The unusual side effect of eating, reviewing, eating, taking clients out for, eating, cooking, reading about and eating so much food in Europe’s only megacity is that you inadvertently develop stringent opinions regarding global food trends.
Stringent opinions that you then foist upon people, willing or unwilling.
You get to see best-in-the-world restaurants open, you get to read best-in-class cookbooks when they’re released, you get to drag long-suffering James around weird European markets, you get to talk food strategy with the very same James because that’s his job, you get free test foods from Marks & Spencer that won’t be out for a year because that’s also his job…
And then you get to see the fringes of the Home Counties ape the trends at home with Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference range. It’s like the circle of life or something.
That’s domestic spreading. International spreading looks like this:
Trends emanate out across the world from London or New York in concentric circles like waves in a plastic cup sitting on the dashboard of a stalled car during a storm at Jurassic Park. (The waves skip France. From a culinary trend perspective they’re a lost cause. Museum dining at its finest.)
For example, Germany appears to have only recently discovered short handwritten menus and it took Australia this long to trainwreck Masterchef.
Is this food snobbery?
Well, no, I don’t think so though I remain open to being convinced. I never went to El Bulli, I don’t insist on only the finest ingredients (most of my wine is supermarket wine), I have never judged or turned down food that has been offered to me or cooked by friends. I haven’t eaten proper fast food in years but that’s not snobbery so much as the one healthy thing I do in my whole life.
To me these are things I know as a result of doing my job. Is a schoolteacher being elitist if he or she keeps up with changes in the curriculum?
This is the eternal challenge in having your work and your passion overlap in a space (food) that is shared by every single human being alive on the planet -everyone has a food opinion because everyone has to eat every day.
The Difference Between Trend and Best
Based on my observations, food trends originate from two main sources: London and New York.
San Francisco, Chicago, Sydney and Mexico City round out the secondary sources. (You think Madrid should be on this list? After much consideration they were dropped because Madrid influences London or New York first and then on to the rest of the world. But so does everywhere.)
‘Best’ can come from anywhere. Currently the ‘best’ restaurant in the world is in Copenhagen. The city with the most michelin stars is apparently Tokyo. Paris certainly has more of them than London but London inarguably has a more vibrant and innovative dining scene.
‘Trends’ are a collection of ideas or practices that unpredictably start anywhere, receive a seal of approval from opinion leaders within a given community and go on to influence a much wider group.
There are only a couple of places -London and New York- that can provide the opinion leader seal of approval for a food trend. It’s like Paris or Milan (or New York again) for fashion.
Let’s take the example of a mid-noughties food trend: Southern ‘soul food’. Obviously boiled peanuts and buttermilk biscuits existed before they became a trend and indeed continue to exist today. It only became a trend when it reached New York and Manhattanites were charged twenty times the price they could have got on the Georgia Coast.
Let’s return to the fashion example again.
This one’s for the Australians out there. I’ve got one word to say to you (Kimmy). “Ugg boots.”
Think about who wore them as legitimate outdoor footwear (people whose houses were on wheels), think about what we used to pay for them (weren’t they available in Target?) and then think about what happened six years ago. Kate Moss wore them in London.
Thus they became a trend.
And so it is with food. Hail chaos.
2012 Food Trends: What’s In
Continuing the broad trend toward seventies inspiration, pulses are in. And not just the fancy ones like bulgar wheat… the fucking boring classics like lentils man. Lentils!
You know how much a half kilo of organic pearl barley costs at Waitrose of all places? 80p! Celebrate this trend, my frugal friends, celebrate it indeed.
I briefly considered using either the French or the Italian word for ‘offal’ because they sound so much nicer but… nah. Own it. Offal is in. Particularly livers.
Always, always choose organic when buying liver. One of the organs largely responsible for the extraction of poisons from the body? Yeah, this is the one instance where organic is worth it. Offal is insanely cheap because it’s a side effect of the core meat industry so you can stretch to it.
Also: liver freezes really well.
2012 isn’t really much of a pasta year. Bucatini is still a better choice than spaghetti, of course.
Pappardelle is a trend in the sense that you can use it with things you don’t normally use pasta for. Replace potatoes with it when having roast lamb, for instance.
Anything that would ordinarily require rice, couscous, mash (sausages, gravy, pappardelle… very Corsican)… think pappardelle.
Sweet and Sour
Central European sweet and sour to be exact. It’s sharper than the food court monstrosities that have the temerity to call themselves ‘Chinese’.
Austrian pickle/pork combinations… cabbage dishes… that kind of thing.
