The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

Flavor Forecast: Predicting 2014’s Top Food Trends

As much as people have been buzzing about Charleston’s upcoming “Restaurant Week,” there’s been no escaping the week’s biggest local news – a tainted water supply that forced the closure of almost all local restaurants.

Like many people, I turned to social media for all the latest updates and occasional comic relief to help laugh away the pain. Among the witty banter I saw, one post that particularly resonated with me involved a New Year’s do-over.

Lamenting the wave of sub-zero temperatures that gripped the area and a subsequent chemical leak that poured more salt in our wounds, one friend called for another celebration to ring in 2014 once all this mess is cleaned up.

Love it.

So in honor of ringing in a “new” new year, here’s a sneak peek at what’s supposed to be hot on this year’s food scene.

Marketing and communications agency JWT has just released the results of its ninth annual forecast of world trends, including some that relate to food and drink …

  • Edible Packaging – To make their food more sustainable, marketers are tapping into new technologies to create edible wrappers around burgers, ice cream and more.
  • Infused Ice Cubes – Taking cocktail culture to the next level, mixologists are starting to push the flavors of their concoctions with infused ice: cubes of different shapes and sizes that are made with juices, fruits, syrups and herbs, enhancing their look and adding complementary flavors as they melt.
  • Silent Meals – To help diners eat more mindfully, some restaurants now hold silent meals. The Brooklyn restaurant Eat has been doing this periodically, asking patrons to remain quiet and focus on the taste of the food, sounds of the food prep and details of the room. In Mexico City, “anti-restaurants” have popped up where people eat in silence — no music, noise or waiter haranguing you.
  • Ugly Produce – Seeing more lumpy heirloom tomatoes or gnarled carrots on store shelves or at farmers markets? If not, you will. In Europe, there’s a movement afoot to reduce food waste by selling rather than discarding imperfect produce. U.K. magazine Delicious is encouraging readers to buy imperfect produce and speak out against regulations governing the appearance of produce sold in stores.

Spice company McCormick also compiled its annual list of the top flavors to look for in 2014 …

  • Aji Amarillo: A hot Peruvian yellow chile pepper with bold, fruity flavor.
  • Kashmiri Masala: An often homemade blend of spices from northern India featuring cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and ginger.
  • Tea: Not just for sipping anymore, this natural ingredient is making its way into rubs, broths and marinades.
  • Chamoy Sauce: A unique Mexican condiment (made from apricot, lime, chilies and spices) that is beginning to gain a following in the U.S.
  • Cassava Flour: Also known as manioc or tapioca flour, this gluten-free alternative is a Brazilian staple prized for its versatility.

Two-Pound Pepperoni Roll in Good (?) Company

Appalachian Power Park's two-pound Pepperoni Roll
Appalachian Power Park’s two-pound Pepperoni Roll

After reading about the new giant two-pound Pepperoni Roll coming to Appalachian Power Park this season (, it made me wonder what other calorie-packed stadium eats you could munch on at ballparks around the country.

Oh, man.

Better loosen your belt if you want to sink your teeth into one of these over-the-top indulgences …

  • Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field – “Da Burger Triple Play” pork burger is a 3-pound pork patty topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, pulled pork and barbecue sauce, but it also packs an estimated 1,100 calories, 65 grams of fat, 2,700 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of carbohydrates.
  • New York Yankees and Yankee Stadium – Moe’s Southwest Grill’s “Billy Barou Nachos” – piled high with ground beef, white cheese sauce, salsa, jalapenos, olives, guacamole and sour cream – weighs in at an estimated 1,380 calories, 90 grams of fat, 3,196 milligrams of sodium and 112 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium – “The Victory Knot,” a mega-sized pretzel designed to feed four people, is two pounds of dough that fits in a full-size pizza box and is served with chipotle honey mustard, sweet cinnamon crème and beer cheese for dipping. Here’s the twist, though. It’s an estimated 3,080 calories, 82 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 6,550 milligrams of sodium and 500 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field – The big whopper on this menu is “The Fat Darrell,” a jumbo sandwich consisting of chicken fingers, French fries, mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce. According to Paula Deen’s Fat Darrell recipe, there are 2,166 calories, 75 grams of fat, 27 grams of saturated fat, 3,500 milligrams of sodium and 220 grams of carbohydrates in this baby.
  • Atlanta Braves at Turner Field – “The Dixie Dog,” a half-pound frankfurter that’s flash-fried and topped with pulled pork barbecue, low-country mustard barbecue sauce, pickles and creamy southern slaw, has about 1,277 calories, 98 grams of fat and 2,280 milligrams of sodium.

