Palo Alto Weekly

- December 7, 2012

What's new in gourmet foods?

Gluten-free pumpkin pie? Bacon-laced donuts? Salt-encrusted chocolate?

by Lisa Kellman

Like most fads, food trends come and go. This year's red velvet cake might be next year's lunchable.

So, what are the foodies — the personal chefs, grocery-store buyers and people who just love to cook (and eat) choosing this season?

Even during the holidays, health is driving many food selections.

"People are redoing pumpkin pie and doing (gluten-free) pumpkin cake ... and there is a remix of the stuffing. People are getting away from bread stuffing," Jonie Sare, a therapeutic chef and caterer, said.

Draeger's is carrying gluten-free stuffing for the first time to satisfy customer requests.

Gluten-free goods have spread beyond the grocery stores. Local chefs have found their clients requesting gluten-free goods, whether or not they have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents the small intestine from digesting the grain-borne protein.

"Gluten-free has skyrocketed. ... It is a vital staple department," Mary Claire Draeger DeSoto, co-owner of Draeger's Market, said.

DeSoto even started a gluten-free club at Draeger's, which has more than 500 members. She also turned her family onto gluten-free goods, and now her children prefer gluten-free macaroni and cheese over the original kind.

Consumers are more aware of what their foods contain. Ooshma Garg, the founder and CEO of Gobble, a marketplace for home-cooked meals from local chefs, finds that her customers want to know more about their food.

"People want to know where food comes from, who is making this food, is this really authentic to the culture or origin of the dish," Garg said.

Tony Draeger, vice president of Draeger's Market, said shoppers these days want to make sure their foods are sustainable, natural or organic. Sales of these foods are growing by 20 percent each year, he said.

Knowing where one's food comes from has driven other food trends, such as the "Paleo diet" to arise. The diet copies what cavemen would probably have eaten — meat, seafood, vegetables, and no processed foods or carbohydrates. The most requested dietary restriction at Gobble is a low- or no-carb meal.

Several chefs credit the Paleo diet with boosting bacon consumption. Bacon now flavors chocolate, donuts, mayonnaise and shrimp.

Even as meat lovers enjoy the Paleo diet, vegetables are on the rise as vegetarians, vegan, raw-food dieters (those who don't consume food cooked over 115 degrees Fahrenheit) and those seeking a healthy lifestyle continue to increase.

Travis Queen, the assistant store manager of Mollie Stone's Market in Palo Alto, said that Mollie Stone's has increased the number of raw-food items including kale chips, raw date crackers and trail mix. The market now has a centralized wall dedicated to its raw-food goods.

Personal chefs Michelle Bailey and Jacquie Steiner have both seen street food and quick-food restaurants like Chipotle push more vegetables as well.

"There is definitely a push for a lot more vegetables and more elaborate side dishes," Bailey said.

Vegetables are becoming the main focus of many meals. Chef Sare has noticed a difference in the way vegetables are prepared.

"People are using ginger rather than garlic — ginger green beans. ... Ginger is bubbling up," Sare said.

In the past two years, Steiner has seen a surge in the use of bitter greens in home and restaurant meals.

"People are using vegetables they had seen but hadn't used before like purple cauliflower, which is delicious," she said.

Consumers want to know not only how food is cooked, but where it was originally prepared. They are moving away from American food and American-influenced ethnic foods, according to Garg. They want to try the kinds of foods they might consume if they really were in another country.

"A number of people are looking for traditional European food or Peruvian food or Ethiopian food. It's harder to find authentic compared to the run-of-the-mill American version of a dish," Garg said.

This has expanded the ethnic-food aisle in many grocery stores.

Many individuals continue to leave their diets at the door in favor of full-fat gourmet treats. Salt seems to grace the most popular desserts these days. Draeger's' salted caramel ice cream has been selling really well, Draeger said. Piazza's Fine Foods candy buyer, Sherri Love, says salted chocolate bars including its B.T. McElrath's Salty Dog Chocolate Bar, Vosges' Black Salt Caramel Bar and a dark chocolate caramel truffle sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt have been very popular this year.

Food fads come and go, and how long they last is up for debate.

Remember the muffin shops and chocolate-chip cookie stores that graced every downtown thoroughfare not that long ago?

Editorial Intern Lisa Kellman can be emailed at lkellman@paweekly.com.

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