16 Food Trends Southern Chefs are Looking Forward to in 2022

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Avocado toast. Aperol spritz. The Cronut, deep-fried butter, monster milkshakes, and brunch. Over the years, food trends have swung the pendulum from (seemingly) healthy to decadent hedonism, and we have loved them all. If 2021 was the year of fusion cuisine, pantry shopping, and plant-based options, the 2022 food trends will extrapolate—with a few additions of their own. Main dishes rooted in tradition and sides of nostalgia are on the menu for 2022, along with growing global flavors, healthier (and plant-based) options, a taste for teas, and alcohol-free beverages. (We love a great mocktail.) Plus, there will also be a movement towards food with a purpose. Many of the trends we'll see next year are also stemming from restaurants getting creative to rise above challenges in staffing, increasing food costs and supply-chain issues. Here's what to expect and look forward to when going out to eat next year, according to Southern chefs.

01 of 16


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The non-alcoholic trend has been building for a while, but people are embracing it even more now as part of a healthier lifestyle, says Meg Bickford, executive chef at Commander's Palace in New Orleans. In response, restaurants are offering more complex mocktails with sophisticated flavors, such as "A Little R&R" with rose-monk fruit syrup, rhubarb bitters, lemon juice and soda water. "The artistry is still there and the guest feels special, but they are prioritizing self-care at this moment," she adds.

02 of 16

Nostalgic Treats

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Simplified, nourishing food that evokes childhood memories is a welcome trend post pandemic. "Think 'the great pizza resurrection,' the return of the funky sandwich shop, and an overall pivot towards sensible comfort foods rather than the amorphous concepts and overt fusions that folks might not have an innate craving for," says Keith Potter, executive chef at Hyatt Centric Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Leaning into this trend, he offers cornflake-crusted French toast on the breakfast menu, which reminds guests of filling breakfasts cooked by our parents, he says.

03 of 16

Portion Control

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Going out for pasta will look less like a giant bowl of spaghetti and more like a single serving of bucatini, Italian style. Americans in general are becoming more conscious of their lifestyle choices, including eating habits—yet we don't want to be restricted, either. The easiest way to accommodate that shift, without making people feel deprived? Cutting back portion sizes, says Paige Vidrine, owner of Buffi's Peauxboys in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This move does double-duty to help restaurants cut costs during still-strained times, too.

04 of 16

Return to Tradition

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After nearly two years of home cooking and eating more casually, people are ready to indulge in fine-dining experiences once again, adding a bit of glamour and luxury back into their meals, says Tyler Akin, chef-partner at Le Cavalier at Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. Expect to see a resurgence of classic fine-dining dishes like oysters Rockefeller and duck à l'orange that were popular in the mid-century, Akin adds.

05 of 16

Savory Breakfasts

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Brunch was big in 2021, and many restaurants are continuing to offer brunch favorites to their all-day menus, says Juan Pablo Silva, executive chef at Bacchus Kitchen + Bar at Hotel Vin in Grapevine, Texas. For 2022, he's seeing increased demand for more savory breakfast items. "We're moving away from sweet dishes and focusing more on savory renditions that incorporate umami."

06 of 16

Atypical Entrees

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Another strategy restaurants are using to cut costs without sacrificing taste is to spotlight traditionally less popular items that are more reasonably priced but can still be prepared with great flavors, says Chef Gary Palm of Primrose in Destin, Florida. For example, he's preparing monk fish roasted with smoked apple bacon and tomato onion confit, or cobia with wild mushrooms and Thai pepper basil.

07 of 16

Reimagined Desserts

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Facing supply challenges with common ingredients like chocolate, pastry chefs are getting creative with dessert options and turning to more in-house production of these treats. For instance, at Primrose, they're utilizing more seasonal items that are accessible near the restaurant: Think individual apple pies and fresh fruit gratin.

08 of 16

Smaller Menus

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Offering fewer menu items leads to better cost control for restaurants, and it doesn't have to be a bad thing for guests (no more agonizing over what to order on giant menus!). "[Restaurants] have fewer employees, food prices have gone up, and people who still want to work in the business just want a better quality of life," says Chef Duane Nutter, a 2020 James Beard finalist with Southern National in Mobile, Alabama. "That combination is going to lead to having fewer employees who will be paid well to prepare and serve what the restaurant can handle comfortably without sacrificing integrity."

