COMFORT FOOD REVAMPED: Southern Comfort
Many of last year’s major culinary trends were responses to the big bad economic wolf. It was a year of comfort food; DIY; mobile restaurant concepts (how better to flee angry investors?); tech-savvy, in-house PR; and marquee star mixology programs—the profit margin lifesaver of struggling operations. And we’ve seen growth within those trends. Social media outlets continue to diversify communication between chef, purveyor, and diner; the Asian concept restaurants of 2009 are evolving, with hopeful franchises like Sensebowl and concept-driven spots like Bill Kim’s communal urbanbelly; and house-made, hands-on, bare-knuckle prep (e.g., 2009’s ubiquitous canning and pickling) has transitioned from the professional kitchen to consumer shelves, courtesy of gourmet retail.
Strong as those veins of ingenuity are, this year in food was not a reaction to the recession. The culinary trends of 2010 illustrate what the industry learned about itself through the lens of necessity—from ingredients and service to the fundamentals and fantastical. We’ve seen locavore and DIY values progress toward high-concept naturalism, with a strong emphasis on terroir. We’ve watched as comfort food, culinary darling of the recession, morphed into a more distinctive, ambitious expression of soul and local character. We’ve seen mixologists marry doggedly authentic cocktail puritanism with sleek, next generation technologies, shedding the skins (and costumes) of hospitality-historicism for a more idiosyncratic bar menu. And we’ve witnessed the sphere of industry influence expand, from the cuisine on the plate to the welfare of a school, an environment, and even a nation.
2010 was a year of rededicated focus and renewed freedoms. And it wasn’t because of any magically resuscitated financial health. It was because the industry learned to trust itself, its strengths, and its special influence in the (ever-so-slightly tattered) fabric of modern culture. Here’s a recap of the outstanding culinary trends of 2010.
Click here to view a printable version ot the 2010 Culinary Trends Report.
This year we’ve seen the growth of distinct perspectives within the broad shouldered heft of comfort food: Southern and high-concept. We think of rocking chairs and lard-fried proteins when we think of the South; and it’s no mistake—some folks just know how to do comfort. And this year chefs above and below the Mason-Dixon Line are dipping into the Southern pantry to incorporate a soupcon (or hearty ladle) of country savor into their menus. Virginia chef and DC Rising Star Jason Alley did his home state proud with meaty pork cheeks in a soft bed of stone ground grits at Richmond, Virginia restaurant Comfort. But it’s not just local boys at the Southern burner. Blackbird (CHI) pastry chef Patrick Fahy gave a Kentucky bourbon kick to the cream in his panna cotta and The Southern’s (CHI) Cary Taylor went appropriately whole-hog with his Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, topping the classic with aged cheddar and Frank’s Red Hot. Even in LA, where nouvelle cuisine became a calorie-counters buzzword, chefs like Joseph Mahon at Bastide are coaxing the locals out of Pilates classes with temptations like Frisée, Bacon, Poached Egg, Crispy Chicken Thighs, and Buttermilk Dressing.