Eat Their Words

We wanted to know what Texas dining would look like in the next few years, so we asked the biggest names in food—the state’s leading chefs, restaurateurs, cookbook authors, and the like—to tell us what we’ll be having for dinner.

February 2008By Comments

Illustrations by Gluekit

In a highly unscientific survey, we sent a twenty-item questionnaire to some 75 chefs and other movers and shakers in the Texas food world to ask what dining will be like as the twenty-first century unfolds. More than 50 responded, and here’s a smattering of what they said. Beef, both fatty and lean, isn’t going away anytime soon. Raw fish—and not just sushi and ceviche—is coming on strong. And brush up on your Spanish, because quinoa (“keen-wah,” a nutty South American grain) will be on our plates alongside wheat, rice, and barley. Texas’s up-and-coming cuisine will be Indian, and our trendiest restaurants will be found in Dallas. Don’t bother to dress up for dinner, because formal dining is as dead as a dodo. So is “the crazy stuff” of overelaborate menus driven by chefs’ overinflated egos. Independent operations are not endangered—yet. If there is one single thing, however, that will transform restaurants, it is the state’s growing Hispanic population; Latino cooks will emerge from behind the scenes to become stars in their own right. And what will chefs need to cope with all this future shock? Same as they’ve always needed since the first caveman laid a haunch of woolly mammoth over a bed of smoldering coals: passion and a good palate.

1. The trendiest vegetable or grain in the next two years will be ________________?

• Quinoa …..15%
• Black vegetables and grains …..11%
• Dark leafy greens …..19%
• Local and seasonal produce …..9%
• Different kinds of rice …..7%
• Exotic potatoes …..4%
• Salsify …..4%
• Other …..41%

Answers included purple corn, fregola (a Sardinian pasta), crosnes (a type of Asian tuber also called knotroot and chorogi), cardoons (a celerylike plant related to artichokes), seaweed, and “What’s left?”

2. In two years, the next big protein will be ________________?

• Beef, especially grass-fed and the Akaushi breed …..36%
• Fish, including Kona Kampachi, the brand name of a type of yellowtail farmed off the coast of Hawaii …..18%
• Buffalo …..8%
• Unusual poultry, including guinea hen and non-cage-raised chickens …..8%
• Pork …..8%
• Lamb …..6%
• Other …..16%

Answers included tofu, goat, rabbit, shrimp, and organ meats.

3. The hottest Texas chef of 2010 will be _______________?

• We don’t know yet …..30%
• Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin …..7%
• Andrew Weissman, Le Rêve, San Antonio …..7%
• Tre Wilcox, formerly of Bravo’s Top Chef and Abacus, Dallas …..5%
• Other …..51%

Answers included Anthony Bombaci, Nana, Hilton Anatole hotel, Dallas; Ryan Pera, 17, Alden hotel, Houston; and “Whomever the media anoint.”

4. The current restaurant fad most likely to fade is ________________?

• Foams …..18%
• Molecular gastronomy …..12%
• Exotic salts …..10%
• Truffle oil …..8%
• Foie gras …..4%
• Bad service …..4%
• Other …..44%

Answers included Japanese, small desserts, and “obscenely huge portions and using a tenth-grade chemistry set to try to prove something.”

5. The appetizer of the future will be _______________?

Raw fish …..16%
• Wraps and rolls …..8%
• Foie gras …..4%
• Fruit …..4%
• Something (anything) liquid …..4%
• Cured meat or fish …..4%
• Other …..60%

Answers included crispy lamb’s tongue, pig’s feet, organ meats such as sweetbreads, and tempura quail eggs.

6. The next global cuisine craze will be __________________?

• Indian …..12%
• Peruvian …..8%
• Moroccan …..6%
• Mediterranean …..4%
• Other …..70%

Answers included Greek, English (gastro pubs), and “I don’t want to see the words ‘global’ and ‘cuisine’ next to each other anymore in any form for any reason.”

Section 2 Multiple Choice

7. In five years, diners in Texas restaurants will think which of these sauces and/or dressings are so last century?

• A. Chimichurri …..9%
• B. Vinaigrette with Maytag blue cheese crumbles …..15%
• C. Chipotle anything …..33%
• D. All of the above …..37%
• E. None of the above …..7%

8. In ten years, Texans will eat their evening meal at home how many times a week?

• A. Seven …..2%
• B. Five …..14%
• C. Four …..2%
• D. Three …..75%
• E. Zero…..7%

9. The trendiest Texas restaurants five years from now will be in which of these cities?

• A. Houston …..25%
• B. San Antonio …..13%
• C. Austin …..25%
• D. Dallas …..29%
• E. Other …..8%

Comment: “It will be a horse race—too close to call.”—Charles Butt, H-E-B and Central Market, San Antonio

Section 3 True/False

10. True or false: Carbs are coming back.

• True …..89%
“Thank God, yes!”—Stephan Pyles, Stephan Pyles, Dallas

• False …..11%
“Being more conscious of your diet should not be a fad.”—Jason Gould, Gravitas, Houston

11. True or false: Beef is on the wane.

• True …..9%
“Great beef has become sooo expensive.” —Nick Badovinus, formerly of Hibiscus, now developing F\NB, Dallas

• False …..91%
“Not in Texas.”—Diana Barrios Treviño, Los Barrios, San Antonio

12. True or false: By 2010 every dish in the majority of restaurants will contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.

