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.
Even with the lumbering ambition of food megaplexes, chefs are still answering the call of the wild, heading into the deep brush of local culinary potential. It’s been decades since the industry started its slow crawl back into the limited consumption-radius of our club-thumping ancestors, known in the vernacular of ethical cuisine as “locavore.” But this year we’ve seen evidence of a kind of hyper-locavorism—the kind that finds basket-and-gun-toting chefs in the backwoods of the American pantry in search of their next ingredient. And while locavore logic may always bear the healthy glow of social responsibility, this year’s hands-on approach had a serious culinary rationale.