I know it is completely unfair of me to whip out my list of Kansas City's 2009 Food Trends and spring them on you when the year is almost half over. It's cheating, in fact. I admit it. However, and I do have a witness that can confirm my story, I did write this up earlier this year and emailed it to a friend who was needing some content ideas for a video project about food trends in Kansas City.
There was a time in my life when I thought I wanted to be a trend-tracker (okay, secretly I still do). You know, one of those people that jet-sets into ever corner of the globe, traveling for inspiration, looking at the people, what they are wearing, what they are saying and what they are eating and drinking and where they are doing it and compiling it into a global "IT LIST" that would create a sensation and companies would pay big bucks to get their hands on. Yeah, you know what I mean.
Back in my real life, I stumbled across my own humble version of my Kansas City food trend "IT LIST" in my trusty, ever-faithful, always with me, notebook . . .mindlessly flipping through the pages and looking at the things I had written down and wondered why I had written them down. There it was, the list of food trends that if we weren't seeing yet, we would be in KC in 2009.
Looking at it now, I have to say . . .it's a pretty good little list. It's a blend of trends I have been watching and reading about on the coasts and it's having the inside track with the people who make great food in this town that allowed me to get this close right. My list is relevant, pointing to current trends with traction in this city so I thought I would go ahead and share it with you.
- Hand-crafted cocktails (think Manifesto or Justus Drugstore) We aren't just talking about places that make a great cocktail. We have lots of those in town too. I am talking about places that know their liquor, infuse their liquor with other flavors, make their own bitters and syrups flavored with fresh herbs, fruit or veggies. These are places that construct a cocktail from the ground up in front of your eyes. Much like a Chef prepares a dish, it's about the combining of many parts to make a whole, drinkable cocktail. P.S. They also have to know their ice.
- Communal Tables or Family style meals (like The Westside Local) Look, I know there is a time and a place to sit and enjoy a meal with a single important person, either for personal or business reasons. I get it. But there is also something wonderful about having the opportunity to sit with strangers, together, at one long communal table and break bread together. To pass dishes around the table like you used to do at home. I'm not talking about bringing enough friends with you to take up a whole table, either. That's a private party. Dining together with strangers is a wonderful ice breaker, it's not nearly as awkward as many believe it to be. We have all come to eat, right? We all need to eat, we just need to do it together in public, in restaurants. I think it might be the answer to world peace, tolerance and understanding. I love this idea. (Can you tell?)
- Farm to Table Restaurants & Farm dinners – Farm to Table restaurants are where local Chefs work with local farmers, exclusively, to get much of the food they serve. This ensures their menus will switch with the seasons and that they are getting the locally grown food at the their peak. Local meats, cheeses and breads are also locally sourced. The Farmhouse Restaurant is the newest restaurant that is working with this kind of model, but many, many of our wonderful local restaurants have made it a point to get the food they are serving right from the source, the farmer. Such as Room 39, Jasper's, Justus Drugstore and many others. Farm dinners are another way to call attention to locally raised products. This is the same idea but in reverse, where Farmers ask restaurant Chefs to come to the farm and cook dinners highlighting their bounty and products they produce for their guests. (like Outstanding in the Field and locally Green Dirt Farms.)
- Pig, Pork, Bacon & Pig Roasts – This is the year of the pig. We are seeing pork in everything from cupcakes, cookies & breads to salads, sides and certainly, as an entree. Pulled, shredded, sauteed, fried, roasted, braised . . . we are eating pork. We are also eating parts of this animal we would have never dreamed of eating several years ago. Chicharrón, or fried pork skin, is made and sold at Bichelmeyer Meats in KCK, Cafe Europa in Brookside hosted a private dinner earlier this year where they cooked an entire pig and then served a different part of the pig with each course. I heard it was amazing. A group of my friends and I called the BBQ Shack in Paola, KS after seeing him on Diners, Drive-In's and Dives and asked if we brought 10 people in could he cook and entire pig for us to eat. He did manage to find one small enough to feed our tiny group and we feasted on every piece of that animal. Like a bunch of kids on Christmas Day, we gleefully attacked that pig like it was a present.
- Secret dining & drinking (like The Test Kitchen, Manifesto) Secret speakeasies, dinner clubs, dinners held in restaurants after hours, drinking holes where you have to say a password to get in, secret menus or wine lists you have to specifically ask for . . .we are all about enjoying a "secret" of some sort right now. As the Founder of The Test Kitchen, you would be amazed the ideas that people get in their heads about what an underground supperclub is really like, and what we really do there. Once I get a live one on the hook, that's when I whip out my ball-gag and leather mask and ask them to try it on . . .you know, just for size. Seriously, it is fun to feel a part of something cool, fun and unusual . . .to be "in" on the secret.
- Gourmet burgers (like Blanc Burgers + Bottles & Dean & Deluca's Burger Bar) Everyone has one on their menu now, they are popping up almost as much as the Slider. My definition of a gourmet burger, is a thick patty of some sort of quality protein (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, fish) that is sitting on a fantastic bun and topped with unusual gourmet sauces, condiments or ingredients. House-made french fries or sweet potato fries are a must for a side dish.
