From my tiny perch in the Great Gastroverse, I’ve spent yet another year observing all manner of culinary prowess duke it out for dominance. While I possess no notable culinary expertise, I experience the gastronomical fluctuations as a food photographer, attending (and photographing) culinary events, collecting and reviewing cookbooks, editing culinary manuscripts, following chefs on social media, and so on. This is just my summary of the year 2013.

Some trends developed faster, some slower. Some overlap with last year, and some will carry over into the new. And then there are some trends that simply will. not. die. (Bacon and truffle oil, I’m looking at you.) While watching trends come and go, it can be hard to pinpoint why something gains dominance, as all kinds of factors can determine what makes food headlines–social media chatter, influential blogs, supply and demand, spectacular marketing, or just good ole word of mouth. Whatever the case, these trends have sprung to the top of their class this year.

2013 Culinary Trends

Cronut. For those of us who follow the food trends online, I think we can all agree to crown this year the “Year of the Cronut(tm)” which, for the uninitiated, is a croissant-donut hybrid . (Yes, that name is trademarked so that you will know the original from any impostors, such as the “croughnut” or “doissant.”) There was even a Toronto Cronut Burger Crisis.

Paleo diet. This has been ramping up for a couple of years, but it truly exploded this year. Even my physical therapy doctor swears by it. Paleo is the new gluten-free.

Poutine. The sloppy country cousin to the more sophisticated Belgian steak frites, this Canadian dish is popping up everywhere in American pubs. And really? It’s the perfect drinking food. What took you so long, Poutine?

Ramen. Ramen has long been revered, but ramen shops keep popping up to much fanfare. Despite the traditional ramen bowls, this versatile noodle also produced an enormous side-trend this year, the ramen burger.

Sous vide. This method of vacuum-packed, low-temperature cooking has been a steady trend with high-end restaurants, but more people are using this method at home, due to lower-cost consumer alternatives to professional sous vide equipment.

Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up restaurants are the new supper club. They’ve been around for about a decade, but they seemed to gain a lot of speed this year. For the uninitiated, they are a temporary restaurant with a limited menu, for a limited time. This can be an effective way for chefs to practice their craft without investing in a restaurant, or to test the waters and develop a social buzz before going full-tilt with a permanent one.

Pretzel buns. It was bound to happen that we got sick of traditional sandwich bread and bland hamburger and slider buns. And what better way to enhance a sandwich than with a good salty, crunchy pretzel bun? (My new favorite: thinly shaved ham, Gruyere and hot mustard on a warm pretzel bun.)

Coconut. We are no longer using coconut simply as an ingredient in sweet recipes, or coconut milk when cooking Thai recipes. The craze–emphasized by the surge in Paleo cooking–has introduced coconut cream, coconut oil, and coconut sugar to everyday households. Restaurants and coffee shops are even selling coconut water.

Homebrewing. According to the American Homebrewers Association, there are an estimated 1.2 million American homebrewers. Not only that, but craft beer breweries are estimated at 2,400 and rapidly rising. Anheuser-Busch probably won’t need to beg for bailout anytime soon, and European brewers can likely remain calm, but the tides have certainly turned toward American DIY and local craft brewing.

Wild poultry. Chicken, move over. The spotlight is now on duck, goose, quail, and turkey. New books like “Duck, Duck, Goose” from hunter-angler Hank Shaw certainly helped this trend in its upward trajectory.

Cocktails. I honestly didn’t think the cocktail culture could get any bigger, but it has. Cocktails are getting extra-fancified with special, hand-crafted, often barrel-aged spirits giving unique twists to old favorites and creating new super-cocktails.

Sriracha Rooster Sauce. There are a lot of hot sauces in the world, but this one brand has a loyal and rabid following. It has also been popularized by artists, such as The Oatmeal. Supply and demand has also caused the Sriracalypse as the production plant was ordered to suspend operations, causing restaurants and consumers to hoard bottles of it.

Superfruits. Acai, gogi, mangosteen, and wild berries of all ilk are nature’s high-powered antioxidants providing all kinds of health benefits. Consumers add them to myriad juices and smoothies, and into health food bars and granola mixes, among other things.

Cookie butter. Also called Biscoff Spread, this “butter” made from spiced Dutch or Belgian cookies (called Speculaas or Speculoos, respectively) has been around in gourmet shops, but the proliferation of this into mainstream popularity was likely encouraged by Trader Joe’s grocery chain stocking it as a regular staple. Cookie butter is the new Nutella.

