by Allen J. Sheinman | October 25, 2012
The list

As the year begins to wind down, noted U.S.-based hospitality management company Benchmark Hospitality International already is taking a dewy-eyed look back at 2012, specifically in terms of the top dining and wine trends as experienced by the executive chefs and other culinary experts in the company's 35 luxury hotels and resorts, both coast to coast and off-shore. Here's a rundown on some of the trends Benchmark has spotted, as informed by your faithful List compiler's own gustatory perspective.

1. Terms of Ensnarement
Benchmark says that in luring diners, restaurants went hog-wild with terms such as artisan, natural, healthy, organic, farm-to-table and hand-crafted, and not always following the meaning of same to the extent that such concepts risk becoming debased in the eyes of the discriminating public. Of course, the whole idea of a discriminating public isn't what it used to be, either.

2. You Are What You Eat, You Eat What They Find
Chefs increasingly made use of items found in the fields and forests, such as dandelions, amaranth, wild asparagus, clovers, chicory, chickweed, sheep sorrel and more. According to Benchmark, some restaurants are allowing their chefs up to a week at a time just to forage, while other eateries employ freelance food foragers. Now for some other news: There are freelance food foragers.

3. Molecular Gastronomy 101
Today, there's more to preparing and enjoying a meal than just the beauty and taste of the end product. It's about, says Benchmark, "grasping the chemistry of the process" to understand how flavors, aromas and color coalesce to create a delicious dish. Chemistry's okay with us, but if algebra ever gets involved, we'd rather starve.

4. Participating Diners
Over the past year, the classical model -- you entering a restaurant, sitting down, ordering a meal from a menu and then being served same by a waiter -- continued to undergo a gradual breakdown as more restaurateurs offered "a dining environment that allows guests to participate in the process." This takes the form of, perhaps, taking a tour of the chef's herb garden prior to dinner, having the bartender create specialty cocktails with guest-chosen elements, being led in a spontaneous artisan cheese-sampling session, or sitting at the kitchen counter and watching the chef prepare a multicourse meal. You still get to foot the bill all by yourself.

5. Wine Becomes More Local -- and More Global
Today, all 50 states produce their own wine. And with all that trendy farm-to-fork and fork-to-forehead stuff going on, you're more likely to be enjoying, say, a nice Yonkers chardonnay with your artisan cheese. At the same time, U.S. wine consumers increasingly are finding vintages from Georgia (the overseas one), Moldova, China and India on menus and in shops here at home. In terms of grape-to-mouth, that's fine with us!

Source: Benchmark Hospitality International and M&C