Trends I Pray Will Fall Out Of Fashion
Remember, reader, when we were all eating ostrich? Or when we sipped oolong tea in teeny tiny cups? Or how we added sundried tomatoes hither and thither to all things edible for the better part of the 1980s and 1990s? From rooibos to panko breadcrumbs to bullshit martinis, culinary trends, as all we foodies know, can be fickle, inexplicable, and sometimes spectacularly impractical. At times even laughably absurd. But what with the current financial crunch, trend experts predict that we will be seeing fewer frills and more function in the kitchen. Cheap, comforting soul food promises to be the culinary equivalent of the new black. Affordable stews. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink casseroles. Liquor and lots of it.
Of course it won’t be all baked pasta shells and lentil soup. Foodie dalliances in Peruvian, Moroccan, Indian and Spanish cuisine will continue. Ditto for forays into exotic flavourings (look out for persimmon, lavender and garam masala). And though fancy-shmancy restaurants will take a dive, ‘underground’ restaurants — held in warehouses, open for one night only — will surface. Indeed, trend-wise, 2009 promises to reflect both that last belch of extravagance that comes at the tail end of an economic boom as well as the pragmatism that bespeaks a sense of tough times ahead. The good news? That pragmatism may mark the death of the more insufferably lavish trends born in the boom’s zenith and usher in an appreciation for more moderate and down-to-earth delights. So, in honour of what I hope will be the triumph of the practical over the pretentious, I have compiled a list of trends I pray will get the axe in 2009, hopefully to be replaced with my own wish list of Next Big Things.
bottled water with bling
According to Forbes Magazine, Madonna spends $10,000 a month on water blessed by Kabbalah rabbis. While she may be the only one to take agua to such spiritual and ludicrous heights, high dollar bottled water was all the rage for a time. Bling, a Tennessee company, boasts ‘limited edition spring water’ in cork-stoppered bottles, a logo encrusted with Swavorski crystals, and runs at $36 a bottle (Paris was seen feeding some to her pooch). Think only the Americans could be so ostentatious? Alas, we Canucks are not immune to the couture water craze. 10,000 BC, a variety drawn from melted glacial British Columbia ice, is not only served at the Las Vegas Hilton but at the Prime Minister’s table and costs up to $45 a bottle. And Veen — a brand lifted from the Konisaajo spring in the Finnish Lapland, and encased in extra flint glass whose Da Vinci-inspired design earned architectural awards — still awaits US distribution. Indeed, for a while, bottled water, said Forbes, was the next wine. Let’s hope the crunch brings us all skulking back to our Britas.
eating a philosophy
It’s one thing to go green and sustainable, to cook with a conscience (which, by the by, will be über-big this year). It’s quite another to reduce one’s carbon footprint with a bar of TerraPass’s ‘Climate Change Chocolate.’ Or to shovel in sunflower oil-slicked vegetarian mulch at cafes with names like One World. This sort of mingling of morality and food is not only dangerous (and dubious), but is literally hard to swallow. Instead of trying to be ‘ethical’ by buying a bottle of Ethos from Starbucks or ‘spiritual’ by dining in a pseudo-Asian restaurant festooned with Buddha statues and bamboo trees, let’s just eat and drink what we like with a little more care and a little more grace.
food as extreme sport
When celebrity chef and writer Anthony Bourdain infamously swallowed the still-beating heart of a cobra while in Vietnam on his hit series A Cook’s Tour, he spawned a new trend, nay genre, in television: the food-based adventure travel show. Bourdain does more organ swilling on his new show No Reservations while Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods waxes philosophical about the ‘textural’ properties of pig’s testicle in a Tokyo bar called Morning Erection. And then there’s Man vs. Food, starring Adam Richman, a portly young man with a stomach of steel who travels across America eating hamburgers bigger than his own head and chicken wings hotter than the surface of the sun. Treating food as feats of strength, an opportunity to prove masculine virility, these men fashion themselves as the new explorers. Much as I admire their culinary gonads — Bourdain’s especially — the trend of using a fork as a flagpole is beginning to wear thin.
