Benchmark Hospitality Names Top Five Dining Trends of 2011

Meeting planners who are hungry for the latest in food and beverage should look to trends in farming, mixology and exotic proteins, according to hospitality management company Benchmark Hospitality International, which today released its top five dining trends of 2011.

"The U.S. will continue to lead culinary innovation by embracing international flavors and preparations, converting these into contemporary dishes that elevate the dining experience," said Giorgi Di Lemis, Benchmark's vice president of food and beverage. "Today, there are many culinary trails being blazed by extremely creative chefs, farmers and mixologists. Those that lead the way through the next year and beyond will do so with a profound understanding and integration of the dynamic, global marketplace."

Observed by its 40 properties coast to coast and off shore, this year's top dining trends, according to Benchmark, are:

1. Rebirth of the Gentleman Farmer

"The innovative growers today, especially in California, are increasingly individuals who have developed a passionate love of farming as a second career: Lawyers, doctors, corporate executives in life's second act," Benchmark said, predicting a transition in public fascination from celebrity chefs to artisanal farmers. "This has created an unprecedented, dynamic growing environment as these professionals turned farmers have the goal of achieving true personal satisfaction by making the world of farming and animal husbandry a better place through understanding artisanal methods, questioning old processes and enhancing methodologies."

2. Omakase, with a Mixology Twist

According to Benchmark, the current addition to a mixologist's beverage arsenal is on-the-spot-creation of customized drinks, based on specific requests from the customer. "The better bars and lounges have eliminated bitters, juices and mixes from the 'guns' and bottles, and are creating freshly prepared juices and proprietary mixes for use within exotic combinations and garnishes," it said. "Salts from around the world, now widely available, are rapidly being embraced as a main ingredient in today's cocktails."

Another beverage trend is color coordinating customers' drinks with their favorite hue or creating a color-coordinated event — from linen to flowers to wines and cocktails. "Today's celebrity bartender impresses his customers with a lasting memory through new and customized cocktails, often created on the spot — and not just with his or her winning personality," Benchmark said.

3. Nose-to-Tail Dining

Although they grew up with canned and frozen foods, Gen X and Gen Y are increasingly sophisticated, according to Benchmark. "These are generations that were raised to be eco-sensitive and frown on waste," it said. "So they're game for experimenting with delicious combinations, unusual cooking techniques and unique preparations of what some might consider exotic selections previously left off the plate: sautéed kidneys, cured tongue, head cheese, tripe! No matter how unusual the protein or the preparation, today's eco-minded culinary trendsetters are saying, 'Bring it on!'"

4. The Finish: Torn Between Two Lovers

When it comes to desserts, customers are "swinging wildly between two ends of the continuum," according to Benchmark, which said there is simultaneously a "renaissance of sumptuous pies and miniature guilt-free desserts."

5. The World of Wine is Flat

The wine industry is now completely global, according to Benchmark's chief sommelier, Mary Watson, who said wines from China, India, Russia, Georgia, Moldova, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, etc., are competing for shelf space in the United States alongside the more familiar wines of France, Italy and the United States.

"As global economics change, so goes the wine industry," Benchmark said. "A greater number of wine drinkers today are looking for good but less expensive selections, and are willing to explore varietals from countries not familiar to them to achieve taste coupled with value."