Crab is in. Unfortunately it’s also the most difficult of the shellfish to extract the flesh from. I don’t so much eat them as I do rape them with my face.
This trend is good news financially for the UK because we’re absolutely surrounded by crabs and simply don’t eat them. One of the best meals I have had in my life was Iona Velvet Crab on the isle of Iona, staring out at the body of water (and crab pots) that it came from. So, so good. Second best rape of my life.
New technological developments mean you can get fresh potted crab at M&S for not completely insane prices. Otherwise get crabmeat from a fishmonger.
Jewish food, or “jood” as nobody calls it is definitely in. And we’re not just talking about the fancy pants Yotam Ottolenghi “ooh I used to get this delicious little soup from a hole in the wall place in Tel Aviv.”
Roasting Weird Things
Yes, this is a trend. Don’t argue. Roast things you wouldn’t ordinarily roast. Cauliflower, squid, brussel sprouts, polenta. The list is endless. If you can apply heat to it, you can roast it.
Actually, speaking of polenta, if you’re brave, insane and entertaining guests, cook a large batch of polenta, wash your table thoroughly, then just pour it along the middle, topping with the slow-roasted lamb stew or whatever else you are serving. Then merely provide cutlery to your guests.
Crazy times! Crazy actually-a-little-bit-authentic times!
Cooking With The Right Kind Of Sherry
One major hint: It’s never cream sherry. Never.
Sadly for me this is not just at the dry end of the sherry range as it’s the only one I know best. Most of the stuff I have seen has been halfway to sweet like Amontillado.
Which isn’t to say you can’t cook with dry sherry. In fact, in the next recipe you cook that calls for white wine, use a (fresh bottle of) Manzanilla or Fino sherry instead in the exact same quantities. You’ll be surprised.
Specialist Online Retailers
Farmers markets have become commoditised and disappointing. Now it’s about paying double the price for vegetables that seem to spoil in your car on the way home. (There is something to be said for a refrigerated supply chain.)
Also, the admirable focus on extreme seasonality has led to an acute range reduction which was half the reason I shopped at farmers markets in the first place. I get the suspicion these are the places local farmers use to flog off the funny shaped vegetables the major supermarket chains (currently) don’t accept rather than a place to share a love for non-core produce.
That non-core ‘passion centre’ has shifted online to specialist retailers. Here are a few I use in the UK:
Wondering what kind of specialist online retailers are in your area? Check the stockist section in the back of all your cookbooks. Then go to a bookstore before every single one of them closes (you have four hours) and look in the back of Spanish, French, Italian, etc cookbooks. I take phone photos like a spy. (A spy who has really let himself go.)
There are two big upsides to this trend.
The first is that it democratises access to specialty ingredients so you don’t have to live mopedding distance from Borough Market like a dickbag in order to have good food. The second is that we all get better at the fresh/storecupboard combination which takes exactly the same amount of time as the fresh/jar or ready meal combination and is much, much better.
‘Nordic Preserved’ Fish
We’re talking your smoked haddock, your pickled herring, your salt cod. (Which is a carry over from 2009/2010′s Spanish trend.)
If you’re like me and rarely cook with fish even though you actually quite like seafood then items like smoked haddock are the dream. They’re super cheap and you just flake the fuckers right into the dish!
In this and the following trend you can see the skandi restaurant influence (Noma being a ‘best’) turning into a trend. (You also see this reflected in fashion and television.)
Well, it took almost thirty years but my father is finally vindicated. Rye bread is in. And it’s delicious.
This one was an inevitability when you think about the confluence of Jewish, Central European and Nordic influences and it has resulted in some wonderful range improvements in London.
Finally the English are coming round to sourdough. Because oh how I have missed it! And sourdough rye is just the best frikking thing in the land.
Also, Waitrose and Ocado sell this amazing rye and coriander loaf for a pittance that toasts up perfectly. The extra toasting time crisps up the coriander seed topping so it smells wonderful and gets all crunchy. So, so good.
2012 Food Trends: What’s Out
Be honest, this category is much more fun because in your head you can win arguments from months ago: “I fucking told you it was shit!”
Okay, fine… these are technically on the way out but they have definitely peaked. It appears communality is on the way back in (which is actually just DIY small plates when you think about it.)
There is literally no evidence that a return to one-plate-per-person is anywhere on the horizon. *Sigh*
They’re out as a trend. I recognise they will continue to exist in their native homeland but both Waitrose and M&S now have chilled/frozen ready meal slider plates so they will be appearing at your great aunt’s house soon.
