FOOD TRENDS: how fashionable food fads influence your plate
Trends are not invented. Food trends “reflect our contemporary world and spin up at a specific moment”, I learned during the four-weeks intensive course at the Ferrandi culinary institution based in Paris. Like fashion matches social values, the food we eat and how or where we eat it reflects upon who we are and our values. Eating today is an ethical, philosophical and political act due to our expanded sphere of influence on the social media. The big consultants, brands, restaurants are aware of this, and follow the food ‘trendsters’ carefully. Food trends emerge from influential global societies.
I eat therefore I am: wide scope of the food trends chase
Now we can show our lifestyle, likes and values to the world. With a grander scale, the social media allows us to feed our followers and friends with our ideas of a great life in real time. Following the string of global trendsetters, the new tribe leaders sharing a similar or desired lifestyle, the menus of the most influential chefs, emerging or established successful cooking schools, the bestselling cookbook authors and bloggers, I was able to sum up this swamp of information into a clear, not commercial interests or sensations seeking list (as some lazy populist publications do) of the current food trends. I am lifting up alphabetically the current food trends that emerged from my thorough, months-accumulating research, recent experiences at the world’s leading restaurants, the food trends course I took at Ferrandi, respectable Trend Books based on the knowhow of sociology, and above all my nomadic grazing around the food markets, stores and popular gourmet specialists anywhere from Paris, London, New York, LA, Lima, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Melbourne, etc. I must distinguish between retail, casual cafés and gastronomic restaurants chasing recognitions and awards. I won’t address that much packaged food marketing this first part, yet, many of these food trends merge in all of the above classified categories. The immense scale of the food trends captivating the creative minds and the businesses that feed us calls for a more digestible serving so here is the first course – Part I.
AESTHETICS The social media frenzy has shifted the scale further to the weight of the edible looks than the taste itself. So far we cannot capture flavours and aromas in an image, but food imagery has never had more likeable times than in the age of Instagram. Imagine, in the cookbooks just decades ago, there were not images, just plain practical descriptions how to cook. Today herbs, flowers, shoots, sprouts and seeds decorate and season the plates instead of just the so cliché French sauces, salt and non visual ingredients. At Frenchie as well as the fine restaurants of Helene Darozze in Paris & London, nature rules on the aesthetic platings, in Singapore Andre Chiang pulls off the garden strings as well. In New York the highly regarded Eleven Madison Park served us totally bare courgettes on crab, but also plenty of herb toppings not just as a decoration but like seasoning imbuing flavour. In Mexico City, basil and lemon thyme sprouts flavor the Cilacayote squash with mole at Quintonil. Hay, sea shells, stones & shoots land on tables at Vue de Monde in Melbourne. Raw Taipei, the hip Michelin taiwanese eatery brightens the earthenware through fresh flowers and herbs as well. Freshness is underlined on the plates these days so starkly also at casual healthy cafes such as Cafe Gratitude in LA. MINIMALISM seeking trend simplifies the two or three hued plates in the Nordic inspired naturalist cuisine of Redzepi et al., moving South to Italy Massimo Bottura‘s take on Caesar salad and Mirazur‘s take on almost anything sway visual simplicity. The counterbalance is the catchy, highly Instagramable rainbow of colors snapped in the breakfasts sandwiches and lunch bowls at casual healthy cafes like 26 Grains in London and Flax & Kale in Barcelona.
ARTISAN MEAT and SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD Small scale produce sourced directly at butchers or farmers markets is the new halo of luxury. As the undercover videos from slaughter houses make it to our home screens, we become more conscious of the animals’ treatment. The rise of the upscale gourmet burger, and the crowds at butchers like Nase Maso in Prague or Persillè in Paris are the imprints of the pure meat mania. Beef represents luxury, and today the consumer wants to know where it comes from, how it was fed, and increasingly the restaurants and upscale butchers start to provide this information. The Beef Bar in Monaco exported its luxe beef’s success to other countries, while scarcity of wild fish drove the prices of much seafood up. As overfishing slashes the global supply, The Slanted Door in San Francisco and any others are committed to using line caught, sustainable fish. Sardines, mackerel, coal fish, pollack, grey mullet appear more on the menus. As I write in my sustainability focused musing, the trendy unctuous sea urchin and squids might soon be all that is left in our oceans and seas.
BROTH The bone broth craze of the paleo diet followers is fading, but the concentrated flavours in a long simmered consommé is poured on our deep bottomed plates. Served not in the kitchen, but at gastronomic restaurants the broth is filling the flavour gap in the dish just brought in front of you. In France almost every Michelin chef is using broths in place of the old school sauce. Mauro Colagreco, Yannick Alleno, Ducasse, and others add a little bit of contrasting primitive touch to their elaborate creations.
