`TO be on top of the food scene today, you have to find the right balance - recognizing the classics and being one step ahead of what's pass'e,'' says Clark Wolf, New York-based consultant to the specialty food trade. Mr. Wolf predicts food trends - keeping ahead of the latest changes in food service and marketing.
He advises companies like Arizona 206, the Sign of the Dove restaurant, International Olive Oil, and Bresse Bleu Cheese. Wolf was in Boston to talk about these trends: how to recognize them, who starts them, where they come from.
``Ironically, you have to have `penchant retro,''' he comments, ``that is, an appreciation for some of the great foods of yesterday in their latest `reincarnation.'
``People always ask how trends start - where they come from. It all starts with various physical, economic, social, or emotional needs,'' Wolf explains.
``Right now pollution, pesticides, and biodegradables are among the growing concerns of many people,'' he continues his analysis. ``So eating wholesome, natural food is something people are going to do.
``And most people are eating fresh, wholesome food at home.
``But when they eat out, they blow it on desserts. Desserts and ice creams are immensely popular this year.''
But if you're really interested in finding out what the next ethnic trend might be, Wolf suggests the business section of your newspaper.
``Where is the dollar strong? Where can people travel to be comfortable, safe, and happy? This may indicate the next ethnic food trend.''
Wolf says there are lots of variations in old-fashioned American foods in the United States.
``Part of this American trend is regional - discovering new foods from areas not as well known as others - like Key West, Florida, an area that's on the way up.
``Key West is a delightful place to be - like being on an island. The hotels are fantastic, the food is excellent now, and the dollar is far better here than abroad, of course.
``People are also looking for old-fashioned comfort foods that really aren't very old.
``Mediterranean cooking is one example. The East Side of New York is literally awash in good Italian restaurants. People are really comfortable with Italian food when they eat out.
``And northern California cuisine, which is actually the style of Provence, is a trend, but not about really new or different dishes.''
When it comes to Asian food, Wolf says there will soon be a lot more of different kinds. He points out the change in Chinese cuisine and the current trend back to Cantonese cooking - ``a soothing relief from fiery Szechuan.''
Another ethnic food indicator is the immigration of many people from a new country or area. Wolf says that when countries are in trouble and send their top people to the US, they open restaurants. Inevitably the result is another ethnic food trend.
``Americans are ready for new foods of all kinds. They have become extremely adventurous - to the extent that some people search constantly for something new.
Wolf looks ahead to 1992, predicting a trend in Spanish food.
Why Spain, and why 1992?
That's the year for the anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. The Olympics will be in Barcelona, and Seville will be celebrating a gala international food fair.
The time is right for delving deeper into this lively, exciting, colorful cuisine - and to learn more about the foods of the country that has already introduced to many of our restaurants the delightful Spanish tradition, the custom of enjoying tapas.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.