When my Starbucks barista smilingly asks me, as she has each morning for over a year, if I wouldn’t care for a rock-hard scone or a granny smith apple purse along with my short Americano, I really don’t mind. When she makes me aware, as she does each morning, that for only 25 cents more I can make my Americano a tall, I’m annoyed. But when she looks at me like I’m sad for not giving into her pushy smile, her textbook pitch, I’m frankly insulted. One’s coffee, especially one’s morning coffee, as I’m sure all my fellow caffeine fiends appreciate, is an intensely specific, personal choice. And suggested selling is perhaps one of the most insidious and insufferable trends to surface in a boom economy. My hope is that the crunch will make companies like Starbucks wake up and smell their own sludge. Instead of pushing me into buying bigger, be grateful that my crack-like addiction keeps me coming back at all.
Next Big Thing
I have always felt that what the world really needs, besides peace, love and all of that other crap, is more cookies. In these uncertain times, you need something you can count on. And you can always count on a cookie. Even when it disappoints, it never disappoints. And there ain’t no cookie better than a free one. Many cafes in Amsterdam, Denmark, Paris and Italy appreciate this fact, offering a sweet crumbly morsel with your beverage. I’ve been waiting for the complimentary cafe cookie to make its way across the Atlantic for years. Need I wait another?
cocoa à l’ancienne
Keep your half-caf-no-foam-light-whip-one-pump-soy-vanilla latte. Ditto your yerba mate, your rooibos, oolong, matcha, white and hibiscus. This year, I want a drink with balls. A brew both bittersweet and richer than I am. I want cocoa. And I’m not talking about that powdered, sugary crap for pussies. I want that antiquated midnight-coloured sludge that makes your soul sing and your toes curl. Served with that all-important cookie alongside, if you please. And if the mood strikes, spiked with scotch.
“One of the areas people are not cutting back on is liquor,” according to Epicurous.com. “People are drinking more. Bars are not being hit like restaurants.” That’s right, folks: drinking, in 2009, will be big. Trend experts predict a return to classic cocktails with savoury twists such as cucumber, ginger and chili flavouring. Meh. I’ll go them one better: Whisky bars. Spirits, after all, are always popular in times of recession, and there is no spirit like Scotch to give fire, courage and sustenance to the care-worn soul.
new food network hosts
I don’t know if it was seeing a smug Mario Batali selling his orange cooking clogs in the latest Bon Appetit that did me in. Or when I noticed Nigella Lawson’s ludicrously expensive egg-shaped bowls for sale at my local Indigo. Or when I was temporarily blinded by a magazine rack full of bleached smiles beaming over pots of comfort food ‘with a twist!’ But Food Network whore that I am, even I have my limits. And lets face it: celeb chef merch, celeb chef mags, celeb chefs period, have GOT to go. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no anarchist. I’m not calling for an end to the Food Network, only for a replacement of its hosts. For instance, instead of yet another episode of Whatever Martha, Iron Chef America or Simply Delicioso, I’d like to see an anonymous Sicilian grandmother with knives in her eyes stir sauce for an hour, the secrets to which she may (or may not!) reveal.
back to basics, not the next big thing
In Down and Out In Paris and London, George Orwell wrote that the most astronomically expensive restaurants in Paris were also the filthiest. Observe the fate of Serendipity 3, a trendy Upper East Side dessert shop, to appreciate the truth of his statement. Famed for their über-trendy $25,000 ice cream sundae infused with five grams of edible 23-karat gold, the shop closed following its second failed inspection during which the inspector came upon a live mouse, more than 100 live cockroaches, not to mention piles of mouse droppings scattered about the restaurant. Now if that isn’t an argument for a return to good old-fashioned hot fudge and nuts — and their equivalents in all food establishments — I really don’t know what is. So I propose this: instead of making this a year of yet more Next Big Things, of more hard-to-pronounce herbs, more reality cooking shows and ginger-infused martinis, let’s make this a year of getting back to basics (and getting those basics right). Cookies. Grandmothers. Scotch. And above all, cooking carefully, conscientiously, and with love.