UPPING THE ANTE: Food Megaplexes
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.
If the recession was the arch-villain of last year’s trends report, bullying chefs into food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and the universal application of comfort food and DIY, we’re seeing some hope-inspiring ambition this year. Not only are chefs going stubbornly immobile with brick and mortar spaces, they’re putting their names on ambitious multi-purpose food megaplexes. In June, Todd English’s Plaza Food Hall—and its six restaurants—began fiscal CPR on the drab retail center below the once grand hotel. This September, Josh Ozersky went “pork DJ,” on some of the meatier options at Jeffrey Chodorow’s slick Food Parc. And Batali-Bastianich brainchild Eataly recently unfurled its Italian mega-market bounty upon the Flatiron district, combining limbs of retail, butchery, and restaurant options with high-gloss production value. And next Spring will bring Thomas McNaughton’s forthcoming Central Kitchen (SF), where a deli-salumeria, restaurant, catering operation, and even Humphrey Slocombe’s fantastical frozen treats (double scoop of foie gras ice cream anyone?) will engorge a city block.