More local brews. Restaurant gardens. And macarons nibbling at the margins of the cupcake business.
Expect all this and more from the local food scene in 2012, says Howard Gevertz, a former chef who teaches food service management at the Culinary Institute of Virginia. He has compiled a list of likely trends, and predicted some -- such as food trucks, that will largely bypass the region.
Gevertz, a 50-year veteran of the food business, said that the lag time for big-city trends to take hold here has been cut considerably by social media and television food programs.
In short, we're becoming trendier.
Take macarons, for example. The delicate French sandwich cookies have inspired macaron parlors to spring up in hip cities like New York and in bridal magazines.
Back Bay Gourmet in Virginia Beach started offering French macarons about a year ago in several flavors, including lemon, strawberry, vanilla bean and chocolate.
But the business might have been in front of the trend. Baker Nikole Langlais said sales were slow, so she started making macarons only to order. Today, their popularity has been catching on, "certainly more than they were a year ago."
A top national trend that will continue to play out in South Hampton Roads is the locavore movement. That means intense interest at markets and restaurants in locally grown and produced food -- not only fruits and vegetables but also meats, seafood and even cheese.
Several local restaurants stress locally sourced foods, and many maintain small gardens. Chef Sydney Meers, who lives across the street from his Portsmouth restaurant, Stove, has turned his entire yard into a garden for the restaurant.
"People love that; it gives them talking points," Gevertz said. "I don't think it's going anywhere at all. If anything, it's growing."
Consumers also will be seeking out locally produced libations, Gevertz said, such as beer and spirits.
South Hampton Roads brewers and distillers have begun to respond, including O'Connor Brewing Co. in Norfolk -- which offers Norfolk Canyon Pale Ale and Great Dismal Black IPA -- and Chick's Beach Rum, out just last year from Chris Richeson's Virginia Beach distillery.
Although not on Gevertz' list, an area where South Hampton Roads is ahead of the curve: Peruvian food, among the top 25 trends nationally according to The Daily Meal and The Food Network.
Last year, the region was home to a pair of Peruvian restaurants. One has closed, but Don Gallo, near Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach, has been open since May 2009 and serves South American fare such as ceviche, parihuela and hard-boiled yucca root. The restaurant recently added breakfast to its offerings.
"I don't think we have the depth of restaurants that appeal to a white-collar, professional crowd like you would see in Washington, New York or San Francisco," Gevertz said. But the area's large numbers of military families -- many of whom have spent time abroad -- increase the demand for ethnic fare.
He added that the number of Mexican eateries "is close to peaking."
Gevertz admits to using a less-than-scientific method to arrive at his predictions. He first digested an avalanche of articles published by trade journals and online food channels. Then he proffered the predictions to about 20 local chefs and culinary institute faculty members.
For Gevertz, trend spotting is a hobby of sorts. At school, "It's the type of thing we talk about constantly," he said.
A couple of trends that won't likely play out locally include fleets of food trucks and dining in the dark.
A new food truck appeared this month, parked at one end of Boissevain Avenue in Norfolk, complete with a Le Cordon Bleu-Las Vegas-trained chef turning out gourmet burgers and sandwiches. Evan Harrell, owner of The Hubcap Grill, said, "I think Norfolk is progressive enough to support this.... We'll see how the city takes to it."
But don't expect to see legions of food trucks rolling around the region, Gevertz said. "The National Restaurant Association is saying that food trucks are a growing business, but not here because we don't have the pedestrian population."
Nor does Gevertz foresee the dining-in-the-dark fad -- where high-end restaurants serve dinner to blindfolded patrons in blackened dining rooms -- gaining a foothold locally.
"Again, it's population," he said. "You need people who are willing to spend a lot of money for a strange experience."
Lorraine Eaton, 757-446-2697, email@example.com
Source: The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA