By Margaret McSweeney, founder and co-host of award-winning Kitchen Chat podcast
“Gather for Good” was a fitting theme for the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards Gala. After a two- year interlude, the awards ceremony returned to a vibrant celebration in the Lyric Opera of Chicago to recognize the culinary accomplishments of chefs and restaurateurs in the hospitality industry. Everyone agreed it felt great to be back on the red carpet again. This year Kitchen Chat was invited by Food & Beverage Magazine to interview the award nominees and winners on the red carpet, asking them the question: “What is the future of food?” Clare Reichenbach, the CEO of James Beard Foundation poignantly shared her insights regarding the salient changes to the awards:
“We are so excited to be back here in person. The last two years have been brutal for this industry and for our community, so to be able to come together, to gather for good, and to celebrate one another feels incredibly special. We’ve taken the past two years to overhaul the awards and to ensure that they are more accessible, more equitable, and more transparent, so this is the first time out of the gate with this new approach and that feels very important.”
What is the Future of Food?
Not surprising to Food & Beverage Magazine readers, the answer is: Plant-based foods, Diversity, and Sustainability. However, Clare Reichenbach addresses the overarching heart of the matter, the fulcrum of the industry’s future success: Taking care of the people. She says, “It feels like the last few years have accelerated the transformation, recognizing that this is an industry where people sacrifice so much. Going forward it really needs to be able to enshrine conditions where all can really thrive and it’s not at the cost of mental health or physical health, but it really nurtures people.”
More Plant-Based Foods: “The future of food is plant-based and healthy” Martin Yan
A recent Bloomberg report projects that the global plant-based foods market will hit $162 billion by 2030, up from $29.4 billion in 2020. This news from Bloomberg is consistent with what we have been hearing on Kitchen Chat over the last few years. 2012 Outstanding Chef winner Daniel Humm doubled down his commitment to a plant based future by reopening Eleven Madison Park in 2022 to serve vegan only dishes.
Chef Martin Yan, Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and host of popular Yan Can Cook is passionate about the future of food with a plant-based focus. “The future of food is plant-based and healthy. Let us have a plant-based diet to save the world and cut down on the carbon footprint. And that’s the future. Very important. Healthy and plant-based food.” I have great respect for Chef Yan. He was a guest on Kitchen Chat where he impressively deboned a chicken in eighteen seconds. For him to focus on plant-based foods is a testimony to the durability of this trend.
Cristina Martinez, 2022 Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic winner and chef/owner of South Philly Barbacoa shares her insight, “For me, the future of food is vegetarian and coming to the forefront of everything natural.” It’s ironic that the word “barbacoa” is closely associated with a form of cooking meat. This insight by Chef Martinez further validates the import of the role of plant-based foods.
Donnie Madia, 2015 Outstanding Restaurateur winner and managing partner/owner of One Off Hospitality, understands the importance of plant-based conversations. He underscores, “Our farmers are really working with all our chefs on all the product for vegetarian and plant-based items. My wife has been plant-based for four years.” Madia is a long-time friend of Kitchen Chat, and his commitment to offering plant-based items on his menus is commendable.
Diversity: “The true expression of American food” Mashama Bailey
2022 Outstanding Chef winner, Mashama Bailey, executive chef and partner of The Grey captures the true essence of this year’s awards: Diversity. “What I see about the future of food is that it’s becoming more eclectic and more original to the roots that got us here. We’re learning more about our cultures. We’re incorporating them with American food, so I think that seeing all these beautiful black and brown and yellow and white faces all together really is talking about the true expression of American food so I’m excited to see what’s happening in the years to come.” I will always savor tasting Chef Bailey’s traditional Country Captain at a gathering with Kitchen Chat co-host Chef Jaime Laurita in the Middleby Residential Chicago showroom in 2019. Country Captain is a low-country chicken stew that cooks down for six hours.
