Like a Chinese New Year, Andrew Freeman has branded 2012 with an identifiable agent.

Mr. Potato is going to reign supreme.

Freeman heads a high-end hospitality agency that, for its fifth year, released a preview of the hottest trends and predictions in food and restaurants.

“We work on this all year long,” Freeman says. “Each trend has a lifecycle based on when the point tips.”

Freeman and his team members make their predictions based off personal experiences at restaurants, readings on what is a hot and upcoming craze, and informal surveys that ask clients about their passions toward food.

The results? Next year, ice cream flavors are going to explode, cheese will be gushing onto your fingers from grilled sandwiches, and noodles will come hand-pulled. Already, chefs in New York and California are playing with creations such as Autumn Pear ice cream with Licorice Sabayon and cheese melted onto bread in high-end fashion.

“Savory ice creams and custom flavors (in fine dining restaurants) will get really popular,” Freeman says. “And of course, healthy indulgence menus at both hotels and restaurants with items under 500 calories will be very big. Gone is the word diet, and now we have menus like Cheesecake Factory’s Skinnylicious.”

Freeman admits the potato acclaim may seem random, but points to the rising popularity of French fries as a sign.

“We are seeing a lot of chefs do homemade chips and dips and stuffed potatoes,” he says.

French fry menus are also on the rise, allowing guests to choose the cut, crispness, and sauce in which to dunk their sizzling spud.

The time it takes for a food to become a trend varies, Freeman says, referring to holdovers such as grilled cheese.

Grilled cheese made some noise when the comfort food craze started a few years ago, and garnered veritable attention over the summer with the opening of the Melt in San Francisco, “but we really see it continuing to grow and get stronger in 2012. A year for a trend to be truly realized would be an average,” Freeman says, citing the life cycles of the cupcake and pie crazes.

The interest in world cuisine should augment as well next year: Thai cuisine will take creative turns, Indian street food will beckon diners with kati rolls and spicy vegetable sandwiches, and red hot chili peppers will make the jump from the Billboard music charts to inventive menus.

“The quest for a younger market that wants to experience everything has given rise to discovering all types of ethnic food,” Freeman says. “Overall, Indian food is on the rise, and that is due to the [food] trucks, the quick-service chaat restaurants, and of course, the popularity of the TV food shows.”

For restaurants interested in getting in on these consumer trends, Freeman suggests they try out items as specials or run them for a limited time.

“The success is in the buying power and the guest feedback – and it’s OK to have servers and chefs engage in a guest dialogue about the new items,” he says. “Some items become so popular they become signatures, others are seasonal and come back each year, and some have limited-time runs.”

Below, a full list of Freeman’s predicted food trends for 2012:

  • Potatoes (stuffed, French fry menus, new cuts)
  • Innovative ice cream flavors
  • Grilled cheese
  • Hand-pulled noodles
  • Variations on modern Thai food
  • Desserts featuring vegetables
  • Indian street food
  • Breakfast for lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks
  • Chili peppers
  • Healthy indulgences
  • Infusions of pine needles, douglas fir, and eucalyptus for flavor
  • Shaved ice cream
  • Eastern European food, such as Russian and Hungarian

By Sonya Chudgar

Breakfast, Consumer Trends, Desserts, Menu Innovations, News