The highly influential consultant talks flavor trends, the importance of authenticity, and the protein about which she is feeling most “bullish.”
Nancy Kruse, one of the most sought-after and authoritative analysts in the restaurant industry, will present a keynote address next month at the Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators (MUFSO) Conference in Dallas. President of The Kruse Company and lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America, Ms. Kruse was named by LinkedIn (where she regularly blogs about food-related topics) as one of the Top 100 Influencers in the U.S.
Ms. Kruse spent some time with Clemens Foodservice this week to give us a preview of her keynote address and talk about the trends affecting restaurants.
Clemens Foodservice: Can you give us a preview of what you’ll be presenting at MUFSO?
Nancy Kruse: I’ll be talking this year about the experiential menu. The kind of menu that is memorable enough to get customers to get off their couches and away from their TVs and their Amazon delivery ... and get back into restaurants.
To do this, many restaurateurs at this moment are investing in revamping their physical environments. However, from my perspective, the best tool at your disposal is your menu.
You don’t have to hire a Hollywood set designer, but you do have to have a compelling menu.
Presentation of the plate became important at the beginning of the culinary revolution a couple of decades ago, but now we are seeing the promotion, the preparation, the quality, time and effort it takes to make a perfect meal.
CFS: Americans have long loved ethnic foods. What’s capturing consumers’ imaginations right now?
NK: Our love affair with Italian food and the popularity of the Mediterranean diet has opened the door for Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. Their ingredients, such as chickpeas, are nutritious and easily accessible. We are seeing the Israeli and “modern Jewish” movement gaining a foothold in New York, San Francisco and Chicago.
Another ethnic path, of course, is Asia. Cuisines from places such as India, Vietnam and the Philippines are trending at moment. Poke is everywhere, and we’re even seeing Asian menu items for dessert and at breakfast with banh mi.
I suspect that the Asian and Mediterranean trends will continue long into the future, but with specific iterations. The point is to offer the consumer a safety net. You don’t say to the consumer: “Here’s katsu.” You say, “Here is an attractive sandwich with elements you know and love, and you’ll really love the star of this new sandwich, this a breaded [pork or chicken] cutlet, katsu.”
CFS: Aside from global influences, what other flavors are trending right now?
NK: For the last few years, we have been going back to the things that we embraced until we found out they weren’t “good” for us. Butter, lard and fat are back! We were educated to be fat-phobic, but dietitians are now reconsidering that. Chefs and consumers are appreciating the fact that fats like tallow, duck fat and lard provide fullness of flavor and high satiety. They make us feel good, and that’s a major trend. [Proteins’] features like marbling and larding have become a marketable characteristic, not something to be feared. This is a major change in attitude.
CFS: We hear a lot about the “vegetable revolution.” Do you see plant-based foods overtaking the center of the plate?
NK: No. While it’s true that more attention is being paid to vegetables, we don’t see more people converting to vegetarianism. That has remained pretty stable over the long haul. American consumers are committed carnivores. We are seeing record levels of meat production.
But the vegetable or plant trend suggests that customers are interested in getting something better, something more real and authentic, and these ideas translate to meat consumption as well. Another important insight this [the vegetable trend] gives us is that we love meat, but we love it even more when we have a reason to feel virtuous about eating it.
CFS: Pork production and consumption are expected to reach record highs this year, and pork consumption is nearing that of beef consumption in the U.S. Do you think this will mean more pork offerings in restaurants?
NK: Pork was the fastest-growing protein between 2011 and 2017. While some of that is bacon, there were actually two bigger factors in play. One is smarter cooking techniques: Chefs have recognized that you don’t have to cook pork to a cinder, so culinary expertise has had a positive impact on pork consumption. The other factor is higher-quality cuts [are entering the marketplace].
Pork is smack-dab in the middle of some of the major trends. One of them is our love affair with protein. It continues to be the “good” macronutrient and doesn’t come weighted with a lot of negative baggage; and Americans see animal proteins as the most salubrious proteins.
Pork belly, for instance is everywhere and we’re seeing hugely innovative [offerings]. Bacon, like the bacon-on-a-stick at Logan’s Roadhouse, is indulgent, fun finger food and consumers can’t get enough of it. People are discovering a love for chops, and you have to give a nod to the chefs who keep it beautiful and juicy. Pork can be the food we want, the way we want it, and we’re not having to make it at home. That is what is bringing the consumer back.
From the pork perspective, this is the right protein product that is in the right place at the right time. It has flavor, versatility, functional identification as a source of protein. Chefs are smart about leveraging its familiarity. Nose to tail, there’s so much to work with.
Nancy Kruse’s MUFSO keynote address will take place Wednesday, October 3, at 8:30 a.m. in the Landmark Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Reunion in Dallas.