09 of 16

Tea Time

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It's time for this comforting drink to transcend the cup. Chefs are using teas like hibiscus and chai in their cooking in various applications, from poaching fish to desserts and cocktails, says Nutter. "This is a way to introduce flavor without making the end product too heavy," he adds. At Southern National, he uses cardamom milk tea in cheesecake topped with ginger blueberry compote.

10 of 16

African Flavors

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TikTok and Instagram have helped shine a light on cuisine from around the world and made it discoverable from your couch, says Sophina Uong, chef and owner of Mister Mao in New Orleans. Having discovered amazing food and ingredients from countries like Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria throughout her career, she's glad to see these dishes gaining foothold in the U.S. "Move over dirty rice and jambalaya—it's time for Jollof," she says. Uong also predicts we'll see mitmita (an Ethiopian spice blend) as a new flavor for flatbreads, pizza, candied popcorn or bacon.

11 of 16

More Korean Influence

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Flavors such as yuzu (a citrus fruit grown in East Asia), doenjang (fermented soy bean paste), and gochujang (hot pepper paste) will show up more frequently. "There has been growing interest in Korean pop culture, television, movies, and K-pop music among Americans, which has undoubtedly contributed to the influence and growth of Korean cuisine," says Victoria Wenning, executive sous chef at The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral, Florida.

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"I believe there are some ingredients being 'discovered,' and one of them is hibiscus," says Chef Dina Butterfield with Uchi Miami of the edible flower. She's had guests asking about the hot-pink, slightly tart ingredient in her desserts, crudos, and cocktails (like Subarashi, with tequila, mezcal, hibiscus agave and lime). Hibiscus tea is also known for its medicinal properties.

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More Plant-Based Options

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Nearly 60 percent of Americans planning to eat more plant-based foods are doing so because of its benefits to the environment, according to a 2021 report by FMCG Gurus. It makes sense that chefs will continue to add more plant-based items to menus to help reduce their environmental impact. "[The market] will shift slowly over time, leading chefs to come up with creative ways to make healthy delicious," says Vidrine. There will also be a shift to more plant-based comfort foods, says Pinky Cole, founder of Slutty Vegan ATL in Atlanta. For instance, at her restaurant, she serves vegan burgers with plant-based bacon and cheese. "We want to show people that they can make plant-based choices without being confined to quinoa bowls and kale," she says.

14 of 16

Potato Milk

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Almond, oat, soy, pea, pecan, banana—when it comes to alternative milks, we've seen just about everything…or so we thought. Enter: potato milk, poised to be the hot milk of 2022, says Ian Rynecki, executive chef at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard in North Garden, Virginia. "We are always looking for a more ecologically conscious non-dairy offering, and potato milk might check all the boxes," he says, noting it's allergen-free, cheap to produce, and easier on the environment than other alternative milks.

15 of 16

A New Hot Sandwich

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If 2020 was the year of the fried chicken sandwich, and restaurants rode that wave through 2021, the next iteration to watch for is the Japanese katsu sando. "This is what you want to be eating in 2022," says Rynecki. A deep-fried cutlet sandwich typically made with pork, Japanese milk bread and Tonkatsu (a fruit and vegetable sauce similar to A1), the katsu sando is going to show up in many forms on menus next year. "With more local farmers raising pigs, this will be a welcome addition to the culinary landscape," says Rynecki, who will introduce his own version of the sandwich at Pippin Hill soon.

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Food with Purpose

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The trend of guests wanting not just great food but knowing that the dollars they spend help contribute to the great good of the world will continue into 2022, says Bill Hogan, executive chef at Minero in Atlanta. For instance, at Mineo, they make tortillas from heirloom corn grown by a company that pays farmers directly and works with individuals living in poverty. "You are not just buying a taco," he says. "You are directly helping farmers in Mexico carry on the tradition of growing corn and supporting them getting paid fairly to do it."

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