The 2022 Emerging Chef nominees represent our industrywide reflection of our culinary roots and excellence. Calvin Eng, nominee for Emerging Chef award and chef-owner of Bonnie’s in Brooklyn is passionate about what the future looks like: “The future of food for me is going to be a lot of ethnic food coming from younger people and hopefully younger people like myself, who are pursuing the food of their heritage that they grew up eating.” Emerging Chef nominee Serigne Mbaye for Dakar NOLA, is proud of his Senegalese roots and enthusiastically answers that the future is “West African food. Period.” I agree. Senegalese food is not only delicious, but also is the epitome of hospitality. In 2015, Chef Pierre Thiam, author of Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl, joined me on Kitchen Chat. He taught me about “Teranga,” the Senegalese word for a lifestyle of hospitality that includes welcoming friends, family and strangers into your home for food and fellowship. We all crave the variety of tastes in America and strive to create our own “Teranga” in the kitchen, the heart of the world.
Irene Li, a 2022 Leadership Award recipient and chef/owner of Mei Mei Dumplings in Boston discusses the deliciousness of diversity: “I think the future of food is going to be more diverse than ever. It has been such a joy to see chefs opening restaurants representing food from home, from all over the world. And I think the more fun food we have, the more diverse our community is, the more delicious our food is going to be.”
The 2022 Outstanding Restaurant, Chai Pani, an Indian eatery in Asheville, North Carolina punctuates the celebration of diversity with a menu featuring Indian street food that’s changing the perception of Indian food in America. Co-owners, Chef Meherwan and Molly Irani shared their excitement about the future of food. “I think the future of food is more inclusive and egalitarian,” Chef Irani says. Molly Irani enthusiastically adds, “I think it’s celebratory. We’re ready to come back together again. The world needs to come together around a table, and we’re excited to do that.” This year’s James Beard Awards provided that opportunity for all to “Gather for Good” and celebrate the diversity of cuisine.
Sustainability: “It has to be local” Warda Bouguttaya
Sustainability is front of mind for everyone, and the consensus is that sustainability means local. Donnie Madia, managing partner/owner of One Off Hospitality, is proud of his restaurants’ commitment to sustainability as all ingredients are sourced from farmers within a two-hundred-mile radius. His chefs work closely with the farmers. This year’s Outstanding Pastry Chef winner, Warda Bouguttaya, owner of Warda Patisserie in Detroit emphasizes that “the future of food has to be sustainable; it has to be local; and it has to maintain a certain local economy.”
Kevin Boehm, 2018 winner of Outstanding Restaurateur, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group and the Independent Restaurant Coalition, urgently reminds us: “Fifty years from now we will need to produce 60% more food than we do now. From a global standpoint, we’ve got real problems to solve, and we have to start thinking about that right now.”
Dane Baldwin, winner of Best Chef Midwest and chef/owner of The Diplomat in Milwaukee, comments about the consumer becoming more knowledgeable about sustainability: “I think we will continue to connect with our food a lot more, where it comes from, how it’s made. And beyond a chef’s perspective, people are more comfortable with that topic.”
Additional Thoughts about the Future of Restaurants
A few dignitaries on the red carpet made specific comments about the future of restaurants. Kevin Boehm, founder of Boka Group Restaurant shares some interesting insight as it pertains to the way people eat and are served: “I think there will be a real separation of utility and experiences. I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t want to talk with human beings while they are eating for utility. They want to order from the kiosk, never talk to anybody and get food. There are always going to be people who want to commune in an environment, have a compelling server and a real experience in a room that’s been curated just for them. So restaurants have no issues. They’re going to be around for a long, long time.”
Steve Dolinsky of NBC 5 Chicago discusses an underlying economic reality that impacts restaurants: “I see us getting more casual. Because of the way inflation is going and the commodity prices are rising, and labor shortages are affecting the restaurants, I think you will see entrée prices go up a little bit, possibly significantly, and you might see hospitality or service included which is more of a European model. But I think it has to happen in the U.S.”
From my view at the Red Carpet of the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards, I think the future of food looks very promising and delicious with more plant-based products, diversity, and sustainability. Let’s all practice “Teranga” while we “Gather for Good” and always remember to take a moment and Savor the Day!