It may seem unconventional to wait until the second week of the new year to make predictions about what to expect in the next 12 months, but I am, if nothing else, unconventional. Actually, unconventional is putting it mildly. “Weird” is the word I hear more frequently. That aside, I have been speaking to many people about what the future holds, and I am happy to share my thoughts. 

High-fructose corn syrup has been castigated by food writers over the past few years for alleged links to an increased risk of obesity and criticisms regarding its environmental impact. You may wonder what foodstuff will be next to gain public ire. The answer is maple syrup. In 2011 the sweet sap of the maple will be recognized as the insidious Canadian plot it has always been. And don’t try to tell me that “Vermont” or “New Hampshire” are parts of the United States: We’re on to you, Canada.

If 2011 is the year that Americans discover the maple syrup conspiracy to sap* our strength, then it is also the year that we discover the joys of licorice. Because really, who doesn’t love an anise-flavored candy generally produced in the color most associated with mourning? Licorice-roasted lamb shank, licorice-infused vodka, octopus braised with licorice and licorice-apple pie are all on the horizon. To everything there is a season, and this year it’s licorice.

I have heard that Aaron Burgau of Restaurant Patois was inspired by Ken Smith’s decision to leave the Upperline and enter the seminary last year. In 2011 Burgau will follow Smith’s lead and become a Buddhist monk. Unlike Smith, Burgau will remain in the kitchen at Patois, but patrons should expect the menu to reflect Burgau’s new vegan lifestyle. Buzzword: TOFU! Also expect the restaurant’s music to feature 100 percent more chanting.

In the past couple of years, restaurants that serve small plates and upscale bars that serve good food have been opening left and right. This year you will see that trend end with the opening of several “trough-style” eateries. It’s an interesting take on communal dining. Instead of plates and silverware, diners simply sit on low benches, and food, or “slop,” is shoveled into large wide troughs. Diners eat with their hands or by simply bending over and rooting. The concept, which I have heard is all the rage in Liechtenstein, is sure to take New Orleans by storm. You heard it here first. 

Coffee? Tea? Please. Both hot beverages will lose market share this year with the advent of hot crab juice. It’s a local tradition, according to Ian McNulty: “I drink hot crab juice all the f*cking time, man. It’s f*cking great! WOOOOOO!” Mr. McNulty, a self-described “gadabout,” continued, “Hot crab juice saved my life. When I was down, hot crab juice was there for me. Also, it mixes great with tequila. WOOOOOO!” I’m pretty sure Mr McNulty is a reputable source, though I will admit that I judge reputability differently than most.

Another trend in recent years has been the number of chefs opening multiple restaurants. John Besh, Donald Link, Susan Spicer, Frank Brigtsen, Scott Boswell, John Harris and Adolfo Garcia all serve their food at multiple locations. In 2011 look for that to continue –– but with a twist. Because not all chefs have the resources to open new restaurants, at least two chefs have decided to partner with Lucky Dogs Inc.  Based on what I’ve heard, look for Michael Stoltzfus and Nathaniel Zimet pushing the iconic hot dog carts through the French Quarter soon.

Yes, friends, these predictions are 100 percent guaranteed to pan out in the next 12 months. Share them with your friends and neighbors now, and you will appear prescient. If anyone raises a doubt about one of them, just tell them you know it’s true –– you read it on the Internet.

*See what I did there?