DESSERTS are lighter. Herbs, berries, citrus fruits and increasingly vegetables mark the not so sugary finale of your multi-course restaurant meal. Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen in NYC rendered the vegetable based desserts (think of Beet molten cake, Sweet pea and mint ice-cream) famous, but this year you find green hues in desserts everywhere. In Athens, I had an exquisite sweet take on tzatziki at the two Michelin stared Botrini’s, while a scoop of Peas, white chocolate and macadamia ice cream at Rustic Canyon in LA hit our table’s sweet spot. Perfumery inspires the gastronomic deserts. Flaveur in Nice uses herbs and spices in their crafted savory and sweet temptations. Cactus sorbet, celeriac ice cream and native Mexican fruits awe at Quintonil. Matcha, the Japanese green tea powder also appears anywhere from crème brûlée to tiramisu (I will write about tea trends soon). In Europe, citrus fruits with their fresh acidity and home made unusual ice cream and sorbets are particularly in.
FERMENTATION When the four seasons rotation bares the land for months in winter, pickling and preserving vegetables, fruits, and whatever you can ferment has stepped out from the house pantries in to the cooks’ hands. Many trendy cafes and restaurants do it themselves. From the sustainable Poco in London, the green Perennial in San Francisco, hip ESKA in Prague, through trendy Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, the high end Blue Hill at the Stone Barns in New York, Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan and hundreds ‘make it all house-made’ eateries in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen display oversized glass jars of kraut and more exotic pickles on their kitchen shelves and bake their own sourdough bread. As kombucha, the fermented fizzy tea by a mother culture similar to vinegar, travelled across continents to popularity, the accent on naturally refreshing, energising qualities of millennial beverages and foods made with patience (Slow-food) resurfaced. Umeboshi Japanese seasoning features in the new cookbooks. Nut cheese was also transformed from the shunned outskirts to intriguing gourmet artisan creations. The vegan cheese shop Riverdel in Brooklyn sells sandwiches made with their great cashew cheeses and feta, but the best dairy-free camembert I have ever tried was made in Switzerland, the land of cows and lush pastures. How ironic!
FOOD WASTE With the raising eco-awareness, root-to-tip (also nicknamed seed-to-frond) cooking joins the established nose-to-tail phenomenon in the trendy urban restaurant menus. St John has been cooking ears, snouts and tails successfully for over a decade in London, but now the plants won’t get wasted either. Jeremy Fox serves fava pods and beat leafs at his Rustic Canyon in LA. Fera in London elevates the humble ox tongue to a Michelin stared plate. Popular cooking schools such as the NGI in New York teach how to use carrot tips in pesto, fennel fronds in seasoning salads, and other scraps utilising creative tricks. Dan Barber‘s WASTED pop up hosting local chefs at London’s trend-setting Selfridges infected the awareness beyond the use of the popular pork belly or even a rabbit belly (Chicago’s Alinea) with more ‘second-hand’ ingredients, the chefs’ creativity has flourished. Yet, my recent trip to Greece brought reminiscences of what I saw on tables in China, Brazil and the US – the feats at casual traditional eateries remain as wasteful as ever. The cheaper the food, the more of it is served, and as our appetites cannot keep up with such an abundance, the plates remain battered with uneaten edibles. These carcasses of overindulgence sadly point at our voracious yet miscalculated vanity diverting from the carbon-neutral ethos. There is till a long way to go to a greater consciousness about fasted food.
FUNCTIONAL FOODS the natural energy boosters, superfoods keep shouting into our healthy consciousness. Orthorexia, the obsession with correct eating was termed as the newest psychiatrical pathology, and involves rigorous scanning all labels and at any cost not eating something if the origin is not clear. Elle France pointed at the demonisation of the agribusiness and the food producers “otherwise the life expectancy of the fellow citizens would not continue to increase”. Indeed, “there do not exist perfect foods which solve all problems” and the obsessed purists of the Gwyneth Paltrow “clean eating” should relax. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine said millennia ago “a dose makes poison”, so any magic herb can harm or in extreme cases kill you in certain quantity. The Hollywood’s playground, Los Angeles is full of such fast fixes, and the feel good foods cross oceans to Europe, Asia and Australia. The popular LA Cafe Gratitude, Flax & Kale in Barcelona, Milan’s Mantra, Tanya’s Raw in London, Secret of Raw in Prague, and more recently ABCv by Jean Georges Vongerichten in New York (review soon here) proudly highlight superfoods on their menus.
LOCAVORISM Vegetables from local farmers (with their names often printed on the menu) herald the seasons, so does sustainably caught wild fish that roams the local waters. Eska in landlocked Prague does not import seabass from the Mediterranean, lobster from the Atlantic or cod from the British waters, it serves a superb Czech sweet water catfish, trout, carp, and other humble fish. As in the Japanese kaiseki, the seasons and the sense of place shine through the menus at many trendy restaurants. Even the ocean has terroir, and seafood (seaweed inclusive) tastes different depending on the location of its harvest, the top sushi chefs are well aware of this. The romantic appeal of foraging and sourcing ingredients locally takes over our emotional eating habits.