But nosh with caution. These eats may take you out AT the ballpark!

BBQ Survey: We Love It With Chicken in Texas

     As backyard grills are getting a workout this weekend celebrating (lamenting?) the end of summer, the folks at commissioned a survey  to settle American’s barbecue debate once and for all.
     That survey uncovered some interesting trends about America’s obsession with all things BBQ, including our views on the most “all-American” foods.
     A whopping 84% said they plan to enjoy some sweet ‘n’ tangy barbecue at some point over this Labor Day weekend. But surprising to me, chicken beat out pork (39% to 30%) as their barbecued meat of choice, followed by beef at just 26%.
     Putting the whole South vs. Southwest turf war to rest, America chose Texas as the best barbecue destination (43%) beating out Memphis (24%) and North Carolina (15%).
     Additional findings …
  • When  it comes to what consumers consider the  most all-American food, apple pie took the crown with 28% of the  vote, followed by hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue at 25%, 20% and 17% respectively.
  • Four  in 10 Americans believe slow-smoked is the one true way to cook great  barbecue. (Well duh.)
  • And 91% said they either “love or like” barbecue. (Double duh. What’s not to love?!)


The AmazonLocal Barbecue Survey was conducted online online and reached a national sample of  1,050 American adults ages 18 and older. The margin of error is +/- 3.1%, with a 95% confidence level.

I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this – “Who does this guy think he is, telling me what I can and can’t drink!?” – but New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is my new BFF now that he’s on a crusade to ban Big Gulps in the Big Apple.

I’m all for freedom of choice, but if the choices people make are killing them why SHOULDN’T someone step in to try to stop them. If you saw someone hurt on the side of the road, would you really drive on by saying, “Well, it’s really not my place …”

For those who haven’t heard, Bloomberg made a splash when he announced he was proposing an unprecedented ban on super-large sodas and other sugary drinks at the city’s restaurants, delis, sports arenas and movie theaters. Concerned about our nation’s growing obesity epidemic, he wants the city to limit those drinks to 16 ounces max – an amount that used to be “large” but is now considered “small” in a world of Big Gulps, Super Big Gulps, Double Gulps, Super Double Dog Dare Gulps.


We’re carrying around vats of soda – each containing something like 37,0700 calories and a 5-pound bag of sugar – and yet we wonder why we keep getting thicker in the middle.


If a 16-ounce soda – a full bottle of pop … a quarter of a giant 2 liter, for goodness sake – here’s a novel idea. Drink some water.

You go, Michael. It’s an uphill battle, but one that needs fought and won.

Which Girl Scout Cookie is America’s Favorite?

I recently placed my annual Girl Scout cookie order, a day I look FAR too forward to each year.

And while I was sitting there debating so many good choices — Oh, the agony! — it got me thinking. Which Girl Scout cookie really is the most popular?

Turns out it’s not even close.

According to a new Good Morning America/ poll, Thin Mints ran away from the competition with 49% of the vote. My personal favorites, Samoas and Tagalongs, came in second and third — at 28% and 11%, respectively — followed by Do-Si-Dos and Trefoils, both at 6%.

So what’s yours? And, more importantly, just how many boxes did you order??

Pasta Poll: More Would Give Up Chocolate First

Are you more likely to pick pasta or choose chocolate? To worship angel hair or covet cocoa? Faint over fettuccini or melt over go gaga over Ghirardelli?

Well, according to a recent survey by the National Pasta Association, more Americans pick pasta over chocolate as the one food they couldn’t live without. Nearly 60 percent of Americans ages 18-54 said they would give up chocolate before they’d skip the spaghetti, macaroni or fusilli.

According to the survey, an average American eats pasta seven times per month and has five packages of dry pasta in their cupboard or pantry. Tallied up, Americans eat about 20 pounds of pasta per person in the U.S. each year. 

Which pasta is found on more plates?  Thirty-two percent of those surveyed say spaghetti is their personal favorite, followed by angel hair with 16% of the votes and penne with 11%. The lowly bowtie came in last at only 4%.

As for the debate, I add only this: Thank goodness we don’t have to choose only one.

Great News Regarding Healthier Kids Menus

Here’s some great news on the healthy eating front …

First Lady Michelle Obama has joined Darden Restaurants and Partnership for a Healthier America in announcing a “breakthrough” health and wellness commitment in the restaurant industry. Darden — whose brands include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze — is the world’s largest full service restaurant company and owns and operates 1,900 restaurants in 49 states, serving over 400 million meals per year.

