SMOKE AND ROT: Exploring Spoilage
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.
Carcinogens, mold, and variously graphic states of decay have always been part of the fine dining experience, but this year, chefs are incorporating these musty, heady, and idiosyncratic flavor profiles as much for their evocative, experiential effects as for their culinary singularity. (Although some chefs are happier with the suggestion—as opposed to the actual application—of rot). Magnus Nilsson, Nordic youngster and hyper-locavore chef of “Rektún (real) food,” pushed the boundaries of rot and spoilage at a Cook it Raw gathering in the Laplands. And he’s not alone in his tightrope walk of rot-palatability. At Azurmendi in Biscay, Spain, tahoon (a kind of cress redolent of fall decay) gave Chef Eneko Atxa’s earthy, wintry Oxtail Ravioli Wrapped in Bread a mild savor of mold and decay, and another cress variety called atchina lent a teasing whisper of spoilage to Atxa’s apple-composition of compote, gelatin ball, and cider sponge (Moss on the Wall).