TikTok and “chaos cooking” among 2023 food trends

Illustration of the back of a smart phone with a knife and fork on either side of the camera lens, as if the lens were a plate.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Dishes that are an aggressive mash-up of global flavors — like sashimi tostadas and tandoori spaghetti — will hit restaurant menus in 2023, a style that’s been dubbed “chaos cooking,” food prognosticators say.

  • Those concoctions will live or die depending on how well they play on TikTok, the latest must-use channel for restaurateurs.

Why it matters: With dining out almost back to pre-pandemic levels, people continue to crave novelty in their meals as well as video-friendly foods they can show off to their friends (butter boards, anyone?).

  • Still, restaurants are struggling to manage soaring food prices and ongoing labor shortages amid high demand.
  • They’re pruning their menus, paring back portions and (sometimes) offering takeout-only during certain hours.

What they’re saying: “Dining is back — we’ve been seeing that,” Debby Soo, CEO of OpenTable, tells Axios.

  • “We remain bullish about dining even in potentially turbulent times.”

Driving the news: A review of year-end restaurant prediction reports reveals many common themes, such as the rise of “eatertainment,” new interest in Latin American cuisine and nonalcoholic booze, and the emergence of a jumbled culinary genre called chaos cooking.

  • Eater describes chaos cooking as “a new, brash food style” that’s “part neo-fusion, part middle finger.”

It’s part of a trend called “flavor tourism” that has consumers seeking “to expand their palates with unique global fare,” according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 culinary forecast.

  • On the rise, per the group: Hot sauces (pun intended) like Sriracha, ganjang (Korean soy sauce) and guajillo chili sauce.

What we’ll see in 2023: Mondays are trending as a dining-out night, as they’re seen as “an extension of the weekend” in the hybrid work era, Soo says.

  • Expect more showy tableside experiences beyond the familiar guacamole-prep ritual. Hot spots such as Miller & Lux in San Francisco turn Caesar salad into an artfully choreographed cheese-and-lettuce-slicing event.
  • Colombian restaurants are having a moment, as is other Latin and South American fare, as well as Hawaiian cuisine.
  • Charcuterie boards, elevated bar snacks and loaded fries — with flavors like ghost pepper and hot honey — are going strong.
  • And all bets are that the chicken sandwich wars will persist.

The intrigue: There’s an arms race to create video-friendly dishes for TikTok, which is rapidly supplanting Instagram and Facebook as the go-to social platform for people deciding where to eat.

  • “Cheese pulls, sauce drips, drink pours, tableside preparations are all key,” Mike Kostyo of Datassential tells FSR Magazine, a food service periodical.

  • People “don’t just want that static shot of a dish against a nice background — they want there to be some action,” he said.
  • While search engines remain the #1 way people discover new eateries, TikTok “is becoming the marketing channel that restaurants can’t ignore,” per BentoBox, a restaurant tech vendor.

Where it stands: Restaurant sales have recovered to about 75% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a survey by TouchBistro, which sells point-of-sale systems. But high food costs are tamping down profit margins.

  • Also making a comeback: Reservations, which fell out of style during the pandemic.

Flashback: Last year’s predictions included the ascendance of breakfast — which continues to get the food industry excited — plus some prognostication duds (avocado coffee, anyone?).

What’s next: Delish predicts that the biggest trends of 2023 will include tinned fish (!), kelp, dates, plant-based pasta and solo dining.

  • The National Restaurant Association name-checked flatbread sandwiches, CBD desserts, globally inspired salads and espresso martinis.
  • Fine dining, steakhouses and interactive forms of dining — like hibachi and Korean barbecue — are also on various “hot” lists.

The bottom line: “People are craving memorable experiences this holiday season and beyond, and they’re willing to pay more for it,” says Soo of OpenTable.

Bonus: Here are New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’ top new NYC restaurants of 2022.

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