Worldwide icon-chevron-right The world’s best chefs share their dining predictions for 2021
Future of Dining
Image: Time Out

The world’s best chefs share their dining predictions for 2021

What does the future of restaurants look like? Here's what global culinary leaders see when they gaze into the crystal ball.

By Morgan Olsen
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Over the past 300-some days, chefs and restaurant owners around the globe have had to adapt to a strange new reality. They've shut down and reopened, set up outdoor dining and turned to takeout, and—perhaps most notably—continued to feed the masses in the toughest of times. So, what's next? We went straight to the source and asked the world's best chefs to give us their big dining predictions for 2021. Some envision the return of fine dining, while others anticipate a wave of new talent and entertainment-driven pop-up concepts. The one thing they all have in common? An abundance of hope for the hospitality industry. We may not be able to predict the future, but with a little help from these top chefs, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes clearer.

Craving more insider insight from the world's best chefs? You're in the right place. Talk to the Chef! is a new weekly food series that will tap into the minds of culinary leaders around the globe. The conversation changes just as often, and we'll chat with chefs about everything from condiments and podcasts to kitchen equipment and emerging trends.

2021 dining predictions, as told by the world's best chefs

Cesar Zapata
Cesar Zapata
Photograph: Courtesy Cesar Zapata

Dinner with a side of entertainment

“I believe not much will change from last year, but I do see a lot more restaurants focusing on outdoor dining and creating unique experiences for guests. Since a lot of the entertainment venues are closed, we have become that entertainment for guests. So creating themed dinners and pop-ups will be something to look for this year.” —Cesar Zapata, chef of Phuc Yea and Pho Mo at Time Out Market in Miami

Thomasina Miers
Thomasina Miers
Photograph: Courtesy Thomasina Miers

Fast-casual fare from top chefs

“The trend for highly accomplished chefs doing fast-casual food offerings, in their own inimitable style, will grow in answer to the cut-throat nature of the last 12 months and the need to balance the books. Interesting, fun food in local neighbourhoods—without the bells and whistles of fine dining—is a trend firmly set to stay and grow as more people work from home more frequently but still want to eat great food.” —Thomasina Miers, founder of Wahaca in London

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More delivery-only concepts

“I think you’re going to continue to see more top-flight chefs and hospitality groups jump into the delivery-only game, offering a better, cleaner product out of that channel. You are already seeing it, but there will continue to be an influx of exciting, big names that launch a ‘delivery-only’ concept.” —Richard Zaro, owner of Cutlets Sandwich Co. in New York City

Shuko Oda
Shuko Oda
Photograph: Courtesy Koya

New physical and mental boundaries

“I am pretty sure the lockdown mentality of 2020 will stay for a while, even if things start to get back to normal. Last year changed how we view dining out and where people see value. The hospitality industry has been faced with so many challenges and changes, but I’m hoping it's not all bad. I don’t know what to expect for 2021, but what I know is that at Koya, and I’m sure for many others, we have had to strip back both mentally and physically; what we've ended up with isn't at all bad. And I am strangely but certainly feeling rather hopeful.” —Shuko Oda, head chef and co-founder of Koya in London

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Chef Erick Williams
Chef Erick Williams
Photograph: Gary Adcock, Studio37

Return to the real thing

“I predict this being a really big summer for restaurants that survive the remainder of winter through spring. Diners are tired of cooking, tired of eating out of boxes and tired of the restrictions as a result of the pandemic. It is my hope that we can survive and make it to the other side of this and be a part of the community when it comes back together.” —Erick Williams, chef-owner of Virtue in Chicago

Matt Manning
Matt Manning
Photograph: Tegan Smith Photography

Power of the side hustle

"To survive, I see restaurants diversifying and exploring other paths to earn revenue. Restaurant chefs will take on more side gigs as private chefs or promote at-home catering options, while takeaway and virtual dining experiences will continue and no doubt become even more sophisticated with time. ... I also anticipate that restaurants will use their spaces to earn other streams of revenue. At Grub & Vine, we have recently decided to offer chic city weddings in our bistro to cater to the new micro-wedding trend, with big gatherings no longer a thing for the foreseeable future. While a very difficult time for our industry, crisis—as they say—is often a catalyst for innovation. And so I think there will be some exciting things in our future." —Matt Manning, chef-owner of Grub & Vine in Cape Town

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Saiphin Moore
Saiphin Moore
Photograph: Courtesy Saiphin Moore

Home cooks are here to stay

“After last year, I think people have adapted to cooking at home more often, so there’s going to be a lot more demand for easy-to-cook and follow recipes. I think cookbooks and recipe blogs will do very well in 2021. Meal kits will also continue to tick along until we can enjoy the full dining experience again.” —Saiphin Moore, owner of Rosa’s Thai Cafe and Lao Cafe in London

 Prashant Chipkar
 Prashant Chipkar
Photograph: Sambhav Mehra

Experimentation is key

"I think the worst is behind us. 2020 has challenged us in many ways to change the way we think. 2021 appears to be a year where everyone will celebrate and value freedom more than ever. I feel people are open to experimenting more and trying different experiences. Unique concepts will gain popularity ... and the travel industry will bounce back faster than ever." —Prashant Chipkar, executive chef and culinary director at Masti and chef at Time Out Market in Dubai

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Alessandra Montagne
Alessandra Montagne
Photograph: Anne-Claire Heraud

Happiness ahead

“[I predict] that everyone is going to rush to the restaurants, that everyone will be so glad to share a meal in a restaurant surrounded by family or friends. We need to be prepared for this wave of happiness coming toward us!” —Alessandra Montagne, chef-owner of Nosso in Paris