I won’t miss this one because the UK has yet to get burgers right yet (outside a few admirable London restaurants) so they probably shouldn’t have pushed what are essentially ‘mini burgers’.
Thank FUCK. The perfect storm of Nordic and Brooklyn popularity immediately following a Spanish phase and the continuation of small plates meant you couldn’t fucking move for fucking meatballs.
Meatballs. Peh. They’re the new cupcakes. Fuck the fuck right off already.
Nordic Hyperlocal Or Anything Cooked With Fucking Pine
Nordic is still with us but… well… is it just me or is there something faintly racist about hyperlocal food when it’s tied to a national group?
The idea that I just “couldn’t possibly” replicate pine smoked shellfish in my kitchen because it needs to be Nordic pine from right next to the restaurant. (Also I have electricity, Mr Bigshot Viking.)
Fine, whatever. I also “couldn’t possibly” replicate a French poodle feces pie because I don’t live in France. It’s taking terroir to an almost hostile level.
And you know what? Heston released a Waitrose ‘pine scented icing sugar’ for Christmas and it smelled and tasted like cleaning product. Keep your pine. Jerks.
Macaroni. Rice pudding. Gone.
You know how there’s allegedly that inverse correlation between the volume of red lipstick sold and macroeconomic performance? Some people -presumably cosmetics companies- would have us believe that red lipstick sells better in hard times because people at least want to feel better about themselves.
I’m sure there is something about comfort/nostalgia food and hard times as well.
Ironically enough this trend shot it’s load way too early because this year is going to be much, much worse! Ha! Suckers!
As mentioned above. Farmers markets are out and it is their own fault. This doesn’t mean they will go away, it just means they’re no longer on trend.
If there is literally anything behind market theory this will ultimately lead to increased competition and an improved product range which will bring us all back.
Co-ops are always worth your custom, of course.
Sub-trend: Heirloom tomatoes are out. The cost is no longer justified. Besides, it’s almost impossible to not grow tomatoes yourself if you simply leave the seeds somewhere in the yard almost anywhere in the world. The next person to offer them to me will get a punch in their heirloom tomatoes.
Oh Christ, goats’ cheese! The fucking pesto of the two thousand and tens! Go to literally any restaurant. All meat options except one fucking goats cheese tart.
The go-to ingredient for incompetent chefs who don’t want to spend more than a single second thinking about their non-meat options. Die die die!
Being impressed by a goats cheese tart in 2012 is like being impressed with colour television.
Meh. We had a good run. But it’s peaked as well.
Heston’s salted caramel popcorn is probably what finished it off. (Sidebar: avoid.)
Actually it’s not looking like a good year for desserts all round. Pretty much just unpopular fruits poached in drinks you don’t usually poach with: pears, redcurrants, rioja and such.
Okay so this isn’t so much “out” as it has been overused to the point that it has literally lost all meaning.
When does street food become al fresco? If I buy it from a cart but there is seating available? If I buy it from a solid structure but then eat it in the sunshine by a fountain with a sweater wrapped around my shoulders next to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s husband?
Is it still street food if it costs twice what it would in a restaurant and everyone around me is wearing plaid shirts?
Good frikkety bye.
Things That Have Been Out Since 2008 But Somehow Persist
Not going to go into much detail. Many of you have heard these rants. Just bullet points.
- Almost any main dish that is cooked with chocolate
- Edamame beans eaten out of context
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Jamie Oliver
Feels good to get that off my chest.
Booze Trends For 2012
- Weird seventies liqueurs probably made by monks that you got really underage drunk on once and threw up everywhere.
- Cocktail combinations of both of the above.
- Matching white wine with cheese. (Cheese goes better with white wine. Look it up.)
- Gin. (Boohoo! I’ll still drink it.)
- Hyperlocal beer. It’s all overcarbonated and tastes like flowers anyway.
- The dry end of the sherry spectrum. The hipsters have found it. (There’s a sherry bar near St Pancras that claims to be “London’s first dedicated sherry bar”. Except for those two we went to before it opened? Get your history right before you ruin the whole fucking world!)
The thing about most (all?) trends… they’re brief. And to some extent pointless.
But I guess they’re pointless in the way life is pointless… you will only extract the amount of meaning that you actually put in. Food is something we have to live with every day of our lives. Might as well be interested in it.
And besides, it always helps to keep a weather eye on the trends for when you have guests around. That way you can dump a great pot of polenta on the table, throw some rabbit stew at it and be all superior at your wealthier, better-looking dinner companions.
Which, in the end, is what life is all about.
Have a delicious 2012.