NOMADIC CUSINE After the sushi craze, the Peruvian ceviche and quinoa, now the trendy cuisine is ethnic. Exotic spices, North African shakshuka for breakfast, and tribal themes lure the adventurers. Many top chefs today travel and they are watched through their Instagram accounts for inspiration by thousands of other chefs and fans for inspiration. The menus of top Michelin stared restaurants also inspire the less creative cooks. On the other pole of the chef nomad are locally foraged wild foods, ancient grains, forgotten pulses and vegetables. The ultra hip Tartine Bakery in San Francisco popularised the use of einkorn, emmer wheat, millet, spelt, … Employing biodiversity in cooking is exciting for the creative chefs. They are aware that if we overly rely on one staple ingredient, an unexpected shortage inherent in the fragility of the annual crop, as well as our nutritional balanced consumption would be endangered. Getting less formal, many high-end restaurants bare their tables, and still popular, the food trucks embody the romantic symbolism of the culinary nomadic lifestyle.
NO-GLUTEN, NO-LACTOSE, NO-SUGAR, please. Food sensitivities are overwhelming our consciousness and we demand dairy-free nut mylks, soy-free plant yogurts (fermented almond, coconut meat) and savoury (kefir, buttermilk, tomato or parsnip flavoured yogurt), sugar-free, grass-fed dairy attracts the spending power. Noglu, a gluten-free chain of restaurants and pastry shops is expanding in Paris. In Italy gluten-free pasta are made even at most traditional restaurants. The farmers market in Alba, Turin and Milan offer chestnut flour and ancient grains such as emmer, farro, spelt stone-ground organic flour, so now baking gets a bit more complicated and time-consuming.
SHARING & FINGER FOODS Snacking and sipping while conversing with others is the new dinner not just for the students. The casual feel of COMMUNAL FOOD and no fuss tapas is the movement against the time consuming multi-course, inflexible, no choice chefs tasting menus. The omakase sushi is also taking the hit and a la carte small plates penetrate the food scene with the rise of izakaya. Ramen was just a side tour for the Asian food trends infatuation. We still stand lines for the warming bowl, but as the summer creeps in, we seek light, small plates and nibbles.
VEGGIE POWER for some years now, but stronger than ever expanding beyond the vegetarian and hippie communities in California to sustainably minded urbanites, omnivores and even the three Michelin restaurants, vegetables lead. Alain Passard was shunned as crazy by the Parisian press when he removed red meat and focused on vegetables at his restaurant L’Arpège in 2001. Since then more chefs introduced vegetarian tasting menus and opened up to their potential vegan customers. Alain Ducasse at his renovated Plaza Athenée, also three star venue, brought veggies to the forefront. Joel Robuchon offers vegetarian tasting menu in Monaco. Jean Georges Vongerichten opened recently ABCv, his first purely vegetarian, from the local New York State farms sourced restaurant in Manhattan. The modern chef cum businessman knows the trends well. Ducasse published Nature, the butter-heavy record Michelin stars holder Robuchon landed Food & Life. The Great Chefs Cook Vegan [reviewed soon here], the recipe book featuring Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Eric Rippert, and other American high dining chefs reveals. Vegan indeed has by now become the “new normal” as coined the New York Times article by Jeff Gordinier. The new mayor of Turin uses politics to boost the vegan business in her Italian, traditionally meaty constituency. In the West it started in California with the popularity also within omnivores of Grazias Madre, Cafe Gratitude or the elegant Crossroads frequented by the Hollywood Stars. The chic, steak serving Craig’s on Melrose included a vegan chicken parmigiana (made on Ellen DeGeneres’s request, not bad, I tried) next to its classic offerings. Trend Books compiled by dedicated agencies such as the pioneer in the field Nelly Rodi in Paris confirm that veggies in any form are cool! Avocado, cauliflower, beets, and now kohlrabi, samphire, seaweed and sweet potatoes took the tested kale route appearing at many popular restaurants. Still, when the asparagus season comes in spring, the hyper local and seasonal trend will beat the obvious cafe stalwarts at least at the gastronomic restaurants. More on plant-based diet in my recent sustainability focused musing.
The remaining lucky charms of our current food system will be unearthed in the Part II On Food Trends published next week. I will focus on the history of food trends and fashionable packaged food, while revealing that snacking has never been as diverse and controversial as it is now. It was a fascinating research that revealed some hilarious fads of the past decades. You would not believe what crazy plates were fashionable in the 20th century!
Ferrandi Culinary school Paris
The New York Times
International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science
The International Forum on Food and Nutrition 2016 in Milan
NGI – culinary school in New York
The cafés, restaurants and food stores mainly in Australia, Austria, Czechia, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
Great blog! Presentation of the food on the plate really matters when eating in a restaurant. It makes me want to eat the food more.