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    Local, Bite-sized, Organic Are Foodservice Watchwords for 2009, Says NRA

    A survey of more than 1,600 top chefs showed locally grown produce, small desserts, organics as top menu trends next year, said the National Restaurant Assn.

    A new National Restaurant Association survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs - members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) - revealed that "nutrition and philosophy-driven food choices" will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2009, according to the foodservice trade group.

    Local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthful kids' meals, and new cuts of meat topped the list of nearly 210 culinary items, in NRA's third annual "What's Hot" chef survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends were kids' vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits (including acai and mangosteen), small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum, artisan liquor, and sustainable seafood.

    In October 2008, the association surveyed 1,609 chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, asking them to rate 208 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods, and culinary themes as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2009.

    Nutrition/health as a culinary theme was ranked number 11 in the survey, underscoring the growing trends of consumer interest in healthful living, said NRA. Among the top 20 items, nutritionally balanced children's dishes and side items, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals illustrate that restaurant menus will continue to expand options for health-conscious diners.

    Several of the top 20 trendy items were related to philosophy-driven food choices, including local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood, and free-range pork/poultry. Locally grown produce - rated the number-one trend on restaurant menus in 2009 - has grown tremendously in popularity for a variety of reasons.

    Newfabricated cuts of meat, such as Denver steak and pork flat iron steak, came in at number five on the list of trendy items. Several factors drive this trend, including culinary creativity, cost-consciousness, and interest in lean protein, said NRA.

    The hottest trends in culinary themes included nutrition/health, gluten-free/allergy-conscious, food-alcohol pairings, umami (known as "the fifth taste"), and the slow food movement, the chefs told NRA. In the preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide.

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