The end of the year is a wonderful time of year for a food blogger. It is when all of the food trends for the year, and those food trends for the coming year get predicted and published for public consumption. I love studying the year in food and looking forward to the future flavors to come. (Um, bacon-flavored toothpicks, don't make the list. Although, everyone should try them at least once, just for the freaky novelty of it.)
This week I had the opportunity to interview for Jasper's radio show the Executive Editor for Epicurious.com, James Curry concerning their list of food trends or predictions for 2009. You can listen to that interview here:
James Curry and his team at Epicurious.com every year make some predictions on what will be happening in the world of food in the coming year.
Here's the full list their culinary predictions for 2009, along with my thoughts on each of them as they pertain to Kansas City:
Peruvian is the new Thai : You thought Peruvian cuisine was all about ceviche, maybe? Guess again: Peru boasts culinary influences from Spanish, Basque, African, Cantonese, Japanese, Italian, French, and British immigrants. Pisco Sour, anyone?
FOODIE: So, I said to James, once we stopped recording for the show: "Isn't the national dish of Peru, Guinea Pig?" He assured me it was not and that I might be thinking of Ecuador or some other South American country. But, I believe, I know my Guinea Pig . . .and in the Andes mountains in Peru, they eat our pets as food as you can read here. I'm not sure what this says about Peruvians for eating them, or us, for considering them pets. I tend to lean towards my Peruvian friends on this matter.
Rodent eating aside, I have not seen or heard tale of an actual Peruvian restaurant opening in Kansas City. Although, in speaking to Chef Michael Smith recently, I know he is really getting into South American dishes, cuisines and preparations. In his new restaurant Extra Virgin he has even placed the first Peruvian dish I have seen on any KC menu - Peruvian Ceviche with aji amarillo peppers, citrus & corn nuts for $11. Que? Corn Nuts?
Finally regarding Piscos Sours, I did travel to Chile a couple of years ago on a wine junket and was introduced to the frothy egg white and sweet and sour drink in a Chilean nightclub at about 1 am surrounded by the thud-thud-thud sound of the hypnotic Eurotrash dance music and a throng of sweaty club kids. Pisco Sours are considered the national cocktail of Chile (a distinction they share with Peru) and for good reason. I came home with a bottle of Pisco and dice game from Chile called Dudo in my suitcase. I actually learned how to play Dudo on that trip in a cozy, log-cabin, in front of a roaring fire, on a mountain top after too many Pisco Sours. However, I can tell you . . .Piscos Sours could be the new Mojito, except that Mojitos are "out" too . . .see #4 below.
Noodle Bars are the new Sushi Joints: With some seafood being suspect or overfished and raw fish prices high, noodles make complete sense. If there's no ramen, udon, or soba shop in your neck of the woods, there probably will be soon.
FOODIE: I have been reading in the industry trades that many casual dining and quick casual restaurants are trying to figure out how to add Asian dishes with rice or noodles to their menus. Why? Because in this slipping economy, it is low cost/high margin items like rice bowls and noodle bowls that can help a restaurant to survive. The more filler, the less meat, the cheaper the food cost of a dish. The lower price is perceived as a "value" by the guest which means they order this dish more often, allowing more money to be made by the restaurant. I can see how this one ties into the big picture of our economy, not to mention all of the issues with fish mentioned above.
I think the one hurdle we have is getting comfortable with using chopsticks and the slurp/shoveling method of eating proper Asian noodle or rice bowls. It really is the easiest and most proper way to eat them. I learned watching my Malaysian friends, but once you are good at it, you can surprise and amaze your non-Asian friends. Kinda like when you learned to tie the stem of a cherry in a knot with just your tongue. Like that, only, way more filling and fun.
"Value" is the new "Sustainable": These days, the economy dictates our cooking and shopping decisions. Bargains are in, no matter where they come from.
FOODIE: Particularly in the Midwest, where many people still care more about large portions of completely average food for the price, this rings very true. I had a friend once tell me, "Yes, it is easy to choose to eat only vegetables in a country where you have a good enough job to be able to afford to "say no" to certain types of food, unlike starving third world countries who have never even heard of vegans." To stay true to your beliefs, and eat only sustainable food is a nice theory that can go down the drain when you can't afford it in your household budget.
However, take a another look at the math, shopping at farmer's markets for your produce and going through your CSA for your meat, etc. if you averaged the cost of shopping sustainable versus buying only supermarket food, I suspect it would be the same, if not cheaper. Besides, it is so much more fun to get out and meet the people that grow your food. To sit behind your coffee cup, and peek out from under your eyelashes so they don't catch you staring and watch with interest the Chefs who come out to shop for their restaurants at the market. (I'm not the only one, right?) The truth is the only thing you potentially lack when shopping sustainably is the variety of foods available to you (remember friends: food in season always tastes better than when it is not, so shift your mind set on this idea that you must have access to all produce all the time) and the convenience of shopping for it all in one place.
