In a culinary landscape that is always changing, it can be difficult to define just what compels today’s diners. So with the new year upon us, we approached Malibu Beach Inn’s Executive Chef Cody Dickey for his take on what to expect in 2018.

Along with avocado toast and that newfound interest in champagne (both of which are here to stay in Southern California), these are his top new and ongoing trends to follow when dining out this year:

Produce Takes the Spotlight

Local produce at Carbon Beach Club, Malibu.

In a world once dominated by poultry and beef, produce is taking over – even in Michelin-starred restaurants like Nix and Dovetail in New York City, both by acclaimed chef John Fraser.

Having once worked under Fraser at Narcissa, also in New York, Chef Cody has always harbored a passion for produce. “You get a lot of it here in LA because of the health-conscious aspect,” he says, noting the grain salads and grain bowls that have taken over the city too. “Dishes that chefs seem to be focusing on today are more produce-driven. You can actually find restaurants advertising the fact that they are meat-centric because so many chefs are focusing on produce that meat is almost becoming a niche.”

Dietary Restrictions as Second Nature

Healthy dining at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu.

Coinciding with the rise of produce is the new normalcy of vegetarian and vegan, as well as gluten-free cuisine. All three have been on the rise for years now, with both devoted restaurants and special menus in most upscale dining establishments popping up in SoCal.

“A lot of the dietary challenges that chefs had faced in the past are becoming second nature,” says Chef Cody. “You see a lot more chefs being creative with not only meat-free but dairy-free entrees and appetizers and sides.”

He admits that oftentimes the healthy alternatives can end up more interesting altogether, saying, “It pushes us to be more creative with herbs and spices and oils, focusing more on the flavor and putting more effort into making it an exceptional dish.”

West Coast Meets East Coast

Carbon Beach at Malibu Beach Inn.

On January 21, Daniel Humm welcomed guests into the restaurant of NoMad LA, the second outpost of the acclaimed NoMad hotel in New York and Downtown LA’s most anticipated restaurant opening in months. Prior to that, April Bloomfield opened The Hearth & Hound in Hollywood, and still to come this year is the unveiling of Roberta’s in LA.

“You find a lot of restaurants spreading across borders today,” says Chef Cody, “and the cool byproduct of that is the transfusion of coasts. You have the East Coast experience on the West Coast, and you have the East Coast adapting to the West Coast.”

Already an enthusiast for the New York outpost, he is excited to experience NoMad LA to see what has remained the same and what has changed with the new locale.

Meaningful Connections

Local produce at Carbon Beach Club, Malibu.

Mindful chefs have been sourcing local ingredients for years, especially in Southern California with the availability of fresh produce during all seasons. But today, Chef Cody believes that the relationship between a chef and a farmer needs to be more public to connect with diners.

“Personally, I don’t think the connection has changed,” he says, referencing Carbon Beach Club’s partnership with the nearby One Gun Ranch. “The aspect that has changed is social media. Instead of just putting a name on a menu, you are now uploading photos and telling stories so guests can actually explore this relationship.”

The Rise of Lesser-Known Wines

2018 wine trends from Malibu Beach Inn.

While many diners will peruse a wine list and know exactly what they want to order, there is also a group of enthusiasts who prefers trying unfamiliar wines at a server’s recommendation. Chef Cody finds this to be particularly the trend for his generation of 20-somethings, many of whom have a strong interest in the dining scene but are still learning about the subtleties of wine. The result is more diversity when it comes to choosing a bottle.

Chef Collaborations and Pop-Ups

Chef Cody Dickey at Carbon Beach Club, Malibu.

The sharing of ideas and techniques among chefs has only grown in recent years, with a number of exciting collaborations bringing together different cultures. This has been true even on the fast-food level, like when Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack served up a burger crafted by Japanese Michelin-starred chef Zaiyu Hasegawa.

For younger chefs hoping to step into the public eye, collaborations are also a way to gain notoriety. And for the last three to five years, there has been more interest in pop-ups than ever before – a trend that Chef Cody thinks began due to the high cost of owning and operating a restaurant. “Having a pop-up is more attainable,” he says. “[The trend] has waned a little bit, but I definitely see it making a resurgence.”

But of course the main appeal of collaborations is bringing chefs together, often leading to spectacular and unexpected cuisine. Even since the time Chef Cody began cooking, the focus has shifted more from traditional wine dinners and charity fundraisers to one-of-a-kind events. “Today, it’s about bringing chefs from other cities and states simply to do a guest dinner. It’s definitely changing dining.”

To see what new trends Chef Cody is bringing to Malibu, reserve your table at Carbon Beach Club online or by calling 310.460.7509.