Thai rolled ice cream has come to Springdale. Three months ago, Xyadet Symoungphone and his son, Princeton, opened Roll Up Creamery and Tea on Gutensohn Road and began serving a variety of exotic flavors, including matcha green tea, papaya, jack fruit and avocado, as well as the standbys — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
With that, one of the hottest food trends in the country arrived in Northwest Arkansas and patrons can now experience the frozen treat that began with street vendors in Thailand.
Thai-rolled ice cream, where the cream base is poured onto a frozen sheet and rolled up instead of scooped, is just one of the wide-ranging food trends predicted in the 2018 National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” culinary forecast.
The annual survey of almost 700 professional chefs, all members of the American Culinary Federation, asked chefs to identify food, beverage and restaurant concepts they see trending for the year. According to the survey, in addition to Thai-rolled ice cream, new cuts of meat, ethnic cuisine, house-made artisan pickles and condiments, vegetable carb substitutes, doughnuts with non-traditional filling, culinary cocktails, and locally produced spirits, wine and beer are among the food and beverage items that are characterizing menus this year.
Culinary and restaurant concepts trending include chef-driven, fast-casual restaurants; locally sourced food; food waste reduction; natural ingredients; veggie-centric cuisine and environmental sustainability.
HEALTHY IN THE HEARTLAND
But the real question is, what’s happening in Northwest Arkansas?
Two locals with food industry experience see locally sourced food and meats; veggie-centric cuisine; ethnic food; food waste reduction; chef-driven, fast-casual restaurants and food trucks as being popular in the region.
“Vegetarian and vegan-based menu items are starting to be really strong. We’re seeing a lot of vegetable cooking, a lot of purees. Hummus is an example of that,” said Rob Nelson, owner and executive chef of Tusk and Trotter and executive chef of Butcher and Pint, both in Bentonville. “Right now at Tusk and Trotter, a third of our menu is focused on the vegetable.”
“Plant-based and vegetarian and vegan is definitely not a passing fancy,” said Dr. Glenn Mack, executive director with Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, a division of NorthWest Arkansas Community College. “Instead of being highlighted or labeled as vegetarian, it’s just going to be well prepared vegetables and fruits in season.”
That movement to a plate containing more vegetables is part of a move to a healthier lifestyle.
“We’re seeing more of the California, Colorado way of cooking starting to get in the heartland and especially here in NWA,” said Nelson, who’s also vice president of the Arkansas Restaurant Association. “People are very aware of what they’re putting in their body, and they’re wanting more whole foods.”
Brightwater is actively training its students about food waste reduction and food recovery, Mack said.
“We’re showing our students how to get the most out of root to stem, or nose to tail for animals, and how to utilize every part,” he said. “And if it can’t be eaten by humans or animals, then the next best thing is composting, and the very last thing you want to do is just throw it in the trash.”
Canning, fermentations, pickling and whole animal butchering, in order to use every part, are ways Nelson is addressing food waste at his restaurants. He believes his patrons want that.
“You see the millennial being a lot more adventurous with cuts like organ meats,” he said. “That’s starting to be really big…. You’re going to see a lot of fermented drinks, a lot of different fermented vegetables.”
Chefs across the country and in Northwest Arkansas are using locally sourced food in their cuisine.
“When you go local the food doesn’t have to travel far, which means it doesn’t have to have any herbicides and pesticides that aren’t good for your system,” Nelson said.
During the spring and summer, Nelson purchases 95% of his vegetables from the local farmer’s market.
“It’s really what we’re trying to do (at Brightwater) and chefs are trying to do here, is work with products that grow well here and grow traditionally well,” Mack said.
Apples, peaches and pawpaws, all grown in the area in the 1800s and early 1900s, are some of the traditional crops Mack said chefs are re-imagining for the future.
“It does a couple of things for the chef and the restaurant,” he said. “It gets to that concept of local and authentic, and it builds on the concept of regional pride.”
In addition to Thai-rolled ice cream, other types of Asian food will be offered in Northwest Arkansas, getting away from the Chinese-American buffet style, Mack said. Nelson agreed, saying Hawaiian, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian cuisine are all starting to take hold. Food trucks will also continue to grow rapidly as long as local cities allow them, Mack believes.
“Food trucks are popular for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One is the low cost of entry compared to a brick and mortar restaurant. And it also gives existing restaurateurs the opportunity to either expand their existing operation or try out a new concept.”
As a response to that trend, Brightwater will be teaching a food truck workshop boot camp for owners or potential owners in the coming year. In addition to food trucks, Nelson sees chef-driven, fast casual restaurants coming to NWA.
“They offer kind of pub-ish type of food and also have a craft bar attached with it,” he said. “Here in Bentonville we have Muse, which is an organic, natural, fast casual restaurant, and they seem to be doing pretty good.”
Mack and Nelson both see continued growth in small, independent, locally owned restaurants, as opposed to big national chains.
“I see small scale and a lot of market testing because of the increased growth in the area,” Mack said. “With a lot of folks moving here you have different tastes and different needs, so I see for the next few years tremendous, tremendous upside in the number and the variety of restaurants.”