• True …..57%
“They already do.” —Stewart Scruggs, Wink, Austin

• False …..43%
“Texans will become increasingly aware of what is in their food.” —Robert Rhoades, Hudson’s on the Bend, Austin

13. True or false: By 2015, ninety percent of our meals will be eaten in chain restaurants.

• True …..24%
“Sadly true.”—Mark Schmidt, Café 909, Marble Falls

• False …..76%
“Future generations will have an awareness and appreciation that will demand more than what the chains can offer.” —Lisa and Emmett Fox, Fino, Austin

14. True or false: By 2020, Texas’s wines will rival California’s.

• True …..30%
“Don’t they already?” —Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston

• False …..70%
“I am sorry, but this is impossible.” —Paul Petersen, Café Cenizo, Gage Hotel, Marathon

15. True or false: By 2025, Texas’s olive oils will rival Italy’s.

• True …..23%
“Wow, that would be great, and I own a little part of this movement.” —Scott Cohen, Watermark Hotel Company, San Antonio

• False …..77%
“I just laughed out loud. Let’s make it 2055.” —Jason Dady, The Lodge, San Antonio

Section 4 Essay

16. What will be the most significant developments in fine dining over the next two years?

“The old standards—fine linens, china, crystal, flatware, and outrageous build-outs—will start to vanish because of rapidly rising costs, and unique ideas will replace them.” —Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston

“The days of app, entrée, and dessert are done. Smaller plates and portions will play to Americans’ national attention-deficit disorder, demand for choice, and desire for instant gratification.” —Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin

“Casual but refined dining is the wave of the future.”—Dean Fearing, Fearing’s, Ritz-Carlton hotel, Dallas “Less available capital and more available talent will mean more shoestring operations and interesting restaurants tied to neighborhoods. Oh, with basic good cooking.”—Stewart Scruggs, Wink, Austin

“Chefs will bring real food back and leave the crazy stuff behind. Some of it works, but most is trying too hard to be weird. Food is not rocket science, and it is kind of hard to reinvent the wheel every ten or twelve years. People like what they can pronounce.”—Paul Petersen, Café Cenizo, Gage Hotel, Marathon

“Watch for healthy, high-end fast food. You will be able to get your seared ahi tuna salad on arugula through a pickup window.” —David Bull, Bolla, Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa, Dallas

17. Are independently owned restaurants an endangered species? If so, what will we miss most when all eating places are owned by corporations?

• Endangered …..36%
• Not endangered …..64%

“The expense of opening an independent restaurant is beyond belief. You have to generate enough revenue to survive while you are chained to the kitchen stove and trying not to get burned-out. It is a dance to stay alive while delivering a first-class experience.” —Jeff Blank, Hudson’s on the Bend, Austin

“Chains have tremendous buying power and political clout. The independent crowd is busy and poorly organized. It wouldn’t surprise me to see independents squeezed down to less than five percent in the next five to ten years.” —Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Fort Worth

“Independents have such an impact and ability to start trends that it would be disastrous to contemplate a future without them. Can you say, ‘Jalapeño poppers, cheese sticks, and Sysco Corporation frozen ribblets’?” —Andrew Weissman, Le Rêve, San Antonio

“Will never happen. The dream of owning one’s restaurant is what drives production, dedication, and creativity.”—Stephan Pyles, Stephan Pyles, Dallas

“We would greatly miss the love that the little guys put into every plate, the passion that waiters convey from the kitchen to the diner, the understanding that food is more than fuel for the body, and the brotherhood that we chefs have.” —Will Packwood, Cibo, Austin

18. Are “eat local” and “slow food” just yuppie fads, or will they continue to go mainstream?

• Flash in the pan …..11%
• On the rise …..89%

“I think they sound great, but people will still stop by Whataburger when it’s convenient. ‘Green’ is a big buzzword, and people will probably try to eat, shop, and live green, but I doubt much will change in day-to-day behavior.”—Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Fort Worth

“The economics don’t work for the majority of restaurants, and ultimately the consumers decide. A few bucks here and there is a big deal, and if you eat out five nights a week, it adds up.” —Lance Fegen, Glass Wall, Houston

“We must rely on ourselves and not on other countries to provide. Locally grown vegetables, fruits, and spices will eventually decrease the cost of shipping and the use of energy.” —Kent Rathbun, Abacus, Dallas

