by Loren G. Edelstein | August 03, 2011

Benchmark Hospitality International today released its Top Five Dining Trends for 2011, based on observations from F&B executives in the hospitality company's 40 properties worldwide. "The U.S. will continue to lead culinary innovation by embracing international flavors and preparations, converting these into contemporary dishes that elevate the dining experience," said Giorgi Di Lemis, vice president of food and beverage for Benchmark. "Today, there are many culinary trails being blazed by extremely creative chefs, farmers and mixologists. Those that lead the way through the next year and beyond will do so with a profound understanding and integration of the dynamic, global marketplace." The year's trends:

1. Rebirth of the Gentleman Farmer
Benchmark's report finds that today's innovative growers, especially in California, increasingly are individuals -- lawyers, doctors, corporate executives -- who have developed a passionate love of farming as a second career. "This has created a dynamic growing environment as these professionals turned farmers have the goal of achieving true personal satisfaction by making the world of farming and animal husbandry a better place through understanding artisanal methods, questioning old processes and enhancing methodologies. Never in the history of farming have so many individuals from other industries fallen in love with the trade. And never before have the results been so dynamic."

2. Omakase, With a Mixology Twist 
The current addition to a mixologist's beverage arsenal is on-the-spot-creation of customized drinks, based on specific requests from the customer. Benchmark notes that the better bars and lounges have eliminated bitters, juices and mixes, and are creating freshly prepared juices and proprietary mixes for use within exotic combinations and garnishes. The report goes on to note, "Salts from around the world, now widely available, are rapidly being embraced as a main ingredient in today's cocktails. Color-coordinating customers' drinks with their favorite hue or creating a color-coordinated wedding -- from linen to flowers to wines and cocktails -- is the latest beverage trend."

3. Nose-to-Tail Dining
Today's culinary trendsetters, according to Benchmark, stem from a group that as teenagers returned home after school to an empty house and had to fend for themselves by opening cans, microwaving frozen dishes and consuming a lot of soda. "So where did they acquire their taste for exotic cuts, offal and more? Gen X (and increasingly Gen Y) is much more sophisticated than its parents imagine. These are generations that were raised to be eco-sensitive and frown on waste. So they're game for experimenting with delicious combinations, unusual cooking techniques and unique preparations of what some might consider exotic selections previously left off the plate: sautéed kidneys, cured tongue, head cheese, tripe. No matter how unusual the protein or the preparation, today's eco-minded culinary trendsetters are saying 'bring it on!'"

4. The Finish: Torn Between Two Lovers
When it comes to choosing desserts, Benchmark says customers today are swinging wildly between two ends of the continuum: The renaissance of sumptuous pies and miniature guilt-free desserts. "How can a restaurateur and pastry chef respond? Offer both and leave it up to the customer to decide between rich decadence and attending to the waistline. Either way, the best finishes will offer spectacular flavor and lingering memories."

5. The World of Wine Is Flat
The wine industry is now completely global, says Benchmark's chief sommelier, Mary Watson. Wines from China, India, Russia, Georgia, Moldova, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, etc., are competing for shelf space in the United States alongside the more familiar wines of France, Italy and the U.S. As global economics change, so goes the wine industry. A greater number of wine drinkers today are looking for good but less expensive selections, and are willing to explore varietals from countries not familiar to them to achieve taste coupled with value.