Culinary opera and light shows to trend in 2014

No longer content with simply churning out plates of edible art, chefs in 2014 will continue to push culinary envelope by elevating the dining experience to sensory theater with the help of operatic soundtracks, light shows, scent diffusers and the switch of a thermostat.

That’s one of the key restaurant predictions by influential food consultants at Baum + Whiteman whose annual trendspotting report provides a crystal ball forecast of what diners and gourmands can expect to see in the coming year.

One of the major restaurant trends set to take off next year, for example, is the sensory dining experience pioneered by French chef Paul Pairet, whose avant-garde restaurant Ultraviolet in Shanghai serves up a theatrical meal that engages all the senses.

After being spirited away to a secret, undisclosed location, guests brace themselves for a 20-course meal that’s accompanied by a cinematic show in which images of a rainforest or blizzard are projected onto a 360-degree wraparound projection screen or on their tabletops. Each course gets its own soundtrack, while timed atomizer sprays may infuse the room with the smell of soil to evoke the black forest.

El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, which currently holds the title of best restaurant in the world from Restaurant magazine, also took cues from Pairet by opening a similarly operatic show with Il Somni this year, a 12-course banquet based on ideas of history, memory, landscape and poetry.

But are these peripheral add-ons just a gimmick? For Baum + Whiteman, the answer is a resounding no.

“This isn’t just intellectual vapor,” they write.

“Beside the here-and-now experiences, these operators are exploring how combined sensory stimuli create powerful, emotional and memorable ties between customers and restaurants. One more thing you can’t get at home.”

Chicken and fish get some r-e-s-p-e-c-t

The fine dining concept of multi-course tasting menus is also expected to trickle down to less auspicious restaurants with prices at half the cost (around $85) of Michelin-starred destinations. The reason? Tasting menus are good for restaurant economics, points out Baum + Whiteman, guaranteeing a specific average check and allowing for better control of inventory.

Diners can also expect to see chicken elevated to the same plane as steak. That is, “the humble bird is going haute.” Think organic, free-range rotisserie chickens priced like steaks, served with gourmet garnishes like foie gras, chanterelles, béarnaise sauce and quail eggs.

And the humble, much-maligned pizza topping anchovy will gain some r-e-s-p-e-c-t next year, the report predicts, particularly premium, Spanish salt-packed anchovies called boquerones.

Fresh sardines and mackerel will also be given a second glance.

And finally, restaurants will try to seduce diners by amping up banal table-top condiments, spreads and starters like vanilla tapenade, tomato jam, roasted garlic butter, smoked ricotta, smoked eggplant dip and whipped chicken liver butter.