corn“The next culinary macro-trend will be ‘veg-centric’ dining,” stated Chef Gerry Ludwig, while speaking at the annual Research Chefs Association’s annual conference. I participated in the concept Wednesday night at Root & Bone, a New York City restaurant revered for its fried chicken, but also serving up some delicious veg-centric dishes. On this particular night, we were focused on sweet corn (a client), which is just coming into peak season in the chef’s home state of Florida. I witnessed this trend taken to an entirely different level at Dirt Candy, where acclaimed chef Amanda Cohen is delivering amazingly flavorful and filling fare to vegetarian crowds, and that rising group of flexitarians embracing going meatless for a meal or day.

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the U.S. with 1 million of the latter as part of an overall group that totals 8.3 million. This wasn’t exactly what Chef Ludwig was addressing, however. Certainly the number of people abstaining from any animal products has increased, but he was really talking about how vegetables are moving from an interchangeable role player to the protein to a starring role.

Meat isn’t being excluded, but it is no longer driving the dish, like the dish at GJELINA he mentions of sugar snap peas with soffritto, mint and prosciutto. In some instances, vegetables are replacing proteins, but in many others it is a partnership, like the Blend campaign the Mushroom Council has promoted, mixing mushrooms with ground beef for popular dishes from burgers to meatloaf. Rising protein costs likely support this move, but other factors are at play. More people are aware of diet, not just as some four letter word that means denial, but as a holistic consideration to their overall health and wellness.

prosciutto di parmaI’m excited for this shift. Not only for our fresh produce clients from sweet corn to sweet potatoes, but also for prosciutto di Parma. It is a meat typically served more sparingly and often with fruits and vegetables. Draped over melon or wrapped around asparagus, it offers a wonderful accent to these simple dishes. Other higher cost proteins can also take advantage of this trend to help chefs and restaurants balance food costs. Whether it is lobster or wagyu, being willing to play second fiddle every now and then could expand usage and grow sales.

This trend is likely to continue as the interest in more veg-centric dining increases. The increase in small plates and tasting menus can also help spur this larger approach of featuring more vegetables in our meals.

Have you been seeing more vegetable stars? Are you eating more veg-centric dishes? Share your favorites.