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CIA’s Worlds of Flavor conference will explore “world casual”

The Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival kicks off Thursday. I reached out to Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, to find out what menu trends we can expect in 2012.

How do mega trends enter the culinary zeitgeist?

Mega trends in the culinary and foodservice arena, as opposed to annual trends and fads, are driven by long-term or major economic, social, cultural and other forces. The prolonged economic downturn, coupled with globalization of American palates — partly driven by rapidly shifting demographics — created “world casual” as the cuisine of the moment in the U.S. But this trend will be with us for a long time: There is too much good food worldwide that inspires this for the trend to die off anytime soon.

What are some U.S. menu trends we can expect in 2012?

Health will grow in importance as a trend driver in food choices, as will sustainability. Operators’ success will come when these food choices are presented to customers in the package of big, full flavors — what we might term stealth health. There is a big subset of world casual that can be thought of as “healthy world casual.”

From a global perspective, what is the one cuisine to watch next year and why?

Asian cuisine is poised to explode with presence on American menus, partly because the big flavors of South, Southeast and East Asia are perfectly aligned with how we want to eat. Look for more pan-Asian menus, creative mash-ups of various Asian flavors and narrowly focused concepts tied to one country or one concept, such as noodle bars. Americans’ familiarity with the diversity of authentic Asian flavors is about where we were in our understanding of Italian flavors in the mid-1980s.

What are you most looking forward to at the Worlds of Flavor conference?

For nearly 15 years, we have been bringing together top culinary talent from all over the world, from perhaps 25 or more food cultures. We’ve made a lot of friends through breaking bread — or sharing noodles — with colleagues from many countries, and so it will be wonderful to welcome back some favorite cooks and chefs this year for our conference, themed “World Casual: The Future of American Menus.”

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