THE NEW CHEF: Leaving the Kitchen
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.
Team spirit aside, the territory of a chef’s influence is expanding, even past the television shows, groaning cookbook shelves, and Twitter feeds of their current multi-media omnipresence. This year, chefs got serious about a lot of serious stuff. And apparently book signings and globe-trotting television shows weren’t enough— 2010 was all about grassroots efforts.
You can’t measure the influence or power of the chef by one marquee exemplar. But follow a chef like Barton Seaver out of the kitchen (that’s right) and into full time sustainability advocacy, and you’re onto something. Seaver has officially de-toqued in search of a wider audience, not for his own celebrity’s sake (although with his boyish good looks to bolster a good cause, we’re confident he’ll earn some of that, too). Seaver wants to fully devote himself to large-scale seafood sustainability outreach. Sure, there are a few projects in the works including Cook Wise with National Geographic, an iPhone app, and maybe a cookbook in Seaver’s immediate future, but the point isn’t profit: it’s to best serve the issue at hand. “What I do is not about me,” he told us this October. “I am repositioning myself behind the message.”