Roasted root vegetables. This seems to have recently become all the rage, and I can see why. For starters, roasted root veggies are extremely tasty. But they are also easy to make, and a medley of various kinds makes for a very colorful and appealing side dish. A popular cookbook came out last year (“Roots” by Diane Morgan) which likely nudged this trend along.

2013 Favorite Cookbooks

I didn’t call this “Best Cookbooks of 2013” because I judge books by a very specific set of criteria which won’t appeal to all home cooks. I beg, borrow, or buy cookbooks all year long and suss them out using the following criteria:

  • Beautiful photographs (not just of the chefs, the kitchen, the farm, but real plates of food)
  • Good writing (I actually read cookbooks)
  • Unique and specialized content (that said, I fancy a few “generalist” cookbooks)
  • Recipes I wouldn’t normally find in a standard Good Housekeeping (anything exotic, regional, fusion, spicy, etc.)
  • Nicely bound, designed, and presented (I admit to judging a book by its cover as well as the contents; if I don’t like the feel of it in my hands, or if the pages are too thin, I’ve already docked points)
  • Cookbooks that now, or at some point in the future, I’m very likely to use (that said, I do buy some books simply for their aesthetic qualities, and not necessarily as culinary inspiration)
I link these to so you can see reviews and view inside the book (and their prices are often the cheapest). That said, I am definitely a supporter of local bookstores, and bookstores that sell new cookbooks will likely have most of these.

The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen. This is, hands down, my favorite book of the year. It’s gorgeous, absolutely epic–an enormous tome–and the recipes and stories are exotic yet approachable.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen. What a stunning pie book from a pair of Brooklyn pie shop owners. There is all manner of pie here. The only thing you won’t find is Humble Pie. These recipes are exquisite. (Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie or Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie, anyone?)

Aphrodisiacs With a Twist by Mark Sexauer. (I love when names and works collide.) A fantastic drink book. Every single drink sounds tantalizing. And the photos (by the lovely Charity Lynne Burggraaf) are outstanding.

Roast by Marcus Verberne. This might be my favorite British cookbook; I truly love everything about this book. This book, named for Roast Restaurant, located in London’s Borough Market, shines a favorable spotlight on hearty regional gastronomy. Disclaimer: Some ingredients will be hard to source in the U.S. (I would love to make the Roast Mallard with Gamekeepers Pie and Elderberry Sauce.)

Le Pigeon by Gabriel Rucker, Meredith Erickson, and Lauren and Andrew Fortgang. This Portland, Oregon restaurant has gotten rave reviews, so I checked out its recent cookbook and I totally understand why. So much decadence without pretension. Standouts are the Elk Filet and the Bone Marrow and Caramelized Onion Sandwich.

Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi. This book of recipes and photographs from Italy’s Amalfi coast is truly lovely. Besides the scrumptious recipes, this is one book where I didn’t mind extra photos of the region, the food purveyors, and the cooks. The book offered me a vicarious trip to southern Italy.

Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin. With the proliferation of ramen shops around the world, this one has received a ton of attention. Ivan Orkin–a Jewish guy from Long Island, NY–has become the world’s ramen master and genius. He opened up shop in Tokyo, and has been in high demand ever since. He’s opening a second restaurant in NYC soon.

Classico e Moderno by Michael White. This book has over 200 recipes of gussied-up Italian fare–modern twists using classic ingredients. The presentation is gorgeous, and this will undoubtedly be used repeatedly in my kitchen.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. This book is two parts botany encyclopedia and one part recipe book. The layout is nostalgic–the style of book from a bygone era–with illustrations, cool fonts, and small flourishes. The content is equally charming, such as “Yeast: A Love Story” and “Grow Your Own: Hops.”

Manresa by David Kinch. I almost didn’t buy this book; some of it will be completely above my culinary skill set. Although it’s not a book I’ll likely make much from, it’s one of the most beautiful books in my collection, from the northern California restaurant of the same name. And the recipes are still inspirational; the flavor pairings alone are brilliant.

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey by John Currence. This Mississippi award-winning chef put together this truly gorgeous southern-fried cookbook organized by technique (Boiling and Simmering, Pickling and Canning, Brining and Smoking, etc.). If you buy only one Southern cookbook, I’d recommend this stunner.

That wraps up this year. Any interesting food trends or cookbooks you’ve seen in your area? I’d love to hear about it.

Happy 2014!