You don’t need a crystal ball to predict some of the trends that will continue to dominate Denver’s food scene in 2022. QR codes are here to stay and we’re making alfresco dining all year round. But what about the micro-trends that chefs and cocktail makers are looking for: the ingredients they hope we’ll bite into and the drinks they bet will spark excitement in the New Year?
We asked the local chefs and bartenders the question: “What trends do you think will take off in 2022? Here is what they have to say.
Mezcal … as an ingredient
You’ve seen tequila-lime shrimp or whiskey-braised baby back ribs on restaurant menus. Next come mezcal-based dishes, predicts three-time James Beard Award nominee Dana Rodriguez, who opens Cantina Loca, a Mexican street restaurant, on Jan. 12 in LoHi. There she will have a tasting room for her premium mezcal, Doña Loca. But the smoky agave spirit will also add complexity to dishes like salsa borracha de la cantina (a drunken salsa). Mezcal, she says, is ripe for culinary experimentation. For example: last fall, she donated some of her mezcal in small amounts to “Hispanic Top Chef,” a culinary competition organized at Metropolitan State University by the Hispanic Restaurant Association, based in Colorado. Used as a “secret ingredient,” one of the contestants created a deliciously sweet and smoky pork marinade.
Pizza, fries, fried chicken and mac and cheese were all part of the comfort food big comeback of 2020 and 2021. Now it’s time to eat your veggies. “I think 2022 is the year of vegetables – or just healthy eating in general,” predicts Jeff Osaka, owner of Osaka Ramen and Sushi-Rama restaurants. Osaka, for the first time, has put vegetable-based ramen as a seasonal dish on the menu at its RiNo ramen restaurant. Filled with Brussels sprouts and roasted mushrooms and made with squash broth, miso sage butter and tofu, it’s a popular order in December, even before New Years resolutions for healthy eating.
Fermentation (but make it faster)
Before freezers and preserves, fermentation was the way of preserving food. In recent years, however, the centuries-old method has made a comeback, with kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir reaching star status, in part thanks to their potential gut health benefits.
Derek Simcik, director of culinary operations for Sage Restaurant Concepts (Urban Farmer, Kachina Cantina, and more), says he expects tools like OCOO to start making their way into kitchens. “Think of it as a pressure cooker for fermentation,” he says. As an example, black garlic, which is fresh, aged and fermented garlic, takes three hours instead of three weeks, he says. The kitchen tool can prepare long fermentation pasta like Korean gochujang or soybean paste in hours rather than months.
Speaking of fermentation, Simcik says koji paste (a Japanese fermentation starter) has a time. “I love rubbing a little koji on some beef and letting it sit a bit before serving, as it brings in a gamey or funky flavor, similar to what you find in dry-aged, dry-aged beef. grass, ”he says.
A focus on Asia
A few years ago, coconut milk gained popularity in the United States as a versatile, dairy-free alternative to milk, says Chef Taylor West, owner of GetFed Concepts in Denver and private chef who runs pops. -ups of sushi and dim sum. . West predicts that miso and turmeric are about to be among the next “ingredients” to take off in the United States. He has used miso extensively in his dishes, the fermented dough adding umami to everything from entrees to desserts.
“Miso caramel is something I’ve used in my recent tasting menus and it’s a really fun way to introduce the ingredient to people,” he says. As for turmeric, the golden spice has been used for centuries in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, and it is popular in the United States as golden milk lattes and as a supplement. But the spice is becoming more and more common (expect it in dishes and cocktails!) And Whole Foods has put it on their list of the 10 best food trends for 2022.
Experiential dinner (at home)
To-go has been a staple for the past couple of years, and the next iteration of this trend is a more experiential on-the-go experience, predicts Denver restaurateur Frank Bonanno (his concepts include Mizuna, Luca, Osteria Marco and others). “I can see GMs starting to view these orders as a way to recreate the restaurant experience at home,” Bonanno says. “More take-out cocktail options? Maybe a locally made candle to add some light? A free dessert? Theme menus? There are so many ways to get creative.
Cocktails with Great Flavors
The spicy margarita will hold its popular cocktail crown and other variations of it will emerge in this agave-loving town, predicts Drew Stephens, bar manager at Green Russell near Union Station. He also expects dirty martinis with various brines and washes and infusions to gain momentum. The espresso martini could continue to be strong like the one that can be made with liquors other than vodka (think: tequila or amaro) to contrast the robust notes of coffee and chocolate.
What do these drinks have in common? These aren’t shrinking violets. Those who come to the bar crave “big, bold flavors and subtle, nuanced flavors have fallen in the spotlight,” Stephens says.
Gone are (hopefully) the time to squeeze a lime or zest a lemon, then tossing the carcass of the fruit. Stephens says bartenders are getting more creative and doing it in the name of sustainability. “Hopefully we’ll see things like junk syrups made with spent fruit and fruit skins as well as reuse of outdated red wine, like Green Russell does with our cranberry syrup,” Stephens said. Another example of sustainability in his bar is tangy red wine which is made by adding citric acid to oxidized red wine to give it the same punch as lemon or lime in a cocktail. It can be used in place of a lemon in something as simple as a whiskey sour, Stephens says, and tastes fantastic.
Treat yourself mentality
After saving money by cooking at home, guests are ready to splurge when they dine out, according to the chefs at Hai Hospitality, the group behind RiNo’s Uchi. This means that customers will opt for such premium items like caviar, A5 wagyu, and specialty fish and order premium Japanese whiskeys and sake.
Whiskey Cocktail Revival
We don’t need to count the ways Coloradians love whiskey (and whiskey bars). But whiskey cocktails are ready for a shake-up. “Bartenders and guests have so much to experience when they think of whiskey,” says Cooper Smith, event manager at Seven Grand Whiskey Bar on the Dairy Block. Alongside the classics (Old Fashioneds, Sazeracs, and Manhattans), expect to see more thinking focusing on whiskey drinks. For example, Smith says: What cocktails work best with a rye versus a bourbon? Can peaty scotch be used outside of drinks like penicillin? Is the caffeinated Revolver the next cocktail to make a comeback?