Hanni Rützler: ‘The gourmet scene has changed massively in the last 10–20 years.’

How and what will we eat in the future? Hanni Rützler is the expert. As a nutritionist and food trend researcher, she has been studying our food culture for more than 25 years. She says: ‘Foodies are the new gourmets, and nowadays they come from all social classes and backgrounds.’

Food trend cherries

Which gourmet trends are especially influential right now?

The gourmet scene has changed massively in the last 10 to 20 years. This is partly attributable to the fact that the clientele has become younger and is no longer limited to high society. Foodies come from all social classes and backgrounds. And with their willingness to try new things, their ethical values and their sensitivity to ecological problems in our food production, they have also changed the criteria that gourmets apply today when they are judging good food. This is particularly evident in the changed role of meat, which was the leading culinary product for a long time. It has long since lost its reign in top-end restaurants to vegetables, not least due to the variety and sensory qualities of plant products.

The Food Report 2022 defines 3 key food trends: Zero Waste, Local Exotics and Real Omnivore. What influence do these trends have on gourmets and upscale dining?

They play a major role in upscale dining. Renowned restaurants feel more and more committed to sustainability and are the most important role models for the entire gastronomy industry. As well as being the main buyers of locally produced exotic products, they are establishing new pathways to reduce or eliminate food waste and experimenting with unusual foods like algae, new mushroom varieties and insects. They are also more focused on processing all parts of an animal, thus turning foodies into ‘real omnivores’.

The Food Report 2022 mentions the term gourmet gardening. What does that mean?

It’s a trend that’s been going on for quite some time now, and foodies in particular are driving it. Instead of just growing flowers on balconies and terraces, they grow tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, herbs, salads and many other edible plants, which are then freshly harvested and turned into culinary delights at home.

What role does the fusion food trend play for gourmets?

Fusion Food was a gastronomic trend that made headlines in the 1990s, especially the fusion of French dishes with Japanese and Thai cuisine. Since then, its meaning has expanded. Nowadays, fusion food actually refers to the entire food culture and how we approach it – at least in metropolitan environments. It is not unusual to see menus with pasta and sushi, schnitzel and ceviche, falafel and curry as well as many other dishes from all over the world. Then there’s the gleeful experimentation with different ingredients to create amazing poke bowls and pizzas with interesting toppings.

Generally speaking, how is a trend actually born? Why and when does it catch on? And why does it eventually fade away?

For me, food trends are answers to problems, yearnings and desires within our food culture. Whether a trend catches on or not has to do with how good the answers and solutions are that it offers or demonstrates. And since food trends are not static phenomena but always in motion, they are also constantly changing. This can be clearly observed in the ever-increasing differentiation of the local food trend that has emerged as a response to globalisation. Take for example the ‘local exotics’ trend, which responds to people’s longing for exotic foods by producing them regionally.

Food trend cakes

For me, food trends are answers to problems, yearnings and desires within our food culture.

Hanni Rützler

Can a trend actually be planned or artificially created? If yes, how? If not, why not?

If you’re anything like me, you look at food trends as more than just fashion statements and hypes. In my opinion, they respond to problems, yearnings and desires, which implies that they can’t be planned. But if food producers or restaurateurs understand the true concerns of a trend and manage to provide viable answers to them at the right time with their products or services, they can not only successfully ride a trend wave, but also help to shape the way the trend evolves. Think about chefs like Rene Redzepi, Daniel Humm and Paul Ivic, who have found ingenious culinary answers to the problems of our far too meat-centric food culture.

Beyond all trends, what are the most important characteristics of a compelling gourmet product in your opinion?

Transparency of origin and a focus on ethical and sustainable criteria in production. Of course, it must also be sophisticated to stimulate the senses. However, a gourmet product today doesn’t just have to taste good. It must also put the mind at rest – think ‘sustainability’ and ‘animal ethics’.

All things considered, which gourmet trend was and is the most drastic and momentous of the past decades – and why?

‘Local food’, the return to or rediscovery of regional diversity . And there is still a lot of wiggle room for improvement in the coming years. Another major development in our food culture is something I’ve described as the ‘Copernican revolution’: meat is no longer the centre of attention and vegetables are the new stars, although this trend is currently still more prevalent in high-end restaurants. Keyword ‘vegourmets’. The fact that cuisine is becoming more ‘feminine’ and ‘younger’ – in other words, less meaty – is already reflected in many new, urban gastronomy concepts.

Food trend bowls

The fact that cuisine is becoming more ‘feminine’ and ‘younger’ – in other words, less meaty – is reflected in many new, urban gastronomic concepts.

Hanni Rützler

And where is the journey taking us in the long term? What will upscale dining culture look like in 2050?

Climate change and geopolitical upheavals will rightly impact our food culture and hospitality industry in one way or another. Delivering food across continents will no longer be common in 2050, even if the supply chains run more smoothly again.  And we will have significantly less meat on our plates. This evolution will not only require more creativity from chefs, but will also radically change our agriculture. The keyword here is resilience. French mustard from Dijon is a small but good example. Since World War II, cultivation of the mustard seeds had been shifted abroad with up to 80% being sourced from Canada. However, climate change is affecting the supply, pushing the major mustard producers to promote domestic cultivation again.

Is France the land of gourmets and will it uphold that reputation in the future? Or is there serious competition?

The geoculinary map has indeed changed since the turn of the millennium – perhaps even earlier. Of course, you can still eat exquisite food in France and the techniques developed by French cuisine are still part of the basic skill-set of every good cook. But even traditional gourmets have long since looked beyond French cuisine. In Europe, gourmets can really indulge in their passion in the Nordic countries – with the culinary capital Copenhagen – as well as in Spain and Italy. In these regions, you can expect great food for great prices.

Well, we’ve talked a lot about gourmet trends. But are gourmets actually still on the right track in times where abstinence is being preached?

There is a lot of confusion here: it’s about change, not doing without. People preaching complete abstinence from specific food items only see problems, not opportunities. True gourmets see the culinary gain in diversity and thus also in reinforcing biodiversity. 

Hanni Rützler

About ... Hanni Rützler

The founder and director of the futurefoodstudio is one of Europe’s leading food trend researchers. She is known for comprehensively documenting the transformation of our food culture, but also for recognising and classifying subtle changes. She monitors the German-speaking and European regions and also keeps an eye on global developments. As a trained nutritionist and health psychologist, she moves between disciplines and reconciles different findings to generate prolific insights and powerful solutions.

Off the top of your head, what do you associate with the term ‘gourmet’?

For me, gourmets are well-informed connoisseurs who have a special appreciation for food and food preparation. They look at food consciously and deliberate sensibly. Ideally, they can also talk about it. And enjoying gourmet food does not necessarily mean having to spend big money. Gourmet food can also be prepared at home at a much smaller cost.

Aren’t gourmets actually superfluous since the advent of foodies?

Well you could say that foodies are actually also gourmets, especially those who cook themselves. These are people who not only enjoy the dishes on their plates, but also derive pleasure from buying and selecting the perfect products and turn the preparation into an experience .

What is the absolute pinnacle of culinary delight for you personally?

The sensational flavour of fresh, seasonal produce, such as ripe cherries that have just been picked from the tree. The same goes for a perfectly baked, fragrant sourdough bread or when an aged cheese is melting – things that make my senses go wild with delight. Right now, I’m still raving about the fresh abalone I recently tasted in Monterey. But I’m also looking forward to the first chanterelles or the first porcini risotto of the season. As you can see, there are many pinnacle moments in my culinary world.

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