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A&E >  Food

2021 could include more virtual cocktail classes, a charcuterie evolution and spices galore

By Kris Kilduff For The Spokesman-Review

We are three weeks into the new year, but it is always a good time to think about food and its future. Here is what I think are the food trends for 2021:

Condiments catch up with ketchup. Heinz might be the heavyweight in kitchens across the U.S., but there are fresh new contenders gunning for the throne. I think one of the biggest bets is we will see consumers get adventurous with their condiments. More chimichurri on steaks, mustards beyond the yellow and pepper jelly on … everything.

I attended a dinner last month at Hogwash Whiskey Den where an unlikely star to a dish was mostarda, an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup. A slower-paced year in the kitchen will give birth to more people making sauerkraut or chili pastes, chutney and strange aioli.

We will continue to see a rise in high-quality sandwiches, which just happen to be the perfect canvas for creative concoctions. Maybe I’m spoiled from Asian restaurants, but my dream is that every meal comes with six or seven ramekins for little accompaniments. Whatever the case, anything that puts us one step closer to kicking ketchup to the curb is a good thing.

Virtual cocktail classes. Unemployment is at an all-time high, and we can’t even go drink away our sorrows at a bar? What chaos came of 2020. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but a crazy year has cleared a path for consumers to stock up their personal home bar. Those who attended a virtual cocktail class for the first time realized how fun they can be.

The idea may have been a happy accident because cities across the U.S. are head over heels learning how to make French 75, then walking to the couch to watch “The Crown” on Netflix. Local cocktail enthusiast and bartender Sailor Guevara already has the ball rolling.

You can sign up for one of her events that range from a whiskey and cheese pairing to the wonderful world of Mezcal. You’ll receive a fully prepared kit and spend an evening learning the history and recipe of some of our favorite potables.

Expect that this will be the first in a long line of digital offerings as we move forward in the new year. Sound fun? You can sign up for one of Guevara’s upcoming classes at her website sailorguevara.com.

Putting the yum in comfort. 2020’s love story with fried chicken is just the beginning of the comfort food resurgence. Expect the new year to continue trading fancy fine-dining experiences for casual comfort food favorites with upscale ingredients.

Fresh pasta mac and cheese, shrimp and grits and pot pies will infiltrate menus. Ramen, pho and yakisoba will start to be found in modern American kitchens, on fresh sheets and into the bellies of hungry customers.

Expect pizza to fall slightly away from the boom that happened with Neapolitan wood-fired for a more laidback ’70s-style pizzeria with high-end local ingredients. In the world of comfort food, soup is king. Don’t be surprised when even super-casual restaurants and dive bars ditch the pre-made varieties offered by food distributors for homemade soup prepared in small batches.

House-made soup is cost-effective and a perfect opportunity to use products with quickly approaching shelf lives. Once we’re back in restaurants after months of cold, outdoor alternatives, expect soup and other comfort food classics to be the tool for bringing warmth back into our lives.

A charcuterie evolution. Gone are the days of overwhelming four-page menus, as the people have spoken, and they want to snack. What started with appetizers and slowly transitioned into small plates, Americans have finally caught on to the idea that bigger isn’t always better.

The term charcuterie traditionally means cold cured meats but has become a moniker for grazing boards that boast a variety of cheeses, nuts, crackers and more. In larger cities, I’ve seen boards done with all dessert items or potato varieties. There are endless options if we open our minds (and stomachs) to the idea that dinner doesn’t have to be a hamburger and fries.

The best way to experience a new restaurant is a tasting menu, and charcuterie allows for customers to leave with a similar experience. Plan to see plenty of new takes on pickled vegetables, roasted nuts and fun varieties of cheeses. Snacking with friends over Happy Hour cocktails will be an important part of recovering from a crazy 2020.

Find room for the fur. The same month COVID-19 hit, I finally pulled the trigger and became a dog dad. As much as my pup loves to lounge around the house and play tug-o-war, he would trade it in a second for a trip in the car to join me for a beer and appetizers on a patio.

With restaurants like Bark, A Rescue Pub and Kitty Cantina leading the charge, pet-friendly food and drink options are set to make a splash in 2021. Don’t be surprised if your favorite hangout amasses a makeover to keep its customers comfortable while making it fun for Fido.

Expect pet-friendly places to toss the complimentary treats and start offering artisan food options for your fur ball. As pets become more ingrained in our families and relationships, doggy day cares and day spas only shed light on the next evolution of dining.

Spice up your life. With the rising popularity of things like the First We Feast YouTube series “Hot Ones” and Paqui’s one-chip challenge, there is an awfully good chance 2021 will have us on standby with a glass of milk.

Popular peppers like jalapenos have been a mainstay in dishes for years, but now more than ever chefs are looking to skyrocket the Scoville units on their menu with habanero, serrano, scotch bonnet and ghost peppers.

Local favorite and fastest-growing spice company in the world Spiceology recently signed a deal with top brand Huy Fong Sriracha for a series of rubs that will turn your next rack of ribs into a fiery fiesta. It’s not just Cheetos anymore! With hot versions of popular items like ramen and honey on the rise, be prepared to wash your hands after every meal for another reason.

Pop culture vulture. An avid reader, one of the first books I finished as a kid was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” As much as I left wanting to hang out in closets and befriend a talking lion, I was equally enthralled with trying Turkish Delight. Books, music and movies have always lent a hand in popularizing certain food and drink culture.

Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” had the golden touch for Reese’s Pieces, shawarma sales took flight after Tony Stark had post-fight munchies in the credits of “The Avengers,” and most recently 2019’s Oscar-winning best film “Parasite” created an uprising for ram don, a spicy ramen/udon noodle comfort dish.

I’m not saying I have inside knowledge of what is next, but as a big year full of anticipated films is upon us, we will see an increase of interest in eating and drinking what our greatest writers, creators and actors decide to devour on the silver screen.

Kris Kilduff can be reached at kris.kilduff56@gmail.com.

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