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New Orleans Chefs & Restaurateurs Discuss The Future of Dining

What will the world of dining look like in the future?

All week long, Eater National is delving into Eater Future Week, a large scale discussion of where food, drink and dining are heading in decades to come. To celebrate, Eater NOLA has asked some of the city's finest chefs and restaurateurs to talk about what the future of dining might look like here in the Big Easy. Read on for some great predictions.

Jeff Beachbum Berry, author, tiki guru and owner of Latitude 29: Food and drink alone can only transport guests so far from the cares of everyday life.  The next step in dining out—which, let's face it, has become the preferred form of escapism for most people— is providing an immersive, transportive environment.  It's time to bring atmosphere and decor up to the level of the modern menu.  In the future, new restaurants may no longer be able to get away with tasteful minimalism in big, empty, boxy rooms, set off with a single "statement piece."

Ti Martin, owner of Commander's Palace and founder of New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI): As the world, and food world, has become more knowledgeable when it comes to food, it is my prediction and hope that the same will happen with service and hospitality. So much of what we have today is truly not service, but what I call food drop-off. So often,  years after a dining experience, a guest remembers the warmth and professionalism of a meal, but can't tell you a thing about the food. This is truly the harder end of the business which is why so often restaurants don't focus on it. It comes down to creating a culture of hospitality and the professionalism to go along with that and taking true joy in delighting our guests.

Ralph Brennan, restaurateur, owner of Brennan's: The future is always bright when a resilient community has a unified vision to capture the positive and build on it. That is what New Orleans has become and it's most apparent in the hospitality industry.  What I am seeing is that more and more restaurants with inventive concepts are opening and showing up in new neighborhoods less frequented.

New Orleans is a "gumbo" of cultures and adding the diversity of influences in the mix along with inspiring new faces in the kitchen brings a joie de vivre to the dining scene. With more restaurants and the increase of people dining out has brought a new found interest for New Orleans. Visitors along with locals are getting excited about the places that show in the chef's cuisine experimentation, different origins, and stepping outside of the box.  I believe fine dining will continue to be an important part of the mix with its signature, iconic restaurants that were the foundation for the notable cuisine in New Orleans. Every chef here continues to look to its elders and local farmers and fisherman for inspiration. As we always say "Nola Bred, Nola Fed," which boils down to those who are from here or have made New Orleans their home are keeping it local.

Neal Bodenheimer, founder and owner of Cure Co: It's really tough to predict the future of dining currently, because the restaurant and bar boom of the past 10 years has brought the hospitality industry to a crossroads. As the supply and demand of quality bars and restaurants has grown, the labor force hasn't kept up. So while I definitely see the emphasis on quality food, drink, and atmosphere continuing, I also believe that you will see bar and restaurant operators change the way they do business, because developing and retaining talent will be so key to a bar or restaurant's survival.

What I hope is that you will see better trained and happier restaurant workers who choose the hospitality industry over other industries because our working conditions will have improved drastically. I believe that happier workers who are invested in the bar and restaurant industry for the long term will allow us to achieve even greater levels of service and hospitality.

Nina Compton, owner and chef,  Compere Lapin: The future of the dining scene is trending towards simple, approachable and affordable restaurants. People want to feel comfortable when they dine out and many restaurants recognize this, as people are dining out more, are more interested in cooking—the source of products and even how they are prepared. People are more in tune with restaurant trends, so I think the connection with chef and diner has become closer.

Alex Harrell, chef and owner of Angeline: In the past couple of years, ethnic foods have seen a big explosion in popularity as people seek out more authentic flavors and cuisine. I think that the trend to more causal and upscale casual dinning will continue. As more and more people seek out locally sourced foods, vegetables and grains will be pushed to the forefront of menus and proteins will begin to take a step back. The newest trend that I would like to see continue is the desire for sustainable seafood and by catch.

Kristen Essig, chef, Meauxbar: This is where I think it iss going, where it is, andwhere it will always  be— Put out really great things for really great people and have fun doing it.

Michael Friedman, Pizza Delicious: In the future, I hope that there may still be a few restaurants that remain a safe haven from the constant technological distractions of our modern times. A place where people can not just enjoy food, but can sit around a table truly talk, listen and converse.