THE SIXTH SENSE: Experiential Elements in Cuisine
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 this crest of rot and smoke and spoilage (oh my), experimentation within the dining experience can hardly be pinned down as 2010. Almost as soon as the mad-hatter imaginations of the likes of Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal first showed up on (or near, or floating above) dinner plates, ambitious experimentalist pockets of the industry have been slowly, carefully following in their footsteps. And so have we arrived at an era where multi-sensory emotional elaboration can be embedded (projected, infused, insinuated) into the dining experience. The realism of Joan Roca's Olive Tree with Faux Olives at El Cellar de Can Roca isn't just about clever presentation or natural accuracy. It provokes an emotional response; it stirs our innate connection to nature. It’s all still preciously ensconced in the avant-garde, but as more tastemakers gather to showcase the multi-dimensional horizons of modern cuisine in large-scale forums like the ICC, Gastromonika, The Flemish Primitives, etc., we won’t be surprised if this “sixth sense” experience begins to pervade ever larger cross-sections of the industry. (“Welcome to T.G.I. Fridays, please enjoy these complimentary 3D glasses for your second course.”)