- Sous Vide Cooking. A year or so ago, there was only one immersion circulator, a piece of equipment used in sous vide style cooking, making it's way around town. Sous vide is a very popular method of cooking, where food is vacuum-sealed in plastic bags and slow cooked at low temperatures in a water bath. The food once cooked can also be held at that same temperature for long periods of time without over cooking it. It suspends the cooking process until you are ready to plate and serve. It makes meat, melt in your mouth tender. I know I personally saw the same immersion circulator show up to my Test Kitchen at least three times by three different Chefs. It is a very expensive piece of equipment to buy, which is why Chefs are borrowing this particular piece of equipment from each other. There are three that I know about now in KC - Chef Nate Feldmiller, Executive Chef, Cafe Europa, Todd Schulte, Owner/Chef, of Happy Gillis and Kyle Baker, Chef de Cuisine, Steve Robson, interim Executive Chef and Justin Woo, Garde Manger Sous Chef for The Oak Room at The InterContinental Hotel. When you see something prepared sous vide style on a menu, order it. Let's not let that fancy equipment go to waste.
- Housemade Charcuterie – restaurants are making their own sausage and cured meats in house. (The American & Jasper’s.) This is about learning the craft of salting, smoking and curing your own meats and sausages for your guests to enjoy. Every Chef, whether professional or home cook, is being inspired, right now, by butchers. Men and Women that know their cuts and how deep to make them. They are also the people that know how to cure meats in delightful and flavorful ways. Instead of purchasing your cured meats for your charcuterie plate, consider making your own flavorful take on it.
- Knowing where your food comes from - Omnivores Dilemma, Food Inc. . . .as our interest in what we put in our bodies to nourish us increases, so has popular culture responded in the form of books and movies on the growing obesity rate in this country and the importance of eating fresh healthy foods. More shopping at farmers markets, and joining of CSA's to get the freshest locally ingredients delivered right to your door.
- Cooking at home in 4 ingredients or less - because people now have access to and interest in better local fruits, veggies and meats they are realizing it takes less ingredients to put together healthy delicious meals at home. Fantastic tasting dishes can be made using 4 ingredients or less, when you use the freshest, best quality ingredients. When there are only 4 ingredient, the flavor and freshness of every single one counts. It's why we love going to Italy and eating, then coming home to tell all of our friends, "the food was the best we'd ever tasted . . .everything was prepared so fresh and simply, but tasted so divine." (I am sorry you know who you are.) My advice, "then cook like they do in Italy at home."
- Urban Homesteading - This is a trend where we are having to relearn things our grandmother's taught us all, a long time ago. Waste not, want not. Classes in canning and pickling, how to make bread, curing your own meats at home in your basement, make and pull your own cheese, learn to cook on a wood stove or oven or even over an open flame outside. These are all things that foodies are experimenting with right here in KC. This is the Heartland of America, people, if we can't learn to keep the food arts alive in our own homes, then all is lost. Pick one you are most interested in and just try it. Consider it my personal challenge to you.
- Making your own booze - Beer or wine are the most common ones that many foodies are now beginning to experiment with making at home. Just this year, I have met people who make their own pomegranate wine and rhubarb wine. Lemoncello and Orangecello are other wonderful things you can easily make at home. How about infused vodka's? Easy to make. Home-brewing is also a popular past-time . . .and I am looking forward to the day that someone brings me some moonshine that they made in their backyard. I insist though that it be delivered to me in a Pa Kettle jug that has 3 X's on it and a cork stopper in the top or I won't enjoy drinking it nearly as much.
- Donuts – Bite sized fried dough is the dessert du jour right now. Everyone is buzzing about donuts. Room 39 had a fantastic dessert on their menu earlier this Spring with donuts, Skillet Licker's little donut machine has put them on the map, let's not forget Louisburg Cider Mill famous, cider donuts. Heck, there is even a terrific local blog dedicated to donuts, that my friend Johnna writes called 52 Donuts. We heart fried bread.
- Mobile Food Carts - I am going to will this one into existence just by continuing to talk about this idea. Someone needs to take this and run with it. We need street food culture in KC, and with people like Lindsay Laricks and her Fresher than Fresh Snowcone stand and Lupe's Taco Stand on Southwest Boulevard we could easily see this happen. I think it should start with First Fridays in the Crossroads. A deserted parking lot, have all the trucks down there, and create a spontaneous food cart "happening". Hmmm, maybe I could . . .maybe I should figure out how to make that happen.
- Crêpes - We need more crêperies in this town. Crêpes are coming . . .Aixois in Brookside has savory crepes at lunch, Cafe de Amis in Parkville made me Crêpes Suzette for dessert, there is a new coffee and crêperie that is supposed to be opening across the street from Fervere bread on Summit. Be looking to fall in love with a crêpe before the year is over.
That's the list. What have I missed or left off, friends? What food trends do you see in KC right now? Tell me, that's how we all learn . . .to eat better. Enjoy