I take issue with eating sustainably, when I am doing what's best for me, my family and the environment by eating this way and they want to charge me more. Much like the car rental companies want to charge you a premium for renting a eco-friendly Prius . . .but wait, I shouldn't have to pay a premium to live a better life. Right? I should be rewarded for making the best decision for not only myself, but the entire planet. In fact, you should pay me as an incentive to keep up the good work. Okay, sorry about the soapbox. I'm stepping off now.
Ginger is the new Mint: Move over, mojitos. Ginger beers and ginger cocktails (like the Ginger Rogers, Gin-Mule, and Ginger Smash) are bubbling up at places like the Violet Hour in Chicago, the Clock Bar in San Francisco, and Matsugen in New York.
FOODIE: I am not sure about this one being embraced by Kansas City any time soon. I was at an ice cream tasting last week that featured a new ice cream flavor with ginger in it. Most people at the tasting, preferred it the least, and felt like it was a very dominant, polarizing flavor, hard to ignore. I love it, but have not come across it in cocktails anywhere in KC. Has anyone seen this in KC? I'd love to know where to go to try a ginger cocktail in this town. A good one.
As far as mojitos or any other drink whose origins are from some other country, I'll say this. I really, really love the idea of national drinks from other countries coming over and hitting it big in the US. It's like traveling the globe and never having to leave your bar stool. It is educational, it exposes you to combinations and flavors you may have never had before.
But, I do have one request. Bartenders, dears, do me a favor, if you are going to put one of these international drinks on your menu, please don't call it by it's traditional name and then try to improve on an already good thing. Really, drinking something traditional, should be made just that way, traditionally, and simply for that matter. Don't worry, I will still love you, and your side burns, fitted black dress shirt, man necklace and dazzling smile . . .just make my drink the way it is made in the country it is trying to represent. That's it . . .that's all I am asking for.
I suppose I might be jaded. Having had one too many bad mojitos made for me to really say I am going to miss the mint stuck in my teeth . . .or in the case of a mojito I had in New York that was prepared with basil, instead of mint. When I asked the bartender if he meant to use basil, he shrugged and said that they were out of mint, so he thought basil would be a fine replacement. Yes, I thought, setting my untouched drink back down on the bar. They are the exact same thing, like apples and oranges.
Smoking is the new Frying: You know how everything tastes better fried? Well, almost everything tastes better smoked, too, and that includes cocktails. Bartenders (Eben Freeman at Tailor in New York, for example) are smoking their bourbons, and chefs, recognizing the national craze for BBQ flavor, are smoking more than just salmon and ribs: nuts, salts, even smoked steelhead roe (at Chicago's Alinea). Who says smoking's bad for you?
FOODIE: I think because of Kansas City's BBQ culture we are WAAAYYY ahead of the curve on this one. Heck, we'd smoke our Momma's if they would sit still long enough. I just heard from Ryan Maybee, that he has purchased a PolyScience Smoking Gun (or chicken bong, whichever you prefer) and plans to start experimenting smoking dark brown liquors. I told him to call me, when he was ready to start taste testing. The bartenders up at Justus Drugstore are doing similar smoking techniques in their cocktails. Watch us go, we could own this trend in KC.
Regional Roasters are the new Starbucks : It's come full circle. What started as a local coffee phenomenon migrated to other cities and turned Americans into java junkies. Then the chain overexpanded, and the little neighborhood coffee roasters thrive again, like Stumptown (Portland, Oregon), Blue Bottle (San Francisco), and La Colombe (Philadelphia).
FOODIE: Again, I am proud to say we have so many good examples of local/regional coffee roasters in this town. Roasterie, Parisi, Friendly Bean, Broadway Cafe (which of course will always be remembered as the little coffee shop to chase Starbucks off the corner of Westport Road) Heck, we even have big corporate coffee as we have a Folger's coffee roasting plant downtown.
Portland ( Maine ) is the new Portland ( Oregon ): Abundance of great chefs, restaurants, and local foodies? Check, check, and check. Want examples? Visit Five Fifty-Five, Hugo's, and Fore Street to start.
FOODIE: Really? Really, really? I honestly had no idea that Portland, Maine was blowing up on the food scene in the US. I knew that Portland, OR was a hot bed two summers ago when I went to Seattle . . .all they could talk about was the amazing restaurants in Portland, OR. The restaurant examples given do look like interesting and relevant choices . . .including Hugo's a restaurant exclusively dedicated to everything cooked in duck fat. Portland, Maine . . .hmmm.
Rustic Food is the new Molecular Gastronomy: Wacky weird-science cuisine that requires fancy-schmancy equipment doesn't necessarily make food taste better, and more often than not it adds needless complexity (there are exceptions). Most importantly, no one really wants to do this at home. Expect to see comfort food stage a comeback again.