Tom Sarafian
Tom Sarafian
Photograph: Kristoffer Paulsen

Back to basics

“2020 taught us all to appreciate the simple things in life, so I think dining in 2021 will reflect just that: simple pleasures on menus. Chefs [will use] beautiful quality produce with the confidence to let the natural flavours shine and not feel the need to put too many elements on a plate. There’s an elegance to this style of cooking—although it may come across as simple, it’s actually harder than you may think.” —Tom Sarafian, head chef at Little Andorra in Melbourne

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Vicky Lau, head chef and owner of Tate Dining Room
Vicky Lau, head chef and owner of Tate Dining Room
Photograph: Tate Dining Room

A shift in service

“COVID-19 has changed guests’ dining behaviour and preferences—we see the trend of dining and celebrating at home [as well as] an increasing trend of home cooks. However, I do believe dining out will see a strong return when the situation is more relaxed. The effort we put into the decorations, the sourcing of ingredients and the details of each plate are all thought through in order to create an experience for our guests.” —Vicky Lau, head chef and owner of Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong

Chris Willis
Chris Willis
Photograph: Pat Piasecki

Take a risk

“There will obviously be a lot of chefs knocked out of the game, including some big players who will be brought back down to earth through the sheer economics of what has happened in the last year. As a result, I think that any chef contemplating his or her casual concept debut will go for it. ... I think that younger, less established chefs will continue to test their ideas through pop-ups. If we were trending toward that already, we’ll now see a significant uptick in this buzzy approach to building a loyal group of fans and bigger presence on social media.” —Chris Willis, chef-owner of Pammy's in Boston

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Susana Felicidade
Susana Felicidade
Photograph: Paper Kite Photography

That special feeling

“I think people are waiting for the moment that restaurants are open without [restrictions] to go out and have a fine dining experience or an amazing traditional meal. Because people need to feel special again, and they are looking for pleasures and happiness.” —Susana Felicidade, Pharmacia Felicidade and Cozinha da Felicidade at Time Out Market in Lisbon

Chanthy Yen
Chanthy Yen
Photograph: Brandon Beerwort

Bring on local mushrooms!

“I predict that dining experiences will be very different compared to pre-COVID times. Business owners will now need to take into consideration interior design strategies, spacing and PPE once guests are free to dine in again. Pop-up restaurants will become permanent fixtures and smaller, more creative concepts will continue to emerge. When it comes to food and ingredients, I predict that more local mushrooms will have their moment this year on menus everywhere as well as tofu alternatives and dumplings.” —Chanthy Yen, founder of Touk and chef of Parliament Pub & Parlour in Montreal

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Samantha Fore
Samantha Fore
Photograph: Courtesy Samantha Fore

Rise of the ghost kitchen

"Dining out isn’t going to be normal for quite some time, as the industry has been pummeled relentlessly. I see a lot of new concepts getting tested through delivery and carryout services only, and I can imagine a few great things could come from those. It's probably going to be the case in bigger cities for a while." —Samantha Fore, chef-owner of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington, Kentucky

Long live the meal kit

“I think meal kit boxes will continue with strength, even with a potential summer reopening of restaurants. [We may see] more virtual experiences attached, such as themed events with Italian food and an Italian opera watched virtually via a QR code—things like that really lift the spirits. The summer will see a heavy array of outdoor cooking kits centred around live fire cooking. Everyone is dying to get outdoors.” —Ben Tish, chef-owner of Norma, London

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 Raquel Blasco Cortes
 Raquel Blasco Cortes
Photograph: Courtesy Raquel Blasco Cortes

Healthier, more sustainable eating

“This year, we think the gastro world will continue playing with creativity and pushing the limits with fermentation and kimchis and all of the versatility they can offer in the kitchen in the context of eating healthier for one's self and the planet.” —Raquel Blasco and Marc Santamaria, owners of Casa Xica in Barcelona

Elizabeth Haigh at Mei Mei
Elizabeth Haigh at Mei Mei
Photograph: Courtesy Mei Mei

The return of the tasting menu

“Everyone is gasping to head back out to eat, therefore I think tasting menus and occasion meals will be big in 2021. We’ve so gorged to death on takeaways, meal kits and do-it-yourself meals that we want to be spoilt, looked after, and more importantly not do any washing up at all.” —Elizabeth Haigh, chef-owner of Mei Mei in London

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Less is more

"Real and honest dining. After COVID, I'm hoping there’ll be a bigger movement toward sustainability. The reality of what we are going through is that excess can’t be good. Less is more. I hope we don’t see 12-course menus anymore. I think food will become food again—on the plate without all the sparkles on the side." —Reuben Riffel, chef-owner of Reuben's Restaurant and Bar in Franschhoek, South Africa

thai dang, chef, jaclyn rivas, portrait
thai dang, chef, jaclyn rivas, portrait
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Push for compassion and care

“My dining prediction for 2021 is that if we care for one another, we can help mitigate this virus's spread and eventually bring back indoor dining. The only way to save our industry is to keep and honor hospitality by taking care of our own. Some restaurants have created toxic environments to protect their own pockets, and in doing so, they’ve forgotten what it means to be in this industry. With the limited team members we have left, we instill the importance of being grateful for every guest and being 100 percent engaged. We focus on being present and showing true hospitality with our actions and our eyes—masks on at all times, of course.” —Thai Dang, chef-owner of HaiSous and Thai Dang at Time Out Market in Chicago

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