Here’s what they have agreed to and, as a parent of three boys who dine out often, I’m telling you this is huge:

  • A fruit or vegetable will be the default side for every kids’ menu item. (Not fries or mac ‘n’ cheese.)
  • 1% milk will be the default beverage, provided automatically if no alternate beverage is requested.  Milk will be prominently promoted on the menu and made available with free refills. 
  • Food illustrations on the menu will promote the healthy choices for meals and drinks.
  • Healthier menu options will be more prominently displayed when possible.
  • Carbonated beverages will not be displayed on children’s menus. (HALLELUJAH!)
  • Improve the nutritional content of one or more children’s menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat and 600 mg of sodium.

Some changes have gone into effect immediately, with all being fully implemented by July 2012.

In announcing the news, Obama said: “I’m here today because this is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry. Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before. They’re not just making their kids menus healthier so that parents have more choices and more control, they’re committing to make changes across the full menu at every single one of their restaurants.

“I’m confident that if companies like Darden continue to be creative and innovative and keep our kids’ best interests at heart then we will solve the challenge of childhood obesity and give all our kids the healthy futures they deserve.”

Tomorrow (May 28) is National Hamburger Day (WOOF!) and it’s hard to top a good ol’ classic burger of meat, lettuce, tomato, mayo and/or ketchup and/or mustard.

Topped with a slice of Kraft American cheese, of course.

But since today’s a special occasion and all, why not elevate your burger with a fat slab of artisan cheese instead? Combine that change with subbing your traditional bun for specialty bread and – voila! – you’ve instantly created a new American classic!

What kind of cheese? There’s no wrong answer …

• Fresh mozzarella with a few leaves of basil.
• A creamy European-style cheese with sautéed mushrooms.
• Pepper jack with a smear of guacamole.
• Crumbled bleu … or feta … herbed chevre.

Healthy Eating … From a Vending Machine?!

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department, I recently received one of those baffling press releases that left me scratching my head.

Entitled “Tips for Eating Healthfully From a Vending Machine,” the release warned against falling into the junk food trap when inevitably faced with a vending machine as your only option for a much-needed snack. This California-based company is hoping to change all of that with a new line of machines offering things like fresh fruit and vegetables, soy milk and yogurt.

But I’m guessing those won’t make it here anytime soon, so take a look at how they suggest you make better decisions at existing vending machines in the meantime …

  1. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables first.
  2. To save calories on beverages, opt for flavored water, unsweetened iced tea, milk or soymilk.
  3. Try to limit your snack option to 100 calories, and pay attention to the number of servings.
  4. Opt for nutrient-dense foods that satisfy your hunger longer, such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt, natural granola bars and smoothies.
  5. Determine whether you are hungry or just thirsty. People often fill up on calories, when really they are simply dehydrated.

Really, that’s your ground-breaking advice?

Here’s mine: Don’t eat crap out of vending machines.

Hey, fellow foodies, here’s an event worth checking out!

“The Revolution Has Been Televised. Now What?”

Charleston native and former Daily Mail reporter Brent Cunningham will be in town later this month — along with his wife, former Washington Post food writer Jane Black — to discuss their upcoming book on the efforts to build a healthy food culture in Huntington. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in the library of Marshall University’s South Charleston Campus.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver put Huntington on the map through his Emmy-winning TV series, “Food Revolution,” that shed fascinating light on his efforts to serve healthier school lunches in Cabell County. Huntington was unceremoniously chosen as the site of the series because it had recently been named the unhealthiest city in America in some national ranking. (The series was eye-opening and, in my opinion, very well done, by the way. Netflix it if you missed it.)

Brent attended Marshall University and worked at the Charleston Daily Mail before moving on to write for The Nation, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Harvard’s Neiman Reports, among other publications. He is now Managing Editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, the national oldest journal of media criticism, and a member of the adjunct faculty at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Jane now covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues and has written for the likes of the BBC, Businessweek Online, Boston Magazine, Food & Wine, The New York Times, Slate, Gourmet (may it R.I.P.) and Body & Soul. She attended the Leiths School of Food and Wine in London and her podcast, Smart Food, airs on Edible Radio.

Their new book is set to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013.

Come on out and hear what they have to say, welcome Brent back and toss a few hard questions his way. (I know him, he can handle it.)