What’s New in Restaurants: A Trend Report from AHF

At the recent (2018) Association of Healthcare Food Service (AHF) Conference in Minneapolis, I attended a presentation by Chef Gerry Ludwig from Gordon Food Service.  The report is from their annual survey of over 400 restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  It’s based on what actual chefs and restaurants are serving, like, now.  Forgive any errors or omissions – I’m not a chef and may have got a couple of things out of order – here we go.

Trend #1: Veg-Centric

The first major trend, that includes several sub-trends, described below, is vegetable-centric cooking.  The number of actual vegetarians in the US is only between 3.5% to 5%.   So the trend is towards dishes that are centered on plants, but still include some animal protein.

So it’s not either meat or vegetables; it’s more inventive proportions and pairings.  Veggies taking over the center of the plate, breakfast included.

Veg-centric means:

  • High craveability
  • Protein elements, broths and flavorings
  • Proteins are ‘plant-partners
  • And consumers are ready and willing

Veg-trend #1: Sweet Potatoes

Some examples:

Gjelina, Venice Beach, CA, by Chef Travis Lett

  • Sweet potato with anchovies, olive oil and country ham

(Slight digression, Chef Ludwig said no-one should be saying kale is over- it isn’t.  Neither are cauliflower or brussels sprouts.)

Motel Morris, New York City: Roasted sweet potatoes with Greek yogurt.

Portsmith, Chicago – Sweet Potato Benedict:

  •  Sweet potato
  •  Pork carnitas
  •  Black beans
  •  Poached egg
  •  Avocado
  • Jalapenos

Veg-trend #2: Heirloom Tomatoes

  • Year-round (grown hydroponically) – always available
  • Dramatic colors, look great
  • Salads, sharing plates, sandwiches


Lunetta, Santa Monica, CA: Tomatoes topped with pickled cucumbers, aged feta cheese, fresh basil

Split Rail restaurant, Chicago: Open faced sandwich with heirloom tomatoes, toasted seeds, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.  Yum!

Veg-Trend #3: Hummus Beyond Chickpeas

Hummus – but made out of:

  • Root veggies
  • Brassica
  • Beans
  • squash


Red pepper and walnut hummus

Pumpkin hummus, with pomegranate seeds and pita bread

Roast vegetable hummus, w pickled, caramelized red onions

Trend #2: Global Mash-Ups

Don’t call it ‘ethnic’ (Koreans don’t think of their food as ethnic; it’s just food), call it ‘global’.  Don’t call it ‘fusion’, call it ‘mash-up’.

We all know about Korean tacos, (Chef Roy Choi: “Kogi set off a flavor bomb that would shake up the foundations of the industry”) but there’s plenty of room to take these ideas further through other cuisines.

Such as Indian.

Indian food has been a narrow niche, with intense flavors; maybe ‘too’ authentic for some.

But now, Indian chefs are taking those flavors and weaving them through a global palate (palette? – both) of ingredients.

Examples of restaurants leading this trend are Pondicheri, Goa Taco, Rahi and Indian Accent (get it?!)

Indian Mash-Up Examples:

  • Curly fries with Indian spices and apricot chutney
  • Indian spiced chicken wings with apricot chutney and mint
  • Habanero Tika Chicken
  • Indian fish and chips (gotta try this – I’m a Brit)
  • Indian sheperd’s pie with cumin (and this)
  • Indian egg rolls, using chicken chorizo
  • Indian style tacos, using paratha bread (Indian unleavened flat-bread)
  • With chorizo, white beans, goat cheese and salsa verde
  • Indian burritos (lamb and egg, for example)

Trend #3: Global Fried Rice Bowls

More global mash-upping: Taking fried rice beyond Chinese, with global ingredients:

  • Different types of grains, like wild rice, barley and quinoa
  • Flavored with chili paste, adobo, black garlic, kimchi, pesto
  • With cured sausage and hams, bacon and braised meats
  • Topped with an egg
  • Especially Thai-style egg topper – fried on top of oil, runny on top – crunchy below – yum!

Examples of restaurants offering these items: Republique, Pyt and The Beet

Menu Examples:

Peri-peri (A North African Chili) with rice, with an egg topper

Kimchi fried rice, with braised kale, sauteed summer squash, rice and barley

Paia fried rice, with spanish rice, crispy pork belly, topped with an egg


I came away from Chef Ludwig’s talk brimming with ideas to try.  These combinations seem totally appealing and workable – hope you feel the same.

Have fun experimenting – and tell us how it goes!



Comments 1

  1. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned from both speakers. Appreciate that very much even if I am an avid follower of AZ on TB & Mr. Bourdain as I’ve always been interested in learning the food pathway of each culture. Also, it’s fascinating to see how other countries’ food can be blended with the American; & come out with something really sumptuous & can be appreciated by Americans.

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