“We have to be willing to take the extra steps to get the freshest and best ingredients out there, not just pick up the phone and place an order. When you know the farmers and see the love and passion they put into their products, you don’t waste anything. You become a better chef.” —Chris Shepherd, Catalan Food and Wine, Houston

19. How will the state’s emerging Hispanic majority affect the culinary scene?

“Look behind the kitchen doors at the hot spots. The finest kitchens are more likely staffed with Mexican immigrants than with budding new chefs. The Hispanic population is already the backbone of the Texas food scene because of its outstanding work ethic.”—Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Fort Worth

“Foods from countries besides Mexico will enter the mainstream over the next five years. In particular, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador come to mind.”—Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston “Demands will change as Hispanics become more affluent and move beyond a strictly regional approach to food. Who knows where their cultural roots will take Hispanic chefs when they begin to make their mark, especially in fine dining.”—Stewart Scruggs, Wink, Austin

“What is our government going to do about immigration? If illegal immigrants cannot work here and are being deported, labor issues will negatively impact every aspect of the food industry.” —Kent Rathbun, Abacus, Dallas

“Note to self: ‘Must learn Spanish.’” —Nick Badovinus, formerly of Hibiscus, now developing F\NB, Dallas

20. What should a young chef know to succeed in tomorrow’s kitchen?

“Check your ego at the door.” —Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth

“Forget about all the TV and cooking-school hype. This is a hard profession that takes years of learning the basics. It is more difficult to roast the perfect chicken than to create a dish with five sauces that is stacked five inches tall.” —Lou Lambert, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Austin

“Spend what little money you will have on good knives and eating at the best restaurants in town.”—Mark Schmidt, Café 909, Marble Falls

“Travel and see the world of foods in their own environments.”—Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks, San Antonio

“It’s all about passion. Stay true to authentic ingredients and develop a palate.”—John Campbell, H-E-B and Central Market, Austin

“Being a chef is half talent and half management skills and working within food and labor budgets. It’s not all glamour! It’s not all fun!”—Lisa and Emmett Fox, Fino, Austin

“Cooking can always be creative, but if the customer is in the mood for an omelet, expect to break some eggs.”—Robert Del Grande, Café Annie, Houston

Our respondents:

• Alma Alcocer-Thomas, Jeffrey’s, Austin
• Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks, San Antonio
• Nick Badovinus, formerly of Hibiscus, now developing F\NB, Dallas
• Jeff Blank, Hudson’s on the Bend, Austin
• Anthony Bombaci, Nana, Hilton Anatole hotel, Dallas
• Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Fort Worth
• David Bull, Bolla, Stoneleigh
• Hotel & Spa, Dallas
• Charles Butt, H-E-B and Central Market, San Antonio
• John Campbell, H-E-B and Central Market, Austin
• Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston
• Charles Clark, Ibiza, Houston
• Scott Cohen, Watermark Hotel Company, San Antonio
• Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin
• Michael J. Cordúa, Américas, Houston
• Mark Cox, Mark’s American Cuisine, Houston
• Jason Dady, The Lodge, San Antonio
• Robert Del Grande, Café Annie, Houston
• Randy Evans, Brennan’s of Houston
• Dean Fearing, Fearing’s, Ritz-Carlton hotel, Dallas
• Lance Fegen, Glass Wall, Houston
• Tom Fleming, Central 214, Dallas
• Lisa and Emmett Fox, Fino, Austin
• David Garrido, formerly of Jeffrey’s, now developing Garrido’s, Austin
• Marion Gillcrist, La Traviata, Austin
• Jason Gould, Gravitas, Houston
• Lou Lambert, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Austin
• Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth
• William McKenna, Texas Culinary Academy, Austin
• Bruce McMillian, Tony’s, Houston
• Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston
• Will Packwood, Cibo, Austin
• Chris Pappas, Pappas Restaurants, Houston
• Paul Petersen, Café Cenizo, Gage Hotel, Marathon
• Stephan Pyles, Stephan Pyles, Dallas
• Kent Rathbun, Abacus, Dallas
• Rebecca Rather, Rebecca’s Table, Fredericksburg
• Robert Rhoades, Hudson’s on the Bend, Austin
• Bud Royer, Royers Round Top Café, Round Top
• Avner Samuel, Aurora, Dallas
• Mark Schmidt, Café 909, Marble Falls
• Stewart Scruggs, Wink, Austin
• John Sheely, Mockingbird Bistro, Houston
• Chris Shepherd, Catalan Food and Wine, Houston H Jeb Stuart, Shade, Houston
• John Tesar, Mansion Restaurant, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
• Diana Barrios Treviño, Los Barrios, San Antonio
• Scott Tycer, Gravitas, Houston
• Chris Ward, Mercury Grill, Dallas
• Damien Watel, Bistro Vatel, San Antonio

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