Chefs Dish on 2024 Food Trends 

Now that we’ve heard from the pundits, we caught up with some of our Barilla Brand Ambassador chefs to get their take on food trends for the year ahead. What do they see from their position inside of operations? We loved getting the insights from Kevin Felice from 40 North Restaurant Group; Alex Hoefer from Windcreek Hospitality; and Leo Maurelli III from Ithaka Hospitality Partners.  

What are your thoughts on the experts’ picks for trending flavors this year?  

Kevin: People do want to try new things, but we’re also running back to simplicity and comfort. There’s a great role for pasta there. With our concepts at 40 North we’re trying to be broad, and also have integrity and offer a differentiated experience. So a familiar sauce or dish, but with a regional spin or a different pasta shape.  

Leo: I just started learning more about wafu, the combination of Japanese and Italian cuisine. There’s so much to get into and explore, I’m excited to see where it takes me. That combination of Japanese flavor and technique on an Italian structure is delicious. Here in Alabama our guests aren’t ready for a full dose of it just yet, but I can start to weave it in and plan for the future.  

Wafu Lasagna by Chef Adrian Cruz

Alex: The idea of going back to the classics fits what I’m seeing here at Windcreek. Guests want to feel confident that they’re going to get the value from what they’re ordering as costs get higher, and that means more familiar items, maybe with a new twist around the edges or an upgrade.  

Any ingredients you’re excited to work with this year?  

Alex: I would say live fire. We’ll have a smokehouse in our new food hall with a 25-foot glass wall facing the casino floor, it’s a showpiece. That Francis Mallman style Argentinian grill. I’ll have it going all day, and then can use smoked meats, pineapples, fish, all kinds of veg all over the menu. All that smoke and char is going to open up a lot of possibility. 

Kevin: Right now I’m loving root vegetables – beets, celeriac, carrots. They’re very consistent, no shelf-life issues, and very versatile raw, cooked, roasted, pureed, you name it. You can do so much with them for texture, flavor and color. [ed. note: celeriac was named a trending ingredient by a few of the experts, too] 

Leo: We are blessed here at the Auburn Hotel & Conference Center to have access to the University’s horticulture department and a rooftop garden. They are growing a strawberry basil for me that’s amazing, and just told me they are planting Ube. Our program is very seasonal and produce driven, so the bounty of spring and summer is always time to innovate. Heirloom tomatoes, okra, a myriad of basils. 

What do you see happening on the menu with pasta?  

Leo: Our guests are asking us for more baked pastas. Lasagne, manicotti, ziti and so forth. It really hits that comfort food need, so we’re looking at how we can accommodate it in our operations.  

Enchilada Manicotti by Chef Kevin Felice

Kevin: We’re looking at reducing proteins, keeping it clean, and going back to those very Italian principles of using the pancetta or the prosciutto as a garnish and flavor accent. I love a braised short rib on a pasta, but it’s hard to sell a guest on paying over $30 for a pasta dish, and with the pricing on proteins these days, that’s where we are!   

Alex: I like to watch what’s popular in our employee dining room as a trend barometer, especially as my workforce starts to be a bit more Gen Z. They’re asking for more healthful, plant-based choices across the board. I think we’ll see a balance between those classic, indulgent pastas, and some more healthful, plant-forward choices.  

Barilla Red Lentil Penne Spring Vegetable Carbonara by Chef Bob Bankert