There’s always something new and exciting in food. But is it any of it any good? Are these new products and approaches to food here for awhile, or are they a flash in the pan? And how do you distinguish between something that is built to last, or will be gone by next season?

Food trends are a big part of my business as a chef and particularly as a research chef. Companies hire me to help them develop their next “big” food product. As a result, I spend a lot of time in grocery stores and restaurants, watching people make food choices, and so I can check out different food products and concepts.

A few of the things I have noticed or have learned in my trend watching and travels:

– On average, families have an average of 28 minutes to get dinner on the table for the entire family, which is not a long time. Even though the time crunch is on, expectations are high. Families want well balanced meals that taste great and deliver value. The definition of value can change depending on the day of the week; cheap and cheerful on weekdays, a willingness to “treat” yourself on a Friday, and more savory, time intensive cooking on the weekend. This reality influences the recipes and food products I create for my clients.

– Most people like to cook, but what they don’t like is: the prep work, handling raw chicken, chopping garlic. Everyone just wants to cook like Gordon Ramsey. Make it look and feel easy, with minimal effort.

– For most people, cooking is treated as a hobby more than a life skill. Because of this, it’s important to find ways to make food and cooking fun.

– People are reading labels more, reviewing the ingredients that go into what they eat.

– The big growth in processed food products will be in the premium and discount categories.

– There will be more and new uses for iconic products. For example, crackers are becoming coatings and toppings.

– Heritage chicken is making more of a presence in markets, stores and on dinner tables.

– People are looking for smaller portions so they can try a wider variety of foods in one sitting, instead of filling up on the 12 oz steak.

I spend a lot of time in the grocery store or in restaurants watching how people interact with and experience food. When I was a kid growing up, McDonalds, A&W and Harvey’s were all considered “treats”, not a substitute for a home cooked meal. Whereas today, a fast food meal often fills in for what could have been prepared at home. I don’t say that as a criticism, but as an observation about how we view family meal times.

I also go to four to six food shows/conference a year; from the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, to the annual Research Chefs Conference held in different parts of the US. These are places where I get to see the products that are going to make it on the shelves in the near future. It’s a heads up on what’s next.

I am very fortunate at KITCHEN because my clients and guests let me try new things with the food I cook for them. I like to think outside the box, cooking just beyond the perimeter of where most people think about, prepare and cook food. At all times, I focus on making food approachable while still giving it a funky “Brad” twist. For example, I just came back from the Research Chefs Conference in North Carolina. My travels and dining out there inspired me to play around with different Southern flavors. As a result, I created my own version of a dipping sauce I had at a Carolina restaurant one night. The end result was unveiled last Friday at a KITCHEN Party. I can confidently say my new “Devils Butter” was a hit.

Whatever the trend or product, I encourage you to experiment and see how new ideas, ingredients, flavours or approaches to food can inspire you to cook more and taste new things. At the very least, it will create great conversations points around your dinner table.