iSi whippers to achieve flavors in his drinks.