If you’re one of the millions who perfected their banana bread over COVID-19 quarantine, it’s time to trade in the loaf pan for a charcuterie board. Although the reliability of predictions may have taken a hit after the year we experienced in 2020, there are some food trends that experts across the nation and here in Charlotte are saying are on tap for 2021.
What started in 2020 as a more conscious effort to be healthy and boost immunity will continue into this new decade, with experts predicting an uptick in plant-based everything from oat milk — which saw a 204% increase in sales year over year in 2020 — to plant-based meats — which saw a 46% growth in sales in 2020.
“I think plant based is here, and I think we will see more storefronts open that offer fine casual vegan/vegetarian options,” said Chef Greg Collier, co-owner with his wife, Subrina, of Leah and Louise and Uptown Yolk. According to Food Insight, 28% of people said that they have been eating more protein from plant-based sources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chef Velvet Jacobs, co-owner of Veltree, a vegan soul food restaurant, encourages people to give a plant-based dish a try in the new year. “Vegan food has come so far from the traditional grass food of old. Whether you cook it from an online video, recipe, or pick it up from a local vegan spot, give your taste buds a new experience in 2021,” Jacobs said.
“We are working on more vegetarian and vegan grab-and-go meals to accommodate the healthier eaters,” said Bonnie Warford, co-owner of Earl’s Grocery. “Even people who eat steaks want to balance their intake with plant based.”
Local CSAs (community supported agriculture groups) are also benefiting from the increased desire for fresh, locally grown produce and hope that trend continues in 2021. (Fun fact: CSAs were started by Black farmers in the South in the 1970s).
“As a result of COVID and the food shortages in the grocery stores, we were able to sell out of our CSA and build a waitlist of over 100 people last spring, when I thought we might struggle to sell all the shares,” said Katherine Belk, operations manager at Wild Hope Farm. “We are hoping the trend in buying locally (and taking the time to cook more) will continue after the pandemic.”
Nostalgia and comfort
A desire to go back to the carefree days of childhood has people seeking out traditional comfort foods. Collier told CharlotteFive that staples such as hot dogs, burgers and chicken sandwiches have made a major comeback and can be expected to pop up on more menus around the city.
“I think people will run to comfort food. Anything that reminds them of what it used to be like. Classic pizzas (no pineapple), burgers without a bunch of crazy toppings, real tacos (not fancy wraps), old-fashioned barbecue, mac and cheese, country fried steak, fried catfish, biscuits and gravy … you name it, as long as it tastes good, someone else makes it, and it’s not at your house,” Chef Erik Niel told Food & Wine magazine.
More at-home dining
Restaurants are opened with limited capacity during COVID-19, but not everyone is heading out just yet. Look for restaurateurs to get even more creative with cook-at-home meal offerings, virtual cooking classes to maintain their rising stardom and grocery stores to continue to expand offerings in 2021. According to a recent Forbes article, grocery sales jumped 10% in 2020, with the online grocery market growing by twice the anticipated pre-COVID-19 rate.
Locally, Earl’s Grocery expanded its store offerings and added an online component in 2020. “We have been selling several prepared foods that are comfort oriented like meatloaf, tomato pie and beef stew,” Warford said.
“We are also selling quite a bit of the bulgogi meatloaf, goat cheese-caramelized onion cornbread and our rotisserie chicken with orange chimichurri. It seems like people are looking for comfort with an upgrade, too. I think that with more disposable income being spent on groceries than in fine dining restaurants that people are allowing themselves more indulgence.”
Unique, heritage-based culinary experiences
Perhaps intersecting both comfort and indulgence will be the growth of heritage cooking in 2021. Many people are longing for the cuisine and culture that travel brings and are turning to ethnic cuisines to satiate their wanderlust.
“I hope to see more exploration of chefs cooking food of the heritage, from Thai to Indian to Brazilian. I think more people cooking their story so to speak is what makes food cities like Chicago, New York, Miami, San Francisco, etc.,” Collier said.
Last year, Sean Kim opened Moa Korean BBQ mid-pandemic. “Despite the COVID situation, MOA Korean BBQ has been doing well and increasingly growing in popularity as we have seen a good amount of returning customers which is always great,” Kim said. “People get tired of monotonous pandemic life and the desire to travel has increased desperately since the pandemic started. Experiencing different cultures including through authentic food gives people comfort and fun in this situation.”
At Earl’s, “Next week we are rolling out a weekly family meal featuring a different culinary influence,” Warford said. “The first week is French themed with coq au vin, crepes, haricot vert, potatoes dauphinoise, frisée salad with lardons. The following two weeks will be Cuban- and then Vietnamese-inspired menus. We think people are looking for something a little different.”
Charcuterie ups its game
That desire for something different will carry over to the charcuterie board craze that has swept the country — especially on Instagram and Pinterest — in recent years. Originating in France in the 15th century, these “pork-butcher” boards have come a long way from featuring traditional meats, cheeses, nuts and fruits, and 2021 holds hope of even more twists, turns and deliciousness.
“We have expanded beyond charcuterie to do dessert boards, brunch boards, candy boards and more,” said Lindsay Anvik, co-owner Babe & Butcher. “Our brunch selection has even expanded beyond pastries and fruit to be a full salmon and cream cheese board. We are debuting a bloody mary board soon — we did a few of them for clients, and they were a huge hit.”
According to Pinterest Business, searches for breakfast boards went up five-fold, dessert boards three-fold and Mexican charcuterie boards nearly two-fold from 2019 to 2020. And because no pandemic would be complete without a COVID-19-friendly option, look out for Jarcuterie — individually packed charcuterie jars — to make a splash in 2021.