Hail to the ‘tastemakers,’ for they are changing the way we eat | NevadaAppeal.com

Hail to the ‘tastemakers,’ for they are changing the way we eat

Ronni Hannaman

Chef Howard Jachens prepares freshly sourced foods at Gather in downtown Carson City.

The holidays are a season where food becomes the "reason for the season." Food is everywhere, and the temptations are high. From butter cookies to complete feasts, it's hard to resist placing those tasty morsels in your mouth.

Food. The four-letter word that has always drawn people together is now, more than ever, top of the mind for the now largest generation that is changing the way we should be thinking about food.

At a time when joining the entire family for dinner seems as outdated as a Norman Rockwell painting, the Millennials are bringing back the social in eating, preferring to enjoy the company of others as they dine. Those who religiously watch The Big Bang Theory sitcom may have noticed these Millennials eat in a group. And, notice, the food is take-out. No one seems to cook on that show.

Savvy restaurants have come to realize Millennials don't cook much. They prefer to order food for delivery or dine out. For them, it is all about convenience and not having to wash pots and dishes.

Studies shows Millennials eat out about 30 percent more than any other generation and, spend half of their earnings on dining out once a week. Have you noticed the communal tables now prevalent in restaurants? Savvy restaurateurs understand Millennials prefer to socialize while they dine, and meeting strangers could lead to lasting friendships.

Millennials are influencing menu choices. The steak and potatoes preferred by previous generations has given way to more adventuresome tastes. Instead of beef, there's wild game and internal organs. Instead of the traditional chicken or turkey sandwich, today's sandwich may be labeled as turkey or chicken but contain far more than lettuce and traditional condiments. Expect to see the addition of pears, brie or other artisan cheeses, candied onions, aioli, and exotic greens. Sometimes the meat within the sandwich becomes incidental and can get lost as the taste bud tries to identify the different flavors.

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Carson City currently is attracting many restaurants to suit just about every taste. The fastest growing segment is the farm-to-table movement – a Millennial favorite — so appreciated by those who want to know where their food is sourced, especially when so many foods recently have been subject to recall or have been banned. Millennials care little about calories, they insist on "healthy," and to them if it comes from local farms, that makes them far more comfortable and they don't mind spending extra even when money is short. Preservatives and artificial food coloring are taboo.

Interestingly, Millennials also are very concerned how animals they will eventually be served have been treated during their limited time on earth before becoming a food source. They want to know the animal has had a "happy life."

Instead of three main meals daily, they prefer to eat four times daily, thus enjoying the "smaller bites" or appetizers that are shareable. These smaller bites can be more costly and are not always a hit with the traditional diner. Most of us eat to sustain life; Millennials treat eating as a form of entertainment and tend to be more adventuresome.

Within a two block area in the downtown core, we now have many dining choices. From Basque to Thai. From Italian to Chinese. From the nouveau farm-to-table to traditional omelettes, you can find anything between Telegraph and Proctor streets on both sides of Carson Street. This has become the area for the true foodie.

According to the Carson City Department of Health, there are 155 local establishments that have sit down restaurants within the city. This number includes fast food and the multiple restaurants within the casinos. If you subtract those restaurants, you are left with about 75 food establishments within the city limits now catering to almost all tastes. They are a mix of local and chain establishments.

Surprisingly, Millennials are bringing back to the table the foods that were the staple of the food pyramid but later banned. Before the food pyramid was updated in June 2011, the recommendation was to eat 5-11 servings daily of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Today that would be terribly frowned upon, yet the Millennials (bless them) love pasta and bread, so expect to see more of those on menus. As Sophia Loren once stated, "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti."

Though Millennials spurn most chain restaurants, Olive Garden is one of their favorite.

Expect savvy restaurants to offer more delivery or convenient pick up service. Even Starbucks is delivering in some cities. Sitting on the couch eating out of paper plates while surrounded by friends is a Millennial "thing." Restaurants that keep up with trends while still serving their more traditional customers will profit while those that cater to only one group will find it more difficult to survive. Not all customers are comfortable with expensive small bites, preferring a three-course meal and good service. Not all customers are comfortable sitting with strangers or at tables so close you can easily steal a taste from your neighbor's plate.

Dining out today can be a challenge to the taste buds for nothing seems standard anymore. Millennials have become tastemakers for us all and have taken over the way we eat – or will eat — and are setting new trends. Bon Appetit!