FOODIE: I think we are still a little too much of a Cowtown and exist too far from a really big city to get much interaction with true Molecular Gastronomy, like Alinea in Chicago, for example, or Chef Ferran Adria from elBulli located on a mountain top in Spain. I suppose the closest we have in KC comes from the very talented couple, Chef Colby and Chef Megan Garrelts at Bluestem who came to KC from Chicago. The other thing we have working against us is that most folks in the Midwest, think molecular gastronomy is a joke and a rip-off for the money you pay. If you don't understand or appreciate the art or creativity, you could never value the experience of paying to eat this type of cuisine. I can't tell you how many people refer to it as "space food." I even find myself (as someone who would certainly love to pay to eat this food) referring to it as "frozen balls of fluff on fire" from time to time. The truth is we are much more comfortable eating things that we understand and that puts us at supreme ease. And with the state of the economy this holiday season, who doesn't need to be comforted in any way possible. Rustic, home cooking, can certainly give us those feelings. We have always been more about rustic food in Kansas City. Reminds me of the food at Joe D's new place in Mission Farms called Zest. We were "in", before "in" was "in".
FOODIE: This is probably the most interesting to me as a food writer and blogger in Kansas City. I think both the single critic and the masses can co-exist to educate all Foodies as a whole. But it goes without saying that your opinion of a restaurant should also way heavily into the mix of outside sources.
But I think any of them, all by themselves, does not really tell someone the true picture of what a restaurant is capable of day in and day out.
Here's what I would like to see in terms of food reviews, being someone who reads and pays attention to what both professional food critics and the great unwashed masses have to say about restaurants:
1) Food critics must have palates somewhat close to those they are reviewing on behalf of and informing. They can certainly be more experienced and more educated than the average palate, but they should certainly not be any less experienced. But if a critic were born and raised in, say Asia, for example, with dining experiences in 5-star restaurants all over the world that most of us have never experienced . . how can they advise us on what we might like or appreciate in a local restaurant? Basically, their palates would have developed so far beyond most of ours, that perhaps no local restaurant could technically ever measure up, or perhaps they could, but none of our palates would be able to tell the difference. In other words, they speak only for the few who have had the level of experience they have. Instead of bringing us all up with them, their negative reviews make us feel like they, well, hate us and our food. I want to know they speak and review for me, and not just for themselves and their own personal bar, wherever it might be on the scale.
2) They need to have more than a passing interest in eating food and drinking wine. You must have a passion for it. You need to have studied them both, but you don't need to be a Chef. You need to be well-read and well-traveled and you need to be a great written and verbal communicator.
3) You must make writing about food and restaurants fascinating. Make us feel like we were there at the table with you. You must be technical about your reviews and give us specifics, but not too technical. You must educate us without making us feel stupid. You must tell us a couple of things worth ordering, and what you would skip. You must also be able to properly judge the circumstances of your meal - decor and atmosphere, time of day, state of the restaurant, service and timing. If you can only judge food, you are not reporting on the full dining experience. Once your report is written and filed, you must also call and speak to both the General Manager and Chef about any issues. Ask them what they think happened to make your meal extra special or what went wrong and needs improvement. Teach them to get better as you learn your craft in an open and honest way. Publish what they tell you, and publish what you think.
4) If you truly cannot find anything positive to say about any given restaurant, not one thing, then don't publish your review. Just don't review them. Let your absence of mention, be the greatest statement you can make about a place. Trust me, if they aren't doing a good job, they won't be around long enough for you or anyone else to worry about them.
5) Also, I do NOT think that a single reviewer needs to eat at a restaurant more than 1-2 to be able to properly review it. Most of us would never give a crappy restaurant another chance, if provided with crappy food or service or some combination. Why should a reviewer give them more chances than we would?
6) Review only local restaurants, high end to low end from different parts of the city. Review no national chains. In this economy, our local places are the ones that give KC it's unique food culture and experiences. They deserve to be supported first and foremost. We all know that the chains are out there. The only exception I might make would be to review a new chain that Kansas City had never seen before, but even then, if you travel at all, you will have seen even the new chains in another city.
7) I think the days of anonymous food critics has come and gone. First, everyone already knows who you are in the business. Lauren, Charles, G.E. - everyone knew/knows these faces once they hit a restaurant door. It's your job to know who these people are. So why pretend that a single person can go in anonymously and review a restaurant in this town. If you really think that is important or makes a difference in how you get treated, then send in a different person to each restaurant to do and write the review. Have a whole team of people you can dispatch around the city that would write under one anonymous name for your publication. But, I think an even better choice is to have a single reviewer that everyone could get to know. One, that can build a rapport and loyal following with your readers. If I am to trust what you are saying, I need to know who you are. If the restaurants already know who you are, and your publication knows who you are . . .then why can't I, as a reader, know who the heck you are too?
8) Finally, everyone, including the single critics, should read everything that others say about a restaurant on different the food boards and blogs. You can tell, just by reading the entries on Chowhound and other food blogs like Kansas City Lunch Spots if someone knows what they are talking about . . .or not. Use your best Foodie instincts and look for reviewers and boards that have a variety of food interests and people on them to make sure you are reading what a cross-culture of people think about a particular restaurant.
9) Finally, once the research is done, eat at the restaurant and form your own opinion. Don't let anyone lead your thinking, make up your own mind and stand by it. Do allow these resources to help you fill in around the borders of your experience for additional richness and clarity, or use them simply to decide which place you want to try first.
I am looking forward to taking a big bite out of 2009, now that I have digested these trends. Aren't you?