A few seasons back, "Mad Men" aired a scene of a focus group behind a two-way mirror: Asked to describe their dogs' temperaments, the participants choose adjectives like "very smart" and "independent." "My God," one of the ad men marvels, "they're describing themselves."
When food writers are asked to predict the coming year's culinary trends, they invariably fall into a similar trap, describing their wishes instead of what's true. Optimistic prognostications aside, there's very little chance that briny bee larvae, freekah and Midwestern cooking will sweep the nation in 2014 (for the record, I'm pro-all of the above.)
But a few more realistic predictions have surfaced on a number of 2014 trend lists. Fortunately, since Charleston tends to incubate trends instead of respond to them, you can already experience a number of the foods readying for the spotlight. Here, five up-and-comers, and where to find them right now:
Americans haven't yet turned in their steak knives, but surveys show the number of Americans eating meatless meals is on the rise. For a taste of what restaurants can do with vegetables, check out the assortment of side dishes at The Grocery.
2. Housemade hot sauce
"In-house condiments are so hot right now. Heat seekers won't be disappointed as chefs ditch the bottles of Chalupa and Tabasco to play with fire," Eatocracy says. There are plenty of local examples of the trend, but my current favorite is the secondary housemade hot sauce at The Ordinary, a citrus-inflected sauce worth requesting with your smoked oysters.
3. Fancy fried chicken
Meat prices are creeping up, one of the reasons that Baum + Whiteman, a restaurant consulting firm, is calling for "the humble bird ... going haute" in 2014. Although details are still sketchy, look for former The Ordinary general manager Brooks Reitz to do right by poultry at his forthcoming Leon's, described as an upscale Champagne-and-fried-chicken joint on far Upper King.
Whether the popularity of the Jerusalem cookbook or the political displacement of Middle Eastern is the reason, experts are calling for more sightings of eggs poached with tomatoes, onions, cumin and chili pepper. You can brunch on the dish at Butcher & Bee.
5. Advanced Asian cooking
The Sriracha rage (see the Sriracha croissant at Brown's Court Bakery) suggests Americans are ready to challenge their palates with more Asian flavors. "Research okonomiyaki," Baum + Whiteman counsels. You'll find it on the menu at Xiao Bao Biscuit.
What else should eaters anticipate seeing more frequently in 2014? I'm guessing more weird, gluten-free grains; foraged ingredients; low-alcohol cocktails; bread spreads; and tongue. I'll meet you back here on Dec. 31, 2014, to let you know whether I was right.